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A parade in Brest, 1939.
September 27, 2009 9:03 AM   Subscribe

September 22, 1939: In the Polish city of Brest-Litovsk (now Brest, in Belarus), "a monumental military parade took place.... What is unusual is that the parade was held not by the Polish army, but by the soviet Red Army and the Nazi German Wehrmacht – together." The excellent blog Poemas del río Wang (which usually features gorgeous illustrations from books) provides historical context, many photos, posters, and cartoons, even a five-minute official German newsreel (the parade takes up the first half). The event itself is a historical footnote, but in Russia, with the "cult of the victory of Soviet people and of the Soviet state in WWII," the very idea of it was anathema and it was denied until last year.

The post is full of fascinating tidbits; for example, a few days after the parade "the Soviet secret police NKVD delegated a high rank deputation to Krakow where they demonstrated to the chiefs of the Gestapo their methods used against the Polish underground movement. The leaders of the Gestapo 'expressed their admiration' and declared that they also 'wished to adopt and apply' the Soviet methods."
posted by languagehat (26 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great post.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:17 AM on September 27, 2009


That's the same city where Russia's surrender peace treaty for the end of WWI was signed, giving a huge chunk of Russia to Germany...

So, yeah, Germany and Russia marching together in there at the beginning of WWII sounds funny.
posted by qvantamon at 9:43 AM on September 27, 2009


not sure why this seems so odd. After all, the Russians and the Germans had a treaty:

(Aug. 23, 1939) Agreement stipulating mutual nonaggression between the Soviet Union and Germany. The Soviet Union, whose proposed collective security agreement with Britain and France was rebuffed, approached Germany, and in the pact the two states pledged publicly not to attack each other.

Oh, I see. We sort of pushed them in this direction and now we wonder why they did this.
posted by Postroad at 9:47 AM on September 27, 2009


As qvantamon pointed out above, the supreme irony of a joint Soviet-Nazi military parade in Brest-Litovsk comes from the fact that the city was the site of Russia's formal promise to withdraw from World War I (and thus lose the territory that would become Poland in 1919), plus the fact that these two "friends" would, just a few years later, wage the bloodiest war in human history, in which 20 million Russians alone would lose their lives.

Oh, I see. We sort of pushed them in this direction and now we wonder why they did this.

History is rarely so simple.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:02 AM on September 27, 2009


Oh my. That's about as "non-aggression pact" as it gets.
posted by mediareport at 10:14 AM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, I see. We sort of pushed them in this direction and now we wonder why they did this.

Yep. Hitler wanted peace in Europe, but you know, Britain and France pushed him into war. Don't get me started on the Japanese. We're the ones who went and ruined the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere idea.


...
posted by Atreides at 10:20 AM on September 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


P.S. Thanks for the interesting post!

It's not that far removed from that moment after the surrender of Germany, when the Western powers were celebrating with the Red Army. A brief celebratory moment when allies were soon to become enemies.
posted by Atreides at 10:24 AM on September 27, 2009


The photos are very evocative of the ones of Soviets meeting Americans at the end of the war.

Oh my. That's about as 'non-aggression pact' as it gets.

Stalin loved a man in uniform. Unfortunately, he also loved to kill a man in uniform.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:44 AM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks, languagehat - interesting post and great pointer to a really interesting blog!
posted by madamjujujive at 11:52 AM on September 27, 2009


> Stalin loved a man in uniform. Unfortunately, he also loved to kill a man in uniform.

At first I too thought that was Stalin on the left, but I think it's just a random Ukrainian welcoming the Red Army. The caption reads "Our army is an army of workers' liberation." Stalin would never have allowed himself to be portrayed in such a way; he was Our Sun, The Great Teacher, The Helmsman, and The Father of the People, not some swarthy schmuck in a peasant shirt.
posted by languagehat at 2:26 PM on September 27, 2009


For a second I wondered why everyone outside of the former USSR is suddenly acting all 'Molotv-Ribbentrop wha???' all of a sudden. Then I remembered that this is all part of a growing trend by the right-wing to try and point the finger of blame for WWII at the Soviet Union: "Hitler wasn't that bad after all y'know, at least he got the [death] trains running on time". "If it wasn't for Stalin appeasing Hitler then poor old Adolf wouldn't have been forced/tempted/tricked into invading Poland".

