How did the Soviets decide what to annex in WW2?

During and after World War II Soviet Union annexed some countries while others eventually became member states of the Warsaw Pact.

What is known about how the Soviets made the decisions about which countries to annex and which were to remain more or less independent (or was it negotiated with the other Allies)? Is it known which of these fates the Soviets had planned for Finland, had they successfully occupied it?

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945 the following declaration was included in the conference proceedings in regards to Poland's Eastern border:

"The three heads of Government consider that the eastern frontier of Poland should follow the Curzon Line with digressions from it in some regions of five to eight kilometers in favor of Poland. They recognize that Poland must receive substantial accessions in territory in the north and west. They feel that the opinion of the new Polish Provisional Government of National Unity should be sought in due course of the extent of these accessions and that the final delimitation of the western frontier of Poland should thereafter await the peace conference."

Subsequently at the Potsdam Conference of July & August 1945 the Borders of Poland and Russia were amended and announced in the conference proceedings as:

Article V City of Konigsberg and Surrounding Area:
The Conference examined a proposal by the Soviet Government to the effect that pending the final determination of territorial questions at the peace settlement, the section of the western frontier of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which is adjacent to the Baltic Sea should pass from a point on the eastern shore of the Bay of Danzig to the east, north of Braunsberg-Goldap, to the meeting point of the frontiers of Lithuania, the Polish Republic and East Prussia.

The Conference has agreed in principle to the proposal of the Soviet Government concerning the ultimate transfer to the Soviet Union of the City of Koenigsberg and the area adjacent to it as described above subject to expert examination of the actual frontier.

The President of the United States and the British Prime Minister have declared that they will support the proposal of the Conference at the forthcoming peace settlement

Article VII (B): Western Frontier of Poland

The three Heads of Government agree that, pending the final determination of Poland's western frontier, the former German territories cast of a line running from the Baltic Sea immediately west of Swinamunde, and thence along the Oder River to the confluence of the western Neisse River and along the Western Neisse to the Czechoslovak frontier, including that portion of East Prussia not placed under the administration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in accordance with the understanding reached at this conference and including the area of the former free city of Danzig, shall be under the administration of the Polish State and for such purposes should not be considered as part of the Soviet zone of occupation in Germany.

At the Fourth Moscow Conference of October 1944 (also sometimes referred to as the Second Moscow Conference, or the Tolstoy Conference) Churchill and Stalin had earlier apparently made the infamous Percentages Agreement, amended the following day by Foreign Ministers Eden (British) and Molotov (Soviet) establishing Spheres of Influence in the Balkans. As amended, this agreement was for Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary to be mostly in the Soviet sphere; Greece to be mostly in the British sphere; and Yugoslavia to be equally in both spheres.

Although minority percentages were actually set in the all cases other than Yugoslavia, it is clear that Stalin regarded these divisions as all or nothing. No overt support was provided by the USSR to the Communist guerillas during the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949 despite British support for the Greek government.

With regards to Finland, it was the second country that the USSR invaded after signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, where Finland was one of the countries that had been assigned to the Soviet "Sphere of influence" together with Estonia, Latvia, Bessarabia and half of Poland. (The first country invaded was of course Poland).

However, there is a dispute amongst historians of what the aim of the war with Finland was, and there seems to be no papers in the Soviet archives providing a definite answer.

Officially the cause of conflict between Finland and USSR was a dispute over Karelia, which the Soviet Union wanted to provide a buffer for Leningrad. The USSR shelled one of their own border posts and blamed it on Finland as an excuse to invade. Stalin seem to have thought that Finland was going to be a soft target and that they would be able to just walk in and take over. Just as in the cases with the Baltic States the Soviet Union declared a communist republic with a puppet government. In the cases of the Baltic States these puppet governments were quickly included in the USSR, but as Finland never surrendered this wasn't an option with the short-lived Finnish Democratic Republic.

So we do know that the USSR intended to create a puppet state, because they actually did so. The remaining question is if they intended to annex that puppet state into the the USSR or let it stay a nominally independent state, like Poland and East Germany.

The arguments for annexation into the USSR are:

  1. All the other regions invaded during 1939-1940 was annexed into the USSR in one way or another.
  2. All the regions invaded during 1939-1940 had earlier been Russian, and this includes Finland. This is probably one primary reason for the annexation of these regions; the Soviet leadership simply viewed these territories as rightly belonging to them.
  3. Molotov during a visit in Berlin in 1940 was asked by Hitler how they planned to settle "The Finnish question" and answered that they planned to do it the same way as they had with the Baltic states.

Arguments against annexation are:

  1. Finland was even under Russian rule semi-independent.
  2. The Soviet Union said that they were not going to make Finland a Soviet Union.
  3. The Soviet Union didn't annex Finland, even though they could have.

I find argument 2 naive to the extreme, and I think argument 3 somewhat strange. Of course the Soviet Union technically could have occupied all of Finland, Finland was a small country with few people, the Soviet Union a huge empire. But the Finnish resistance was much stronger than anticipated, and occupying Finland would have cost the USSR a lot of men, that was better used elsewhere. It's clear that the USSR decided that the cost of Finland was not worth it, so they instead made peace. I don't think that tells us anything about what their plans for Finland was, had they succeeded in occupying it.

As such I think the weight of evidence falls clearly to the side that the USSR intended to annex Finland in the form of a USSR state, although it's unlikely we'll ever know for sure.

This answer is according to the original version of the question, which read: "Is something known about the Soviet post-occupation plan for Finland?"

Regarding Post WWII Finland - truth is, I thought the question was weak on this point, because it gave no reason or substantiation regarding possible "Soviet post-occupation plan for Finland". But I did find this:

Why didn't USSR occupied Finland in 1944?

Why didn't USSR occupy all Finland in 1944… but the super-power that USSR was by 1944, could have occupied the country… so why not?

From a Finn, apparently quite knowledgable on this subject - see the page indicated for extensive details: Here's something I wrote, years ago, in answer for this question

The short answer: Stalin didn't want a revolution in Finland unless the Finnish communists could effect one themselves, without Soviet help. And the Finnish communists were unable to make a revolution without Soviet tanks rolling into Helsinki…

These are the most important reasons why the Finnish communists were unable to make revolution without the Soviet help. But why didn't Stalin give that help? Why didn't the Red Army occupy Finland and put the communists in power?

1) As the Soviets very well knew, the Finnish Army remained an effective fighting force. After the Soviet offensive on 9 June 1944, the following two weeks were certainly not the most glorious chapter in the history of Finnish Army. But what was most important is that the Finnish Army retreated in orderly fashion and remained intact and undefeated in the field. In the fierce battles of late June and early July 1944 the Red Army was fought to standstill, and despite its efforts, Red Army was unable to occupy Finland. As late as early August 1944 two Soviet divisions were encircled and destroyed in northern Karelia near Ilomantsi. Fully mobilized, Finnish Defence Forces fielded 450 000 experienced men. As Stalin himself in 1948 said to a surprised Finnish delegation: "Nobody respects a country with a weak army. Everybody respects a country with a strong army. I propose a toast to the Finnish Army!"

