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23: Hitler’s War

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World War II, which was to be followed by a long period of “no war, no peace,” not concluded even until the present day, was also preceded by a similar though shorter period in which, without actual fighting, a whole series of aggressions was committed against various countries of East Central Europe. And since the actual war also started in that region of Europe, as in 1914, the importance of all these countries for universal history became more evident than ever before. Though in World War I that importance was more and more realized and was seriously taken into consideration when peace was made, this time exactly the opposite happened. Therefore, though it would be too early to write any definitive history of a world-wide conflict not yet ended by any real peace settlement, it is high time to recall how from the beginning the peoples of East Central Europe, without being in any way responsible for the new catastrophe, were and still are its main victims.

    The first totalitarian aggression was directed against Austria. Her chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, realized on his return from his visit to Berchtesgaden on February 12, 1938, that this attempt to appease Hitler had been a mistake. Though abandoned by the Western powers, he decided to hold a plebiscite which would demonstrate that in spite of Nazi agitation the majority of the Austrians wanted to remain an independent country. When it became obvious that Hitler would prevent such a plebiscite by force, Schuschnigg resigned in order to avoid hopeless fighting. He was replaced by the Nazi, Seyss-Inquart, who on March 12, 1938, invited German troops to occupy Austria. On the following day the Anschluss was proclaimed, contrary to the peace treaties. It appeared to be not a federation of Austria with Germany, but the complete absorption of the former as a German province which was soon to be called “Ostmark” and divided into seven Reichsgaue. Immediately a violent persecution also set in, not only of the Jews but also of all Austrians who were faithful to their tradition, including Schuschnigg himself. He was at once arrested.

    That brutal annexation which was passively accepted by the Western powers was not only a first violation of the territorial status of Europe as established after World War I, not only a hard blow for the Austrian people, but also a threat to all other countries of East Central Europe. Hungary and Yugoslavia were now Germany’s immediate neighbors, and Czechoslovakia, encircled on three sides, was naturally chosen as next victim.

    After the seizure of Austria hardly one month had passed when the leader of the Sudeten Germans, Conrad Henlein, was called to Berlin. On his return on the twenty-fourth of April, he announced at Karlsbad the request for the creation of an autonomous German province within the Czechoslovak Republic. The bargaining which now started between the German minority directed from Berlin and the Czechoslovak government, the latter quite insufficiently backed by the Western democracies, almost led to an outbreak of hostilities at the end of May and was not at all facilitated by the August mission of Lord Runciman, a friend of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who became convinced that the very liberal concessions offered by Czechoslovakia were inadequate. And so they were, but only because what the Nazis really wanted was the complete separation of the Sudeten territory and its incorporation into Germany. This was openly announced to Chamberlain when on the fifteenth of September, alarmed by Hitler s threats, he visited the dictator in Berchtesgaden. Under British and French pressure, President Benes even accepted that solution, but when Chamberlain returned to Germany on the twenty-second of September and informed Hitler of that agreement at the Godesberg conference, the Führer rejected all proposals of a gradual transfer and demanded the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland by Germany.

    After a few days of imminent war danger it was decided, at Mussolini’s suggestion, to hold a four-power conference in Munich. There, on the twenty-ninth of September, an agreement was reached without any participation by Czechoslovakia. She was merely notified of it the next day. Hitler’s only concession was that the territory which he wanted to annex was to be occupied progressively during the first week of October. Czechoslovakia lost over 10,000 square miles of territory with a population of 3,600,000, including 800,000 Czechs. At the same time that meant the loss of her natural boundaries, of her only defensible fortifications, and of three-quarters of her industrial resources. Furthermore, Benes felt obliged to resign, and the new president, Emil Hacha, together with his new government, was forced to reorientate the whole policy of the mutilated country toward close cooperation with Germany.

    The Soviet Union resented the fact that it was not invited to the Munich Conference, but the only action which it took in favor of the victim was a warning addressed to Poland on the twenty-third of September, that the Polish-Russian nonaggression pact would be denounced if Poland violated the Czechoslovak frontier. Poland had indeed declared that since all minority territories were to be separated from Czechoslovakia, she would claim the part of the Teschen (Cieszyn, Tesin) region which in spite of its predominantly Polish population had been attributed to Czechoslovakia in 1920. These Polish and similar Hungarian claims were mentioned at Godesberg and Munich where, however, neither of these neighbors of Czechoslovakia was represented. As to the Czechoslovak-Hungarian dispute, it was arbitrated by Germany and Italy which on the second of November, in Vienna, gave Hungary 4,200 square miles with more than a million people. The day before, Czechoslovakia handed over to Poland the small frontier district, 800 square miles with a population of 230,000 (many of them Poles, the statistics are highly controversial), which that country had requested in an ultimatum presented the day after Munich.

