30 January, 2016

“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.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2016

This post is in: History, Soviet Union, World War II


  1. Eastern Rebellion says:

    Great article. “Uncle Joe” was indeed one of history`s most bloodthirsty tyrants; a very dubious distinction. However, one should recall that he and Hitler were allies between August 1939 and June 1941. At the time of the invasion of Russia by Hitler, it was only Great Britain and her Dominions that were at war with Nazi Germany. Unpleasant as the Soviet Union was, it was Hitler’s decision (not that of the Allies) that created the wartime alliance. When Churchill, a staunch anti-communist, was asked about his offer of aid to the Soviet Union, he is alleged to have said that had Hitler invaded Hell, he would make at least make a passing reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.

    Nazi Germany would have destroyed all of the western democracies, including America, given time. Communism could be contained, and was not the existential threat that National Socialism was. I don’t see any point in contrasting two monsters to see who was worse. In my opinion, they were just two sides of the same coin. Let us not forget somewhere around 20 million Russians were also done in by the Germans during WW2. I think it is a sign of progress that modern Germany reviles Hitler.

  2. I believe Winston Churchill had an unnatural hatred for all things German. This was quite evident especially during the bombing of German civilians in cities. While the American policy was for targeting only German industrial sites. (However, they had no problem dropping a couple of nuclear bombs on Japan.)

    Churchill and his sidekick Franklin D Roosevelt were willing to ally themselves with Stalin, for the total destruction of Germany.

  3. England Canada, and America will never admit to defeating a monster by getting into bed with one worse.

  4. November,1941. German troops were starting to encircle Moscow. Almost all of the Soviet government had been evacuated east. Stalin remains, making his defiant speech on November 7, the 24th anniversary of the revolution. He led the USSR to victory in The Great Patriotic Wat, and if not for D Day, the Red Army would have marched to the English Channel.

  5. Given the leftist bent of most university faculty it’s no surprise that Stalin has been allowed to fade. You can hardly sell the wonders of collectivism to starry eyed under grads if it’s grandest example- The USSR- is clearly portrayed.

  6. Thank you, Eric, for reminding us of Stalin’s crimes, which as you say were much worse than those of Hitler and his henchmen. Not only has Stalin faded from the memories of most westerners, but on the internet today (eg. Youtube, etc.), some people – who obviously have a nefarious agenda to advance – are even claiming that life under Communism in Central / Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union was better than it is in those countries today, even though that’s patently false. Unfortunately, most of today’s younger adults in the West, who did not live through the Cold War era and usually have not visited the former Warsaw Pact countries of Europe, have no clue as to what life was like under Communism.

  7. Mike Smith says:

    I am not sure Stalin or Russia in general are the ” THE GREATEST MURDERER(S) IN HISTORY ”

    This article has stated over 35 years ( 1918 – 1953 ) an estimated 20 million died due to Soviet Policys. Many articles and estimates have been written about the death toll of US foreign policys. As the Iraq sanctions alone ( not either war, just the sanctions ) cost 3.3 million lives I am sure the Americans have surpassed the Soviets from 1980 to today.

  8. DukeNukem says:

    Eric Eric Eric.
    Brave, but reckless.
    We both know it’s not how many one murders but rather whom one murders that counts.

    est-ce pas ?
    ; – )

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