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A Man Who Volunteered for Auschwitz (2012) (theatlantic.com)
348 points by Moodles on Jan 30, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 140 comments




Also a really good song about the guy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wvDg7UftJw8


Another man with a related story was Jan Karski [0]. Interestingly, Jozef Cyrankiewicz, future communist PM of Poland who testified against Pilecki, smuggled Karski out from the Nazis.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Karski


Excellent book by Jan Karski.

Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World. Reads like fiction. He also entered a concentration camp to report on the activities there.

Interviews with him can be found on youtube.


It’s amazing how quickly our Russian allies turned into our Cold War enemies at the end of WWII. I’ve heard a lot of blame on both sides, the US stockpiling arms, McCarthyism fanning the flames. But the end of this story drives home just how brutal Russia was. A wwii hero who not only deliberately went to Auschwitz for three years, organized prisoners, compiled intelligence reports, then escaped and fought bravely for the resistance in Warsaw and somehow survives it all ends up getting tortured and killed by Russians a few years after the war.


This is a bone of contention and a heavily discussed subject, because the world is not a black-and-white place. The Red Army was indeed a savior. It is thanks to those masses of poor soldiers, of which eight millions died, that the horror of WWII last only five years or so. All Europe and all world indeed should be grateful to them.

On the other hand, there was the Stalinist regime, ruthless rule, killing one's own people and others - for power and control. Whenever someone makes any judgement about Russians, they make a generalizing mistake. On top of that, I'd be very careful when making judgements about people's behaviors in extreme situations, it's quite easy to make that at a distance.


You have to take into account Soviet intent. Stalin was not interested in liberating Poland or the other countries occupied by the Nazis per se. Stalin was interested in Soviet domination. He had already tried to conquer Poland in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1920 (in which Pilecki fought, as the article mentions). They lost to the Poles. The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was essentially a temporary agreement (that really, neither the Nazis nor the Soviets intended to stick to ultimately) that explicitly had as its aim the division and dismemberment of Poland between Germany and Russia. "Soviet liberation" may mean that the Soviet occupation of Poland and the countries of the Eastern bloc had the result of removing the Nazis, but the ultimate goal was not liberation but also occupation.

That many Russians died to secure Soviet control over Central/Eastern Europe is not proof that the Soviets were self-sacrificial liberators, but rather that in Soviet, and ultimately Russian, culture, human life is much more dispensable to those in power than it is in the West. The Tsars, and their Soviet successors, were tyrants who could decide the fate of any subject. To this day, the Russian leadership has no problem in carrying out assassinations of politically problematic people, even abroad. The Soviet-installed government in Poland following WWII operated according to similar principles and under Soviet directives, though not to the same extremes as the Soviet leadership. Pilecki is one of many who were brutally tortured and executed by the communists, many of them members of the Home Army. Both Nazis and Soviets took part in exterminating swathes of Polish society they saw as a threat or an inconvenience to their rule (e.g. Katyn massacre), during and also, in the case of the Soviets, following the War.


"ut rather that in Soviet, and ultimately Russian, culture, human life is much more dispensable to those in power than it is in the West."

It is easy to lay blame at the feet of a handful of leaders and forget that in centuries the Russian people put their arms, their strength, their blood behind such. It is easy to focus on a single tiny person within the scope of history and say of course this person had no power and no complicity in evil and forget that the totality of the Russian people are complicit in the actions of their leaders.


At the time of war there is no such thing as freedom. You are given a rifle and ordered to kill. If you disobey, you are killed, it's as simple as that. Try to be in that situation and then talk about responsibility.

Tell me, who was responsible for the hundreds of thousands killed in the battle of Verdun: individual soldiers? Scared to death, trembling, half-insane, playing dead under the dead, left without any reasonable choice, resembling more animals than humans? Or someone else, who actually sent them there?


Their society found their situation tolerable. Even after the chaos was over they kept the same style of leadership. The same people who spent their blood but kept their lives didn't fight for something much better.

The same was true of prior tyrants they embraced.


> The Red Army was indeed a savior. It is thanks to those masses of poor soldiers, of which eight millions died, that the horror of WWII last only five years or so. All Europe and all world indeed should be grateful to them.

That is under a big assumption that Stalin's USSR was actually better than Hitler's Germany. Since there were lots of people who fled Soviet-occupied parts of Poland into German-occupied ones (hoping that life under Hitler will be less of a horror), this is not really clear whether the cure was not worse than the disease.


It would very much depends on who you were. If you had German ancestry you would be better off under the Germans, if you were Jewish you were far worse off. A lot of people in the former USSR occupied areas like the Baltics or Ukraine actually greeted the Germans as liberators, but they quickly changed their mind when they realized the Germans considered Slavs subhumans.


Hitler had this list of peoples to exterminate:

  * Jews
  * Romanies ("gypsies")
  * Slavs (Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Czechs, modern Macedonians, Serbs, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Slovenians...)
Jews took the biggest blow, but Hitler didn't plan to stop there. And not all of it was even ethnic. For example, he hated homosexuals and disabled people. He was going to clean the race. Communists were a target, too.

The reason he didn't exterminate everyone at the same time is that he needed slaves and collaborators in the transitional period. People down the list could be used to exterminate those higher up (indirectly, but sometimes directly).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebensraum


As well as almost any Polish professionals: Teachers, professors, lawyers, government officials, religious figures. The goal of the Germans was to dismantle almost all of Polish society and replace it with German society.


