BBC History Magazine

Creating a barbaric regime in the USSR

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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.

 ?? ?? An armband worn by an Estonian recruit to the SS. The harshness of the German regime in the east ensured that support from the occupied territorie­s was weak
An armband worn by an Estonian recruit to the SS. The harshness of the German regime in the east ensured that support from the occupied territorie­s was weak

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