Staunton, August 31 – Even before Hitler invaded Poland and Stalin joined him by doing the same two weeks later in September 1939, many Soviet citizens recognized that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed on August 23 of that year would lead to the partition of Poland and other territorial changes in Eastern Europe, according to two NKVD reports.
Those reports filed by Stalin’s secret police on September 3 and September 5 have recently become available because they were in the KGB archives left in Ukraine that have now been opened to investigators. They have now been published by Radio Liberty’s Dmitry Volchek with commentaries by historians (svoboda.org/a/30135383.html).
These reports, classified secret at the time and for decades thereafter, summarized what the agents of the secret police reported they had heard from Soviet citizens; and they show in this case how the people reacted to what was perhaps the most dramatic change of course in Soviet policies ever.
Konstantin Boguslavky, the historian who uncovered these documents in Kyiv says that such reports were common and that he has seen analogous ones about reactions to the war with Finland and other key events. “Often,” he says, “these special reports begin with the words that all society unanimously approves the police of the party and the government.”
To that end, the historian continues, the reports feature “four to five quite positive” comments. But along with these and thus in many ways more intriguing are “neutral and negative” ones. The two reports about reactions to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact are no exception to this pattern.
These comments show, Boguslavsky says, that Soviet citizens were trying to make sense of what had happened on August 23 and what that would in fact mean. Some were horrified on moral grounds about Communists making a deal with the Nazis. And others said that the pact would allow Hitler to defeat France and then the Nazi leader would attack the USSR.
But what is particularly striking in the 40 pages of commentaries in these reports, the historian suggest, is that “part of those questioned were certain that the USSR and Germany had secretly agreed to partition Poland” in the traditions of the great powers of the 18th and 19th centuries.
These reports, in contrast to what many might expect, “reflect the entire spectrum of the opinions on the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. And this spectrum has remained practically unchanged for 80 years: ranging from those who consider it a triumphal victory of diplomacy to those who consider it a shame and one of the factors which unleashed World War II.”