    To raise that minor issue at that very moment was, of course, most unfortunate, and in spite of all the arguments in favor of the claims of Poland, harmed that country in foreign public opinion. An equally bad impression had been produced earlier in the same year when, a few days after the annexation of Austria, Poland sent an ultimatum to Lithuania which the latter accepted on the nineteenth of March. But that ultimatum, provoked by a frontier incident in which a Polish soldier had been killed, asked exclusively for the establishment of normal diplomatic relations which Lithuania had refused since the conflict of 1920 and which now contributed at once to a notable improvement of the general relations between the two countries. Both in the Lithuanian and in the Czechoslovakian case, Poland acted so abruptly because, alarmed by Germany’s advance, she wanted to strengthen her own position in anticipation of Hitler’s next move.

    That his next aggression would be directed against Poland, had already become apparent in the month after Munich. A first clash almost occurred when Poland occupied the important railway junction of Oderberg (Bogumin, near Teschen), which Germany had claimed for herself. On the twenty-fourth of October Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop for the first time presented to the Polish ambassador the German “suggestions” regarding the return of the Free City of Danzig to the Reich and an extraterritorial railroad and highway through the Polish “corridor.” Poland’s reaction to these claims, which threatened to cut her off from the Baltic, was of course negative, and although the growing tension was concealed through diplomatic visits of Beck in Berchtesgaden and Ribbentrop in Warsaw, relations became even worse when in the course of these last apparently friendly conversations Poland once more rejected all suggestions to join in an aggression against Russia.

    Therefore Hitler finally decided to start his great eastward drive by the destruction of Poland. But in order to have the best possible chance for a speedy victory, he first prepared her encirclement by two actions, one in the south against what remained of Czechoslovakia, the other in the north against Lithuania. The former, by far the more important, was facilitated by the federal structure which had also been imposed on the republic soon after Munich. Under strong pressure the autonomous government of Slovakia, headed by Monsignor Tiso, after a vote of the Slovak parliament for complete independence, on March 14, 1939, placed the new state under Germany’s protection. At the same time President Hacha was summoned to Berlin and early in the morning of the fifteenth of March was forced to sign a document creating the “Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia” which was at once occupied by German troops though the fiction of a separate government was maintained. German forces also received the right to enter Slovakia, and only Carpatho-Ruthenia, which also proclaimed its independence, was retaken by Hungary which thus obtained a common frontier with Poland, something that was desired by both countries.

    From the point of view of Poland’s security, however, this was very small compensation for the creation of a German front in the southwest, and only a few days after the partition of Czechoslovakia, on the twenty-second of March, Lithuania had to accept a German ultimatum forcing her to return Memel (Klaipeda) and its territory to the Reich. She thus lost her only port, while Germany’s position was strengthened in East Prussia, another important strategic basis for the invasion of Poland.

    Hitler’s breaking of the Munich agreement shocked Britain to such an extent that when Hitler made public his claims regarding Danzig and the “corridor”—obviously a first step to destroy Poland after Czechoslovakia—Chamberlain offered Poland, on the thirtieth of March, a guaranty of her independence which on the sixth of April, during Beck’s visit to London, was converted into a mutual guaranty supplementing the French-Polish alliance. On the eighteenth of April British and French guaranties against aggression were also given to Rumania and Greece. Greece was particularly threatened, since Mussolini, encouraged by the successes of Hitler with whom he was soon to conclude a “Pact of Steel,” had invaded Albania on the seventh of April, forcing that country to accept the King of Italy as her king also.

    But the belated action of the Western powers failed to stop Hitler. On the contrary, on the twenty-eighth of April, he denounced his nonaggression treaty with Poland, which should have remained in force for five more years, and was already encouraged to continue his preparation for war by the suggestions for improving German-Russian relations which the Soviet ambassador in Berlin started making on the seventeenth of April.

