Vladimir Putin has systematically worked to rehabilitate the image of Stalin, downplaying his record of mass murder while celebrating his role as the architect of victory in World War II. But Stalin almost lost that war before he won it. Disregarding multiple warnings from the West, and even his own spies, he refused to believe that Hitler was about to unleash an attack on the Soviet Union in late June 1941, shattering their de facto alliance.Read more
Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin was both critically acclaimed and fiercely denounced. Its detractors accused the Yale historian of relativizing the Holocaust by placing it in the context of the other acts of wholesale violence in the region, particularly the terror unleashed by Stalin against his own people.Read more
In the final days of World War II, Kurt Weill wrote a letter to his wife, Lotte Lenya, who was in New York, from the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. The couple had fled Germany after Hitler had taken power, and Weill was eager for the final collapse of the Third Reich. “This is what we’ve been waiting for, twelve years now,” he noted. “Isn’t it fantastic how unprepared these Nazis were for defeat. . . . I don’t think a nation has ever been defeated more catastrophically. . . . What stupidity! What cowardice! What a ‘master race’!”Read more
Here’s a generally accepted syllogism: The Weimar Republic saw an explosion in the arts, particularly of modern forms like expressionist painting and atonal music. When Hitler swept away the freedoms of the Weimar era and assumed dictatorial powers, he targeted “degenerate art”—the Nazis’ designation for anything modern of which they disapproved. Ergo, the country’s most creative artists were forced into immediate opposition to Hitler’s regime.Read more
Simon Sebag Montefiore is best known for his monumental biography Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003), which offered a mesmerizing, richly detailed portrait of the Soviet tyrant’s inner circle—and how he could alternately, even simultaneously, ooze charm and terror in his dealings with them.Read more
At the entrance to Red Square, a large, striking statue greets visitors. Erected in 1995 in time for the 50th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, it depicts Marshal Georgy Zhukov on his Arabian horse during the 1945 victory parade—and confirms his status as Russia’s national hero. The British historian Geoffrey Roberts is convinced that Zhukov deserves this place of honor, since he was “the best all-around general of the Second World War.”Read more
Late on a frozen, translucent night in Moscow in 1981, I took my collie out for a walk and let her off the leash on the snow-covered playground near our building in the foreigners’ compound where we lived. She was only a few months old and my half-hearted training techniques had done little to restrain her rambunctious spirit. The policeman on duty (there were always policemen on duty at foreigners’ compounds) watched my futile efforts to grab her and snap the leash back on.Read more
Otto and Elise Hampel were improbable German resisters. By all accounts, the working-class, middle-aged couple accepted Hitler’s New Order up until 1940. Then, during the invasion of France, Elise’s brother was killed—and something snapped in them. The pair began writing postcards denouncing the Nazi regime and calling on Germans to engage in civil disobedience and sabotage.Read more
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