Yes Stalin was partly to blame, but I don't think citizen's of Britain or France (who didn't lift a finger after Hitler's annexation of Sudetenland, nor after the Austrian Anschluss) can blame the USSR any more than their own governments. Similarly the USA who steadfastly refused to join the conflict for 2 years and then only after Pearl Harbour and the Axis had declared war on it.
posted by JustAsItSounds at 5:45 PM on September 27, 2009




JustAsItSounds , who exactly (in US? or elsewhere) in the right-wing is spouting that viewpoint of WWII? I was under the impression that even the right recognized the Hitler as bad guy and instigator view of WWII.
posted by dealing away at 7:49 PM on September 27, 2009


For a second I wondered why everyone outside of the former USSR is suddenly acting all 'Molotv-Ribbentrop wha???' all of a sudden.

This is completely backwards. Most of the noise has been coming from Putin's Russia, which sees the Pact as legitimising ongoing shenanigans/sabre-rattling in the "near abroad". Even us leftie pinkos can see that.
posted by kersplunk at 8:05 PM on September 27, 2009


This whole era of 1939-1941 is a complete black hole for Russians, even today. The Great Patriotic war was 1941-1945, and nobody seems all that clear about the details of this "WWII" thing that supposedly started in 1939.

I like getting them riled up about the dates... "No, it started in 1939, when you guys and the Nazis invaded Poland". Blank stares.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:35 PM on September 27, 2009


Someone should mention Eisenstein's beautiful but kinda dull* film Alexander Nevsky here. It's a 1938 anti-German propaganda piece - well, medieval Germans - that makes perfectly clear Germans are brutal thugs who throw babies into fires with the blessings of their priests. Unfortunately, it was released in Soviet theaters just before Stalin announced the non-aggression pact. Oops. It got yanked but dusted off a few years later after Hitler's invasion. Seemed relevant.

*except for the Battle on the Ice
posted by mediareport at 9:38 PM on September 27, 2009


who exactly (in US? or elsewhere) in the right-wing is spouting that viewpoint of WWII? I was under the impression that even the right recognized the Hitler as bad guy and instigator view of WWII.

I admit that my recollection of where I saw this trend starting is hazy, but a quick google search bought up this:Polish Pres. Lays Blame at WWII Anniversary. I guess it's just because of the 70th anniversary that the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact is getting increased coverage again. Call it over-enthusiastic pessimism and hyperbole on my part.
Some more:
How Soviet Union and nazi Germany became allies and divided Europe

This is completely backwards. Most of the noise has been coming from Putin's Russia, which sees the Pact as legitimising ongoing shenanigans/sabre-rattling in the "near abroad". Even us leftie pinkos can see that.

Not sure I understand the logic behind this. Putin and the rest of the communist old guard are undeniably ashamed of the fact that Stalin signed a pact with Hitler. The Polish president embarrased the Russians recently by remarking on the 70th anniversary of the Polish invasion that blame lied equally with the Nazi's and the Soviets. If anything, I would think that Putin et Al would rather that everyone forgot about the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Indeed there seems to be a revisionist moement in those former 'client states': In some Baltic republics and Ukraine, Nazi collaborators are even honored as war veterans, while Soviet war memorials are moved or dismantled. Many in Russia consider this not only insulting, but also a dangerous rehabilitation of ideas that their countrymen paid such a high price to eliminate.
posted by JustAsItSounds at 10:20 PM on September 27, 2009


> who exactly (in US? or elsewhere) in the right-wing is spouting that viewpoint of WWII? I was under the impression that even the right recognized the Hitler as bad guy and instigator view of WWII.

I admit that my recollection of where I saw this trend starting is hazy, but a quick google search bought up this:Polish Pres. Lays Blame at WWII Anniversary.


That has nothing to do with any "right wing"; the Poles hate the Russians for the same reason the Vietnamese hate the Chinese: they were oppressed by them for centuries, had their very existence as a nation eliminated, and are quite aware that the ancient enemy would be delighted to repeat the experience if they got the chance. (If anyone is thinking of going on about how this is a generalization and not all Poles hate Russians, in fact one of your best friends is a Pole who absolutely loves Russians, spare me. Yes, it's a generalization. Get over it.)

