Night Will Fall

Night Will Fall is a 2014 documentary that examines World War II film crews from the three Allied powers who captured the liberation of Nazi concentration camps and killing centers.  The chilling footage captured by these film crews was meant to be part of documentary film overseen by Sidney Berstein, but the contingencies of the Cold War prevented the documentary’s completion, though some of the footage was used by the U.S. Military in a short film titled Death Mills.  Until recently, this footage remained buried in the British archives, but scholars working at the Imperial War Museum pieced together the film using the original script and instructions left by the original staff.

For many, the draw is the fact that legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock was involved in the project, however, as the documentary makes clear, Hitchcock was involved and offered important advice to the staff, but he spent a very limited amount of time working on the project.  The advice Hitchcock provided though seems crucial –   to display long shots rather than short shots in order counter any criticism that might suggest the film was the product of Hollywood film making (Hollywood “magic”).

In presentation, Night Will Fall is documentary about a documentary.  It tells the story of the WWII cameramen, soldiers involved in liberating camps, survivors who can be seen in the original footage, and those at the Imperial War museum who reconstructed the original documentary.  While this story is important and demonstrates the overwhelming inertia of the Cold War, the crucial feature is the original footage. The images are grim.  Footage of former Nazi prison guards dragging the bodies of those they murdered to mass graves is particularity disconcerting.  This documentary is not afraid to show the barbaric results of the Nazi racial state.

Another important feature of the original film footage is the effort made by the British and Americans soldiers to walk German civilians through the camps – to show them the what the Nazi state did and prevent them from ever denying that they did not know what the Nazis were doing.  Yet, even though thousands of German civilians passed through these camps witnessing the criminal actions of the state they supported, it was not until the 1960s, when the youth of German challenged their elders, that Germans finally confronted their Nazi past.  The efforts needed to rebuild a state destroyed by war and the oncoming of the Cold War enabled German civilians to focus on reconstruction rather than Nazi crimes.

The Night Will Fall tells a fascinating story and shows how geopolitics led the American and British governments to quickly sweep the Holocaust under the rug during the Cold War.  In fact, the Holocaust would remain dormant until the 1970s miniseries Holocaust reminded the public of the German crimes.  However, while this story is informative, the horror of the original footage is why this documentary is important.  It once again reminds us of the brutality of not just Nazi Germany but also of humankind.  What people can do to one another based on rigid ideologies that exclude other humans for being different, whether that be religiously, ethnically,  racially, sexually, etc.  The images show us how harsh rhetoric can lead to devastating actions and cautions us to take the language employed by world leaders, politicians, and businessmen seriously as they can have unimaginable outcomes.

Review – Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia by Gabriel Gorodetsky

Gabriel Gorodetsky’s study Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia examines the foreign policy of the Soviet Union from the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in August 1939 to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.  In this study, Gorodetsky asserts that Stalin’s foreign and military policy were non-ideological and based on realpolitik whereby Stalin carefully calculated the rapidly shifting power within Europe and worked to prevent the Soviet Union from being drawn into war.  Moreover, Gorodetsky strongly argues against the interpretation advocated by Victor Suvorov and others that Stalin was planning to attack Nazi Germany which forced Germany into a preemptive strike against the Soviet Union.  Instead, Gorodetsky shows Stalin working vigorously to keep the Soviet Union from being dragged into war and attempting to make territorial gains in the Balkans while his enemies the Germans and British were fighting each other.  To support his argument, the author utilizes documents from numerous archives including the old party archive, the Soviet foreign policy archive, the Russian Military Archive, the Presidential Archive, and archival material from Great Britain, Germany, Bulgaria, Sweden, and the former Yugoslavia.  By incorporating these sources into his study, Gorodetsky’s study of Soviet foreign policy is comprehensive and able to depict the many nuances of the diplomacy between these European states.

