What was Stalin's personal hobby

80 years ago, on August 23, 1939, the Foreign Ministers of the "Third Reich" and the Soviet Union, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov, signed a non-aggression treaty, the so-called Hitler-Stalin Pact. This is considered an essential prerequisite for Hitler to attack Poland on September 1, 1939 - which unleashed World War II. In 2008 the European Parliament proclaimed August 23rd as "European Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Stalinism and National Socialism".

In Germany, however, this memorial day is largely ignored. There are only a few major events on the subject. Historian Arnd Bauerkämper from the Free University of Berlin explains the significance of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and why the anniversary plays a major role in the East Central European countries, but the memory of it leads Germany into a dilemma.

SZ.de: With the signing of the Hitler-Stalin Pact 80 years ago, Nazi Germany had their backs free for the attack on Poland, which took place a few days later. Would the Second World War even have happened without the treaty?

Arnd Bauerkämper: In any case, the non-aggression pact greatly facilitated Hitler's plan to attack Poland. It could not be ruled out that Great Britain and thus France would intervene in the event of an attack on Poland.

Didn't Hitler even have to assume that the United Kingdom would intervene? The British had given the Poles a security guarantee a few months earlier.

That's true. London and Paris had given Poland a guarantee on March 31, 1939 after the German occupation of the so-called remaining Czech Republic. In August, however, Hitler still hoped that Great Britain would shy away from intervening in favor of Poland, as in the case of the Sudeten crisis in 1938. After signing his pact with Stalin, he was able to rely on this with greater confidence than before, because the pact also signaled to the Western powers that they could not hope that the Soviet Union would stand by the Poles. In addition, it was of course very important for Hitler that he himself no longer had to fear the Soviet Union as an enemy.

In Russia, the Hitler-Stalin Pact is justified today by the fact that it was necessary to keep the Soviet Union out of the looming Second World War. In fact, until the summer of 1939, Moscow tried to reach an assistance pact with the Western powers - unsuccessfully. So is today's reading of the Convention in Russia justified?

No. Because the negotiations between the Soviet Union and the Western powers failed essentially because the Soviet Union did not want to guarantee the territorial integrity of Poland because it claimed access rights. Everyone knew that the intention was to annex parts of Poland. It was much easier for Stalin to get what he wanted from Hitler.

So is Moscow partly to blame for the outbreak of World War II?

Certainly, at least indirectly. The main responsibility clearly rests with National Socialist Germany. But the Soviet Union made the German attack on Poland possible, so to speak. As a calculating politician, Stalin was well aware that the non-aggression treaty would facilitate the attack. And in the secret additional protocol to the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the existence of which was only admitted by the Soviet Union under Gorbachev in 1989, territorial delimitations had already been clearly agreed: on September 17, Soviet army units attacked Poland from the east and occupied it. This made Poland's military situation even worse.

August 23 has been celebrated for eleven years as the "European Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Stalinism and National Socialism". In Germany, however, it receives little attention. Why is that?

From a hobby psychological perspective, I would speak of shame. Because with the Hitler-Stalin Pact and its consequences, Germany naturally charged itself a great deal of guilt towards the Eastern European states, which became direct neighbors and allies after the end of the Cold War and accession to the EU and NATO. With that, August 23rd was actually only noticed in this country. In the Federal Republic of Germany, the Hitler-Stalin Pact was previously - especially in the 1950s - as evidence of the complicity of the Soviet Union in the outbreak of the Second World War. It was somewhat forgotten that the main culprit was of course Germany. As a new day of remembrance, August 23rd requires another admission of responsibility and guilt. In contrast to politics and civil society, the German media also address the issue. In them, this day has been highlighted very often over the past ten to 15 years.