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Russia Insider Repeats Tired Trope of Cold War Anti-Russian Propaganda, Passes It off as Something You've Yet to Hear

Actually we've already heard this, and not from friends of Russia and its people

Russia Insider continues on its mission to familiarize its Russia-loving audience with the Nazi-loving historian Mike Walsh. After we learned that Nazi Germany was "more democratic than modern-day Europe" we now learn that "Russian popular support for German occupiers in WW" was "much higher than you are told".

The article then says that when Nazi armies crossed over into the Soviet Union in 1941 they met with some popular support and were greeted as liberators. How is this in any way new? How is this in any way something you have not yet heard a hundred times already? Every History channel documentary and popular history in the west can't stop talking about how terrible and cannibalistic the Soviet regime was — so much so that its people initially greeted even Hitler as a liberator. 

<figcaption>Unknown to them these Soviet POWs in 1941 are waiting for their deaths from starvation the Germans have planned for them</figcaption>
Unknown to them these Soviet POWs in 1941 are waiting for their deaths from starvation the Germans have planned for them
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First of all that isn't exactly true. The Germans were initially greeted in places because the areas just beyond the border they moved into initially were populated by Balts and Western (Galician) Ukrainians who opposed Moscow for nationalist reasons, as an oppressive Russian empire as they saw it. Once they got to Central Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia this no longer happened. There is no doubt the crucified Soviet peasantry was anti-Soviet to the core, and that the Soviet regime before the war was much more skilled in repressing than co-opting the rural masses, but nowhere in the world do simple God-fearing family people, even those detesting their government, welcome foreigners bringing war to their land.

Secondly, the Cold Warriors and indeed — the average western historian and history buff — are at least more honest in that they will follow up their claim that Russians initially greeted the Germans, by saying that once they witnessed the even greater German atrocities the Russians and others then soured on the Germans, and threw in with Stalin as the lesser evil. (With the more pro-German of them lamenting the supposed Hitler's "lost opportunity" in not treating the various Soviet nationalities better and not investing more in winning them over.)

This is a part that Walsh's text carried by Russia Insider is silent on. Walsh reports than in North-Western Russia when the Germans rolled in a couple of villages of sparsely-informed Russian peasants living under a deceitful totalitarian dictatorship proclaimed the liquidation of their collective farm and Adolph Hitler their savior. What the text fails to mention is that unbeknownst to these peasants Hitler had forbade the elimination of collective farms. He had every intention of keeping them as a way to be able to most easily extract the most food from the occupied East Slav lands, and more easily starve out their populations. (Walsh reports that in some part of NW Russia peasants actually ate better under the Germans, but his own sources explain that was a function of Germans failing at establishing the control they sought.)

Walsh reports that Germans did not interfere with Russian Orthodox services, but again he doesn't say why. Hitler was working on weaning the Germans off of Christianity but he wanted it for Poles and for Russians — at least for as long as Polish and Russian slaves were to exist after the war. The reason is because in his eyes Christianity taught pacifism and meekness and was therefore as useful to him in Russians, as it was unwanted in Germans. In fact Hitler regarded Christianity as a Jewish Trojan horse that was dreamt up by the sneaky rabbi Saul and which had brought down the great Aryan Roman empire.

Walsh reports that a "million-man" Russian Liberation Army fought for Hitler’s Reich but in reality only a fraction of Vlasov's army ever saw combat and only at the very end of the war. Moreover when they were deployed in Chechia they promptly switched sides and defended the Czechs against the SS.

Actually the Russian Liberation Army was only a small footnote in the history of Russian collaboration with the Nazi German occupiers. Hundreds of thousands of Russians did indeed serve on the German side, 215 thousand Soviet citizens also fell in various German formations.* However this had nothing whatsoever to do with ideology, idealism, or what government somebody supported. This had everything to do with bare survival.

Once the Germans rolled into the western Soviet Union they brought hell where millions were dying of starvation and disease in their POW camps, and millions more in the occupied areas. For countless captured Red Army men accepting service as a "hilfswillige" or willing-to-help in the Wehrmacht was a way to get a bowl a porridge a day and avoid starvation in a POW camp, or brutal forced labor in the Reich. Their collaboration was often no more political than that of Jewish kapos and catchers — Jews forced to assist in the Jewish Holocaust.

Moreover the "hilfswillige" were forced on Hitler by pragmatic army units in the field that were part of an army that was stretched thin and hungry for manpower. Even so Hitler first resisted the practice and eventually only reluctantly agreed. Much in the same way that he for the longest time held back the formation and deployment of anti-Soviet Baltic and Ukrainian (Galician) formations — and for an even longer time the formation and deployment of Vlasov's "Russian Liberation Army". It did not much make sense to him to arm people he intended eventually to starve out.

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That is not to say the Wehrmacht was more humanitarian or farsighted than its civilian leadership. In late 1941 and early 1942 the Wehrmacht, as it had planned since before the war, starved to death 3 million Soviet prisoners of war — the flower of the Russian youth. Even more people were destroyed even more quickly in Wehrmacht's POW camps at the tail end of Barbarossa than even in SS death camps of Operation Reinhard in 1942 and 1943.

Funnily Walsh does not say how did witnessing the horror of the extermination of their captured sons on death marches and in open-air camps in western Soviet Union affected the Russian support for the German occupiers:

"Perhaps nothing changed the civilians' perception of the Germans' intentions so much as these death marches with the emaciated corpses they left behind them. 'We have lost all sympathy of the population,' wrote an observer in the Ukraine. 'The people cannot understand the shooting of exhausted prisoners of war in villages and larger localities and leaving their bodies there.' Marching starving Soviet soldiers through the heart of Kiev and other cities seemed deliberately designed to intimidate the local inhabitants. The guards received conflicting instructions, sometimes told to save their fire only for those seeking to escape, at others reminded to show 'extreme alertness, the greatest caution and deepest mistrust': they were to respond to the slightest signs of resistance with 'ruthlessness' and to make 'unsparing use' of their weapons. Some enjoyed their power and tormented the prisoners with pieces of bread." - Mark Mazower, Hitler's Empire

Truly that Soviet citizens initially welcomed the German occupation is hardly something most of us have never heard. On the contrary, along with the myth that Russian soldiers were herded to the frontline by Commissars as cattle and mowed down by NKVD machine guns if they retreated, it has to be one of the most tired and oft-repeated tropes of anti-Soviet and anti-Russian propaganda. 

If you're interested in exploring this question for real I recommend Why Stalin's Soldiers Fought: The Red Army's Military Effectiveness in World War II from the pen of the historian Roger R. Reese — possibly the most important single western historian of the Soviet army, I say so because he is one of the very few that studies the Red Army foremost as a social rather than a military historian. (Catherine Merridale does the same but her contribution isn't as large.)


*Over 35 million Soviet citizens at one time or another served on the Soviet side.

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