Occupying Finland would have meant for the USSR bloody war right after the devastations of WWII at the time Cold War was beginning. In all probability it would have been similar experience like Chechenia is for Russia today. When the Continuation War ended in September 1944, a group of Finnish general staff officers (with Mannerheim's unspoken approval - that's plausible deniability 40 years before Iran-Contra!) began secretly to organise weapon caches around Finland. They were meant to be used to support large-scale guerilla warfare if USSR tried to occupy Finland. This so-called Weapon Caches Case became soon public and offical investigations began (conducted, of course, by the communist Security Police). For the Soviets it was yet another evidence that if they tried to occupy Finland, they had to pay dearly. Decades later, Molotov told to a party historian: "It was a very wise decision [not to occupy Finland]. It would have been a bleeding wound in our side! The people there, they are very stubborn, very stubborn."

From these points it clearly emerges that a non-communist Finland was in best interests of post-war USSR. If the Finnish communists were able to take power themselves, good, but as they were manifestly unable to do so, better leave Finland in peace. An attempt to occupy Finland would only mean engaging USSR so soon after the WWII in a messy and costly conflict that would damage its economy and foreign relations.

From the preparation of the Finnish general staff officers for a large-scale guerrilla war if USSR tried to occupy Finland, and from Molotov's remarks, it seems clear that there was fear in Finland, and talk in the USSR, about an invasion of Finland, in the near-end and immediate post-war period, because there was already a significant communist presence there at that time. But the USSR opted not move into Finland, because they knew it would have been much too messy.

How Stalin tried to annex Iran

Modern Iran is a multi-ethnic state. Two of its largest minorities are ethnic Kurds and Azerbaijanis, who live mostly in the north of the country. As a result of the Russian-Persian wars of the 19th century, the historical lands of the Azerbaijanis were divided between two powers, Persia (Iran) and the Russian Empire.

The divided Azerbaijani people have dreamed of reunification ever since, and during WW2, the Kremlin tried to exploit this sentiment. The Soviet plan was to annex its northern regions to the Azerbaijan Soviet Republic, and at the same time support the separatist aspirations of Iranian Kurds.

Operation Consent

In August 1941, Soviet and British troops invaded Iran. Despite declaring its neutrality in the global conflict, Iran&rsquos ties to the Third Reich were deemed too close for comfort. German intelligence was active in the country, and Iran&rsquos huge oil reserves had the potential to feed the Axis for a long time to come. The Allies could not allow this.

After a rapid military campaign, known as Operation Consent, Iran surrendered. German citizens were expelled from the country en masse, and German companies&rsquo property was confiscated. The country was soon under Allied control.

Yet Iran was not fully occupied. Britain seized the south, while the USSR controlled the north. These were the lands of so-called South Azerbaijan &ndash Iranian territories with 5 million ethnic Azerbaijanis, as well as smaller lands populated by Kurds.

South Azerbaijan&rsquos national revival

Although in 1941 the Red Army suffered a string of crushing defeats against the Wehrmacht, taking the Nazis to the gates of Moscow, the Soviet leadership never forgot about its Iranian interests.

Soviet Army political instructor hands out propaganda leaflets to Tabriz residents. August 1941.

Officially, the territories under the Soviets and the British were still ruled by the shah. In reality, however, Tehran&rsquos influence was greatly curbed by the occupying administrations.

From day one of deploying Soviet troops in northern Iran, the USSR began a large-scale ideological, cultural, economic, and political campaign to win local hearts and minds. A key role in this effort was due to be played by kindred Soviet Azerbaijan, which sent hundreds of specialists to Iran.

Iran&rsquos decades-long oppression of the Azerbaijani minority meant that Soviet policy found fertile ground in &ldquoSouth Azerbaijan.&rdquo

To start with, Soviet engineers improved the poor health and sanitation systems in northern Iranian cities and villages. Next came the turn of the ideologues.

In Tabriz, the region&rsquos main city, the first Azerbaijani-language newspaper, Za Rodinu (For the Motherland), was launched to a welcome reception. A publishing house was set up to issue books by local authors. Operas and theater performances were staged in the local language, plus various festivals and large-scale cultural events. Schools offering tuition in the Azerbaijani language opened their doors. The region had never seen anything like it before.

Tiptoeing toward Sovietization

Fearing the opprobrium of the Western powers, the USSR pursued a cautious policy in so-called South Azerbaijan. The official line was that the Communists had not come to sovietize the region, but merely to assist the locals to revive their national identity.

The focus was not solely on the poor, but on the more affluent layers of society too. Despite the punishing war with the Germans, the Soviets imported massive amounts of grain, sugar, and kerosene to the region.

So as to win over the local people, the Administration of Caucasus Muslims, set up in the USSR in April 1944, was actively involved in governing the spiritual life of Iranian Azerbaijanis.

The USSR hinted, subtly or otherwise, that life in the Soviet Union would be better than in Iran.

Statehood for Iranian Azerbaijanis

Under the agreements struck with the Iranian government, the Allied forces were obliged to withdraw from Iran within a few months after WW2. And while Britain complied, the USSR dragged its feet.

More than that, having routed Nazism, the Soviet Union spied an opportunity to engage more closely in the struggle for northern Iran. Soviet propaganda intensified, as did the activities of Soviet intelligence to undermine support for the shah.

The Soviet position in the region became so entrenched that the leader of Soviet Azerbaijan, Mir Jafar Bagirov, who actively supported the move and dreamed of becoming the &ldquoUnifier of Azerbaijan,&rdquo dared to declare: &ldquoIf you want to know the truth, Tehran too is an ancient Azerbaijani city.&rdquo

In 1945, the Kremlin decided to integrate the region&rsquos economy with the USSR. Yet more specialists were dispatched to the country to set up enterprises and search for oilfields.

In November that same year, all control over northern Iran finally slipped out of Tehran&rsquos fingers. Partisan detachments of the pro-Soviet Democratic Party of Iranian Azerbaijan, actively backed by Soviet troops, occupied key state institutions in the country and disarmed Iranian army and police units.

On December 12, 1945, the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan was proclaimed, led by Sayyed Ja&rsquofar Pishevari. Nominally an &ldquoautonomous republic&rdquo within Iran, in reality it was a Soviet satellite.

A Kurdish state

In January 1946, shortly after the creation of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan, another state entity was proclaimed in northern Iran &ndash the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad.

The small Kurdish territories fell under Soviet control together with so-called South Azerbaijan, and this despite the fact that back in 1941 the Soviet leadership had decided not to play the Kurdish card and to concentrate fully on the Azerbaijani issue instead.

Only at the very final stage, in the fall of 1945, did Mir Jafar Bagirov lend his support to the creation of the Kurdish People&rsquos Party, which on January 22, 1946, took charge of the newly proclaimed Kurdish People&rsquos Republic (the Republic of Mahabad).

Unlike in South Azerbaijan, the authorities there did not enjoy broad public support and relied on Soviet military muscle.

The end of the road

Iran had no intention of kissing goodbye to its northern territories. Given that its troops were prevented by the Soviet army from entering the region, Tehran decided to pursue diplomatic channels.

The United Nations Security Council votes in favor of further discussion over the dispute between Iran and the Soviet Union over Azerbaijan.

