NAZI-Soviet Peace Feelers (1941-43)


Figure 1.--.

There were Soviet and NAZI peace feelers during the World War II fighting on the Eastern Front. Nost of the impetus seems to have come from Stalin. They never came to anything, primarily because the battlefield developments appeared to have affected what the two dictaors were willing to offer and accept. Historians debate as to how serious these feelers were, in part becuse Stalin attempted to suppress all evidence of these contacts after the War. Much of the evidence, however, was located outside the soviet Union and stellite countries. Since the disollution of the Soviet Union more details have become available, both from Soviet archives and Russians that were finally able to talk. There is no doubt that the Soviets semt peace feelers to the Germans (1941-43). There is, however, considerable debate among historians about the details and circumstances. What we do not know is what Stalin's motivations were. We have collcted some basic information on these pece feelers, almost all originted with the Soviets. U.S. intelligence was aware of some of these contsacts [Mastny, p. 1378.] In fact the Soviets may have leaked some of the detils. This would explain President Roosevelt's well-documented concern about keeping the Soviets in the War. One of the most knowlgeable experts on the Soviet Union insists that the key to assessing the wartime policies of the Americans and the British 'will be found ... in the soundness and accuracy of their fears with relation to the possibility of a separate German-Soviet peace." [Kennan, pp. 262-63.]

Overview

There were Soviet and NAZI peace feelers during the World War II fighting on the Eastern Front. Nost of the impetus seems to have come from Stalin. They never came to anything, primarily because the battlefield developments appeared to have affected what the two dictaors were willing to alternatively offer and accept. After Barbarossa's failure before Moscow and very substantial Wehrmacht losses, both the the Germans and Soviets began to think about a negotiated settlement. Hitler had expected a quick summer victory. This did not only did not occur, but the Wehrmacht had been damaged. This put him in a seripus strategic situation. Not only did he not obtain the oil and strategic materials he coveted, but the Anglo-Americans were now arming to renew the war in the West. He now had what he had always said was the great mistake of the Kaiser--a two front war. From Stalin's point of view the situation was dire. He had survived the German blow, but the Red Army had been delt a grevious blow and the Germns controlled most of the best food producing farm land of the Soviet Union. Thus there was plenty of reason to negotiate a peace settlement and there were contacts between the two totalitarian giants.

Earlier Contacts (1939-41)

The bitter conflict on the Eastern Front has come to dominate World War II histories. It was indenibly the critical campaign of the War. The brutality and horigic killing of civilians makes what Hitler described as a 'war of extermination' soumd improbable. But it has to be remembered that there were extensive diplomatic contacts between the NAZIs and Soviets before Barbarossa, beginning with the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. The NAZIs and Soviets were allies for almost 2 years. NAZI-Soviet cooperation played a major role in Hitler's stunning vicyories in the West. ecurity guarantees in the East, made possible NAZI offensives in the West. And the sovirts provided the HAZIs vast quanyities of oil, other critical materials, and grain. It was the lack of raw materials that were Germany's greatest weakness throughout the War. And there were extensive diplomatic contacts and working-level meetings the NAZIs and Soviets. Foreign Secretary Molotov visited Berlin for talks with Ribentrop and Hitler (November 1940). Molotov even had to accompany Ribbentrop into a bomb shelter during a British air raid. The purpose of the visit was basically issues arising over the divisions of the spoils resulting from both NAZI and Sovit aggressions and planned further aggression.

Barbarossa: War of Extermination (June 1941)

The German Army in Belgium executed 6,000 civilians and acquired a reputation for brutality that lasted throughout World War I, some think unjustly. The Grmans in World War II would more than live up to this reputation. The Wehrmacht and paramilitary formations killed about 100,000 civilians in Poland (1939). Operation Barbarossa was to be something even more horific. It would be unlike any other campaign in modern history. Hitler made it very clear to the Wehrmacht that the campaign in the East would be conducted differently than any other modern campaign--it was to be a war of extermination. Mass executions of Jewish men, women, and children as well as Communists were carried out. Four SS Einsatzgruppen were responsible for most of the killings, together with local collaborators, but the numbers of Jews encountered was so large that regular Wehrmacht units also participate in the killing. It was not just the Jews that were killed, but also Communist Commisars in the Red Army and Party and Government officials. Eventually large numbers of Slavs were to be killed to clear land for German colonization. In the end this war of extinction may have doomed Operation Barbarossa because it precluded the effective utilization the large number of anti-Communist Russians and Ukranians to fight the Red Army.