    On that same day the Soviet Union, in reply to a British proposal that Russia, too, give a guaranty of assistance to any neighbor expressing such a desire, suggested a mutual assistance pact with all states between the Baltic and the Black Sea. But in the protracted negotiations between the Western powers and Russia, where on the third of May Litvinov was replaced as commissar for foreign affairs by V. Molotov, it soon became apparent that the Soviet Union demanded as a price the right to occupy the Baltic states and eastern Poland militarily. The reluctance of these countries to accept any Russian assistance under such conditions was only too justified, and while discussing such a “grand alliance” against Hitler, Russia was making good progress in her negotiations with Germany which led to the Nonaggression Treaty of the twenty-third of August during Ribbentrop’s visit in Moscow.


The Nazi-Soviet Pact made it immediately clear that in spite of all peace efforts, including those of Pope Pius XII and President Roosevelt, and of a belated British mediation between Germany and Poland, war had become unavoidable and that there was a serious danger that Poland would be invaded from two sides. Therefore when Britain signed on the twenty-fifth of August, her final Agreement of Mutual Assistance with Poland it was specified in a secret protocol that immediate “support and assistance” were to be given only against Germany. But we know today that the German-Russian treaty was also accompanied by a secret protocol which outlined in advance the partition of Poland and all the rest of East Central Europe into “spheres of influence” of the two partners. Poland was to be “rearranged” along a line following the Narew, Vistula, and San rivers, thus bringing the Soviet Union as far as the eastern suburbs of Warsaw. Furthermore, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Rumanian Bessarabia were placed in the Russian sphere of influence, while Germany claimed only Lithuania and declared her disinterestedness in South East Europe.

    Germany’s invasion of Poland on the morning of September 1, 1939, without declaration of war and after a last-minute compromise proposal which was not even directly communicated to the Polish government within a reasonable time, met with the first resistance ever put up against Hitler. But Britain and France declared war upon the aggressor only on the third of September and even then found it impossible to give their ally any substantial assistance. Poland therefore stood alone during seventeen days of blitzkrieg and ruthless air bombardment by overwhelming forces, experienced for the first time by any nation. Then, on the seventeenth of September she was informed by the Soviet government that the Red Army was crossing her eastern frontier to “protect the population of Western Ukraine and Western White Ruthenia.” The Soviet note announcing that stab in the back was well timed through continuous negotiations with the Nazis. Although it pretended that the Polish state, its government, and its capital had already ceased to exist, nevertheless fierce resistance against the Germans continued for more than two weeks. Warsaw in particular surrendered on September 27 only after a heroic defense and savage destruction by the Luftwaffe.

    The next day another German-Russian treaty of friendship which determined the new boundary on the partitioned territory “of the former Polish state” was signed in Moscow. For in the meantime it had been decided at Stalin’s personal suggestion that it would be “wrong to leave an independent Polish rump state” which “in the future might create friction between Germany and the Soviet Union” and that a slight change in the original delimitation of their respective spheres of national interests would be desirable. The German share in the partition of Poland was enlarged to include almost one-half of the country to the Bug River, but as explained in another secret protocol Lithuania was now placed in the Russian sphere of influence with only a slight boundary modification in favor of Germany.

    It was soon to become apparent what those assignments meant for Lithuania, to which the Wilno region was to be attributed, and also what they meant for the other Baltic countries. But immediately Poland had to face the two vital problems of assuring her continued existence as an independent allied state under a constitutional government and of organizing underground resistance in the occupied country in close connection with the legal authorities in exile. When President Moscicki, together with his cabinet, crossed the border into Rumania where all were interned, he resigned. In agreement with the provisions of the constitution, he designated Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz, a former president of the senate, as his successor. Raczkiewicz was then in Paris, where he appointed a new government with General Wladyslaw Sikorski as prime minister and minister of war. They agreed that the constitution of 1935, which could not be revised in wartime, would be applied, following democratic principles, and the famous artist and patriot, I. J. Paderewski, was elected president of a national council which acted as a parliament in exile.

    In France, where the Polish authorities received an exterritorial residence at Angers, General Sikorski immediately organized a new Polish army. This was joined by many soldiers who after crossing the frontier of their country escaped from internment in Rumania or Hungary. Therefore numerous Polish forces could fight as allies in Norway during the Narvik expedition and in the defense of France when she, too, was invaded by the Germans in the spring of 1940. After the French capitulation, these Polish forces refused to surrender. Except those interned in Switzerland, they were at once transferred to Britain. There, too, the president of the republic and the Polish government were received as representatives of an allied power and could continue their political activities. When Britain otherwise stood alone, Polish forces, mainly stationed in Scotland, joined the defense organization and many Polish pilots played an outstanding part in the air battle over London.

