No, dear readers, I’m not talking whether to continue writing this blog or not. I’m talking about a book I checked out of the library last week.
If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ve probably gathered I’m a fast reader. I actually have to force myself to slow down and enjoy books sometimes, as opposed to completely inhaling them. That’s why it’s surprising that this book, The Madagaskar Plan by Guy Saville, is taking me forever to get through. I’ve had it for a whole five days now and I’m maybe a third of the way through, if that.
It’s odd because though I don’t dislike the book, I also don’t love it. I feel completely neutral about it. It is an odd book because though it’s supposed to be a sequel to The Afrika Reich, which I also read, you don’t really need to have read the first book to read this book.
I have yet to decide whether to finish it or not. I keep reading bits and pieces of it sporadically. By the time I do decide whether it’s worth finishing, I’ll probably already be done and there won’t be a decision to make then.
On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. It was a decision from which Hitler would never recover, though he was too dumb to know it at the time.
In Hitler’s defense (I never thought I’d write those words!), maybe the Soviet Union didn’t look so strong. I know the Germans thought it would collapse like a house of cards. Plus, Stalin had purged many of the competent officers in the Red Army, so I suppose it may not have been so farfetched to think this. Still, Hitler must have thought himself immune to the problems Napoleon experienced when he attempted to invade Russia. (If you need a refresher, things didn’t go so well for Napoleon, either. His failure in Russia contributed to his eventual defeat.)
Most importantly, Operation Barbarossa opened up the Eastern Front of the war, which ensured Nazi Germany would be fighting a war on two fronts. Obviously, this didn’t work out so well for them.
In addition to a military operation, the Nazis also sent the Einsatzgruppen into the Soviet Union as well. The Einsatzgruppen were death squads who shot people—specifically, unarmed civilians—in cold blood. There have been many academic works on the Einsatzgruppen and they make for grim reading. Richard Rhodes’ Masters of Death is the one that immediately comes to mind for me.
This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Hitler’s notorious Commissar Order, which ordered the immediate execution of any Soviet political commissars captured. The order also called for any prisoners who were “thoroughly bolshevized” to be shot as well. This actually made the Soviets fight harder—often to the death—because they knew they faced certain death if they surrendered.
I’ll leave you with a recording of an old Soviet song called Двадцать второго июня, ровно в 4 часа [On the 22 of June at 4 in the morning]. This song is about the Nazi invasion of the USSR. The song is basically about the Germans invading and the Soviet arising to defend their homeland. Despite my love for all things imperial Russia-related, I quite like this song.
Today is Victory Day in Russia, so С Днем Победы [Happy Victory Day] to everyone who’s celebrating. Why is Victory Day celebrated on May 9 in Russia and other former Soviet countries, but on May 8 in Western Europe and America? (Not that it’s really celebrated in America, to be honest… more on that later.) Due to the time zone differences, it was already May 9 in the Soviet Union when Nazi Germany surrendered.
Russia really, really celebrates Victory Day. Growing up in the United States, I cannot remember any specific marking of the day. When I was old enough to know about World War II, I knew when Victory Day was just as a matter of historical trivia, but I never remember anybody celebrating. But in Russia, there is a huge parade in Moscow every year, and many other cities in both Russia and countries that were part of the Soviet Union hold parades and celebrations as well. Someday in the near future, I am going to attend the Moscow Victory Day parade. It must be something else to see.
While we’re on the subject, here’s an interesting cultural sensitivity question: is it rude to wish a German person a happy Victory Day? I wished some British people a happy Victory Day, but that’s different because we were on the same side in World War II. Seriously, is wishing a German (I’ve got a couple German friends here at university) a happy Victory Day basically like saying, “Yes, this is to remember that the country in which I was born and from which I have my citizenship, along with the country in which I’m currently living AND the country whose language I have devoted myself to studying all seriously beat your native country in World War II.” Because that just sounds, well, mean.
A few other interesting differences between America, Britain, and Russia: an American or Brit will call the war “World War II” and say it was from 1939 to 1945. A Russian calls it the “Great Patriotic War” [Великая Отечественная Война] and will say it was from 1941 to 1945.