Seriousness

Historians debate as to how serious these feelers were, in part becuse Stalin attempted to suppress all evidence of the contacts after the War. The problem for Stalin was not all the evidence was located in the Soviet Union or involved soviet officials. There is evidence that the Soviets initiates quite a number of contacts to negotite aeparate peace. Evidence has come from American, British Bulgarian, Japanese, German, and Swedish sources. The Americans and British were of coirse not directly nvolved, but learned of the contacts through Magic and Ultra. Some histiriand make the plusable argument that Stalin ordered reports of the contacts leaked to the Westen Allies to improve his bargaining power with them. Since the disollution of the Soviet Union more details have become available from Russin sources, although there is considerable debate among historians about the circumstances. Some of the relevations if accurate are startling.

Calculations

The contacts between the Soviesad NAZIs eresukted in a range of high level calculations and not justvin Berlin and Moscow. Churchill's and Roosevelt's war policy have to be seen with this threat in mind. It appears to have been a major motive for Roosevellt's Unconditional Surrender dictum issued at Casablanca (January 1943). The peace proposals on both sides were generated at subordinate (and deniable) levels. Stalin has left no record of his involvement. Molotov did not dare write about it. Hitler also wrote nothing, but his subordintes subjected to Hitler's table talk (Ribbentrop, Goebbels, and others) provide some details of Hitler's involvemnt and thinking. It is believed that Soviet diplomats with Stalin's approval made representations of a separate peace to the Germans, first during the Stalingrad fighting (December 1942) and then again as the Kursk campaign was shaping up (summer 1943). The Soviets reprtedly made a definative proposal (September 1943). None of this would have occurred without Stalin's approval. The Soviet Union had suffered huge lossess. Stalin appears to have calculated that this would have shifted the burden of the war to the Western Allies. (This was the basic clculation he made with the 1939 NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.) Then after the Germans and Western Allies fought it out and his forces had time to recover, he could renew the War again. Another possubility that rumors woukd improve his bargaining power with the Western Allies. The Soviet offer was basically was restoration of pre-World War I 1914 borders and economic ties. Stalin's calcultion was not just the massive damage sustained by his country, but his belief that the Western Allies were holding back while the Soviets and NAZIs fought each other to exhaustion and then moved to control what was left. There is no evidence of this, but as it was Stalin's own calcultion and whose mind was susectabke to conpiracy theories, he assumed it was what the Western Allies were also calculating. Hitler apparently was having none of it. He reportedly told Goebbels that he would only negotiate from a poition of strength after a decisive military victory. Hitler is know to have discussed this with Finnish President Mannerheim. (The SS bugging survived the War.) After the famous NAZI 'Old Combatants' speech in the Münchener Bürgerbraukeller (November 8, 1942), Ribbentrop who had argued against Barbarossa reportedly suggested to Hitler that he serriously pursue the idea through the Soviet Embassy in Stockholm. Hitler summarily dismissed the idea by telling him, "A momment of weakness is not the right time for dealing with an enemy." But the German position at the time was weakening, the Afrika Korps was retreating from El Alamein, the Allies were landing in North Africa, and the 6th Army was being ground down in Stalingrad. (The Red Army offensive was only a few days away.) Hitler asured the NAZI faithful that time was of no importance. Despite the worsening situation, Hitler understood very well that the NAZI prospects were deteriorating, but he also understood clearly that any setllement with the Soviets was in Stalin's favor. The Soviet Union could have time to recover and he would be sandwiched between the growing power of the Red Army and the Western Allies. And at the same time he has failed to obtain the oil and raw materials of the East that the German war economy so desperately needed.