The Soviets also had the goal of exterminating the Polish professional class, hence their massacres at Katyn & elsewhere of, among others, Polish Boy Scouts.

Few people realise that the Soviet Union took roughly one-third of Poland when it & Germany invaded Poland at the beginning of the Second World War — and it kept that territory after the war. Polish society in those conquered territories was replaced with Russian society.


This is the point of view taught in Polish schools, so it's unthinkable for a Pole to think otherwise. However, Lithuanians, Belorussians and Ukrainians would beg to disagree.

For me the most fascinating is the case of Lithuania. Polish children are taught about the Commonwealth, common history, fighting together... So when they hear about anti-Polish sentiment there, it makes no sense to them. People are surprised and can't understand it. That's the fault of presenting a one-sided version of history and completely ignoring the POV of your neighbors.


I'm no expert on history, but this is where Nazi ideology seems contradict itself for me:

  * They claimed that all development in Russia was led by people of German (Aryan) origin,
  * Yet they focused their efforts on exterminating the social elite first, to make the society of Untermensh (slave race) fall faster.
Could someone chime in?


I don't see the contradiction. They didn't exterminate people of German descent in the conquered territories, rather they were supposed to become the new elite.


Focusing on exterminating of social elite (doctors, lawyers, famous artists, officers, writers, journalists...) is admitting there was an elite. How can a slave race have people creating culture and order?


You cant challenge Nazi racial ideology as if it was a logically consistent system. It was pretty opportunistic. For example Slavs are technically Aryan (given the theory behind the concept of an Aryan race), but nevertheless the Nazis considered them subhumans because it justified the lebensraum politics. On the other hand, the Japanese was elevated to "honorable Aryans" when they became allies.


It was unambiguously better if you lived in Great Britain or other places which were at war with Germany but not occupied post-war by the Soviets.


The Soviets were quite open about aiming for world conquest, starting with Europe. They tried it first in 1920, but Poland miraculously defeated them. WWII was another attempt (had Hitler not attacked first, Stalin would probably just attack Germany within a short period of time) - first Poland and Germany, then France, Spain, Italy, UK etc. It only stopped at Poland and Eastern Germany that time because of strong backing of the US for the Western Europe.


The Soviets were not bent on world conquest, but on securing a ring of buffer states around them as security for their country. Witness Stalin's betrayal of the communists in Greece as horse trading for influence elsewhere. Stalin's socialism in one country policy set against exporting revolution was in fact a huge point of contention with other factions of the Bolsheviks.

While the Soviets did harbour imperial ambitions against neighbouring states (Poland, Finland), this:

> had Hitler not attacked first, Stalin would probably just attack Germany within a short period of time

is blatantly false, and insultingly so given the millions of Soviet citizens who paid a bloody price for Stalin's total lack of readiness at the German border or mobilization against the Nazis.


Actually, it is pretty well documented that Germans forestalled Soviet offensive by just few weeks, maybe months. Red Army’s initial misfortunes after Germany’s attack in 1941 were caused by the fact that all the troops they had in proximity to USSR-German border were preparing to attack, not to defend themselves.


> it is pretty well documented that Germans forestalled Soviet offensive by just few weeks

No it's not. The only “Historian” to say so was the so-called Suvorov, a transfuge of the NKVD. And his theories have been thoroughly dismantled by the whole academia.


While Stalin might have wished to invade Germany in 1941 or 42, he was in no position to do so, having recently liquidated most of the Red Army's leadership.


Just do not forget they joined Germany in the invasion of Poland in September 1939. Only because of the termination of Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact by Nazies Soviets were forced to fight them.


And before that Germany and Poland joined forces together to invade Czechoslovakia....


Hungary also got a piece. All with the blessing of UK and France, but not the USSR which opposed the treaty. Presumably this is what forced the USSR to sign their own separate treaty with Germany. There is really a lot of blame to go around.


Your insinuation is kind of grotesque.


It's not insinuation, but a part of history that's overlooked:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zaolzie

"The Zaolzie region was created in 1920, when Cieszyn Silesia was divided between Czechoslovakia and Poland. Zaolzie forms the eastern part of the Czech portion of Cieszyn Silesia. The division did not satisfy any side, and persisting conflict over the region led to its annexation by Poland in October 1938, following the Munich Agreement. After German invasion of Poland in 1939, the area became a part of Nazi Germany until 1945. After the war, the 1920 borders were restored."


What insinuation are you referring to?

To my knowledge there's no evidence that Germany and Poland colluded in the annexation of Czechoslovakia but Poland definitely did take the opportunity to annex part of it. And the Germans weren't particularly unhappy about that as it played very well for them internationally.


The Nazis were delighted to ally with Poland for that. They had more foresight and understood this opportunistic move would greatly damage Poland's diplomatic relations with its allies. And it did. I was one of main reasons why Allies dragged their feet to help Poland.


This is another point rarely mentioned in Polish schools when teaching about the origins of WWII.


I like to say that Poland has two official religions:

  * Catholicism
  * History of Poland
As a Pole, I'm dismayed that history is taught as something to treasure, not something to contemplate, discuss and take insight from. History is just not treated as something to learn from. Criticism of Polish history is widely considered offensive. The standard tactic for handling ugly actions performed by Poles is denial. Just don't acknowledge them. If that's not possible, play them down.

