[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-War]: Rutherford on Moorhouse, 'The Devils' Alliance: Hitler's Pact With Stalin, 1939-41'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Sun Mar 11 19:35:57 MDT 2018

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From: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.msu.edu>
Date: Fri, Mar 9, 2018 at 11:19 AM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-War]: Rutherford on Moorhouse, 'The Devils'
Alliance: Hitler's Pact With Stalin, 1939-41'
To: H-REVIEW at lists.h-net.org

Roger Moorhouse.  The Devils' Alliance: Hitler's Pact With Stalin,
1939-41.  New York  Basic Books, 2014.  432 pp.  $29.99 (cloth), ISBN

Reviewed by Jeff Rutherford (Wheeling Jesuit University)
Published on H-War (March, 2018)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

By June 1941, the European continent lay firmly under German
dominion. The battlefield revolution created by the Germans' adroit
exploitation of the potential offered by tanks and planes operating
in tandem served as one cause of this. Just as important, however,
was a diplomatic revolution that allowed the Germans to concentrate
their forces on one front at a time. At a stroke, the signing of the
Nazi-Soviet Pact on August 23, 1939, fundamentally altered European
Great Power politics, and instead of the Soviet Union acting as check
on German ambitions--as its predecessor had during the First World
War--Moscow supported German policies, while simultaneously pursuing
its own revisionist agenda.

Despite its significance in shaping not only the war itself, but
indeed the postwar settlement as well, historian Roger Moorhouse
argues that "the pact is simply not a part of our collective
narrative of World War II" (p. xxiii). In his new book, _The Devils'
Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941_, Moorhouse aims for
the agreement and its results "to be rescued from the footnotes and
restored to its rightful place in our collective narrative of World
War II in Europe" (p. xxvi). In particular, he believes "it is
frankly scandalous" that the Sovietization of those areas annexed by
Moscow "does not find a place in the Western narrative of World War
II" (p. xxvi). While Moorhouse's presentation does not offer a
dramatic revision of how historians understand the events from 1939
to 1941, he does provide a readable overview that should appeal to
broad audience not as well versed in the topic.

Moorhouse offers a conventional narrative approach that covers all of
the major events during the pact's relatively brief existence: German
foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop's visits to Moscow in August
and September 1939, Sir Stafford Cripp's ill-fated May 1940 journey
to the Soviet Union, Nazi deputy führer Rudolf Hess's spectacularly
misjudged attempt to end the war between Germany and Great Britain by
flying to the British Isles, Soviet foreign minister's Vyacheslav
Molotov's stormy and ultimately unsuccessful meeting in Berlin in
November 1940, and the various foreign policy and military
machinations of the two states in the area stretching from Finland
down through the Balkans. His eye for detail and his artful
descriptions of the leading protagonists and their beliefs keeps the
relatively well-known narrative moving at a brisk pace.

Three major themes emerge in his treatment of the period. First, he
is determined to shine a bright light on Soviet occupation policies
in the annexed areas of the Baltic states, eastern Poland,
Bessarabia, and Bukovina. Of course, this is not _terra incognito_.
Jan Gross's _Revolution from Abroad_ (1988), Alexander Prusin's _The
Lands Between: Conflict in the East European Borderlands, 1870-1992
_(2010), and Timothy Snyder's _Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and
Stalin_ (2012) have all examined the events surrounding the pact and
its results based on serious archival research, and Soviet behavior
in these areas constitutes an important component in the work of one
of Moorhouse's former collaborators, Norman Davies, in his _No Simple
Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945 _(2007). Nonetheless,
Moorhouse effectively mines memoirs and other secondary source
material, including that published in the Baltic states, to vividly
recreate the terror caused by the mass arrests, deportation, and
murder unleashed by the Red Army and NKVD. In sixteen months, the
Soviets organized four separate major deportations from their
occupied section of Poland. Citing the Polish historian Zbigniew
Siemaszko, Moorhouse suggests that the generally agreed upon number
of one million deported might be a significant underestimation of the
true number, as it fails to include those whose fate remained outside
the written record. The well-known murderous events at Katyn were
complemented by smaller scale shootings of officers; clearly, Poland
suffered greatly under its 22-month Soviet occupation. The other
areas incorporated into the Soviet Union as a result of the pact
fared no better. Moorhouse states that over 17,000 Estonians, some
22,000 Latvians, more than 46,000 Lithuanians, and approximately
32,000 Bessarabians were deported in the year between annexation and
German invasion. He also estimates that some 6,500 Lithuanian
soldiers and 8,000 Bessarabians were executed by NKVD and that
evidence exists proving that Latvian officers suffered a similar
fate. The final eruption of Soviet violence occurred following the
German invasion, when the Soviet secret police murdered numerous
political prisoners in captivity before it evacuated the area, with
more than 14,000 shot in eastern Poland and the Baltic states.

