Who defeated the Nazis?

75 years on, it is time for the West to realize Russia's key role in Germany's surrender, and for Russia to admit the Soviets' wartime crimes.

JEWISH RED ARMY veterans take part in a Jerusalem parade marking Victory Day, the anniversary of the victory of the Allies over Nazi Germany, in 2016 (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
JEWISH RED ARMY veterans take part in a Jerusalem parade marking Victory Day, the anniversary of the victory of the Allies over Nazi Germany, in 2016
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
For Adolf Hitler it was a no-brainer.
The question of who decided the war Germany lost 75 years ago last week was as clear as the question of who started it: “Those finally responsible for everything, international Jewry,” as he put it in the Political Testament he dictated on 29 April 1945 (Allan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, 1990, p. 794).
Historians obviously point elsewhere, yet their answer to the simple question “who defeated the Nazis?” is not clear at all.
Western conventional wisdom that the Nazi defeat reflected British courage at the war’s outset and American power at its conclusion has been disputed by Soviet leaders, scholars and war veterans.
Yes, the USSR’s attitude toward historiography was the same as its treatment of any other aspect of free speech – for instance, in exiling historian Aleksandr Nekrich, whose June 22, 1941: Soviet Historians and the German Invasion (1965) blamed Stalin for failing to prepare for Germany’s attack.
Still, there indeed is reason to argue that the Soviets dominated the Nazis’ defeat, on three planes.
PSYCHOLOGICALLY, THE Soviets were both proud and angry that they sacrificed more than anyone for Germany’s defeat.
The Red Army’s losses, seven million troops by moderate estimates, were larger than those of the rest of the Allied armies’ combined figures, and also larger than the combined military fatalities of Germany and Japan. This is besides at least another 13 million civilians, as opposed to less than a combined two million Germans, Italians and Japanese, and fewer than 100,000 Brits and Americans.
Militarily, the Soviets fought on the ground for four years, pushing the Wehrmacht steadily back more than 2,200 kilometers, stride after stride, a herculean effort in which not one Western soldier took part. In one showdown, summer ’43’s Battle of Kursk, two million Soviet and German troops clashed alongside 6,000 tanks and 4,000 aircraft. In terms of personnel, it was more than four times D-Day’s collision.
Finally, industrially, Americans recall their massive supplies to the USSR since its invasion, including 6,430 aircraft, 3,734 tanks and 210,000 vehicles by spring 1944 (Alexander Werth, Russia at War 1941-1945, p. 567), thus creating the impression that the Red Army’s victory was fed by American industry. That impression is unfounded.
Yes, the Red Army was initially under-supplied, but Soviet industry quickly recovered, sending 1,500 factories along with their equipment and workers beyond the Urals, where they soon mass-produced the war’s best tank, the T-34. In terms of quantity, the Soviets eventually manufactured five times as many tanks as the Germans, six times as many aircraft, and eleven times as many cannon.
In short, the USSR indeed spearheaded Germany’s defeat.
Moreover, on the diplomatic front, the Soviets felt that the US and Britain consciously let the Red Army’s casualties multiply, by delaying the landing in Normandy until three years after Germany’s invasion of the USSR. The second-front request, first made weeks after the invasion in a personal letter from Stalin to Churchill, was a major source of Soviet frustration.
Yes, the West had good excuses. The US had yet to join the war in summer ’41, and when it did join, it was up to its neck in the Pacific front. Even so, the Soviets had good reason to feel their allies wanted them to bleed, and historians, too, will always have to suspect there was truth to this.
It was against this backdrop that a new historiographic dispute erupted in recent years between Russians and Westerners, a controversy in which the Russians have no case, and at the same time also lends new context to the Soviet role in Nazism’s defeat.
THE NEW debate was sparked by British historian Anthony Beevor’s Berlin: The Downfall (2002), which exposed the scope of Russian soldiers’ rapes of German women. The book made Russian officials and scholars fume.
“Lies,” said Grigori Karasin, Russia’s ambassador in London at the time, who charged Beevor with “slander and blasphemy against the Red Army,” while Oleg Rzheshevsky, head of war history at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told the BBC that Beevor lacked documentary evidence.
Alas, this part of the Soviets’ wartime record is about factuality, unlike the question “who defeated the Nazis,” which is about causality, and as such will always be debatable.
Beevor’s evidence is ample and unambiguous, often emanating from Soviet documents, and led him to conclude that some two million German women were raped, many by gangs, and that thousands consequently died, mostly by suicide. Even so, Russian leaders refuse to confront the reality that Beevor laid bare.
It is in this spirit of denialism that Vladimir Putin last December blamed the war’s outbreak on Poland, when he said its leaders “laid their people, the Polish people, open to attack from Germany’s military machine, and, moreover, generally contributed to the beginning of the Second World War.”
Yes, the Polish leadership indeed failed to prepare for the war, yet this failure’s discussion by Putin was part of a thinly veiled effort to divert attention from Moscow’s prewar pact with Hitler and its complicity in Poland’s invasion.
The Russian reluctance to come to terms with the Soviet wartime record of collaboration from above and barbarity from below is part of a deeper problem – namely, that the main actor in the Nazis’ defeat was not a Western democracy but an empire of evil.
“Russia’s victory was not the victory of spirit; it was the victory of power,” as Hebrew University Russian history Professor Amnon Sela put it on Israel Radio last week.
In the same spirit, one might add that the free world’s failure to fight before Hitler attacked it means that the West’s war was driven not by idealism but by survival. And that is not Russia’s shame. It’s ours.
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.