Evaluating Two Totalitarian Monsters: Peter Kenez’s Reply

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It’s customary to thank the editors for the chance to opine on such an necessary historic topic. And I do thank Legislation & Liberty’s editors, distressing although it was when, in March, Paul Hollander requested me if I’d be keen to write down in his stead. The world has since misplaced a stellar historian and an excellent man. Could we supply on the dialogue within the forthright spirit of my pal Paul.

Studying Harvey Klehr’s response to my piece on the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact by which he mentioned the response of the communist motion to the alliance of the 2 dictators, jogged my memory of a second, a few years in the past. I taught a graduate seminar on Hitler and Stalin. I launched the course by an in depth description of a historic second. In January 1940, simply a short while after signing the pact, the Soviet authorities handed over about 800 German and Austrian communist prisoners, a lot of them Jewish, to the Gestapo. These women and men, victims of the purges, had been struggling in camps of the Gulag. We be taught from the memoirs of Alexander Weissberg, a Polish communist scientist, the main points. For just a few weeks the prisoners had been decently fed and given new garments. It appears even the Bolsheviks had been ashamed of the bodily situations of their prisoners. When these veterans of the communist motion and Soviet prisons and camps regarded presentable, they had been herded over a bridge at Brest Litovsk and handed over to the Nazis. It was ironic that the communists thus returned had a greater likelihood for survival than those that stayed behind. Statistically talking life expectancy was higher for political prisoners in Nazi than in Soviet camps. It appeared to me it was the second of final betrayal of the communist beliefs and an  expression of utmost cynicism. 

Certainly one of my objectives within the seminar was to convey that the 2 dictators had been equally inhumane and had been the reason for extraordinary struggling for a really giant variety of human beings. On the identical time we’ve as a lot to be taught from the variations of the 2 human beings, Hitler and Stalin, and the variations between the 2 totalitarian regimes that they’d established, as we do from the similarities. A “good German” residing in his homeland within the 1930s had nothing to fret about; a very good communist residing within the Soviet Union on the identical time had each purpose to concern. Hitler and Stalin had been very completely different human beings. We all know Hitler. He dedicated his ideas to paper; he mentioned his concepts along with his companions. We now have information of his “desk conversations”. He was an mental non-entity. Stalin, against this, is an enigma. He didn’t confide. We could conclude from feedback that he made on the writing of others, that he was effectively learn. We will additionally comply with his evolution from the 1920s when he confirmed himself an ready politician, who had managed to persuade his fellow communists that, in contrast to Trotsky, he stood for stability to his final years the place we could conclude from his actions that he had suffered from paranoia. 

In our dialogue of the Molotov Ribbentrop pact we should conclude that the personalities of the 2 dictators mattered. Hitler, a person of motion, was able to throw warning to the wind. He launched into an enterprise, world conquest, that by definition was unattainable. In contrast, Stalin would by no means provoke an assault that he didn’t know the best way to conclude. In 1939 it was not unreasonable for him to imagine that the good French military would lengthy resist the German aggressors and thereby save the Soviet Union, and his personal energy, from the German risk. He was mistaken.

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