Accusing the USSR of expansionism, it filed the first ever formal complaint with the United Nations Security Council. Iran&rsquos move was actively supported by both the US and Britain.

Finding itself under severe UN and Western pressure, the Kremlin realized that its Iranian adventure was coming to an end. Stalin decided to bargain. After many months of negotiations, he received the assurances of Iranian Prime Minister Ahmad Qavam that the USSR would be allowed to develop oil concessions in northern Iran after withdrawing its troops. This promise, however, would never be fulfilled.

After the departure of the Soviet army in May 1946, the so-called people&rsquos republics were living on borrowed time. Devoid of support, they nevertheless tried to resist the advancing Iranian army.

But Stalin&rsquos parting message to the Azerbaijanis and Kurds poured cold water over their aspirations: &ldquoAs prime minister, Qavam has the formal right to send troops into any part of Iran, including Azerbaijan, so further armed resistance is impractical and ill-advised.&rdquo

In November-December 1946, the Iranian army occupied the northern territories without a fight, dismantling both self-proclaimed republics. The leaders of the Republic of Mahabad were duly executed, but those of the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan managed to escape to the USSR.

They did not, however, receive the hoped-for reception. Some ended up in labor camps accused of &ldquoespionage activities,&rdquo while the head of the defunct state, Sayyed Ja&rsquofar Pishevari, died in a car crash orchestrated by the Soviet secret services, and was buried with full honors in the capital of Soviet Azerbaijan, Baku.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

IN PICTURES: How German women suffered largest mass rape in history by Soviets

Between the months of January and August of 1945, Germany saw the largest incident of mass rape known in history, where an estimated two million German women were raped by the Soviet Red Army soldiers, as written by Walter Zapotoczny Jr. in his book, ‘Beyond Duty: The Reason Some Soldiers Commit Atrocities’.

Between the months of April and May, the German capital Berlin saw more than 100,000 rape cases according to hospital reports, while East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia saw more than 1.4 million rape cases.

Hospital reports also stated that abortion operations were being carried out daily across all German hospitals.

Natalya Gesse, who was a Soviet war correspondent at the time, said that the Soviets didn’t care about the ages of their victims. “The Russian soldiers were raping every German female from eight to eighty. It was an army of rapists,” she said.

This caused the deaths of no less than 200,000 girls and women due to the spread of diseases, especially that many eyewitnesses recounted victims being raped as much as 70 times in that period.

Red Army soldiers would mass rape German women as a kind of revenge against their enemy: The German army. They felt that it was their earned right to do so as the German army had ‘violated’ their motherland by invading it. In addition to not being in contact with women for long periods causing their animal instinct to be heightened.

“Our fellows were so sex-starved,” a Soviet major told a British journalist at the time, “that they often raped old women of sixty, seventy or even eighty - much to these grandmothers’ surprise, if not downright delight.”

In his book, Zapotoczny said that even female Russian soldiers did not disapprove of the rapes, some finding it amusing.

In 1948, rape cases decreased vastly after Soviet troops were ordered back to their camps in Russia and left residential areas in Germany.

World History Module 22

4. Minister of Propaganda, committed suicide before the war ended.

2. The Nazis wanted to forbid Jews from immigrating to other countries.

3. Jews and non-Jews were not allowed to be married in Germany after 1935.

4. Jews were forced to leave their homes and move into crowded Jewish areas of the city.

5. Blaming the Jews for a country's misfortunes was a new idea brought about by the Nazis.

2. The Allied troops had to fight their way onto a 60-mile beach.

3. The Nazis pushed into the Allied lines with great force.

4. It occurred on the beaches of Normandy, France.

5. It opened the way for the Allies to march triumphantly into Paris.

6. It occurred in the Ardennes, a region of rough terrain and forests.

2. The Soviet army was much larger and much better trained than the Nazi army.

3. Part of Hitler's plan to invade the Soviet Union included building bases in the Balkans.

4. After one million people died of starvation, Leningrad finally surrendered to the Nazis.

5. The Nazi soldiers were wearing only lightweight summer uniforms during the winter of 1941.

6. Hitler did not want to repeat Napoleon's mistakes, so he refused to allow his troops to retreat.


Contrary to popular belief, there was no concrete "secret" behind the atomic bomb. The discovery of fission in 1938 meant that a nuclear chain reaction was possible and that the energy produced from this process could be used to produce a weapon of unusual force. Physicists like J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard knew that it was only a matter of time before other countries were able to develop their own atomic weapons. The only secret behind the bombs lay in their specifications, material composition, and inner workings. Any government with the determination and the resources to develop an atomic weapon could do so within a matter of time.

When Klaus Fuchs's espionage was discovered in 1950, many believed that his actions had been essential to the Soviet bomb. Fuchs did pass along important information about the bomb's design and technical specifications, and the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy concluded that "Fuchs alone has influenced the safety of more people and accomplished greater damage than any other spy not only in the history of the United States but in the history of nations." However, there has been much debate surrounding the role of espionage in the Soviet Union's atomic program. Scholarship suggests that Soviet spying probably allowed the USSR to develop an atomic bomb six months to two years faster than they would have had there been no espionage.

The Polish stupidly used cavalry against German tanks

Before people realized that stereotypes are not cool, there were a lot of jokes about how stupid the Polish were. So the story that went around that during World War II they attacked German tanks using cavalry fit this narrative nicely. Those silly backward Poles, thinking horses could beat metal!

The myth started right after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 and, according to Skeptoid, it is based in the tiniest bit of fact. The Poles did in fact attack the Germans using cavalry at the Charge of Krojanty, but there were no tanks involved and using horses wasn't even weird. It seems odd to us now, but every single army still used the animals in World War II. The Germans themselves utilized over 2 million horses and had six mounted divisions. So a cavalry charge, while not common, wasn't completely bonkers.

Then there's the fact they charged at infantry, not tanks. Being on a horse is a distinct advantage when you're attacking soldiers on foot, and the charge actually worked. The Poles killed 11 Germans, injured nine more, and the whole enemy regiment panicked and ran.

The problem was, the Germans eventually got themselves together and retaliated using armored cars and machine guns. They won, and many Poles died. Waiting war correspondents were taken onto the battlefield by the Germans, shown Polish bodies, and told they had charged tanks on horseback. The journalists shared the story with the world, and this Nazi propaganda became a supposed fact.

World War 2 Quotes

World War 2 produced a variety of house-hold names, from world leaders and generals to important political players and individual soldiers. Quotes went on to become an important part of the war in the years following, particularly to those of us today who have become students of the conflict, for they give us a glimpse of the characters within. As the reader, one has the opportunity to take something away from these quotes as spoken by their owners and begin to see the person behind the quote with a clearer set of eyes - bringing a more vivid picture of the years that encompassed man's greatest modern conflict.

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson:

"It must be a peace without victory. Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor's terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand. Only a peace between equals can last." - addressing the United States Senate on January 22, 1917

Mathematician Albert Einstein:

"As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable."

Unknown TIME Magazine Writer:

"The battlefront disappeared, and with it the illusion that there had ever been a battlefront. For this was no war of occupation, but a war of quick penetration and obliteration - Blitzkrieg, Lightning War." - September 25th, 1939

American General Douglas MacArthur:

"Old soldiers never die, they just fade away."

