Tuesday, July 22, 2008

June 22, 1941: Nazi Germany Invades USSR

With the commencement of "Operation Barbarossa" (named after the crusading medieval German emperor to whom various legends of rebirth and salvation were attached), Nazi Germany broke its non-aggression pact of 1939 with the USSR, catching Stalin largely by surprise (Soviet goods were still traveling westward to Germany right up to the time of the attack, although Stalin had taken some measures to prepare for eventual war).

As a racial and ideological crusade, the campaign introduced a new degree of barbarism to warfare, carried out not just by the SS, but by the regular armed forces, as well.  In violation of all international rules of war, the Nazis denied the Soviet soldier the right to be treated as an "honorable" opponent. Not only did they refuse to apply the provisions of the Geneva and Hague Conventions, but they also instituted particular measures of persecution, including the notorious "Commissar Order" authorizing summary execution of political officers attached to the Red Army.  Fully 60 percent of Soviet POWs perished in German captivity (the corresponding figure for prisoners from the Western Allied countries was around 4 percent). The racial war extended not only to the Jews (some 1 million dead), but also to the "inferior" civilian population as a whole.  Total Soviet losses between 1941 and final victory in 1945 have been estimated at nearly 27 million dead (well over half of them civilians).  

In 2005, an official Russian website listed over a million surviving veterans within the Russian Federation.

Further reference:

• Barbarossa:  Wiki entry
• Barbarossa: Military History Online
• "The Unknown War" (IMDB entry): massive 20-part film documentary (1978) on the Soviet experience of the War (narrated by Burt Lancaster, with an accompanying book by Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Harrison Salisbury, who also wrote on the Siege of Leningrad). An intriguing product of the era of détente--at once rich in rare archival footage and eyewitness interviews and yet assiduously avoiding most negative aspects and failures of Soviet policy.

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