Looking 75 years back in history is probably going far back enough to no longer hear the screaming or feel the pain of those who had suffered the consequences of the decisions made by the 20th century’s two biggest monsters. Seventy-five years is historically far removed enough for us to better understand the games that Hitler and Stalin were playing with each other, first as allies and then as fierce enemies. Stalin won in the end, and when his Red Army marched into Berlin, Hitler already lay dead in his bunker. For the next decade, Stalin played the same type of game with the Americans and the British – his allies in the common victory against his former friend Hitler – as they continued to divide Europe into separate zones of interest. Many of the divisions were set with the famous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of nonaggression between Germany and Russia. The pact was signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939 and lasted until June 1941, when Germany attacked Russia.
In his recently published book, Devil’s Alliance, Roger Moorhouse argues that negotiation between the two sides was possible because Hitler considered Judaism and communism to be his principal enemies, while Stalin was, at the time, less of an ideologue, and had very little interest in international communism. The book is a must-read (John Lukacs wrote a very good piece for The New York Review of Books ), not only for its detailed reconstruction of the negotiation process led by Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim Ribbentrop (the Russian and German foreign ministers, respectively), but also because of the Secret Protocol, with which the two dictators agreed to divide Eastern Europe according to their spheres of interest. While the pact had a very short life, the Secret Protocol was not acknowledged until the late ’80s. And since the division of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Finland and Lithuania was the core purpose of the Secret Protocol, it is important to observe that the same countries find themselves in the center of the current standoff between Russia and NATO.