    At the same time contact was established with the occupied country. The Germans divided their share in the new partition of Poland into two parts: all that had been Prussian before 1914 and moreover a large strip of territory beyond that old border was incorporated with the Reich; the rest was called “General Government” without even the name of Poland and placed under the administration of the Nazi leader Hans Frank. The invaders found no one who would cooperate with them, as in the other occupied countries, and therefore the persecution of everything Polish was particularly violent. It was most systematic in the annexed section from which millions of Poles were deported under inhuman conditions to the “General Government.” There, also, executions, internment in concentration camps, and deportation for forced labor were to break the spirit of Poland. Cultural and educational activities were prohibited, and not only the Jews, who were exterminated in masses, but also the Catholic clergy and the intellectual leaders served as the main targets.

    From the outset, however, there was a well-organized resistance movement which gradually developed into a real underground state acting on secret instructions from London and in turn making known to the exiled government the political aspirations of the suffering nation. These were worked out by an underground parliament with representatives from the four leading democratic parties and were discussed in a widely distributed clandestine press. The executive, under a delegate appointed by the London government, directed the sabotage activities against the occupying forces and Polish courts continued to function secretly.

    The eastern part of Poland was for twenty-one months under Russian occupation and exposed to an equally violent Sovietization. Already on October 22, 1939, elections under the Soviet system, prepared for by mass arrests and executions, were held and the delegates to the local Soviets were forced to apply for incorporation into the Soviet Union, the southern part of the invaded territory being annexed by the Ukrainian and the northern part by the Byelorussian Soviet Republic. There followed mass deportations to distant parts of the U.S.S.R. which continued throughout the whole occupation period and under the most appalling conditions. It is impossible to determine the number of victims, including women and children separated from their families, and besides the particularly persecuted Poles, many Jews as well as Ukrainian leaders also. But the number certainly exceeded one and a half million, all of whom were used as forced labor under conditions of starvation and utmost misery.

    In spite of that terrible experience and with a view to liberating these peoples, the exiled Polish government immediately after Hitler’s invasion of Russia on June 22, 1941, decided to enter into negotiations with the new ally of the democracies. Not without British pressure, did the government sign in London, on the thirtieth of July, a treaty with the Soviet Union which declared “that the Soviet-German treaties of 1939 relative to territorial changes in Poland have lost their validity.” It was not specified that the frontier of 1921 was hereby restored, and the liberation of the deported Polish citizens and prisoners of war was called an “amnesty.” But in any case, the treaty was a formal recognition of the Polish government in exile by Soviet Russia, which also consented to the formation of a Polish army on the territory of the U.S.S.R.

    When, however, General Sikorski came to Moscow and on the fourth of December signed a declaration of friendship and collaboration with Stalin, the Soviets were already organizing the so-called Union of Polish Patriots there. This was a Communist-controlled group which the Soviets intended to oppose to the legal Polish government. The formation of an army from the Poles of the Soviet Union, who were liberated only in small part, also encountered serious difficulties, particularly because no information could be obtained as to the fate of about fifteen thousand missing officers, and because there started immediately controversies about the citizenship of all those born in eastern Poland, which Russia continued to claim, at least as far as the so-called Curzon line of 1920.

    The Polish army in Russia under General Anders finally had to be transferred through Iran to the Near East. It later distinguished itself in the North African campaign, and especially in the Allied invasion of Italy, taking the stronghold of Monte Cassino in May, 1944, liberating Ancona and Bologna, and fighting there under British supreme command until the end of the war. During all these years the reorganized Polish air force and what remained of the Polish navy also cooperated with the Allies, and two Polish divisions from Britain participated in the invasion of the Continent and the liberation of Belgium and Holland.

    At the same time the resistance movement inside Poland, which had been completely occupied by the Germans since the summer of 1941, was intensified. On August 1, 1944, a large-scale insurrection broke out in Warsaw under General Bor-Komorowski, only to be crushed after sixty-two days of street fighting and to end in the total destruction of the city. That insurrection received no help from the Russians, who had already reached the other side of the Vistula. Even Allied assistance by the air was seriously handicapped because on April 25, 1943, the Soviet Union, already pushing back the German invasion, had broken off relations with the Polish Government and was preparing to force a Communist regime upon Poland as soon as the Germans were driven out of that country. Therefore in spite of her brilliant war record on the Allied side, Poland was already facing “defeat in victory.”


The fate which Poland suffered in September, 1939, had immediate repercussions in the whole Baltic region and was also soon to affect the situation of South Eastern Europe, only briefly touched on in the original Nazi-Soviet agreement.