"I'll come back as soon as I can with as much as I can. In the meantime, you've got to hold!" - As spoken to General Wainright in March of 1942

American General Dwight D. Eisenhower:

"During the time I have had WACs under my command, they have met every test and task assigned to them. their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable." - in a speech referring to the five women whom served on his staff during the war - 1945

"No amphibious attack in history has approached this one in size. Along miles of coastline there were hundreds of vessels and small boats afloat and ant-like files of advancing troops ashore." - Speaking on the Allied landings at Sicily in July 1943

"Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely" - Addressed to Allied soldiers on June 6th, 1944

U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt:

"I have seen war. I hate war." - at in address at Chautauqua, NY - August 14, 1936

"The Soviet Union, as everybody who has the courage to face the fact knows, is run by a dictatorship as absolute as any other dictatorship in the world." - before the American Youth Congress - February 10, 1940

"Democracy alone, of all forms of government, enlists the full force of men's enlightened will. It is the most humane, the most advanced, and, in the end, the most unconquerable of all forms of human society. The democratic aspiration is no mere recent phase of human history. We. would rather die on our feet than live on our knees." - in his Third Inauguration Speech, January 20, 1941

"I say that the delivery of needed supplies to Britain is imperative. I say that this can be done it must be done and it will be done. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." - during his Fireside Chat radio address, May 27, 1941

"The massed, angered forces of common humanity are on the march. They are going forward - on the Russian front, in the vast Pacific area, and into Europe - converging upon their ultimate objectives: Berlin and Tokyo. I think the first crack in the Axis has come. The criminal, corrupt Fascist regime in Italy is going to pieces." - in a Fireside Chat - July 28, 1943

"The world has never seen greater devotion, determination, and self-sacrifice than have been displayed by the Russian people. under the leadership of Marshal Joseph Stalin. With a nation that in saving itself is thereby helping to save all the world from the Nazi menace, this country of ours should always be glad to be a good neighbor and a sincere friend to the world of the future." - during a Fireside Chat - July 28, 1943

"On this tenth day of June 1940, the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor"

"Force is the only language they understand, like bullies." - speaking in reference to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and German dictator Adolph Hitler.

American General George S. Patton:

"Maybe there are 5,000, maybe 10,000 Nazi bastards in their concrete foxholes before the Third Army. Now if Ike stops holding Monty's hand and gives me some supplies, I'll go through the Siegfried Line like %*$# through a goose."

"Sure, we want to go home. We want this war over with. The quickest way to get it over with is to go get the bastards who started it. The quicker they are whipped, the quicker we can go home. The shortest way home is through Berlin and Tokyo. And when we get to Berlin, I am personally going to shoot that paper-hanging son-of-a-%@&%# Hitler - just like I'd shoot a snake." - In a speech delivered to his troops before embarking for Operation Overlord (D-Day).

"We want to get the hell over there. The quicker we clean up this Goddamned mess, the quicker we can take a little jaunt against the purple-%@&%# Japs and clean out their nest, too. Before the Goddamned Marines get all of the credit. - To his soldiers before Operation Overlord (D-Day).

American General Joseph Stilwell:

"The Limeys want us in even with our hastily made plans and our half-trained and half-equipped troops." - on joining the war alongside Britain, date unknown

"I claim we got a hell of a beating. We got run out of Burma and it is as humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back and retake it." - May 1942

American General Bill Slim:

"The Chinese soldier was tough, brave, and experienced. After all he had been fighting on his own without help for years. He was a veteran among the Allies."

The New York Times:

"Germany having seized the prey, Soviet Russia will seize that part of the carcass that Germany cannot use. It will play the noble role of hyena to the German lion."- commenting on the joint invasion of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union, 1939

British General Bernard Law Montgomery:

"The Germans should have thought of some of these things before they began the war, particularly before attacking the Russians." - referring to a German soldier's request to surrender only to British or American forces and not the Russians .

"Nice chap, no General." - on first impressions of American General Dwight D. Eisenhower

British Labor Party Opposition Leader Clement Atlee:

"In a life and death struggle, we cannot afford to leave our destinies in the hands of failures." - on the British handling of the war in Norway

British Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander:

"The knowledge not only of the enemy's precise strength and disposition, but also how, when, and where he intends to carry out his operations brought a new dimension to the prosecution of war." - Commenting on the ULTRA code system

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain:

"How horrible, how fantastic, how incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing." - 1938

"It is evil things we shall be fighting against, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution." - 1939

King George VI:

"Like so many of our people, we have now had a personal experience of German barbarity which only strengthens the resolution of all of us to fight through to final victory."- September 1940

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill:

"Singapore could only be taken after a siege by an army of at least 50,000 men. It is not considered possible that the Japanese would embark on such a mad enterprise." - 1940

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Atlantic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind the line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. All these famous cities. lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow."

"In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Good Will."

"Without ships, we cannot live." - on the importance of winning the War in the Atlantic

"Good night, then - sleep to gather strength for the morning. For the morning will come. Brightly will it shine on the brave and true, kindly on all who suffer for the cause, glorious upon the tombs of heroes. Thus will shine the dawn." - to the people of France - October 21, 1940

"We must be very careful not to assign this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations" - in a speed to Parliament on June 4th, 1940

"Before Alamein, we had no victories. After Alamein, we had no defeats."

"In Hitler's launching of the Nazi campaign on Russia, we can already see, after six months of fighting, that he has made one of the outstanding blunders in history." - before the House of Commons - December 11, 1941

"The enemy is still proud and powerful. He is hard to get at. He still possesses enormous armies, vast resources, and invaluable strategic territories. No one can tell what new complications and perils might arise in four or five more years of war. And it is in the dragging-out of the war at enormous expense, until the democracies are tired or bored or split that the main hopes of Germany and Japan must reside." - to the American Congress, May 19, 1943

"The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-Boat peril. It did not take the form of flaring battles and glittering achievements, it manifested itself through statistics, diagrams, and curves unknown to the nation, incomprehensible to the public."

"I expected to see a wild cat roaring into the mountains - and what do I find? A whale wallowing on the beaches!" - to Sir Harold Alexander on the handling of the Allied landings at Anzio .

"Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few." - September 1940

"The whole of northern Norway was covered with snow to depths which none of our soldiers had ever seen, felt, or imagined. There were neither snow-shoes nor skis - still less skiers. We must do our best. Thus began this ramshackle campaign." - 1940

"The Battle of France is over. The Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the future of Christian civilization." - June 1940

"We have taken a grave and hazardous decision to sustain the Greeks and try to make a Balkan Front."

British Air Marshal "Bomber" Harris:

"They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind."

German Grand Admiral Donitz:

"Our losses. have reached an intolerable level." - Commenting on German naval losses in the Atlantic Theater, May 1943

German Leader Adolf Hitler:

"I saw my enemies in Munich, and they are worms."

