Despite signing a non-aggression pact with
the USSR in 1939 prior to invading Poland, Hitler had always intended that Russia would provide Germany’s future living space, or Lebensraum. Although Russia had kept to the terms of the pact, Hitler secretly prepared for invasion, and in summer 1941 Operation Barbarossa (‘red beard’) took place. At 3 am on the morning of 22 June, three and a half million German, Romanian, Finnish and other Axis troops flooded across the Soviet borders. This speech was given in a radio broadcast by USSR Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov on the same day as this crushing and unexpected event. At the time of the invasion Stalin disappeared from view, leaving Molotov to give the morale-rallying broadcast.
Within the first fortnight of the invasion Russia lost one million men, nearly all their planes and thousands of tanks. Stalin then ordered retreating Russians to ‘scorch the earth’, thereby rendering the country incapable of supporting the advancing German army. Through the summer the Germans gained rapid ground, taking Leningrad and Kiev and mercilessly killing thousands of men, women and children. The war in the East was fought with particular brutality, an outcome of the vehemently anti-Communist Nazi philosophy that viewed the Slavs as ‘sub-human’.
Born in 1890 to a shop clerk with the family name of Scriabin, Vyacheslav Mikhailovich began his political activity while he was a student and joined the Bolsheviks in 1906. In 1909 Molotov was arrested for the first time and sent into exile in north Russia for two years. On his return he joined Pravda, the Bolshevik newspaper, where he met Stalin and became secretary of the editorial board. He was later part of the military revolutionary committee that planned the Bolshevik seizure of power in the Russian Revolution of 1917. In 1926 he earned promotion to full membership of the Politburo and during 1928-30 helped to purge the Moscow party of anti-Stalin membership. He served as Foreign Minister for two periods in 1939-49 and 1953-56.
On 23 August 1939 Molotov signed the Soviet-German non-aggression treaty together with Ribbentrop, the Nazi Foreign Minister. He later played a vital role in secret conferences with Roosevelt that led to the signing of the Lease-Lend agreements that supplied Russia with arms from America.
When Khrushchev came to power in 1957 Molotov was dismissed from government posts and the leading Party bodies. He was later appointed ambassador to Mongolia and in 1960-61 was representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. He was expelled from the Communist Party in 1962, but later reinstated in 1984. He died in 1986, aged 96.
Ctizens of the Soviet Union:
The Soviet Government and its head, Comrade Stalin, have authorised me to make the following statement:
Today at 4 o’clock am, without any claims having been presented to the Soviet Union, without a declaration of war, German troops attacked our country, attacked our borders at many points and bombed from their airplanes our cities; Zhitomir, Kiev, Sevastopol, Kaunas and some others, killing and wounding over two hundred persons .
… This unheard of attack upon our country is perfidy unparalleled in the history of civilized nations. The attack on our country was perpetrated despite the fact that a treaty of non-aggression had been signed between the USSR and Germany and that the Soviet Government most faithfully abided by all provisions of this treaty.
‘Napoleon suffered defeat and met his doom. It will be the same with Hitler.’
The attack upon our country was perpetrated despite the fact that during the entire period of operation of this treaty, the German Government could not find grounds for a single complaint against the USSR as regards observance of this treaty.
Entire responsibility for this predatory attack upon the Soviet Union falls fully and completely upon the German Fascist rulers.
At 5.30 am, that is, after the attack had already been perpetrated, Von der Schulenburg, the German Ambassador in Moscow, on behalf of his government made the statement to me as People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs to the effect that the German Government had decided to launch war against the USSR in connection with the concentration of Red Army units near the eastern German frontier.
In reply to this I stated on behalf of the Soviet Government that, until the very last moment, the German Government had not presented any claims to the Soviet Government, that Germany attacked the USSR despite the peaceable position of the Soviet Union, and that for this reason Fascist Germany is the aggressor.
On instruction of the government of the Soviet Union I also stated that at no point had our troops or our air force committed a violation of the frontier and therefore the statement made this morning by the Romanian radio to the effect that Soviet aircraft allegedly had fired on Romanian aerodromes is a sheer lie and provocation.
‘Ours is a righteous cause. The enemy shall be defeated.’
.. .This war has been forced upon us, not by the German people, not by German workers, peasants and intellectuals, whose sufferings we well understand, but by the clique of bloodthirsty Fascist rulers of Germany who have enslaved Frenchmen, Czechs, Poles, Serbians, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, Greece and other nations .
… This is not the first time that our people have had to deal with an attack of an arrogant foe. At the time of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia our people’s reply was war for the fatherland, and Napoleon suffered defeat and met his doom.
It will be the same with Hitler, who in his arrogance has proclaimed a new crusade against our country. The Red Army and our whole people will again wage victorious war for the fatherland, for our country, for honour, for liberty .
. .. The government calls upon you, citizens of the Soviet Union, to rally still more closely around our glorious Bolshevist party, around our Soviet Government, around our great leader and comrade, Stalin. Ours is a righteous . cause. The enemy shall be defeated. Victory will be ours.
Despite signing a non-aggression pact with