According to Gorodetsky, Stalin interpreted the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact not as a commitment to Germany but as neutrality for the Soviet Union; moreover, the agreement secured a buffer zone between the Soviet Union and Europe in the north and center.  For Gorodetsky, the south remained a problem for Stalin and he feared an agreement between Turkey and Great Britain which might create a location for the Allies to attack Russia.  This concern led Stalin to pursue complete security around the Black Sea while Germany’s focus was on defeating Great Britain.  Stalin’s initial overtures were made towards Romania and he ultimately forced Romania to give up control of Bessarabia which gave the Soviet Union access to the Danube.  However, this event drew Germany’s attention to the Balkans as this region was essential to Germany’s oil supply.  This led Germany to continue pressuring the Balkan countries to join the Tripartite Pact, a Nazi defense alliance, which eventually muscled the Soviet Union out of the Balkans.  The author views the diplomatic disputes between Germany and the Soviet Union in Balkans as the key to understanding Hitler’s decision to invade the Soviet Union.  Stalin’s realpolitik practices to create a security zone in the south angered Hitler who ordered his military staff to draw up the invasion plans.

Throughout these diplomatic disputes between Germany and the Soviet Union, Gorodetsky also describes the interactions between Great Britain and the Soviet Union.  In discussing Great Britain, Gorodetsky downplays Churchill’s April 1941 warning to Stalin of a looming German strike and musters evidence showing why Stalin rejected this warning.  Examining the diplomatic interactions between Great Britain and the Soviet Union, Gorodetsky argues that British policy was constantly antagonistic towards the Soviet Union and was consistently trying to drag the Soviet Union into war with the Germans.  Since British attempts to thwart the Bolshevik Revolution, Stalin never trusted the British and always viewed them with suspicion.  Gorodetsky specifically emphasizes Great Britain’s refusal to commit to a defense pact, support of Finland during the Winter War, and plans to bomb Baku oil fields as actions that reinforced Stalin’s suspicion of the British.  By presenting Britain actions towards the Soviet Union, Gorodetsky depicts numerous reasons for Stalin to remain wary of British warnings.

Although Stalin’s paranoia of the British remains explainable, Stalin’s refusal to believe Soviet intelligence sources concerning the German build-up is characterized as a failing in Stalin’s foreign policy.  Herein lays Gorodetsky’s grand delusion.  Stalin ignored the overwhelming information provided by his own intelligence sources because he deluded himself into believing that the massing of German forces was not going to result in an attack.  Instead, Stalin dismissed the German build-up as posturing to pressure the Soviet Union into further negotiations over Germany’s need for raw materials.  In fact, Gorodetsky shows that Stalin’s anger towards his subordinates concerning the German build-up resulted in the tailoring of intelligence reports to meet Stalin’s preconceived understanding of the situation.  This resulted in an intelligence failure only because Stalin refused to accept the accurate information provided by his intelligence services. Rather, he deluded himself by believing that Germany did not want war only further economic and military agreements.

Overall, Gorodetsky’s study is well researched and provides significant insights into Stalin’s foreign policy in the twenty-two months between the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the beginning of Operation Barbarossa; however, the author’s argument that Stalin’s foreign policy lacked ideology remains suspect.  Stalin’s domestic policies, particularly the ending of NEP, the collectivization of agriculture, and the drive for industrialization, demonstrates that Stalin was a believer in Marxist-Leninism ideology.  If Stalin’s actions domestically were ideological, why would his foreign policy be any different?  Stalin’s efforts to supply weapons to the communist forces during the Spanish Civil War, to establish communism in Soviet occupied Poland and the Baltic States, and his attempt to invade Finland depict ideological motivations in foreign policy.   Thus to dismiss ideology altogether from Stalin’s foreign policy is an inaccurate approach as ideology always played a role in Stalin’s thinking and worldview.  Instead of dismissing ideology, the author needs to demonstrate how ideology played into Stalin’s foreign policy decisions.  This approach to Soviet foreign policy places Gorodetsky within the orthodox interpretation according to Teddy Uldricks because Gorodetsky supports the idea of mutual security. Gorodetsky asserts that Stalin desired mutual security with Britain but was rebuffed by Britain’s staunch anti-communist ideology which blinded them to a potential alliance with the Soviet Union.  This ultimately led Stalin to reach a security agreement with the Nazis creating the conditions for the beginning of the Second World.