"It is the last territorial claim which I have to make in Europe, but it is a claim from which I will not recede and which, God willing, I will make good." - Delivered in a speech covering the Sudetenland, 1938

"Germany must either be a world power or there will be no Germany" - from his autobiography 'Mein Kampf'

"Soldiers of the Reich! This day, you are to take part in an offensive of such importance that the whole future of the war may depend on its outcome." - July 5th, 1943

"Why should this war in the West be fought for the restoration of Poland? The Poland of the Versailles Treaty will never rise again." - September 1939

"Gentlemen, you are about to witness the most famous victory in history." - addressing his generals on June 9th, 1940, prior to 'Operation Yellow'.

"Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist." - March 15th, 1939

"Wipe out the entire defense potential remaining to the Soviets." - Directive 41 issued to German Army generals

"Dunkirk has fallen. with it has ended the greatest battle of world history. Soldiers! My confidence in you knew no bounds. You have not disappointed me" - June 5th, 1940

"You only have to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down." - on invading the Soviet Union

"A victory at Kursk would shine like a beacon to the world!" - to his generals

"Whenever I think of this attack, my stomach turns over." - to tank warfare specialist Heinz Guderian prior to the assault on Kursk.

"I speak in the name of the entire German people when I assure the world that we all share the honest wish to eliminate the enmity that brings far more costs than any possible benefits. It would be a wonderful thing for all of humanity if both peoples would renounce force against each other forever. The German people are ready to make such a pledge." - October 14th, 1933

"The assertion that it is the intention of the German Reich to coerce the Austrian State is absurd!" - January 30th, 1934

"Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affair of Austria, to annex Austria, or to conclude an Anschluss" - May 21st, 1935

"Nationalist Socialist Germany wants peace because of its fundamental convictions. And it wants peace also owing to the realization of the simple primitive fact that no war would be likely essentially to alter the distress in Europe. The principal effect of every war is to destroy the flower of the nation. Germany needs peace and desires peace!" - May 21st, 1935

"Germany has concluded a Non-Aggression Pact with Poland. We shall adhere to it unconditionally. We recognize Poland as the home of a great and nationally conscious people." - May 21st 1935

". the existence and increase of our race and nation, the sustenance of its children and the purity of its blood, the freedom and independence of the Fatherland, and the nation's ability to fulfill the mission appointed to it by the Creator of the universe."

German General Erwin Rommel:

"Which would your men rather be, tired, or dead?" - extorting an Officer during the building of Hitler's 'Atlantic Wall'.

"To every man of us, Tobruk was a symbol of British resistance and we were now going to finish with it for good." - June 1942

"The battle is going very heavily against us. We're being crushed by the enemy weight. We are facing very difficult days, perhaps the most difficult that a man can undergo" - November 3rd, 1942

"The enemy must be annihilated before he reaches our main battlefield. We must stop him in the water, destroying all his equipment while it is still afloat!" - April 22nd, 1944

German Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels:

"In 1933, a French premier ought to have said - and if I had been the French premier I would have said it: The new Reich chancellor is the man who wrote Mein Kampf, which says this and that. This man cannot be tolerated in our vicinity. Either he disappears or we march! But they didn't do it."

"If we have power, we'll never give it up again unless we're carried out of our offices as corpses"

German Lieutenant-Colonel Hermann Balck:

"Schutzenregiment 1 has, at 22:40, taken high hill just to the north of Cheveuges. Last enemy blockhouse in our hands. A complete breakthrough!" - In a wartime cable sent from the battlefield near Sedan

German General Oberst von Armin:

"Even without the Allied offensive, I should have had to capitulate by June 1st at the latest as I had no more food to eat." - May 1943, following the Axis surrender to the Allies in Tunisia

German Army General Chief of Staff Franz Haldervon Armin:

"The Russian Colossus. has been underestimated by us. whenever a dozen divisions are destroyed the Russians replace them with another dozen." - Commenting on the might of the Soviet Army following the invasion of the Soviet Union

German Armaments Magnate Gustav Krupp von Bohlen:

"Greater Germany - the dream of our fathers and grandfathers - is finally created."

Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini:

"Fuehrer, we are on the march! Victorious Italian troops crossed the Greco-Albanian frontier at dawn today!" October 28th, 1940

"Fascism accepts the individual only insofar as his interests coincide with the state's."

"The Mediterranean will be turned into an Italian lake."

"War alone can carry to the maximum tension all human energies and imprint with the seal of nobility those people who have the courage to confront it Every other test is a mere substitute." - 1930

"I've had my fill of Hitler. These conferences called by the ringing of a bell are not to my liking. The bell is rung when people call their servants. And besides, what kind of conferences are these? For five hours I am forced to listen to a monologue which is quite fruitless and boring" - To his son-in-law on June 10th, 1941

Leningrad Party Committee Head Andrei Zhdanov:

"The enemy is at the gate. It is a question of life and death." - Referring to the German Army encircling the city

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin:

"The Red Army and Navy and the whole Soviet people must fight for every inch of Soviet soil, fight to the last drop of blood for our towns and villages. onward, to victory!" - July 1941

Unknown Soviet Red Army Soldier:

"Men were thrown headlong at Finnish guns. Tanks and their crews were shelled and burned, whole regiments of infantry encircled. Entire battalions of troops, the spearhead of the Red Army, were cut off from their reinforcements and supplies." - During the Soviet-Finnish Winter War

French General Charles de Gaulle:

"Today we are crushed by the sheer weight of the mechanized forces hurled against us, but we can still look to the future in which even greater mechanized forces will bring us victory. Therein lies the destiny of the world."

French President Raymond Poincare:

"You hold in your hands the future of the world." - January 1919

French General Maxime Weygand:

"There is nothing preventing the enemy reaching Paris. We were fighting on our last line and it has been breached. I am helpless, I cannot intervene."

Imperial Japanese Navy Rear-Admiral Ito

"A gigantic fleet has amassed in Pearl Harbor. This fleet will be utterly crushed with one blow at the very beginning of hostilities. Heaven will bear witness to the righteousness of our struggle'" - November 1941

Japanese Emperor Hirohito

"The fruits of victory are tumbling into our mouths too quickly." - April 29th, 1942

Japanese General Hideki Tojo, Prime Minister

"Australia and New Zealand are now threatened by the might of the Imperial Japanese forces, and both of them should know that any resistance is futile."

Reverend Martin Niemoller:

"In Germany they came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

Setting the Record Straight on the Soviets at Nuremberg

Even before the collapse of the Axis powers at the end World War II, the soon-to-be-victorious Allies began contemplating how to address the enormity of the atrocities committed by the Third Reich, including the Holocaust, following Germany’s launch of the second aggressive war to ravage Europe that century. Various powers contemplated a number of proposals, ranging from summary executions to the de-industrialization of the German state. Ultimately, but not without intense debate, the Allies made a collective decision to hold individual perpetrators criminally accountable before an international tribunal, on the theory that, in the words of the Nuremberg Judgment,

Crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced.

International law would never be the same.

