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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

An End to Hitler's Delusion

Frankly, Gabriel Gorodetsky's book nearly knocked me over right from the start. He acknowledges in the preface to Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia that what prompted him to tread the well-plowed area of the factors and developments that led to the Second World War was a series of articles, later turned into books, by Victor Rezun.

Rezun, who filched for his pseudonym the name of that grand Russian generalissimo Alexander Suvorov, depicted Soviet Russia as the aggressor rather than the victim in June 1941, claiming that from 1939 to 1941 Stalin was meticulously preparing a revolutionary war against Germany, which he later planned to transform into a world war as an instrument of achieving world domination.

Now, getting excited over what some charlatan writes is hardly proper behavior for a serious scholar, which Professor Gorodetsky undoubtedly is. There was some mystery here. Rezun is indeed a rather slimy character, a defector from the Soviet General Staff's GRU, or Main Intelligence Department, who, when his usefulness as a defector ended, turned to writing spy stories as a means of earning a modest penny. His "Aquarium," an insider's description of the mores of the Soviet intelligence community, was widely read when it appeared in Russia in the early years of glasnost despite its cheap, tawdry style - those were the times when interest for any denunciations and revelations was at its peak.

Having exhausted this vein, Rezun ventured into the realm of what Patrick Buchanan, himself a mighty proponent of the genre, calls comic-book history. The result was, in Gorodetsky's words, the "preposterous and unsubstantiated" hypothesis outlined above.

Gorodetsky clearly shows that, like many other charlatans, Rezun wasn't even particularly inventive: He filched his "theory" straight from Hitler. Hitler repeated his claim that his assault on the Soviet Union was "preemptive" on numerous occasions, such as in his statement to Stalin on the launching of the war, and in October 1941, when the Blitzkrieg flopped and he appealed to the people for winter clothing for the soldiers on the Eastern front, lying like mad that in May "the situation was so threatening that there could be no longer any doubt that Russia intended to fall upon us at the first opportunity." Moreover, this explanation was trotted out by some of the German generals at the Nuremberg trials.

Yet, despite all this, German intelligence never came up with any information about Soviet preparations for aggression - something which the more forthright of the German generals reluctantly admitted. Moreover, in September 1940 Lieutenant General Ernst Kostring wrote to General Franz Halder that "the Red Army was in ruins after the purges and that it would require at least three years to reach its pre-war level." Indeed, it was a funny way of preparing for aggression against Germany on Stalin's part, executing within the space of one year, in a bid to establish an unchallenged dictatorship, some 36,700 commanders in the army and 3,000 in the navy.

Ever factual, Professor Gorodetsky doesn't put much stress on the ideological dimension, but it can't be ignored, as it is definitely germane to the issue. By the beginning of World War II, the idea of a proletarian world revolution to be detonated by a self-sacrificing Russia had long gone out of fashion: Its chief proponent, Leon Trotsky, had been banished from the country and later assassinated, and the Comintern was on its last legs.

The overriding ideological tenet of the whole Stalinist system was by that time firmly embedded in the minds of millions of Soviet citizens in a single phrase, a bit of lousy, bureaucratic Russian that was the butt of many off-color jokes: "victory of socialism in a single, separately taken country." Internationalism was all very well - say, when you sang "The Internationale." For non-singing purposes, it was strictly every country for itself. Up Realpolitik. So Rezun's theory doesn't hold water either factually or ideologically even at first approximation - and still the thorough Professor Gorodetsky has to write a full-sized, magnificently researched book to disprove this nonsense.

What is the mystery now? Elementary, dear reader. It's a mystery only to dabblers in history like myself who are, or were, unaware of a whole school of historiography now flourishing in Germany and Austria, its adherents all busy rewriting history to prove the "rationality and legitimacy of the politics of Nazi Germany." To them, Rezun's resuscitation of Hitler's lies was a godsend. If Stalin was hell-bent on aggression against Germany, "then Hitler's decision to fight Russia could no longer be viewed as a fulfillment of the ideological blueprint outlined in Mein Kampf, as a strategic folly or crude aggressive act." It was a preemptive strike - what else?

One such historian quoted by Gorodetsky, Ernst Topitsch, goes even further, insisting that the Second World War was, in fact, a "Soviet attack on the Western democracies, in which Germany served only as a military surrogate." I guess it's fair to say that balderdash like this serves as a present-day Hitler apologist's surrogate for history.

It's good to know that there are people like Professor Gorodetsky around, who are prepared to spend endless hours in dusty archives to get at the truth or, putting it more mundanely, to create a historical narrative with a reference number hanging by the tail end of practically every sentence. The really marvelous thing is that Gorodetsky was able to construct an inherently consistent narrative tinted with a sort of historical doom.

He reveals an implacable sequence of events in 1941, when the clash of wills between Hitler and Stalin over the Balkans and the Black Sea Straits led from the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact to the inception and implementation of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler's directive for war against Russia, and when Great Britain and Russia's ingrained mutual suspicions had to give way to the rapprochement that eventually won the war.

The absence of any ideological bias and a strict adherence to fact makes this book a refreshing mental experience, as one is free from the tension of constantly keeping an eye on fact-skewing. It's a skew-free book, you might say - all treats and no tricks.

"Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia," by Gabriel Gorodetsky. Yale University Press. 424 pp. $29.95.