Specific Contacts

The history of the NAZI-Soviet contacts is murky and conducted by subordinates leaving Hitler and Stalin a deniability option. As bitter as war become, it is normal that even countries fighting wars war have some kind of diplomatic contacts. It is not at all unusual. Sweden offered a perfect setting for such contacts. The most serious negotiations appear to have been conducted principally in neutral Sweden. Both countries had embassies in Stockholm. And of course so did the Allies who became aware of the contacts. After the War, Stalin attempted to destroy all record of thee contacts, but there is considerable evidence that they occurred, although the seriouness of the efforts is largely unknown.

Bulgaria (1941)

Hitler had forced Bulgaria into the Axis, but the Bulgarians refused to participate in Barbarossa. Thus there was aoviet embassy in Sofia. We have seen reports that Stalin sent peace feelers through the Bulgarians (1941). Onevhigh raking NKVD official close to Beria was reportdly active through the Bulgarian Embassy. [Sudoplatov] We have few details. One source claims that Stalin tried to obtain an armistice with the Germans, something along the lines of the World war I Treary of Brest-Litovsk. Hitler of course on the verge of total victory was uninterested. We have also noted rumors which we can not substantiate involving Bulgarian Ambassador in Moscow, Ivan Stamenov.

Finland (1941)

Other reports concern the Finns. The Finns in an effort to gain back their territory seized by the Soviets in the Winter War (1939-40) joined the Germans in Brbarossa (1941). They did not join the Axis, but were a co-belligerant. Stalin reportedly attempted to negotiate a separate peace wuth the Finns, offering to return the Finnish territory seized, which the Finns had already mostly won back. While documentary informtion is limited, we do knowm that Stalin wrote to President Roosevelt about efforts to get the Finns out of the war (August 4, 1941). [Stalin] He thought that the Americans might be able to convimce the Finns to make a seprate peace. The Finns were interested, but fears of the German reaction apparntly kept thems from accepting the Soviet offer. Another issue was what Stalin would do after the War. It is worth noteing that the Finns after winning back their territory north of Lenningrad did not press further offensives.

Bylorussia/Ukraine (1942)

One Russian author citing declassified Soviet intelligence files reports that Stalin after the Wehrmacht had stabalized the Eastern Front, personally authorized the offer of a separate peace to Adolf Hitler (February 1942). At this time, the Red Army had stopped the whermcht before Moscow and inflicted huge losses on the Whermacht. The Germans on the other as a result of Brbarossa had badly damaged the Red Army and occupied a vast swath of the western Soviet Union, including major industrial cities and the best agricultural (food producing) lands of the country. Stalin reportedly proposed that the Soviets and NAZIs cooperate against the United States and the United Kingdom. A Soviet document dated February 19, 1942 reveals that Stalin offered Hitler a cesefire on the Eastern Front and to join the NAZIs in joint military operations against the Western Allies 'to restructure the world' by the end of 1943 under the pretext of accusing 'world Jewery of war-mongering'. Another document dated February 27, 1942, provides a report on high-level discussins between Soviet and NAZI officias. Vsevolod Merkulov, a Soviet security official reported on his meeting with SS Gen. Karl Wolf, in Mtsensk, Belarusia, at the time occupied by the Germans. Vsevolod Nikolayevich Merkulov was the head of NKGB (February to July 1941 and again from April 1943 to March 1946). He was a an important member of the 'Georgian mafia' of NKVD chief Lavrenti Beria. Wolf who ended the War in Italy was for a time the Chief of Personal Staff for Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and SS Liaison Officer to Hitler. Merkulov reported that Wolf discussed German demands that Stalin must 'solve the Jewish question' in the Soviet Union before Germany would agree to an alliance against the Allies. Wolf also discussed concessions that the NAZIS were prepared to make, including territorial concessions. There was even a curious offer to change the color of the swastika on the NAZI flag from black to red. Merkulov described the world-wide view of the NAZIs, including a demand that the Soviets acquiesce to German control over Latin America, the Arab world, and North Africa as well as Japanese control over China. This was reprotedly unacceptable to the Soviets. [Karpov]

Sweden (Spring 1943)