The International Military Tribunal was the product of the London Agreement of 1945, a quadripartite accord between the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. The treaty envisioned that individuals “whose offenses [had] no particular geographic location” would be tried by a tribunal sitting in Nuremberg, Germany, for war crimes, crimes against the peace, and crimes against humanity. Although the Allied Control Council was headquartered in Berlin, in part to appease the Soviets, the city of Nuremberg was chosen for the trials because it had a courtroom equipped with adjacent prison facilities that survived Allied bombing. The city’s association with the odious Nuremberg Race Laws, which deprived Jewish citizens of many citizenship rights, and Nazi party rallies added a symbolic touch to this choice. It was anticipated that those in the dock would include key government ministers, members of the military, and industrialists who had helped Germany to rearm after World War I.

In the end, the only man of business indicted by the Nuremberg prosecutors was Gustav Krupp, whose firm — the Krupp Group — produced essential war materiel with slave labor. He was, however, deemed medically incapacitated and so was dropped from the indictment. An American proposal to substitute his son Alfried was rejected. Under the agreed-upon scheme, lesser war criminals were to be prosecuted in occupation courts nearer to where their alleged crimes were committed. This is how Alfried, alongside his managing board and other colleagues, was eventually convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Indeed, the allies held hundreds of other trials around the European and Pacific theaters in the postwar period. But none was as consequential as the Nuremberg Tribunal.

The story of the Nuremberg trial — hailed as “the most significant tribute that power has ever paid to reason” — has already been well told. There are dozens of memoirs by key protagonists, exhaustively researched historical treatises, and even Hollywood films portraying these monumental events. One unique contribution comes from Sen. Christopher Dodd, whose father served on the American prosecutorial team. Dodd published his father’s correspondence, which offer behind-the-scenes anecdotes embedded within poignant love letters to his wife.

In all these accounts, the Soviet contingent often appears as little more than a caricature — “beasts and worse” in the words of Dodd père. Even as a professor of international law, I must admit that I have succumbed to this over-simplification. In my genesis story of international justice, I tell three anecdotes involving our erstwhile ally to my students. Firstly, I make mention of the fact that Joseph Stalin — the dictator who, true to his nom de guerre, ruled the Soviet Union with a stal (“steel”) fist from 1929 to 1953 — wanted to execute all Nazi officers (not entirely accurate, as it turns out, and a position once favored by Winston Churchill, to be fair). Secondly, the Soviets make an appearance in connection with my discussion of how the American concept of conspiracy entered international law. That doctrine, considered the darling of the prosecutor’s nursery, allows all members of a criminal conspiracy to be prosecuted solely for entering into a criminal agreement as well as for any criminal acts committed in furtherance thereof. In this narrative, I quote from the essential Reaching Judgment at Nuremberg by Bradley F. Smith, who describes the reception of this expansive prosecutorial tool by our postwar allies as follows:

The French viewed [the U.S. conspiracy doctrine] entirely as a barbarous legal mechanism unworthy of modern law, while the Soviets seemed to have shaken their head in wonderment — a reaction, some cynics may believe, prompted by envy.

Finally, I discuss the pointed dissent of the Soviet judge to the acquittals of two indicted organizations — the Reich Cabinet and the General Staff/High Command — and three Nazi defendants, and the leniency accorded a fourth. Judge Iona Nikitchenko was particularly incensed at the acquittal of Hans Fritzsche, whom the Soviets had captured and who had worked under Joseph Goebbels (who committed suicide in the waning days of the war) as the director of radio propaganda. The other judges determined that Fritzsche was too junior to be a part of the conspiracy to wage war and did not himself incite genocide. In his dissent, Nikitchenko explained:

The dissemination of provocative lies and the systematic deception of public opinion were as necessary to the Hitlerites for the realisation of their plans as were the production of armaments and the drafting of military plans. Without propaganda, founded on the total eclipse of the freedom of press and of speech, it would not have been possible for German Fascism to realise its aggressive intentions, to lay the groundwork and then to put to practice the war crimes and the crimes against humanity.

Leave it to the Soviet judge to recognize the central role that propaganda plays in any military enterprise. (Fritzsche, incidentally, was later convicted by a German denazification court). Although not as famous as that penned by India’s Judge Radhabinod Pal, who served on the International Military Tribunal of the Far East in Tokyo, the Soviet dissent at Nuremberg tapped into popular sentiments of those watching the trial and reflected the prevailing media opinion of the press corps.

Beyond these three anecdotes, most standard Western accounts of the Nuremberg proceedings fixate on the brilliant Justice Robert H. Jackson, the U.S. chief prosecutor on loan from the Supreme Court, as well as the instrumental role of the United States in launching the field of international criminal law. While such accounts satisfy American national pride, they are both inaccurate and incomplete.

Professor and historian Francine Hirsch of the University of Wisconsin-Madison seeks to set the record straight in a wonderful new book, Soviet Judgment at Nuremberg: A New History of the International Military Tribunal After World War II. Drawing upon original research from newly available and under-studied Soviet archives, Hirsch offers a rich narrative account of the convening, proceedings, and aftermath of the Nuremberg Tribunal that challenges several of the central myths that many, myself included, have accepted. Most importantly, the book surfaces the foundational role played by Soviet jurists in the convocation of the first truly international war crimes tribunal and the inauguration of the international criminal law canon.

Although focused on the so-called “trial to end all wars,” the book also covers the inauguration of the Cold War through the vehicle of a courtroom drama. Hirsch reveals that the Nuremberg trial was, in many respects, “the last hurrah of wartime cooperation for the Allied powers” and “an early front of the Cold War.” This is not mere hindsight. Rather, these seismic geopolitical shifts were palpable to all involved in the trial. Indeed, they prompted Hermann Göring — arguably the highest-ranking defendant tried at Nuremberg — to quip that, “the only allies who are still allied are the four prosecutors, and they are only allied against the defendants.” In other words, it was apparent to all that by the time of the trial, the allies were no longer allied, except in their desire to convict the defendants.

Many of the western protagonists at Nuremberg are household names (at least within the households of scholars of international law): Jackson, of course, his fellow American Francis Biddle, France’s Henri Donnedieu de Vabres, and Britain’s Sir Hartley Shawcross and Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe. In her book, Hirsch introduces us to key, lesser-known Soviet characters, including the creative, brilliant, and largely unknown Aron Trainin. A Russian Jew and legal contemporary of Raphael Lemkin (who coined the term ’genocide’) and Hersch Lauterpacht, Trainin is credited with pushing for the establishment of an international court following the war in his academic writing and well before the allies were on board with the idea, introducing the concept of crimes against the peace (or ‘crime of aggression’ in today’s lexicon), and advocating for the creation of a permanent international criminal court to try future war criminals.

Trainin was compelled by a genuine belief that international law could be a force for peace and that the Soviet Union could play a progressive role in its development. He also championed the concept of complicity (having written a book on the topic), critiqued the defense of superior orders, and supported an expanded reach for the charge of crimes against humanity. Although the Soviets did not participate in the work of the U.N. War Crimes Commission, which hammered out the postwar justice agenda, many of Trainin’s ideas were presented thereby a Czech envoy, Bohuslav Ečer, who was familiar with Trainin’s academic work. As a result, many of Trainin’s ideas were eventually picked up by key justice architects among the allies — often without attribution.

