BBC History Magazine
Creating a barbaric regime in the USSR
Germany’s strategic situation makes Hitler’s decision to invade the USSR in June 1941 a questionable one, to say the least. But it should not be regarded as gratuitously “crazy”. Why? Well, all the military establishments of the world in 1940–41 held the Red Army in low regard.
However, when it came to administering the occupied Soviet provinces, the experience of the First World War strongly suggested that it was of crucial importance to have the willing collaboration of at least one major ethnic group, like the Ukrainians. During the First World War, this had greatly facilitated the running of the occupied territories and the defeat of insurgent movements.
One senior Nazi leader, Alfred Rosenberg, made a suggestion along these lines, only to be given the brushoff by Hitler. Instead, the sheer brutality of the Nazi occupation would greatly hamper the exploitation of the occupied western districts of the USSR and foster the partisan movement. Meanwhile, military collaboration by Ukrainians, Estonians and Latvians was limited to the raising of a handful of SS divisions during the latter phase of the war in the east. Nowhere did Hitler’s ideological conceit trump sound strategy as clearly as in this case.