Moorhouse also addresses the German occupation of western Poland. He
discusses the contributions of the various German institutions
involved in the pacification and subsequent Germanization of western
Poland, from the army and Einsatzgruppen to the civilian authorities
in the General Government and Gauleiters of the annexed territories.
While Moorhouse does not downplay German crimes in Poland, his
emphasis is clearly on Sovietization policies in eastern Europe, and
the relative space devoted to each occupation is telling of his
approach. This reviewer does not read this as a nefarious attempt to
minimize German crimes at the expense of the Soviet; rather, it seems
an attempt to raise consciousness of what he believes to be the
relatively unknown fate of eastern Poland, the Baltic states, and
Bessarabia under Soviet control. His claim that "in fact, a
remarkable symmetry emerged between the occupation policies adopted
by the Nazis and the Soviets, with both sides using similar methods
for dealing with their respective conquered populations" (p. 43) fits
neatly into recent historiographical trends that sees numerous
similarities between Nazi Germany and the Stalinist Soviet Union in
how they constructed their respective empires.

The second major theme concerns what he terms the "contortions" of
political parties in Europe and the United States caused by the pact
(p. 112). The ideological antipathy that existed between the Nazi and
Bolshevik states was simply erased in Orwellian fashion by the two
regimes. Both states completely reversed course in their domestic
spheres, and films or other types of propaganda that slandered their
new ally disappeared from public view. This shift in message by
Moscow meant that Communist parties throughout Europe had to
radically change their policies on the fly: instead of Fascists, now
the "bourgeoisie"--defined as Social Democrats, Liberals, and
Conservatives--were targeted as the main enemies of peace. This led
to the absurd behavior of the French Communist Party attacking its
own government even after the German invasion had begun. On the
right, Fascist Italy was dumbfounded by the pact, and this led its
oreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, to advise Mussolini to "tear
up the [Axis] Pact ... Europe will recognize you as the natural
leader of the anti-German crusade" (p. 122). The ideological struggle
that had dominated European politics and society during the 1930s was
now upended, further confusing the diplomatic situation.

The economic relationship between the Third Reich and the Soviet
Union constitutes Moorhouse's third primary theme. Despite a rather
bumpy relationship, the two states had become each other's largest
trading partners by 1941, with each deriving real benefits from the
arrangement. Moorhouse believes that German machine tools proved of
immense value to Soviet industry and claims that "it is surely no
exaggeration to say that German engineering was one of the
unacknowledged godfathers of the Red Army's later military prowess"
(p. 180). He also contends that Soviet food was extremely important
to Germany, arguing that by mid-summer 1941, the Reich had become
dependent on grain from the east.

That this was a benefit to the Germans is certainly true from one
perspective, but it was also an extremely worrying prospect from
another. Dependence on the Soviet Union--the wellspring of the
"Judeo-Bolshevism" that Hitler and his ruling circle believed
mortally threatened European civilization--simply could not be
accepted by Berlin. This line of thought leads to my only real
criticism of the book. In his discussion of why Germany broke the
pact and invaded the Soviet Union, Moorhouse argues that Hitler had
"moved on" from economic thinking "to much more seductive motivators,
such as ideology and geopolitics" (p. 241). Recent historiography has
not only suggested that economics, ideology, and strategic
considerations all reinforced one another, but also that if one
motivation drove the others, it was indeed economic thinking. His
discussion of the opening stages of the German
_Vernichtungskrieg--_or war of annihilation--continues in this vein,
by examining activities of the Einsatzgruppen during the opening
stages of the Holocaust on the eastern front but neglecting Economic
Staff East and the attempt to starve large swathes of northern and
central Russia. Berlin had already demonstrated that it could
rationalize ideological inconsistencies in the name of security;
economic concerns, however, proved too tangible to be ignored.

In sum, Moorhouse has produced a solid book. _The Devils' Alliance:
Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941_ is a sound overview of the
Nazi-Soviet Pact and its legacy that could be effectively used in the
undergraduate classroom and should appeal to a broader, popular

Citation: Jeff Rutherford. Review of Moorhouse, Roger, _The Devils'
Alliance: Hitler's Pact With Stalin, 1939-41_. H-War, H-Net Reviews.
March, 2018.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=46615

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States


Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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