This is the direction recent act about "Polish death camps" is heading in. It will outlaw saying Poles were originators of any WW2 war crimes. This is ridiculous. Yes, several million of Poles were killed in WW2. But there are black sheep in any society, and certainly there are in an oppressed one. When you harm a group of people, some of them will invariably hit back. How often do you hear that widely admired Józef Piłsudski was a terrorist and a train robber in his early years ? That Polish resistance conducted assassinations and bombings, not just on soldiers but also on civilians they determined to be collaborators ? Kazimierz Wielki (Casimir the Great), praised for development of Poland under his rule, was a cynical womanizer.

Even a single person can be both good and bad. By whitewashing Polish history, Poland shoots itself in the foot. You shouldn't expect to get correct output if you provide incomplete input. Poland has aspirations to be a regional power and to form an alliance of countries under its leadership. It's not going to happen as long as Poles refuse to remember their wrongdoings towards other nations and groups. Poles will just continue to wonder why most neighboring nations don't like them. You need to remember your mistakes to avoid them in the future and/or to apologize for them, if only in a symbolic manner. Look at what Germany is doing. Yes, Germans supported terrible genocide under Hitler, but they're now doing a lot to prevent that from happening in the future. And Germany is doing really well as far as diplomacy goes.

The eye-opening moment for me was when I was preparing for final exams. We had extra history lessons, and our teacher would force us to think. She would tell us what happened, and asked us why did king X or pope Y do that. Or she would divide us into two groups, like Spartans and Athenians, give us source text and ask to prepare a speech arguing our city-state is better (contemporary Greeks considered Sparta to be a realized utopia).


I very much agree with you. However, as for the very phrase "Polish death camps", I completely agree with Poles. There were many anti-semites before and during the war, and also some collaborators, but they had nothing to do with the Holocaust. Moreover, some pre-war antisemites were the first to help Jews (Kossak-Szczucka), calling it "an obligation to their conscience". There is a certain narrative that blends Polish antisemitism with the Holocaust. Of course there were some sick individuals but as a whole the Polish society did not collaborate with Germans in killing Jews - on the opposite, they're the most represented nation among the Righteous Among the Nations, and the word "szmalcownik" is synonymous with the lowest kind of scum.


The "polish death camps" laws are intentionally bundled with the more controversial ones that take more time to understand. This makes it easy to craft strawman headlines.

As for the word like "szmalcownik", throw it around enough times and it will lose its power. For example, in Ukraine both sides of conflict call each other "fascist". In Poland, both sides of political conflict call each other "communists" - but very few actually back up their claims.

My favourite: "targowica", used by right-wingers to accuse political adversaries of treason. However, members of Targowica Confederation:

  * had a conservative point of view,
  * were hostile to western Europe,
  * criticized contemporary Polish constitution,
  * had a strong Church backing, including archbishops and Pope,
  * called themselves devout patriots.
Sounds very much like the current Polish right-winged scene.


This kind of vague ad-hominem attack does not belong here. If you have a problem with GP's "insinuation", please explain what you think is wrong using factual, logical arguments. Claiming that it is "grotesque" tells us a lot more about you than about the argument here.


> The Red Army was indeed a savior. It is thanks to those masses of poor soldiers

Regarding that point, when Soviets were "freeing" Poland after Hitler's fall, it was really common for them to raid houses of polish civilians. They didn't only steal and kill, but also rape women, children, infants alike (even impale them on sticks). I'm living on territories close to the one of extermination camps and soviets really brought us more harm than nazis durning WW2.

Red army was created mostly from really uneducated villagers that lived in conditions similar to those in middle ages.


> soviets really brought us more harm than nazis durning WW2

I presume you are not counting the three million Polish Jews who were murdered by the nazis?


This is very wide topic and I would like to not discuss it over Internet because I've had plenty of similar discussions with people I've met, and it would really require us to write essays :|

Soviets killed about six million of polish people (until 1956). Not to mention harm that was done to the polish culture, dignity, economy, science for the 45 years.


I think you're confusing Rusians with Germans. The most radical calculations mention 20 million as the collective number of people killed under the Stalinist rule, mainly Russians. Polish deaths were at most half million:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_repressions_of_Polish_c...


> I would like to not discuss it over Internet because

So you would like to make your statements, but not to have them challenged?


> Soviets killed about six million of polish people (until 1956).

[citation needed]


> So you would like to make your statements, but not to have them challenged?

Oh dear, I didn't even point single statement yet.


Or the 3 million Polish gentiles that were also killed? Remember that Poland lost 6 million citizens.



Those people are not part of "us", you see.


I recently learned something interesting - the gas van was apparently invented in the Soviet Union in the late 30s, shortly before the Nazis started using similar execution methods.

Google Translate says "...he was following the instructions of the NKVD Ministry of Defense and that without them it would be impossible to perform so much the number of executions to which the arrested were sentenced by three threes at a time"

See: https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/1265324


> The Red Army was indeed a savior.

Many who ended up in the soviet sphere of influence would beg to differ.


Oh come on, that post was very clearly made knowingly within that context.


It's not like there were better alternatives at the time.


That's fallacious thinking. Even if we assumes that nothing could be done to stop the Soviets (and that is debatable: some have argued that the US was fully capable of pushing back against Soviet domination in the eastern Bloc, but instead caved in to Soviet demands), the result was a nasty occupation by the Soviets. "No alternative" does not mean it wasn't objectively bad. We're not talking about running out of your favorite ice cream topping here and having to compromise for your second favorite topping.


Would the Allies stand a chance if the Soviets didn't help? Would the Allies stand a chance if the Soviets allied with the Axis?


Yes and then no (or not without US help).

