“When I’ve finished occupying the Soviet Union,” quipped a relaxed Adolf Hitler at dinner one night in 1941, “I’ll put that man Stalin back in charge. He’s the only person who knows how to deal with Russians.”
Stalin was the biggest murderer of modern history – and maybe in of all mankind’s past. His number of victims was only rivaled by Genghis Khan and, in our era, Mao Zedong.
Which bring me to the current observations of the 71st anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp Auschwitz. Our media is full of stories about the persecution and mass killings of Europe’s Jews in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
And rightly so. This major historic crime must be vividly remembered and never allowed to slip into oblivion. But neither should it be used and reused to justify or excuse today’s repression of 5 million Palestinians.
While the world remembers the Jewish Holocaust, it has almost totally forgotten the other Holocausts. Amid all the references to Nazi death camps, like Auschwitz, Sobibor, and Treblinka, there was not a mention of Magadan, Vorkuta Norilsk, or Perm, all infamous ‘islands’ of the Soviet system of industrial murder, known as “the Gulag.”
Or of the Ukrainian Holodomor.
From 1918 to the late 1950’s (Stalin died in 1953), an estimated 20 million or more Soviet citizens were worked to death, shot or starved in the 500 camps that made up the Gulag. The most infamous and lethal were in the Arctic Circle and eastern Siberia.
The greatest number of deaths occurred in the 1930’s when Stalin’s reign of terror was at its apogee. By the end of the 1930’s, the Gulag held close to 2 million inmates, about half political prisoners convicted on false charges. Millions of other Soviet citizens were starved in local prisons, shot in execution grounds or forests, and worked to death buildings canals and rail lines or forced to mine with heir bare hands.
During 1932-33, Stalin sent chief henchman Lazar Kaganovitch to break resistance by Ukrainian independent small farmers to collectivization by starving them to death. In only a few years, some 6-7 million Ukrainians perished in what they call the Holodomor. No one was ever punished for this historic crime. Stalin told Churchill, “Kaganovitch is my Himmler.”
The Soviet Baltic states saw particularly ferocious repression. So did Poland which was divvied up by both Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Six million Poles died, half of them Jews. At least 2 million Muslims of the Soviet Union were murdered, either by shooting or, like the Chechen, packed into cattle cars and dumped on the ground in frigid Kazakhstan.
Stalin was given the sobriquet, “Destroyer of Nations.”
No one knows the exact figure of deaths in the Soviet Union. But it far exceeded in numbers and scope Hitler’s killings. Yet these epic Soviet crimes have all but vanished from our collective memories. No should have a monopoly on suffering.
Almost equally disturbing, the US, Canada and Britain have never squarely faced the ugly fact that their close wartime ally, Stalin, was a far worse mass murderer than enemy Adolf Hitler. Or that Stalin’s biggest crime occurred in the 1930’s while Hitler’s were not fully understood until after World War II. Stalin’s terrible crimes were well known to Washington, Ottawa and London well before they got into bed with “Uncle Joe” Stalin. We allied with a great devil to fight a lesser one. This fact is rarely understood because our sense of World War II history remains heavily clouded by the propaganda of he victors.
Ever since, Hitler has been relentlessly demonized while Stalin has faded from our understanding. Germans still recoil at the mention of Hitler while in Russia nostalgia grows for Stalin and his era. Much of the evidence of Stalin’s crimes has turned to dust; none of the perpetrators were ever punished. After briefly seeing the light of day during the Gorbachev era, the Stalin-era files have been resealed.