    The day after the final fixation of their respective “spheres of influence,” when Poland seemed liquidated and partitioned, the Soviet government started its negotiations with the Baltic republics, requesting each of them individually to send delegates to Moscow and there to sign “mutual assistance pacts.” These included granting the Soviets military, naval, and air bases on their territories. Estonia did it at once on the twenty-ninth of September, Latvia on the fifth of October, and Lithuania on the tenth of October, the latter receiving Wilno with its environs, which had been taken from Poland, as a compensation. Red Army forces moved into the territories of the three small countries, occupying the bases assigned to them, but Molotov protested against any suspicion that the independence of these republics would not be respected. It seemed to be to the advantage of Estonia and Latvia that Hitler agreed with Stalin as to the transfer of their German minorities to the Reich.

    Finland, too, after some delay, sent representatives to Moscow, but feeling stronger than the other three, hesitated to accept the conditions of the proposed agreement.. In protracted negotiations which lasted more than a month, the Finns proved ready to make concessions regarding the change of the frontier which Russia wanted to move farther away from Leningrad, but they refused the lease of the island and port of Hangö (Hanko) at the entrance of the Gulf of Finland, feeling that this would mean the control of their whole southern coast by Russia. Soon after the failure of these negotiations and the return of the Finnish delegation on the thirteenth of November, and after a border incident, Russia unilaterally denounced the nonaggression pact concluded with Finland in 1934, and two days later, on November 30, 1939, started the war by air raids on several cities, including Helsinki. The creation of a Communist puppet government for Finland seemed to indicate that the ultimate goal was the forceful inclusion of that country into the Soviet Union.

    The aggression against Finland, however, met with unexpectedly strong resistance under the old national hero, Marshal C. G. Mannerheim. It shocked public opinion all over the world to such an extent that after the expulsion of the U.S.S.R. from the League of Nations on the fourteenth of December, and after a thirty-million-dollar loan had been granted to Finland by the United States, France and England decided to give her military support. But the chief difficulty was that the Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden, having been formally warned by Germany which supported her Russian partner, were afraid to permit these auxiliary forces to cross their territory, although they were themselves in sympathy with Finland. Except for a few volunteers, no help reached her on time, and when the Russian invasion at last made serious progress in February, the Finns felt obliged to use a Swedish intermediary for peace negotiations which led to the Moscow Treaty of March 12, 1940.

    The terms were much harsher than Russia’s original demands. In addition to the lease of Hangö, Finland had to cede much more territory on the Karelian Isthmus, including the city of Vyborg (Viipuri) and in general lost 10 per cent of her territory, from which most of the population emigrated to what remained free. The mutilated nation at least saved its independence, though Moscow was to use the treaty for frequent interference with the internal questions of Finland.

    The three other Baltic republics, in spite of their submission to all Russian claims were less fortunate. Prepared by their partial military occupation and by interferences under various pretexts, their annexation by the Soviet Union was decided as soon as Germany’s sweeping successes in the West made Russia desire some additional compensation in the East. Under the pretext that the three small countries had made a secret military alliance directed against the U.S.S.R., their representatives were again summoned to Moscow but only to receive ultimatums, Lithuania on the fourteenth of June, and Latvia and Estonia two days later, which requested the formation of new governments “friendly” to the Soviets and the admission of an unlimited number of Red Army forces.

    Under the strongest pressure, with all non-Communist parties outlawed, fake elections were held in all three countries by these new Communist-controlled governments, which gave these government majorities of almost 100 per cent. On the thirty-first of July delegations consisting of twenty members from each of the three so-elected parliaments came to Moscow to ask for the admission of their respective countries as republics of the U.S.S.R. On the third, fifth, and sixth of August, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were thus “accepted” by the Supreme Soviet. Already before these fateful dates which marked the end of their independence through annexations which the United States of America never recognized, nationalization of property and the amalgamation of the former national forces with the Red Army had begun. Now, under new constitutions that strictly followed the Soviet pattern, a reign of terror set in. This was directed against all “nationalists,” former political leaders, and religious and cultural organizations. It was to destroy all the achievements of twenty years of freedom and to reduce the populations of these small nations through mass deportations. In Lithuania alone about 50,000 people were transferred with customary ruthlessness during the one year of Russian occupation.