Equally as influential was Andrey Vyshinsky who, in his youth, bonded with Stalin over revolutionary theory while they were both imprisoned in Baku and who was entrusted with prosecuting Stalin’s first major show trials, including the Moscow Trials of 1936 to 1938 following the Great Purge. Together, Trainin and Vyshinsky crafted the Soviet Union’s approach to postwar justice. Other Soviet figures included the Soviet chief prosecutor Roman Rudenko and the aforementioned Nikitchenko, who was originally pegged to lead the prosecution, but who ended up on the bench after a quick game of musical chairs. Rudenko and Nikitchenko were career Soviet bureaucrats who were clearly in over their heads in the company of the legal luminaries who had been dispatched to Nuremberg. Through meticulous research, Hirsch demonstrates that there were no firewalls between the Soviet negotiators, judges, or prosecutors (or with members of the Soviet press corps for that matter). All were operating according to common instructions (and under intense surveillance) while in Nuremberg. As Hirsch describes it, by the time they all got to Nuremberg as members of the Soviet delegation, “while Jackson was calling his own shots, Nikitchenko and Trainin had marching orders.”

It is well known that the Americans and the British originally leaned towards punishing Nazi leaders by ‘executive decree’ (i.e., without legal process). Although Stalin would have executed upwards of 50,000 German officers, he was keen on holding a didactic trial of the Nazi masterminds. He recognized the value of such a proceeding to expose the enormity of the Nazi enterprise, foster Soviet unity, highlight the immense sacrifices made by the Soviets to defeat the Nazis, vindicate the national suffering, establish a legal claim to “reparations in kind” from Germany (a troubling euphemism for forced labor), and position the Soviet Union as a postwar international power (even as it was still reeling from wartime devastation at home). While the allies were debating the various juridical and extra-juridical options, the Soviets had already put such ideas into action, having hosted the first national trials of Russian and Ukrainian members of the dreaded Einsatzgruppen death squads, who murdered more than 7,000 Soviet citizens, most of them Jewish, as well as the first domestic trials of German nationals held by any allied power (the “Kharkov Trial”). The other allies finally came around to the idea of a two-tiered penal process: international trials for the Nazi big fish as envisioned by Trainin and prosecutions of lower-level defendants in the allies’ respective occupation zones. However, Stalin’s vision of a propagandistic show trial with pre-determined outcomes was fundamentally at odds with the legalistic traditions of the other allies, who were operating under the deeply ingrained assumption that, if the captured Nazis were to be put on trial, the defendants were entitled to present a defense and enjoy strict due process. This marks just one of many legal and cultural clashes within the quadripartite alliance, both in and outside the courtroom.

As the book unfolds, it is fascinating to see the Soviet delegation gradually come to the realization that they are entirely unprepared for the daunting task that had been put to them. Stalin insisted on exercising centralized control of the proceedings from his perch in Moscow, which included ideological wordsmithing, masking Soviet abuses and other inconvenient truths, and highlighting “the capitalist underpinnings of fascism.” This, coupled with the Soviet team’s relative lack of experience in multilateral settings and a dearth of vetted translators and interpreters, left the delegation repeatedly outmaneuvered as events rapidly unfolded around them. Indeed, Hirsch demonstrates that the Soviet delegation frequently found themselves without instructions (or with instructions that were utterly unattainable), out of the loop, “living a logistical nightmare,” or otherwise incapable of effectively advancing the outsized Soviet agenda. Needless-to-say, the Soviet delegation recognized that there might be devastating consequences were they to freelance in the way Jackson and others from the west were relatively free to do.

Nonetheless, the Soviet participants eventually hit a certain stride. For one, they contributed a number of key documents outlining the Nazi plan for lebensraum (“greater living space”) and the mass slaughter of civilians. This was consistent with Jackson’s controversial strategy of relying heavily on captured documents rather than potentially unreliable witnesses in order to “prove incredible events by credible evidence.” This necessitated upwards of three tons of text to be read into the record. Midway through this process, Rebecca West, who covered the trials for the New Yorker, described the proceedings as “a citadel of boredom” whose inhabitants were in “the grip of extreme tedium.” These observations foreshadowed the famous turn of phrase coined by Hannah Arendt — “the banality of evil” — as she later observed the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. By contrast, Rudenko offered the moving testimony of percipient witnesses (including the poet Avraham Sutzkever, the first Jewish witness) and also surprised all in attendance by calling to the stand several highly-placed German prisoners of war who had turned “state’s witness” while in custody. (Query what “incentives” might have been employed in this regard). Allowing these survivors and insiders to bear witness brought the Nazi enterprise alive for the judges, the press, and the public at large.

Notwithstanding the Soviets’ many legal and evidentiary contributions, there is no question that their involvement in the proceedings presented a “threat to the legitimacy of Nuremberg and to its legacy.” Although none of the allies arrived in Nuremberg with entirely clean hands (allied firebombing and the chilling parallels between colonialism and lebensraum come immediately to mind), the Soviets’ were particularly soiled. Germany and the Soviet Union had jointly invaded Poland with the intent of carving up Eastern Europe pursuant to secret protocols of the 1939 German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact). The Soviet Union was engaged in deportations in Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere even as the tribunal was hearing evidence of the Nazi deportation program. Soviet-occupied Berlin was being contemporaneously plundered following the city’s surrender. Prisoners of war in Soviet custody were mistreated and an untold number of German women (estimates range from 80,000 to 130,000) were raped by their supposed Soviet liberators.

In addition, the Soviets recklessly insisted on trying to pin the Katyn Forest Massacre—which left at least 11,000 Polish officers dead — on the Germans in the indictment. History has proven that the massacre was actually the work of Soviet operatives, who planted evidence and then falsified subsequent investigations in order to shift the blame to the Germans. It was only through targeted (some would say complicitous) interventions by the British and American participants that the evidence of Soviet responsibility did not come to light during the Nuremberg proceedings. In the end, the judgment was silent about the Katyn massacre, leaving it to another day for the truth to emerge. All told, opportunities abounded for the accused Germans to raise the defense of tu quoque (“you also”). Remarkably, evidence uncovered by Hirsch suggests that many members of the Soviet delegation were unaware of the truth of these matters and so were essentially flying blind in Nuremberg.

A lamentable casualty of the deteriorating four-powers alliance was the proposal for a second international military tribunal to bring to justice the German financiers and industrialists who had bankrolled and profited from the Nazi enterprise — another key Soviet aim. The Americans refused to participate in a second international tribunal in the European theater, largely scuttling the Soviets’ plan to expose the connections between American and German industrialist circles and indelibly link capitalism and fascism. Although the Americans eventually prosecuted a number of industrialists in their zone of occupation under Control Council Number 10 — including principals of the Flick Concern, IG Farben, and the Krupp Works — the West soon saw German industry as a critical bulwark against the spread of Soviet communism and later rehabilitated a number of defendants, including Alfried Krupp. The Soviet concept of corporate responsibility in some respects presaged the newest front of today’s human rights litigation: cases seeking to hold corporate actors liable for enabling, profiting from, and being complicit in human rights abuses around the world.

