By Tom Piatak
On May 9, the Russians celebrated their “Victory Day,” marking the anniversary of the Soviet conquest of Berlin in 1945. Moscow was filled, as it always is on May 9, with red flags, pictures of Stalin, and other symbols of the totalitarian regime that emerged triumphant from World War II. “Victory Day” has become the major national holiday in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the foundational myth for Putinism, and the occasion for regular complaints about Western ingratitude toward the enormous Soviet sacrifices in World War II.
These days, a surprising number of American conservatives seem quite happy to celebrate Victory Day alongside Putin. And they are right to note that Putin’s regime is not Communist. It is merely thuggish and autocratic, bombastic and aggressive, threatening to its neighbors, and contemptuous of any claim that Russia has anything at all to be ashamed of in its past.
There is no doubt that the Soviets were instrumental in defeating the Nazis, inflicting roughly 85% of German casualties in the war. But it is still hard to make the case that Soviet actions in the war were either virtuous or deserving of gratitude.
The Soviets fought the Germans to the death beginning on June 22, 1941 for one simple reason: The Nazis left them no choice. When Stalin had a choice, in the summer of 1939, he allied the Soviet Union with Hitler’s Germany and used the opportunity to invade, occupy, and annex the Soviet Union’s neighbors, and then imprison or murder those who opposed Soviet rule or who were merely thought likely to oppose Soviet rule.
In 1945, the Soviets repeated the same process all over again, but this time seizing even more territory, including conquests that had eluded even the tsars.
Poland, likewise, was once again erased from the map, with the Soviets and Nazis even holding joint celebrations in some places, rejoicing that Poland was no more. And just like their Baltic neighbors, tens of thousands of Poles were sent to the Gulag.
But the best-known of all the Soviet atrocities of the period was a spectacular act of mass murder. In an effort to deprive Poland of its leadership class and render Poles docile subjects of Soviet rule, some 22,000 Polish officers were methodically murdered by the NKVD, predecessor to the KGB, at Katyn and other remote, forested locations.
When the Germans uncovered mass graves they had not made, the Soviets insisted that all the Allies join in their lies about Katyn. After the Polish government in exile in London showed some reluctance in swallowing Stalin’s lies about Katyn, he broke off relations with the Polish government in exile in London and recognized a handful of servile Polish Communists as the legitimate government of a nation that had never accepted Nazi rule, that had supplied tens of thousands of men to the Allied cause, and that supported the largest resistance force in Nazi-occupied Europe, the Home Army.
The Communists, of course, regarded the Home Army as the enemy, and the second Soviet occupation of Poland–what the Soviets perversely refer to as Poland’s “liberation”–was marked by numerous instances of survivors of German imprisonment and torture being subjected to imprisonment and torture again, this time by the Soviets.
A related note: The intrepid Polish pilots who made their way from Nazi-occupied Poland and who helped save Britain during the Battle of Britain, weren’t allowed to march in the Allied Victory parade in London, because the Soviets — who, at the time of the Battle of Britain, were de facto allies of the Nazis — objected.
The same was true for the Polish infantry units that took enormous casualties in capturing Monte Cassino, the Polish paratrooper unit that took enormous casualties at Arnhem, and all the other Polish units that bravely fought alongside the Western Allies in World War II.
Although ungrateful and unjust, these exclusions are more truthful than the claim, now regularly made in Moscow, that the Poles and the Balts and all the others whose countries were occupied by the Red Army in 1945 should be celebrating on May 9 as well.
True, the Soviet occupation of Poland was less brutal and less murderous than the Nazi occupation had been, although it was both brutal and murderous. But it was no more a victory for the Poles than it was a victory for all the other nations conquered by the Soviets on their way to Berlin, several of which actually fared better under the Nazis than the Soviets.
Let the Russians have their “Victory Day. ” But don’t be foolish enough to join in.