The British empire outproduced, manufactured, mined etc the Germans for basically the entire war. The question is more about why it took so long for the allies to get the upper hand.

The idea of ‘the plucky underdog’ is a myth, Britain was very much a superpower with a massive, resource rich empire behind it.

https://www.amazon.de/Britains-War-Machine-Weapons-Resources...


It is true that Russians helped in ending WWII but as others pointed they were also one of the initial aggressors and allies of the Reich. If not for that the war might as well end faster.


The war would have ended even faster had Britain and France not let Chechoslovakia get partitioned. They proved themselves completely unreliable, and unsurprisingly, after a failed attempt to turn West, Stalin signed a deal with the devil.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was not signed without context. The USSR sought out, and was rejected from an alliance with Britain and France.


How? The invasion of Russia lead to the meat grinder that destroyed Germany. How would the allies have turned Germany without the Russians?


If you can stomach it, you can read this:

EDIT: removed link due to questions about author's truthfulness


The author of this book should be treated with extreme skepticism. His stated goal is to "free this world we call home from the Jewish slavery it now finds itself in for these past hundred years" by writing about the "real Holocaust" [i]. He writes about "racial reality" and "Jewish masters who want to flood Sweden with Third World trash" [ii]. His agenda is Nazi apologism and bald-faced antisemitism.

[i] https://chechar.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/the-hellstorm-proje...

[ii] http://thomasgoodrich.com/


Yeesh, I wasn't aware of that. Thank you for the info, I removed the link.


No problem! It looks like the places that sell the book do their damnedest to make the author look like any other historian.


Yikes, that link sent me down a rabbit hole of white nationalism and Holocaust denial. No thanks.


Being Polish makes me very proud of the bravery of Witold Pilecki at the same time Russian army did some horrible things during the „saving” of eastern Europe. However if you look at the numbers they also paid the ultimate price in number of casualties: https://vimeo.com/128373915


When Americans arrived in Berlin they were quite horrified. Over 100,000 women in Berlin were systemically raped by Russian soliders [i]. As an American/Englishmen witnessing this and ordered not to intervene created hate and disdain for the Russian forces. The American forces had no concept of what the Russian forces endured -- still not an excuse for rape. Eventually generals on the western side began forming plans to unite with pow German soldiers and start attacking the Russians -- it was such a secret plan it wasn't even disclosed until 1998. [ii] It is hard to visualize the attitude of the American top brass towards Russia in 1945 but I feel this is a fair representation of Patton: [iii].

[i] http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32529679

[ii]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Unthinkable

[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxAIE9TbGyk


Pure anecdote and likely shaded by the Cold War, but I remember my WWII veteran grandfather (European theater) telling me how after the war he had talked to fellow US and British officers responsible for turning POWs over to the Soviets. (I don't recall if he said whether they were the soliders of Axis powers being turned over to the Russians under some agreement, or soldiers from Russia or from Soviet occupied countries.) He recounted how the Soviets made no secret of the fact that the POWs were executed en masse, and the Allied officers responded by helping their own prisoners escape rather than hand them over to certain death.


If you were a German with an armpit tattoo [i] and were taken by the Russians death was certain. The allies would routinely hand over these men to the Russians to avoid an entire war crime trial.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_blood_group_tattoo


"If you were a German with an armpit tattoo [1] and were taken by the Russians death was certain."

I can think of worse heuristics[1] to use for deciding "whom should we kill".

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_blood_group_tattoo



It is so sad that rape is a common war crime in every war since very ancient time. Rape during WW2 was probably one of the biggest crimes after mass genocide. I am familiar with the Japanese’s rape crime but this is the first time I am hearing about this. Allies are no exception.

The psychology behind committing such crime is beyond the “sexual urge” excuse.


I'm not sure what the correct psychology is. Add together 'shell shock', depression, a continuous fear of impeding death, repeated exposure to unimaginable horrors, separation from home and family for years at a time, and despair at ever reuniting with your loved ones. I wonder at those able to endure all that, and end up anything like normal.


You also have to assume that a certain percentage of the soldiers would be or already have been rapists in civilian life, and now they perceive great opportunity in that regard.

Edit - is this controversial? It’s simply a fact that some men do that, throughout history, in almost all cultures, hence the entire topic... Sometimes units of soldiers are even formed from criminals.


The assumption seems correct, but hardly significant in explaining the scale of the phenomenon.


It is probably insignificant for most wars, but it isn't uncommon in history. For example, throughout ancient Chinese history, it was common for bandits to serve in army either after they had surrendered or when government paid them to fight (mostly because these bandits knew the terrain well and had strong combat experience). Many of the bandits were rapists and killers, as one would expect.


And by scale, do you mean the amount of victims or the number of perpetrators?


The latter, as estimated from the former.


I think rape (at least in those contexts) is mostly about power


> Allies are no exception.

Absolutely. As Robert E Lee eloquently said: "It is well that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it."

In war there is no good. It's just evil. The only difference is between winners and losers.

> The psychology behind committing such crime is beyond the “sexual urge” excuse.

Isn't it innate nature? In the wild, whether it is chimps or lions, you vanquish the males and rape/procreate with the females. For much of human history, rape wasn't a crime. One of the reasons for going to war was for women. Women were considered spoils of war. You can find it in seminal western texts like Iliad or the bible. The entirety of european colonization ( from africa to china ) was mass rape of women. As has been in pretty much all human cultures since we kept records.


> The entirety of european colonization ( from africa to china ) was mass rape of women

I was with you up until then. European colonisation was about exploiting the natural resources of the Africa and the Orient, not the women.