    Opposed by strong underground movements, these persecutions were intensified when the German invasion of the Soviet Union became imminent. It was even feared that the whole native population, which was considered unreliable, would be transplanted to distant parts of Russia. Uprisings took place on that occasion, but as a matter of fact the three unhappy peoples only changed their totalitarian masters for a few years.

    The three Baltic states were named the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth Soviet Republics, because before their formal establishment two others had been added to the eleven which existed before World War II. One of these was the Karelo-Finnish Republic, an area of 77,000 square miles along the new Finnish border with a population of 600,000, which was created when the idea of Sovietizing Finland herself had to be given up. The rather artificial formation of that republic as a permanent organization of Communist Finnish forces remained an indication that further projects directed against any independent Finnish state could be resumed at any time.

    The creation of a Moldavian Soviet Republic out of the Rumanian-speaking part of Bessarabia, that province of imperial Russia which the U.S.S.R. never formally ceded to Rumania and claimed for her sphere of influence in the agreement with Hitler, had a somewhat similar significance. The implementation of that claim was to be another compensation, parallel to that in the Baltic region, which the Soviet government obtained without difficulty soon after the fall of France. On June 27, 1940, Rumania had to accept the Russian ultimatum which demanded the immediate cession not only of Bessarabia but also of the northern part of the Bucovina, with a partly Ukrainian population.

    That territory, an integral part of historic Moldavia, had never belonged to Russia and was not mentioned in the agreement with Hitler. Therefore that extension of the Russian gains, small as it was, created one of those minor frictions in Nazi-Soviet relations which occurred time and again during the twenty-two months of cooperation between the two aggressors. Nevertheless Germany, which at about the same time renounced the strip of Lithuanian territory that was promised to her in 1939, not only advised Rumania to yield but also forced that country to make territorial concessions to her other neighbors. After renouncing the Anglo-French guaranty on the first of July Rumania had to send representatives to a conference of the Axis powers in Vienna where it was decided on the thirtieth of August that the northern part of Transylvania, which was arbitrarily cut in two, would be returned to Hungary. And a week later the southern part of Dobrudja had to be ceded to Bulgaria. King Carol abdicated in favor of his minor son, Michael, who became king for the second time, but the real power went to General Antonescu who established a dictatorial regime with the support of the Iron Guard.

    Amidst the anarchy which followed, even Professor Iorga, Rumania’s most distinguished national leader, was murdered. The country was now sufficiently weakened to submit to further pressure. Together with Hungary and Slovakia, the Tripartite Pact of September twenty-seventh concluded by Germany, Italy, and Japan, was signed by Rumania at the end of November. Rumania thus joined those Danubian countries which were already completely dominated by Hitler, and the German “sphere of influence” reached the Balkans.

    Originally Hitler had not favored the idea of extending the war to South Eastern Europe, in which he pretended to be less interested. But in addition to the strengthening of the German position in the Danubian countries, another unexpected development alarmed both the opponents of the Axis and the Soviet Union. On the twenty-eighth of October Mussolini, not satisfied with his last-minute share in the victory over France and anxious for gains as spectacular as those of his major partner, decided to attack Greece. After the usual ultimatum, which was rejected by Prime Minister Metaxas, Mussolini invaded that country from the springboard which Italy had held in Albania since the spring of the preceding year.

    As in the case of the Russian aggression against Finland, the resistance of the much smaller victim proved to be much stronger than could be anticipated, and by December the Italian forces were even pushed back into Albanian territory. It was easy to foresee, however, that Hitler would sooner or later come to the rescue of the allied dictator. Therefore Stalin sent Molotov to Berlin, where in long conversations with Hitler on the twelfth and thirteenth of November, he tried to find out what Germany’s intentions really were. In spite of an apparently cordial farewell, these discussions clearly demonstrated how difficult it was to divide the whole of East Central Europe, whose situation was reviewed in detail, between the Nazi and Soviet empires. It was particularly significant that Ribbentrop tried to divert Russia’s attention from that region by offering her another sphere of influence in faraway Iran and India. But Moscow s reply made it equally clear that the Soviet Union remained primarily interested in the area that lies to the west of her: from Finland, where she opposed the presence of German troops in transit to and from occupied Norway, to the Straits, which reappeared as one of the traditional goals of Russia’s expansion. The rivalry rivaled in connection with these last Nazi-Soviet negotiations in Berlin was to lead to the break between the two big powers, each of which wanted to control all of East Central Europe. But the date of Hitler’s turn against Russia, planned for May, 1941, depended on the timetable of his conquest of the Balkans which he decided to complete first.