The book ends in the immediate post-trial period with the halting efforts to make permanent some of the principles expressed at Nuremberg, including the creation of a permanent international criminal court that would offer an antidote to the victors’ justice critique that dogged the postwar proceedings then and now. Notwithstanding steadfast efforts by Trainin, Stalin soured on his cosmopolitan ideas about multilateralism as ideology eclipsed law. By now, Trainin had fallen out of favor with Moscow, but managed to avoid a worse fate. In 1950, the Soviet representative walked out of deliberations before the U.N. International Law Commission, which ended up concretizing many of Trainin’s ideas, including when it came to rectifying some of the shortcomings of the Nuremberg Charter and judgment. Decades later, in 2000, Moscow signed the International Criminal Court Statute, but later “unsigned” it in 2016 when the court’s Office of the Prosecutor concluded that the situation in Ukraine constituted an international armed conflict. For its part, the United States — which came to the idea of international justice late in the postwar period — retained until very recently a leadership role in international justice efforts, supporting institutions established to hold accountable those who would commit the worst crimes known to humankind, whether it be in the former Yugoslavia, Sudan, or Myanmar.

Hirsch’s book is particularly thought-provoking and timely at this moment in history, given the evolving relationship between the United States and Russia and the unfortunate reality that many powerful members of the international community have retreated from the project of international justice first launched at Nuremberg. The International Criminal Court is now poised to investigate crimes by several of World War II’s victorious allies — alleged custodial abuses by British personnel in Iraq and American personnel in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Russians in Ukraine and Georgia — potentially signaling a new kind of victor’s justice. The focus on U.S. personnel has provoked an unprecedented backlash from the Trump administration, first launched by former National Security Advisor John Bolton — who suffers from a congenital antipathy toward the court — in a 2018 speech at the Federalist Society. After Bolton’s ouster, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continued this assault, most recently supporting the imposition of sanctions on international civil servants working at the court. This illiberal approach puts America squarely in the camp of authoritarian states that would prefer impunity to accountability, and that would undermine the independence of prosecutors and judges — values that all Americans hold dear and that constitute essential democratic principles. It also soils the U.S. legacy at Nuremberg, of which we have heretofore been deservedly proud.

Hirsch’s book reveals that the Russians should likewise embrace, rather than forsake, their contributions — at once consequential and controversial — to the establishment of a global system of international justice. Indeed, Hirsch brilliantly accomplishes her central aim: “putting the Soviet Union back into the history of the Nuremberg trials.” In so doing, the book offers a valuable new addition to the Nuremberg canon, filling a gap in the literature with new research, an engaging narrative style, a dose of intrigue, and delightful details (such as the appearance of the bikini within the Nuremberg fashion scene). The book will be most appealing to experts, who will be fascinated by this fresh and distinctive perspective on well-known events, but the engrossing style will rivet more casual World War II enthusiasts. All told, Hirsch’s gift to the Nuremberg literature leaves us with the distinct impression that: “the full story [of Nuremberg] is far messier than the myth — but it is no less heroic.”

Beth Van Schaack is the Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights at Stanford Law School where she teaches human rights, international criminal law, and transitional justice. Prior to returning to academia, she was deputy to the ambassador-at-large for war crimes Issues in the Office of Global Criminal Justice in the U.S. State Department under Secretaries Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. She is a graduate of Stanford University (B.A.), Yale Law School (J.D.), and Leiden University (Ph.D.).

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Avraham Novershtern was a trial witness at the Nuremberg trials. The witness was acclaimed Yiddish poet Avraham Sutzkever, while Avraham Novershtern is a scholar of Yiddish literature that wrote an article about Sutzkever.

Nov. 16, 1933 | U.S. Establishes Diplomatic Relations With the Soviet Union

Barbarous Soviet Russia Maxim Litinoff was the Soviet leader at the time his country and the United States began a diplomatic relationship on Nov. 16, 1933.
Historic Headlines

Learn about key events in history and their connections to today.

On Nov. 16, 1933, at 10 minutes before midnight, the United States and the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a telegram to the Soviet leader Maxim Litvinov, expressing hope that United States-Soviet relations would 𠇏orever remain normal and friendly.”

The United States had broken off diplomatic relations with Russia in December 1917, after the Communist Bolshevik Party seized power and refused to honor its debts to foreign countries. The United States remained hostile toward Russia and the Soviet Union (founded in 1922) until President Roosevelt took office in 1933 and sought to establish relations with the Soviets, in part because the United States was the only major power yet to recognize the Soviet Union.

The main issues surrounding the establishment of relations included the settling of Soviet debts, Soviet involvement in American domestic affairs (like supporting the American Communist Party), and the legal status of Americans living in the Soviet Union.

The New York Times described the terms of the United States-Soviet agreement, reporting that the Soviets agreed to the “most complete pledge against Bolshevist propaganda that has ever been made,” and to allow Americans to have 𠇌omplete freedom of worship” and the right to choose their own counsel if being tried in the Soviet Union. The United States “made reciprocal pledges except regarding religion, which the Soviet did not desire.” The issue of the outstanding debts was left to be decided later.

The hopes for friendly relations quickly broke down, however. The two sides could not reach an agreement on the debts and the United States felt that the Soviets continued to interfere in United States relations. Not until the outbreak of World War II did the United States and Soviet Union begin to cooperate, with the Americans providing arms and material to the Soviets for their fight against Nazi Germany.

After the war, relations disintegrated again as the two countries emerged as the world’s two superpowers. The United States, representing Western democracy and capitalism, and the Soviet Union, representing Communism, fought to promote their ideologies internationally in the cold war.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the introduction of democratic and free market reforms in Russia, relations between the American and Russian governments improved quickly. There have still been tensions between the two countries — but over issues like missile defense, American military action in Kosovo, Russian military action in Chechnya and Georgia, and Russian relations with Communist countries.

Connect to Today:

The United States has formal diplomatic relations with all but a few countries — most notably Cuba, Iran and North Korea.

The United States broke off relations with Cuba in 1961, two years after the Communist revolutionary Fidel Castro seized power. Mr. Castro relinquished power in 2008 to his brother Raul, who has allowed for free market reforms like a recent legalization of buying and selling property. Still, a trade embargo and “sour relations” remain as the countries �ter a moment of warmth, have slipped back into a 50-year-old pattern of cold distrust,” according to the Times Topics: Cuba overview.

Do you foresee improved relations and an end to the trade embargo with Cuba in the near future? Why or why not? What would be the benefits and risks both for the United States and for Cuba?


It took several years for the Communist party to replace Stalin in 1956, Nikita Khrushchev took over. Khrushchev broke the secrecy regarding Stalin’s atrocities and led the Soviet Union in a period of "de-Stalinization," which included beginning to account for the catastrophic deaths under Stalin and acknowledging the flaws in his policies.

It wasn’t an easy process for the Soviet people to break through Stalin’s cult of personality to see the real truths of his reign. The estimated numbers of dead are staggering. The secrecy regarding those “purged” has left millions of Soviet citizens wondering the exact fate of their loved ones.

With these new-found truths about Stalin’s reign, it was time to stop revering the man who had murdered millions. Pictures and statues of Stalin were gradually removed, and in 1961 the city of Stalingrad was renamed Volgograd.

Stalin's body, which had lain next to Lenin’s for nearly eight years, was removed from the mausoleum in October 1961. Stalin’s body was buried nearby, surrounded by concrete so that it could not be moved again.