I don't think it was the goal. Just the side effect.


> European colonisation was about exploiting the natural resources of the Africa and the Orient, not the women.

I meant for the entirety of european colonization ( its duration ), that the mass rape of women from africa to china was the norm. Not that rape was the only motivating factor. I think that was fairly obvious if you put that within the context of my other points.

Women, along with resources, land, slaves, etc were part of the equation. It wasn't the sole reason.


> Isn't it innate nature? In the wild, whether it is chimps or lions, you vanquish the males and rape/procreate with the females. For much of human history, rape wasn't a crime. One of the reasons for going to war was for women.

It's very deppressing but apparently shape of human penis is very good for shoveling sperm of the guy that was before you. In tribal or pre-tribal times it's possible that war gang rapes were common enough to shape evolution.


The evolutionary psychology of primitive war very likely includes these "reproductive opportunities". Going to war without benefit to the genes driving the impulse? We'd probably have stopped doing it a long time ago.

We'd like to replace these, uhm, traditional benefits of war with, say, increased status at home for veterans, but have such efforts been going on long enough to erase the underlying psychology?


I hope that readers of this comment understand that this narrative of the "systematic rape" (quoting parent) of Germany by the soldiers of the Red Army, while factual, is a lot more complicated than meets the eye. It is a narrative that has been deliberately narrowed, with a strong political motivation, to the scope of 1945. Modern German historians see this narrowing of the Western European memory as the effects of Cold-War-era propagandizing, with the deliberate intention of shifting the narrative of the end of WWII, away from Nazi war crimes in Eastern Europe (especially Slavic Eastern Europe), where untold numbers of women, children, and elderly were massacred and entire villages were burned to the ground. This posturing was effectively utilized, politically, to justify the alienation of the USSR in a post-WWII era.

As for Operation Unthinkable, it is one of the better-known realities of WWII that Churchill and Stalin enjoyed a mutual (and, to a retrospectively large extent, mutually-unfounded) paranoid fear of each others' ambitions. It is in that context that Unthinkable was formed – retaliation for poor treatment of POWs might have been a politically-tasteful façade, but was not the root as the parent might suggest.

I believe in the saying that begins with two eyes and ends with zero. The parent's sentiment seems to preach on the failing moral integrity of the Red Army soldiers – after all, they went for that second eye. I'd like to think that I am morally well-formed enough to not rape and kill, even when provoked to some unknown, but hopefully high degree. When I try to imagine what it was like to be a Russian soldier in 1945, advancing against people whom you see directly responsible for the death by fire and famine of your brothers, fathers, cousins, wives, children; when you've seen men die instantly for standing in the wrong place in line, I can't. We call these things "shell shock", but it masks the depravity that we are unfathomably privileged to not endure. I can't imagine the person I would be. I don't think any of us could. Principles about eyes probably don't seem to carry weight when the only parts of your village left to come home to (that you passed, on your way to the front) are the parts that wouldn't burn.

In that sobering context, one finds that the Red Army's treatment of Germany was (this is very counter-narrative west of the curtain) perhaps shockingly docile. The Red Army did not give orders to execute unarmed political officers on sight, or to burn entire swaths of countryside, with its villages and inhabitants, to the ground. Many German POWs perished for a myriad of reasons, among the biggest being insufficient supply lines, and an incredibly harsh winter of '45. The western allies had much better supply lines, rebooted in place, while the Soviets largely had to make them up as they went along. And yet, at least those take prisoner were treated with enough human dignity, to be taken prisoner in the first place. Their soviet counterparts were not given the same courtesy. I am recalling the diary of a Wehrmacht soldier, who was shocked that his captors did not kill him on sight – so conditioned was he to the reciprocal action, not only towards soldiers, but unarmed civilians, whom he had been instructed to believe were sub-human. Now this sub-human, in the reverse role, offered him bread of his own ration!

Yes, the Red Army committed war crimes. But it is important to consider that the morale of their troops begged for war crimes far worse than those committed.

In all, I humbly submit the idea that we are not in any position to judge. Citations from BBC magazine wikipedia, and youtube notwithstanding.

At this point, I'm surely rambling, but I just want to close by saying that as we inherit our popularly-told modern history, it is important to keep in mind that there are humans in every story, and that we gain nothing but bigotry from deliberately excluding the experiences of one over the other. Lest we repeat their mistakes of irrational hatred, which begets more, and so on.

On that note, I encourage us all to, at some point, read balanced histories of that era, which were inevitably written after the cold war. Shirer, whose account was authoritative while many of us were growing up, is a journalist who was the product of his time. His books are mostly regarded as a primary source by modern scholars. "Concise History of the Third Reich" by Wolfgang Benz, "Bloodlands" by Timothy Snyder, "The Unwomanly Face of War" by Svetlana Alexeivich, and "Burned Bridge" by Edith Sheffer are solid scholarly entry points for those of us for whom this more nuanced and even approach is appealing. For those of you who get to visit Berlin, I'd also strongly recommend the German-Russian Museum in Karlshorst – it's both utterly fantastic and utterly empty (on every day except for the May 8/9, when a large number of observant Russians come to pay respects), due to being so far away from the city centers. The guides there are some of the most knowledgeable people on this subject I've met.


> Yes, the Red Army committed war crimes. But it is important to consider that the morale of their troops begged for war crimes far worse than those committed.

Sorry, mate, even in your broad context, your trying to justify mass rapes this way can't possibly stand given the present days' values.