FL Carsten – The Rise of Fascism

In F.L. Carsten’s The Rise of Fascism, the author examines the development of European fascism in several countries including Italy, Germany, Spain, Finland, Austria, Hungary, and others. The majority of the book focuses on narrating the development of fascist movements in each nation followed by a short chapter that seeks out similarities. By taking a comparative approach, Carsten presents factors he believes were important to the development of fascism into a viable political ideology. The narrative examines the years leading up to the First World War to the beginnings of the Second World War with a concluding chapter on neo- fascism. While the author has no explicit argument, his stated purpose is to explain how fascism developed, became a mass movement, and seized power in countries of ancient culture, high education, and “a tradition of civilized behavior.” (8) To achieve his objective, the author uses political speeches, newspapers, and diaries to narrate the rise of fascist political parties throughout interwar Europe.
Initially, the author examines what he describes as the “pre-conditions” for the development of fascism in European countries by describing political parties that advocated violent nationalism, strong anti-Semitism, and appealed to the middle and lower middle classes prior to World War I. Carsten skips over the First World War but notes that “this great upheaval, the destruction and the crises resulting from it . . . brought forth the movement . . . we call Fascist.” (9) Following this introduction, the author recounts the development of several fascist parties throughout Europe. This includes a detailed narrative of Mussolini’s seizure of power, two chapters explaining Hitler’s rise to power, and two chapters describing the successful and unsuccessful attempts of other fascist parties to gain power in other European nations. While those already familiar with Mussolini and Hitler’s rise to power will find nothing new, Cartsen’s discussion of how smaller fascist movements in countries like Finland, Hungary, Belgium, and Romania also attempted to seize power is important to examining the broader trends in European fascism which are often overlooked.
After narrating the development of fascist parties throughout Europe, the author devotes a short (8 out of 258 pages) chapter to analyzing the similarities that allowed for fascism to emerge in interwar Europe. In describing these similarities, Carsten emphasizes that politically these parties all advocated strong nationalism, violent anti-communism, a hatred of democracy, and a powerful myth of the nation. These movements were devoted to a cult of violence as many of the early members were veterans for whom fighting was a way of life. Fascist groups appealed to the young especially because they were bored with the postwar governments and attracted to regimes which promised radical change. Not only were the fascist movements attractive to the youth but appealing to all social groups (except those who groups ostracized by the fascists like the Jews). But, while appealing to all groups, Carsten continually stresses the importance of the middle and lower middle classes, defined as artisans, tradesmen, small farmers, low level government employees, former officers and NCOs, and white collar workers, in supporting the fascist movements because these groups were displaced from their traditional places in society and frightened by the future. Carsten concludes that fascism emerged due to “a malaise, a maladjustment of capitalist society, the victims of which were the lower middle classes.” (233)
While many of Carsten’s conclusions concerning the rise of fascism are accurate, he takes a contradictory approach to the importance of the working class and communism to the rise of fascism which undermines his narrative. The author notes that fascism arose in nations with both left and right leaning governments leading him to suggest that “it does not seem that the relative strength of the bourgeoisie and the working class had much to do with the rise of Fascism.” (233) Yet, this conclusion contradicts his earlier narrations especially concerning Italy and Germany where Carsten recounts how the working class and fear of communism helped to support and empower the fascist parties. For example, Carsten writes that “the fear of ‘red’ revolution which arose in many European countries brought forth the movement . . . we call Fascism.” (9) When discussing postwar Italy, Carsten states “[t]hey (the middle and lower middle classes) thought that Italy was at the brink of a red revolution. They hated workers.” (54) These sentences argue that the middle and lower middle classes feared communism and the working class and fervently supported fascist parties. This was also true in Germany. Carsten states “[t]he working class increasingly turned toward the Communists; they became particularly strong in central Germany . . . The middle and lower middle classes, the disinherited and uprooted more and more turned toward the extreme Right.” (109) These statements by Carsten show that the classes most disposed to support a fascist regime were frightened and angered by the communist and working class threat and thus viewed fascist as a viable political ideology to counter the “red revolution.” Carsten’s dismissal of communism and the working class as an important factor in the rise of fascism is not only incorrect but is also contradicts his own narrative. Beyond this one crucial flaw, Carsten’s study presents clear narrative that recounts the development of fascist parties throughout interwar Europe.