The dfinitive account of the Spring 1943 Soviet peace proposals to the Germans has not yet been written. But there is considerable evidence that they occurred. The Japanese embassy in Moscow who apperently involved. This was important becuse as the Americans had cracked the Japanese diplomaric (purple) code, U.S. intelligence could hve picked this up. And the Japanese by early-1943 realized they had made a terrible mitake. Not only had the Germans failed to defeat the Soviets, but the Americans had not only ended Japanese advnces in the Pacific, but America's industrial might ad commitment to fight was now readily apparent. The Soviet embassy in Sweden was also involved. Ambassador Alexandra Kollontai could authenticate the channels. She had little influnce. (Stalin kept her abroad in diplomtic posts so she would not meddle in women's affairs.) The offer cme after Stlingrad (January 1943), but before Kursk (July 1943). The German victory at Karkov may have given Stalin some pause and wht it was going to cost t defeat the Germans (February-March 1942). Apparently the Soviets were suggesting a late-April meeting at a location outside Stockholm, in which the two ambassadors to Sweden (Kollontai and Thomsen), may have participated. [Mastny (1972)] However, no agreement was reached and the talks were broken by the Soviets (early May). Another Soviet offer of meetings may have occurred (mid-June 1943) This was reported in the Swedish press (June 16). And of course the report was strongly denied by both the Soviets and Germans. American and and British intelligence reports conform that the proposals were made. The details as to the individuals involved vary. We have also noted a half-hearted German propsal for negotiations, but have been able to find few details (September 1943). One report suggests that the Soviets were still responsive, but no actual meeting occurred. We assume that Hitler with no victories to bolster his barbioning position was just not willng to bringhimself to offer needed concessions. It is a historical fact that Soviet and proposals for talks occurd. What is not known is Stalin's motives. It is not possible that Stalin was not personally involved. A Soviet official making such a proosal on his own would have been lucky to have reached the Gulag. We know that Stalin was very disurbed about the Allies failure to open a second front in continentl Europe (France) during 1942 and it was becoming apparent it would not occur in 1943 as well. He was not even sure it would come in 1944. He began to believe that the western Allies had adopted the policy of prolonging the War to weaken the Soviet Union. (This was inbeded in Stalin's mind becuse it was pecisely his plan to weaken the Western Allies by negotiating the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact which was an lliance with Hitler.) The peace ininitative may have been legitimate. It is as least as plausible that it was to motivate the Western Allies--essentially blackmail. Hitler was having none of it. His hatred of 'Judeo-Bolshevism' was probably the main reason. But he made it very clear to intimates that negotiations could only be successful through strength. And the loss of the 6th Army at Stalingrad dramatically changed the military balance in the East. Perhaps had the Germans succeded at Kursk, Hitler may have indicated an interest in talks, but of course this did not occur. For Stalin, the posibility of such an accomodation improved his hand at the Tehran Confernce (December 1943). It may also have been a factor in Churchill finally committing to Overlord. Once source close to Hitler describes the Soviet proppsl presented to the Germans in Stockholm. "When Bormann ordered me for a final discussion of my proposed later publication of Hitler's Table Talk into his house at Obersalzberg, I colelcted all my courage and informed him about Stalin's offer for separate peace talks which had been received in Stockholm. My friend Dr. Helmut Pfeiffer, Generalsecretary of the International Chamber of Law had asked me to do so." Bormann was more than surprised, since Reichsaußenminister Joachim von Ribbentrop, whose demission Stalin wanted, had trivialised this proposal." [Picker] Bormann who was becoming increasinly concerned about developments on the Estrn Front was not successful in convincing Hitler to accept the Soviet proposal for separate peace talks with in March 1943. Picker was rmoved from Hitler's headquarters and sent to the Army.

Ukraine (June 1943)

One historian claims that Molotov and Ribbentrop met near Kirovograd in the Ukraine (June 1943) just before Zitadelle (Battle of Kursk). [Liddell-Hart] We have not found any evidence of this.