Wars to that scale do not happen nowadays, but similar suffering and low morale is encountered in "smaller" warzones, yet the scale of rapes isn't relatively comparable.

Given the various wars my father and I witnessed in the Balkans and throughout the world, I'd say discipline (thus, education) matters more than morale.


I almost didn't include that sentence, in fear of the "you're justifying mass rape" retort -- morale was too vague of a word to use in that context, and gives an unintentional connotation. However, I hope that you see I am explicitly not "justifying mass rapes". If contextualizing and understanding are the same thing as justifying, then historians are surely the most depraved people on the planet. As for your closing comment, I would also caution you that the Nazis were far more disciplined, and they committed war crimes on a much larger scale. I'm not saying that to be cheeky, but, again, to emphasize that actions such as these cannot be reduced to variables as simple as "insufficient discipline/education", "degradation of civil society", or even "racial hatred". These kinds of reductions hide almost always more than they tell, especially when it comes to something as sociologically complex as international war.

In all, the point of my comment was not to cast black into white, to exchange one form of binary bigotry for another, but to remind us that our popular history of that time has, in fact, been dyed in politically-opportunistic ways many times over. Whether we choose to accept those dyeings or not is up to us, but it's important to know that we have a choice to hate or not to hate. And that we should default towards skeptical when we have been instructed to treat people as "The Other". When education and discipline are corrupted by this introduction and emphasis of "otherness", hate crimes and war crimes follow.


[flagged]


I can only hope that you continued reading. I wanted to give a brief summary/introduction at the top of my comment; I apologize if it came across at too terse to the point of reducing the rest of the comment. While that sentence taken cut from the top looks quite controversial, the contextualized framing, addressed in the greater comment, is not a controversial view among historians in Germany, where the kind of revisionism you've accused me of is illegal.

Why have Germans historians opted to broaden the narrative? I can only imagine. A common story I hear of people growing up in Germany in the 60s, 70s and 80s was that there were a whole list of questions that you weren't allowed to ask your (Grand-)parents. You knew they were in Hitler youth, maybe even in the Wehrmacht or heaven forbid the SS. I do not know about you, but when I was young I asked all kinds of questions. Most of these historians were probably the same, and decided to make their career out of these unanswerable and taboo questions. What we have today, as a result, is a much more complex, nuanced, and complete understanding of the decisions of our grandfathers. This nuance might seem dangerous to you? Should nuance be illegal? Yes, even violence has a context. Perhaps this sense of threat stems from the cultural difference of viewing "Committers of Crime vs Criminals". I won't speculate further.

In closing, it is important to note that what I have provided in my original comment is not revisionist in the sense you seem to be suggesting. The facts are unchanged and undisputed. It is the perspective on the facts that have shifted, with the distance provided by time. I hope we can distinguish between the two, and therefore agree that I was not changing the picture of 1945 (revisionism), but filling in the picture of 1941-45 (contextualizing). There's a sizable difference!


I mostly agree with your statement.

It's really easy to sit in an air conditioned office while eating $8 bagel and talk about how horrible decisions people made in the past are.

>Principles about eyes probably don't seem to carry weight when the only parts of your village left to come home to (that you passed, on your way to the front) are the parts that wouldn't burn.

I agree.

If Truman had toured the Pacific theater a little more we probably wouldn't have stopped at two


Not to make excuses, but there were widely varying levels of discipline in the Red Army.

My understanding was that the "A team" shock troops and mainline motor infantry/armored divisions were well disciplined, but the later echelon of conscript infantry went into combat and gunpoint, didn't have functional unit leadership and were raping and pillaging.


The alliance with Stalin was always one of convenience, not of shared values. The Soviet Union was at war with Germany, so on that basis Churchill and Roosevelt were happy to have their help. They were never really on the same side otherwise.


Americans seldom seem to care about history these days. General Patton himself wanted to patch things up with Germany and liberate Eastern Europe straight on to Moscow, had not Eisenhower stopped him. The Russians were our allies during the war as a matter of mutual need, but communist fears had long been established by that point.


I read Pilecki's book (aThe Auschwitz Volunteer: Beyond Bravery) and found it incredible. And I too was amazed to read in the introduction that during Pileki's detainment by the communist regime, he told one of his friends that, compared to what he was ensuring in that prison, Auschwitz was "like a kindergarden".


Don't forget what Russia did with regards to Poland at the start of the war. They entered into an agreement with Nazi Germany to carve up the country.

Russia had a pretty good track history of making territorial conquests. By the time the allies met in Berlin in was apparent Russia wasn't interested in giving back what they gained.


The soviets were also the enemy, going back to the Russian revolution and US participation in the counter-revolutionary invasions. They were simply an ally of convenience for the relatively brief period between the end of the Molotov-von Ribbentrop pact to cessation of hostilities in Europe.

Remember Patton wanted to rush to Berlin and the. Keep on going to Moscow — that was the enemy he had been trained to hate.

And this was quite effective for the other allies — they shipped materiel to the USSR who in exchange did the majority of the actual fighting. Not to discount the efforts of the western allies, but the level of USSR fatalities was enormous, while Eisenhower (a logistics specialist, not a tactician) delayed the proposed invasion for anyear in order to get his supply lines in order and to minimize casualties for his side.


"It’s amazing how quickly our Russian allies turned into our Cold War enemies at the end of WWII."