In order to reach Greece, at the southern tip of the Balkan Peninsula, where Italy’s failures required a swift intervention of Germany in advance of Britain’s, Hitler’s forces had to have a free passage through the countries in the center of the peninsula. It proved comparatively easy to include among the Nazi satellites that same Bulgaria which, during the Berlin conversations, Russia had claimed as an indispensable link in her own security zone. Using as an argument the support given to Bulgaria in the question of Dobrudja and also the promise to support her claims to Macedonia, Germany induced King Boris to adhere, on March 1,1941, to that same Tripartite Pact which the Danubian countries had signed before and German troops could at once enter Bulgaria as a gateway to Greece.

    Much more important, however, was the direct passage through Yugoslavia. Therefore strong pressure was put upon the regent, Prince Paul, and the Cvetkovich government to follow the Bulgarian example. On the 25th of March, a Yugoslav delegation led by the prime minister really came to Vienna to sign the Tripartite Pact. Though the concessions requested from Yugoslavia with a view to facilitating Germany’s access into Greece were apparently rather limited, the country fully realized the implications of such a decision and reacted two days later by overthrowing the government. Young King Peter II assumed full power in place of his uncle the regent, and General Simovich, a hero of World War I, became prime minister, with the Croat leader Dr. Machek as vice-premier.

    Although the new regime took no anti-German action and on the fifth of April, merely concluded a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, formally still in friendly relations with Germany, the change in the Yugoslav attitude was well understood in Berlin. The next day, one of the sudden aggressions that were typical of World War II took place. Notifying the Soviet government that Germany only wanted to expel the British from Greece and that she had no interest in the Balkans, the Nazis started the war by a violent air raid which destroyed most of Belgrade, and invaded Yugoslavia from Hungary; Rumania, and Bulgaria. The first of these neighboring countries had quite recently, on December 12, 1940, concluded a treaty of friendship with Yugoslavia, so that the enforced cooperation in that act of aggression drove Prime Minister Count Teleki to suicide and made his country even more dependent on Germany.

    In twelve days most of Yugoslavia seemed to be conquered so that on the twenty-ninth of August a puppet government under General Milan Nedich could replace the legal authorities, viz., the king and the exiled government in London. But that puppet regime was for Serbia only. In cooperation with Italy, the Germans at once proceeded to a partition of what was supposed to be left of Yugoslavia after the annexations of large frontier regions by Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria. Playing off all national and regional movements which in the past had resented Serb supremacy, the independence of not only Croatia but also of Montenegro was proclaimed on the tenth of April and the twelfth of July, respectively. Both countries were placed under Italian protection, however, and on the eighteenth of May a nephew of the king of Italy, the duke of Spoleto, accepted the royal crown of Croatia, leaving the real power in the hands of a local German-sponsored “leader,” Ante Pavelich. Worst was the fate of Slovenia which was completely divided, the main part, along with Dalmatia, being annexed by Italy. But it soon became apparent that in spite of all these arbitrary arrangements and the stirring up of Croats against Serbs, the spirit of Yugoslavia was far from broken.

    On the contrary, in no other Axis-occupied country, except Poland, was the resistance movement stronger, with the difference that in the inaccessible mountains of Yugoslavia the struggle against the invaders could be even more successful. It was not limited to underground activities but was organized as continuous guerilla warfare which never permitted the enemy really to conquer all the country. That resistance also found a remarkable leader in the person of General Draja Mihailovich who remained in close contact with the royal government in London as its minister of war.

    There appeared, however, in Yugoslavia, earlier than in Poland where the role of the Communists in the underground movement was insignificant, a serious danger of Communist penetration in spite of the great distance from Russia. Of course, as in the other occupied countries, there could be no Communist resistance so long as Germany was in cooperation with the Soviet Union. Contrary to the last-minute treaty, the latter even broke off relations with the Yugoslav government as soon as the German invasion proved successful. But when Russia herself was in turn invaded, and the Communists everywhere turned against the Nazis, or rather against the Fascists, as they preferred to call them, it was in Yugoslavia that a strong “liberation” movement under Communist control appeared first by the end of 1942. The mostly Serb “Chetniks” of General Mihailovich were now opposed by the “Partisans” led by a formerly unknown Croat Communist trained in Moscow, Josip Broz, who became famous under the name of Tito.