End of Contacts

It is notable that the pece feelrs were between the NAZIS and Soviets who hd been actual allies. Once the British declared war there were no negotitiing with the Germans. The Germans invased Poland as a Soviet ally. There were seeral meetungs as allies. And then after Barbarossa there werre several peace feelers. The British on the other hand rejected NAZI peace feelers even when it looked like they had lost the War. America rather than countenencing negotiations, demanded uncondiional srrender. The report of the Molotov and Ribbretrop meeting, wether or not it occurred is the last report we have found of NAZI-Soviet peace feelers. Goebbels who thought an arrangement was necessary, describes Hitler's state of mind, "I asked the Fuehrer whether he would beready to negotiae with Churchill or whether he declined this on principle. The Fuehrer replied that in politics principles simply do not exist when it comes to questions of personalities. He does not believe that nehotitions with Churchill would lead to any result as he is to deeply wedded to his hostile views and, besides, is guided by hatred and not by reason. The Fuehrer would prefer negotitions wuth Stalin, but he doies not believe they woyld be successful inasmuch as Stalin cannot cede what Hitler demands in the East. Whatever may be the sitution, I told the Fuehrer that we must come to an arrangement with one side or the other. The Reich has never yet won a two-front war. We must therefore see how we can somewhow or other get out of a two-front war. [September 23, 1943, Goebbels, p. 477.]

Allied Inteligence

U.S. intelligence was aware of some of these contacts [Mastny (1975), p. 1378.] This would explain President Roosevelt's well-documented concern about keeping the Soviets in the War. The decision to demand unconditional surrender at the Casablanca Conference was one relection of this (January 1943). One of the most knowlgeable experts on the Soviet Union insists that the key to assessing the wartime policies of the Americans and the British 'will be found ... in the soundness and accuracy of their fears with relation to the possibility of a separate German-Soviet peace." [Kennan, pp. 262-63.]

Berlin Bunker (1945)

While NAZI-Soviet contacts as far as ended in 1943, the possibility of a negotiated peace persisted throughout the NAZI hierarchy and continued into the final days in Hitler's Berlin bunker. Hitler did authorize Ribbentrop to attempt to contact the western Allies in Stockholm, but it came to nothing. To the very end Hitler pinned his last hopes on the war-time allince between the Western Allies and the Soviets breaking up. Hitler saw the alliance as 'unnatural' and fragile. Goebbels goes into great deails about this in his diaries. It was of course Hitler who essentially created this alliance by invading the Soviet Union. And his well-established lack of good faith as well as horific attrocities who provided the glue that kept the alliance together. Hitler duscussed this at great length. We know of the conversations with Goebbels because he kept a dairy. Hitler agreed that making peace with one or the other was esential, but did not believe that reasonable terms could be obtained without a battlefield succes of some kind. The Western Allies of course were insisting on unconditional surrender. And Hitler told Goebbels tht at any rate he saw Stalin as the most possible interlocator because he was more realistic than the Western leaders and had the power to change policies radically without any concern with public opinion. He also saw Churchill and Roosevely as controlled by Jewish interets.

Sources

Goebbels, Josef. L. P. Lochner, ed. The Goebbels Diaries (Garden City, 1948).

Karpov, Vladimir. Generalissimo (2002).

Kennan, George F. Russia and the West under Lenin and Stalin (Boston, 1961).

Kleist, Peter. The most important, but not the only, source about the Stockholm contacts comes from the memoirs of German Foreign Ministry official Peter Kleist. He was a Ribbentrop aide and certainly in a position to know. They were analysed by Mastny who believes that Kleist's claims have some credibility.

Liddell-Hart. History of the Second World War (1970). The well-respected historian Liddel Hart claims that Ribbentrop and Molotov met in Kirovograd (June 1943), but offers no supporing evidence.

Mastny, Vojtech. "Stalin and the prrospects of a separate peace in World War II," American Historical Review (1972) Vol. 77Mo. 5, pp. 1365–88. Vojtech Mastny is an American historian of Czech descent, professor of political science and international relations. His work specializes on the history of the Cold War. He is considered one of the leading American authorities on Soviet affairs.

Mastny, V. "Soviet war aims at the Moscow and Teheran conferences," Journal of Modern History (1975).

Picker, Henry. Hitler's Table Talk.

Stalin, J.V. "Letter to F. Roosevelt (August 4, 1941). Correspondence between Stalin, Roosevelt, Truman, Churchill & Atlee during WWII (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR: The Minerva Group, Inc., 1 июн. 2001 г. - Всего страниц), 304p. Авторы: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR.

Sudoplatov, Pavel Anatolyevich.






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