The 'our Russian allies' part sounds a bit strange. Are you aware that the Soviet Union started the war on the Hitler side? What's amazing is that in modern Russia most people don't believe it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_Union_in_World_War_II

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_invasion_of_Poland


Germany invaded Russia in June 1941. The US entered the war in December 1941. From the US perspective, the Russians were never anything but allies in the war.


> and somehow survives it all ends up getting tortured and killed by Russians a few years after the war.

Check out Raoul Wallenberg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raoul_Wallenberg), who saved tens of thousands of people from the Holocaust in Budapest, and then ended up killed in a cell by the KGB.


And if it wasn't tragic enough, there's this twist of history:

> Testimony against Pilecki was presented by a future Polish prime minister, Józef Cyrankiewicz, himself an Auschwitz survivor.


Well, yeah. This is the level of oppression Soviet Russia was. The horrors of Nazi camps are often discussed - not many people discuss Russian camps on Siberia.


> It’s amazing how quickly our Russian allies turned into our Cold War enemies at the end of WWII.

Why? The US were were the last major country to recognise the USSR (in late 1933, just before the USSR joined the LoN), and the USSR's various stated purposes (collectivisation, state atheism, …) were very much polar opposites to the US's.

The alliance was against Nazi Germany, not for anything.


Also don't forget the US largely financed the WW2 efforts of Germany exactly to fight communism, in Germany and Russia. Without the US-backed german industry Hitler never would have been able to attack Russia. E.g. from the 7 IG Farben board members 4 were US industrialists. You won't learn that at school in this century, maybe in the next.

The large fascism homefront in the US consisted of the industry, the press (William Hearst) and the banks, the government was largely fascist (after the business plot and Roosevelt's death), and it took a lot of (british) efforts and some sunken ships to turn the public around, against the Nazis. More here: https://www.globalresearch.ca/a-brief-history-of-fascism-in-...


If you're going to make the colossal claim that the US "largely financed" Germany in WW2, you're going to have to present better evidence than obscure factoids like 4 out 7 IG Farben board members being American (and [citation needed] on that as well).

The claim that the US was "largely fascist" after WW2 also seems... questionable.


Colossal? Known for a while already. Just Google for US financing Hitler. Lots of documents. Without the secret support of the US banks and the industrialists Hitler would have had no chance to get elected and start the war efforts. Before the 40ies it was not so secret, as the biggest papers rallied for him and his fight against communism.

Well, the US style of fascism after WW2 can of course not be called as such in the homeland. The regimes it installed over the world were purely fascist military dicatorships, inside the country it was a modernized version of fascism, commonly called cooperatism. But since the 70ies scandals worldwide european lefts simply call it fascism again. Nothing changed since the 30ies.


I don't remember exact source, but I read American leaders didn't like allying with USSR one bit. It's just that it was necessary to stop the Nazis.


We should also be remembering that large number of Russians suffered in the Holocaust, by some accounts more Soviet citizens were killed in the Holocaust than Jews.


Well certainly a great many died in battle or as prisoners of war, more than any other nation. Nobody can deny the enormous sacrifice endured by Russians in WW2.


It is tragic but I think Stalin is responsible for most of these deaths.


At least 30 million Russians died under communism. The exact number will never be known. It is more probable that he would have died there.


> But the end of this story drives home just how brutal Russia was.

> it all ends up getting tortured and killed by Russians a few years after the war.

Is it that brutal? Killing foreign spies is something not unheard of in this historical period (see eg. Klaus Fuchs, who stole nuclear secrets), the only difference is in the torture.


So Polish Resistance soldiers who so bravely fought Nazis are considered "foreign spies"? That's basically what Soviets were doing in Poland: arresting all the members of Polish Home Army [1] they could find and sentencing them to death. So yes, that's brutal and it makes the Red Army just another invader, not a "savior".

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_Army#Postwar


Pilecki was not considered a "foreign spy" for his fighting the Nazis, but for organizing an intelligence network of his own and leaking information to the West. That counts as a foreign spy in my eyes, and I'm sure someone who did the same in eg. France would also be considered as such.


You're probably just a troll, but for sake of the others reading this: Pilecki was the officer of Polish Home Army, which was a branch of Polish Underground State - which in turn was basically the pre-war Polish government, with its top officials being in exile in London.

So, Pilecki was by no means a spy: he was a member of legal Polish intelligence agency, reporting to legal Polish government and passing intelligence information to our official allies (Poland had signed military pacts with both France and Great Britain in 1939).

What wasn't legal was the communist government that killed him in 1948, government formed by usurpers, backed by Soviet occupants.


I'm not trolling. Rather, I'd think you were trolling, considering the earlier comment where you thought I was calling him a spy for having participated in the Polish resistance.

Speaking of Pilecki, of course he thought he believed he was acting in the name of a legal government, but that's not what is being discussed here. The Soviets were correctly claiming him to be a foreign spy, since he was spying for a country which is foreign to the USSR, and treated him as such.

The question of which was the "real" Polish government is not in discussion, though you're repeatedly trying to derail the conversation towards that issue; my original comment was about the fact that the Soviets killed Pilecki by virtue of him being a spy, which was also common for other countries (unlike torture). Can we agree that the Soviets correctly viewed Pilecki as a foreign spy?


Espionage might have been the official charge against Pilecki, yes. But Soviets used that as an excuse to kill pretty much everyone they didn’t like so I wouldn’t take that charge too seriously.

And how can they view Pilecki as a spy when he was providing intel to their British allies on their common enemy? Any reasonable country would consider Pilecki a hero, not a spy. You know, the old "Enemy of my enemy, friend of my friend" rule.

