A Beautiful Friendship: Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin

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The 60th anniversary of one of the most fateful events in world history went unremarked this week. On Aug. 23, 1939 Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin agreed to what became known as the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact. With that, Stalin made World War II possible. Assured that he was protected from Soviet counter-aggression in the East, Hitler invaded Poland a week later, Sept. 1. The signal that something was up between the two totalitarian powers had come some four months earlier but European chancelleries overlooked it. For on May 3, 1939 came the startling news that the Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov had resigned "at his own request." Litvinov, of Jewish origin and strongly anti-Nazi, had been replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov. His ethnic origins would not embarrass Hitler in dealing with communists. Until the official announcement of the Nazi-Soviet pact, few believed such a agreement possible, especially the Communist Party leaders in the United States and the rest of the world - because the Soviet Union had posed as the dedicated leader in the fight against fascism. When Berlin and Moscow announced on Aug. 20, 1939 the signing of a trade treaty and newspaper dispatches began hinting about a further strategic alliance, communist spokesmen denounced such speculation as fascist in inspiration. They had every reason to disbelieve such a story because, after all, the Comintern line the world over was to seek a united front with the democratic West against fascism in the name of "collective security." Ignored was the editorial in Pravda Aug. 21 that the trade treaty "could be a serious step toward a further improvement of relations, not only economic but also political, between the USSR and Germany." But newspaper speculation about the Nazi-Soviet alliance turned out to be correct. From Soviet archives we have now learned that on Aug. 19, 1939, Stalin told the Soviet Politburo that if a world war should follow a Nazi-Soviet pact it would only serve to strengthen...
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