> If anything, I would think that Putin et Al would rather that everyone forgot about the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

Well, of course they would. Not sure I see your point here; in your various comments you seem to be conflating a bunch of different things into one big pile of ill-thought-out mush.
posted by languagehat at 6:04 AM on September 28, 2009


Coincidentally: last Saturday in the supermarket I noticed two very distinguished-looking older gentlemen, each wearing a clutch of medals on his chest, as well as an esoteric-looking emblem. It took me a while to recognise the white-red theme in their decorations, as well as the language they spoke as Polish, and it took me some digging the Interwebs afterwards to find their emblem and what it stood for. Respect.

Frankly, it would only be good for Russia if it finally recognised what the Molotov-Ribbentropp Pact meant, and how it affected Russia's western neighbours.
posted by Skeptic at 7:06 AM on September 28, 2009


The most prominent right-wing voice I've heard in the US argue along these lines is Pat Buchanan, whose most recent book, Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War, apparently serves as an apology for Nazi aggression.
posted by kgander at 9:32 AM on September 28, 2009


I think that book and Human Smoke are considered some of the worst revisionist texts to come out recently on the war.
posted by Atreides at 10:14 AM on September 28, 2009


What is missing in the postwar history is a trial to condemn Stalin's regime for the specific crimes they have committed. A trial carried out by the Russians. It would have reduced the speculation about that period in history then and reduced people's anxiety now.

Such trials seems to be the best way to cleanse a nation's conscience and pave the way to a national renewal.

What do you think?
posted by muxa at 7:29 PM on September 28, 2009


That has nothing to do with any "right wing"; the Poles hate the Russians for the same reason the Vietnamese hate the Chinese: they were oppressed by them for centuries, had their very existence as a nation eliminated, and are quite aware that the ancient enemy would be delighted to repeat the experience if they got the chance. (If anyone is thinking of going on about how this is a generalization and not all Poles hate Russians, in fact one of your best friends is a Pole who absolutely loves Russians, spare me. Yes, it's a generalization. Get over it.)

You won't get any argument from me about whether the Poles hate the Russians (as a generalisation) but thanks for correcting the words you put into my mouth.

The point I was tying to make (apparently somewhere in that 'big pile of ill-thought-out mush') was that I have seen more and more references to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in right-wing blogs and publications recently with the particular inference that the Soviets are to be blamed for starting WWII.
posted by JustAsItSounds at 8:30 PM on September 28, 2009


What is missing in the postwar history is a trial to condemn Stalin's regime for the specific crimes they have committed. A trial carried out by the Russians. It would have reduced the speculation about that period in history then and reduced people's anxiety now.

Unfortunately, there's been a recent trend in Russia to show Stalin in a better light.
posted by Atreides at 5:19 PM on September 30, 2009


There has always been a simmering admiration and fascination with Stalin in Russia. Recently it just became somewhat more official. It should be just as illegal as admiring Hitler anywhere in the official channels in Germany or other civilized countries.

Maybe, I am taking it to an extreme, but I think, swastika and hammer and sickle are equally offensive. It is too late for any kind of trial since most people are dead. I can't believe it was possible in Cambodia and not in Russia.
posted by muxa at 6:01 PM on September 30, 2009


No, I agree with you (except for the part about making it illegal), and I am at a loss to understand why Communism gets cut so much slack by comparison. Everyone who thinks Stalin wasn't that bad, or Lenin was a little stern but basically OK, should have their nose rubbed in a detailed history of the Gulag.
posted by languagehat at 6:16 AM on October 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Good point about the slack. It may be in part because Western Europe has a long history of fairly civilized communist movement, but then most of the European communists (except for the East Europeans, of course, who know better) have not gotten their noses truly rubbed in it.

Another reason maybe that Russia is large and omnipresent and the rest of the world has to relax their standards when dealing with them. The same, even more vividly, goes with China.
posted by muxa at 3:07 PM on October 2, 2009


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