Unless of course Soviets were still respecting Ribbentrop-Molotov pact and considered Germans the allies and Brits the enemies, then prosecuting Pilecki for spying on Germans would make sense.


Not sure if you are trolling or what. By that logic Jews were rightfully sent to the death camps because they were enemies of the state.


That's quite a leap in reasoning. How did you come to that conclusion?


Nazi regime -> Polish communist regime enforced by soviets

Enemy of the state -> Spy

It's OK to kill enemies of the state -> It's ok to kill spies


Allies? There were as bad or in some cases worse than Germans. And it's not surprising that they killed and tortured Polish resistance fighters- after all they attacked Poland just two weeks after Germans did.


While this article in general is fine, some of the details are wrong. Namely - he died on 25th of May, not 22nd as written there, also he was arrested May 8th not 5th. Not sure about the other details, I didn't had time to check it.


I finished reading Pilecki's reports (turned into a book) a year after visiting auschwitz. The reports are quite hard to read. I just had to know how somebody could get out of that camp. (Being in the military, he knew many people in the camp that helped him along the way)

This article is a great follow-up story for the book.


In my book, Witold Pilecki is in the same folder as Irena Sendlerowa, a Polish nurse who smuggled hundreds of Jewish kids from the ghetto, who was tortured so severely that the Nazis bastinado-fractured her feet - to no avail. Un-fucking-believable bravery that inspires me every day to resist the silly trumps and putins of our time.


Putin actually has his opponents murdered. Look up what happened to Boris Nemtsov, he was gunned down right outside the Kremlin. I would take Trump over Putin any day.


What's more, Nemtsov isn't the only one who was killed by Putin.

Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with processed Po-210, which was determined to have come from a facility owned by the Russian state. It was placed in his tea by two Russian agents, and an investigation by the British government concluded that Putin probably personally signed off on the murder.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoning_of_Alexander_Litvine...

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160613090324/htt...


Even opposition and Sobchak, Nemtsov’s close friend, who is currently running against Putin in the presidential elections has said that Putin had nothing to do with this.

Nemtsov was criticizing Putin and the government non-stop for almost 20 years. There was nothing new to be assaisnated for.


Agree to a lot of it.

But it would probably have more weight if you didn't compare Trump and Putin with the systems that systematically tortured and killed millions of people.

And for the record: I'm no big Trump fan.

Edit: as usual I'm honest and I'm not trying to troll anyone. And as the downvotes pile up it would be interesting to know what I've written that was so horribly wrong or offending.

Edit2: I don't care aboit those stupid points. But I do care to get my point across efficiently and without insulting anyone unnecessarily.


I didn't vote you one way or another, but what I gathered from the post was that he/she doesn't put Trump/Putin anywhere even close to the atrocities of the Nazi's and despite how he feels about them, times are far better than they were. Your post is essentially agreeing with him while chastising him, which is why I can imagine some have down voted you. I think looking back on history and far darker times, is an acceptable way to reduce your anxiety about the current state of affairs, while also ensuring it never gets that bad again.


Ok. I see. I misread.

Downvotes deserved and I'm happy I got an explanation for the (good) reason.


trumps and putins in lowercase as archetypes, not Trump and Putin specifically.


Some other good articles on Pilecki: [1] [2]

Of his imprisonment under the Soviets he told his wife:

"I cannot live. They killed me. Because compared to them Auschwitz was just a trifle."

[1] - http://www.poloniainstitute.net/witold-pilecki-bravery-beyon...

[2] - https://www.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-ii/story-of-the-m...


Sadly, Pilecki was killed by the fellow Poles, not by Soviet Russians. The article you quoted makes goes even as far as to distort the reality:

> His Soviet prosecutor, Czesław Łapiński, died on the way to the hospital, before his trial for judicial murder.

This person wasn't Soviet - he was a Pole, born in Silesia, a Polish soldier fighting the Nazi. I know it's more convenient to portray it as "the Russians were guilty of all wrong", but the reality is that during the Stalinist rule many atrocities were committed by Poles on Poles.

This point o view is actually present in the official version of the history as taught in many countries, with a notable exception of Germany: one's own country is always portrayed at its best, and its citizens as good fellows. The idea that one's ancestors might commit many atrocious crimes is terrifying. Yet, it is often the case. In this particular situation, some people were motivated by greed, some by their survival instinct, but some were just firm believers in Communism and were convinced they do the right thing. To them, Pilecki was just a bandit and a traitor. It's important to be aware of that, because this lesson from the past has bearing on present and future, for whoever is able to reason and draw conclusions.


Soviet doesn't necessarily equate to Russian, in the same way that you can be a non-German Nazi...


Pilecki's report is available online: http://witoldsreport.blogspot.be/2008/05/volunteer-for-ausch...

He really was quite an amazing individual.


It never ceases to shock and disappoint me the depravity that humanity can sink to.


Yes, soviet (actually Russian) atrocities were far worse, yet we have to struggle every day to put equals sign between NAZI and Soviets


Please keep nationalistic flamewar off HN. This is a highly international community and the last thing we need is old regional resentments breaking out all over the place.


I think that pointing out that Soviet atrocities were worse than Nazi atrocities (and Maoist atrocities were worse still) isn't a matter of 'regional resentments' but of ground truth.


Maybe, but I think the data we see on Hacker News points against that view.

It's moot either way, though. "Nazis vs. Soviets" is a reductio of internet forum topics and the sort of flamewar material that's off topic here.


[deleted]


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