IT WAS COMMON FOR MANY RUSSIANS TO HOPE FOR GERMAN VICTORY TO RID THE COUNTRY OF 'JEWS AND BOLSHEVIKS'
SIEG HEIL! HEIL HITLER!
To put it briefly: Ethnic Russians were much less loyal to the Soviet regime in their encounters with the German occupiers than historians have believed up to now.
This is the story told by UiO researcher Johannes Due Enstad, who has recently published a book about the German occupation of Northwest Russia during World War 2.
But why did so many Russians show such a benevolent attitude towards the occupation force?
“Stalin had failed to generate a strong bond of faith between the Russian peasants and the regime. On the contrary, he was much hated by many peasants who had seen their lives go from bad to worse because of the collective farming the regime had implemented with great brutality,” Enstad explains.
From 1929 onwards, the farmers were forced into collective farms – kolkhozes – often under slave-like conditions. Kulaks – affluent farmers – should be eliminated as a social class, according to Stalinist ideology. This policy also hit hard in Northwest Russia.
In 1937-1938 the “Great Terror” arrived, where Stalin, in an unbelievably brutal fashion, acted to get rid of all who might be thought of or imagined as opponents of the regime. Given such a backdrop, it is possible to understand why so many Russians put their trust in the Germans.
One good example is a letter written to “Der Führer” by the inhabitants of three small villages in the autumn of 1941: “We give our most sincere thanks for liberating us from Stalin’s lackeys and collective farms. On the 10th of July the German Armed Forces – your Wehrmacht – freed us from the yoke of the dammed communists, the political leaders and the Stalinist government. […] We will fight against the communists together with your troops. We give thanks to the German Army for our liberty […] and ask that this message is delivered to our liberator Adolf Hitler.”
When the Red Army and the party apparatus fled from Northwest Russia, the farmers claimed their rights and dissolved the collective farms. Further south, in the fertile black earth region, the Germans maintained the collectives, so as to stay in control of the rich crops. In the North West region, where the earth was less fertile, they accepted the dissolution and introduced a “semi-private” agriculture. According to Enstad, this German agricultural policy was the main reason why the positive attitude to the occupants lasted as long as it did.
Another reason for the relative popularity of the occupiers was their policy on religion. They re-opened the churches the Soviet regime had closed, something which caused something close to a religious renaissance for the Russian
He says that many priests openly supported the occupants and prayed for a German victory in their sermons. “At the same time this acted as a double-edged sword for the Germans. Opening the churches led to increasing Russian nationalism and a growing feeling that the Russians should not live under the rule of strangers,” he says.
Enstad’s sources are in the main first-hand sources collected from German and Russian state archives. German and Russian reports gave a totally opposite picture of the mood of the population, however, in Enstad’s opinion, there are good reasons to believe that the German sources were closer to the truth.
Beginning in 1917 it was common for Russians to associate Jews with the revolution (Werth 1999, 86). Even after the German invasion in 1941, it was common for many Russians to hope for German victory to rid the country of 'Jews and Bolsheviks' – until the brutality of the invaders became apparent (Werth 1999, 215).
German Soldiers as Witnesses against Bolshevism