7 September 2021
Mark Solonin, The Spring Victory: Stalin’s Glossed Over Crime, translated from the Russian by David Loutit. Independently Published, 2021, 121 pp., £6.50. ISBN 9798519589222.
Mark Solonin was born in Samara (at that time called Kuybyshev) on the Volga in 1958. His father had fought in the Great Fatherland War, his mother was a teacher of German. Their son did well at school. I think he was always more interested in time than in space and would have taken History at university but for the almost total monopoly of the doctrine of ‘historical materialism’ – coupled, of course, with ‘dialectical materialism’. So instead he trained to become an aviation engineer, while retaining his passionate concern for historical truth (istina rather than pravda, perhaps). He seems to have taken early retirement, gone into business, and used – and still uses – his free time to investigate various recent and contemporary historical myths and mysteries, writing and talking not least about various tragic airliner disasters, including the crash near Smolensk of the plane carrying many of the top Polish politicians in 2010 and the no less suspicious crash of a Malaysian aircraft over Eastern Ukraine in 2014. I tend to compare his superb detective work with that of the real ‘Viktor Suvorov’ and Hercule Poirot – although Solonin is not as reader-friendly as Agatha Christie.
Much of Solonin’s research is devoted to the Soviet-Nazi War of 1941-1945. Several of his books have been published in Russia and translated into at least seven other languages, although apparently nothing he has written has appeared in English until now. I had earlier read ‘The Spring Victory’ in Russian and can only thank David Loutit for his translation and the footnotes he has added. The title refers to the final stage of the war when Soviet troops left the USSR (as it was in early 1945) and moved westwards (a) through territories of the German Reich (Empire) which were shortly going to be reallocated to other countries and (b) through territories which were going to become part of the ‘German Democratic Republic’ (DDR). (This is Solonin’s first hypothesis. See pp. 62-66.) It seems that the farsighted Stalin and some of his closest colleagues were ‘encouraging’ German civilians – men and women, with their children and infants – to move towards the West so that there would be fewer Germans in group a, while treating those who were already in, or were moving towards, the future DDR a little less harshly (group b). It’s suggested (p. 97) that at least 14 million people – nearly all of them Germans – fled from the advancing Soviet troops, which would make this ‘the century’s greatest act of ethnic cleansing’. Some two and a half million German civilians died in the Eastern parts of the then Germany at this time, plus an unknown number killed in the actual fighting (p. 11).
The first 30 pages present the reader with accounts of the bestial behaviour (not only sexual) of some of the advancing Soviet troops in some parts of the then Germany, based on surviving eyewitnesses’ accounts held in archives in Freiburg. Solonin is well aware of the credibility problem, and I am not going to provide any quotes here. He rightly mentions the generally humane treatment of German prisoners-of-war in the USSR and also refers to the massive bombing raids of the USSR’s Western allies, and not only on Dresden (pp. 41-43). In any case, who is the person most responsible for the killing and looting carried out by some Soviet soldiers in Germany? ‘…Stalin bears personal responsibility for the war crimes committed in Germany’ (p. 55). Moreover (and this is Solonin’s second hypothesis), many of the most despicable crimes of the Soviet military in the East of Germany may have been committed by a relatively small number of ‘special terror units, NKVD Einsatzgruppen, so to speak’. Unfortunately, this is impossible to document, ‘given the totally sealed nature to this day of the archives of the NKVD/NKGB’ (p. 66). Another question the author asks, but leaves it to his readers to answer, is ‘WHY did German soldiers surrender by the tens of thousands in the West yet fight to the last bullet and last drop of blood in the East?’ (p. 79).
You might wonder why this book is so relevant today. On the last page of the main text (p. 83), its author quotes the (in)famous words of ‘Count Alexander von Benckendorff, the founding head of the Gendarmes and the Secret Police in Imperial Russia:
Russia’s past is amazing, her present day is more than wonderful, and as for her future, that will be in all ways better than the bravest imagination can envisage. It is with this in mind that Russian history must be viewed and written.’
This seems to your reviewer to be astonishingly similar to the views on Russian history as presented to the public from time to time by the current President of the Russian Federation.