    The unhappy country thus became the scene of a three-cornered conflict among the German occupants (who exercised the most ruthless terror), the followers of Mihailovich (loyal to the government in exile), and the followers of Tito (who were loyal to Moscow). This situation was to last until the end of the war. In spite of their obligations toward the legitimate government, the Western Allies, misled by Communist propaganda which branded Mihailovich a collaborator, gradually transferred their assistance from the heroic general to the Partisans. In November, 1943, the latter set up a provisional revolutionary government at Jajce, in the mountains of Bosnia. Under the name of “Anti-Fascist Council for National Liberation,” with a federalist program, this was supposed to attract the non-Serb elements.

    The exiled king too made a concession to these elements by appointing a Croat and former ban of Croatia, Dr. Ivan Subasich, as prime minister. The following summer Subasich met Tito in the still-occupied country and negotiated an agreement with him, as a result of which Mihailovich was dismissed from his post. That policy of appeasement, under Allied pressure, was to prove as disastrous as all similar steps in the relations with totalitarian forces.

    While Yugoslavia thus suffered from both these forces, Nazi-Fascist and Communist, Greece, too, after so courageously resisting the Italian invasion, succumbed to the Germans. The Nazi forces attacking from Bulgaria, cut off the Greeks fighting in Albania from those who tried in vain to stop the overwhelmingly strong new enemy in the center of the country near historic Thermopylae. British support came too late, and by the end of April, 1940, the Greek mainland was conquered. The king and the government retired to the island of Crete where the resistance continued for another month with British help. It was finally broken by German paratroopers. The Greek government, like so many others, was transferred to London, but in the later phase of the war it moved to Cairo to be nearer at the time of liberation.

    That liberation was prepared also in Greece by an uninterrupted resistance movement which harassed the German, Italian, and Bulgarian occupation forces, unafraid of their usual terror and the inhuman exploitation of the miserable country. Unfortunately, here too there was a dangerous division into rightist and leftist liberation movements. Both controlled considerable guerilla forces, the former loyal to the exiled government, the latter not only opposed to the monarchy and to the prewar regime but also more and more subject to Communist infiltration. That division was, of course, fomented by the invaders. But in September, 1944, unity seemed to be established, both movements recognizing the government in exile and cooperating with the British as soon as they reappeared in Greece the following month.

    For almost three years, however, all the Balkans were under Hitler’s control, directly or indirectly through his Italian partner, a control which became exclusively German after Italy’s surrender and the fall of fascism in the summer of 1943. Only the small area near the Straits remained free. This was a part of Turkey which was in sympathy with the Allies but which, in spite of her mutual assistance pacts with Britain and France, remained neutral almost to the end of the war. One of the reasons for her cautious attitude was the fact that Turkey’s dangerous neighbor in Asia, the Soviet Union, found itself on the Allied side through the final break with Hitler and the invasion that he launched on June 22, 1941.

    That invasion had been delayed for at least several weeks because of the unexpected resistance which Hitler met with in Yugoslavia and which in turn delayed the conquest of Greece. Thus Yugoslavia and her legitimate government rendered the Soviet Union a great service by frustrating Germany’s chance to defeat Russia before the coming of winter. On the other hand, the complete control of both the Danubian and the Balkan regions facilitated the concentration of almost all the land forces of the Reich on the eastern front. Out of Hitler’s newly gained satellites in these regions only Bulgaria, where Russian sympathies were always considerable, refused to declare war upon the Soviet Union. Both Hungary and Rumania, in spite of their old rivalry which the recent partition of Transylvania could not possibly settle, fought side by side with the Germans against Russia, Rumania with the hope of regaining at least her recent eastern losses if not more territory in the southern Ukraine.

    With similar hopes, and after four days of having her neutrality violated by Russian bombing, Finland also re-entered the war against the Soviet Union. Without concluding any agreement with Germany, she officially declared time and again that hers was a separate war, defensive as in 1939—1940 and conducted with the exclusive aim of again obtaining a frontier that would guarantee a minimum of security. The territories which Russia had annexed in the period of her cooperation with Germany, under the pretext of protecting the security of her gigantic empire, proved of little strategic importance. Not only the area taken away from Finland but also the Baltic republics and the eastern half of Poland were lost very quickly in the first weeks of the war against Hitler, and it was only when the Soviet Union was attacked on its prewar territory that its peoples were able to oppose the invader with that fierce resistance which raised the well-deserved admiration of the world. Even so, Byelorussia and the Ukraine were temporarily lost in their entirety, while comparatively small areas of Russia proper were occupied. Thus the whole of East Central Europe which Germany and Russia had planned to partition was for about two years in the hands of Germany alone.

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