In the years prior to Hitler's ascension to power in 1933, Stalin had directed the German Communist Party to consider its main enemy the parties supporting the democratic Weimar Republic, not the rising Nazi party on the theory that once Weimar had collapsed the communists could defeat the Nazis and control Germany. It was a massive miscalculation.
In the mid-30s, Stalin directed Communist parties to cooperate with other anti-fascist groups in Western countries in order to oppose the Nazis. And now, on August 23, 1939 Stalin reversed direction again. Once the war began with Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1 and Great Britain and France's declaration of war on Germany (September 3), Stalin directed communist parties in the UK and France to undermine war preparation efforts and for the American communist party to oppose any action by the United States to support Britain and France.
The public portion of the Pact was a Non-Aggression agreement between the two countries but there was also a Secret Protocol, the existence of which was not acknowledged by the Soviet Union for fifty years. That section carved upon eastern Europe, including Poland, Finland, the Baltic States, and Romania into spheres of influence and control between Germany and the Soviet Union.
Six million Polish citizens (three million of them Jews) were to die in the next six years as a result of German terror, while hundreds of thousands of Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and Romanians were to die, with as many more transported to the Gulag during the Soviet occupation.
Witold Pilecki was a symbol of those times. Joining the Polish Home Army to fight the Nazis, spending more than two years in Auschwitz, fighting in the Warsaw uprising against the Germans in 1944, and then becoming an opponent of the new Soviet backed regime until he was imprisoned and secretly executed.
During the first two weeks of September the Germans overran Poland, and then on September 17 the Soviets announced they would be entering the country to help preserve stability and security (at the time, no one knew of the Secret Protocol dividing Poland).
The Germans advanced so quickly they entered areas designated for Soviet occupation. In the city of Brest in eastern Poland a formal handover ceremony was held on September 22. Below is a photo of German General Heinz Guderian and Soviet General Semyon Krivoshein holding a joint review of their forces on that day. Krivoshein invited Guderian to visit him in Moscow after Germany defeated Britain.
Krivoshein had a distinguished career after Germany invaded Russia in June 1941. Late in the war his corps recaptured Brest and spearheaded the final assault on Berlin in April 1945, capturing the Reichstag.
TEXT OF NAZI-SOVIET PACT
Article IBoth High Contracting Parties obligate themselves to desist from any act of violence, any aggressive action, and any attack on each other, either individually or jointly with other Powers.
Article IIShould one of the High Contracting Parties become the object of belligerent action by a third Power, the other High Contracting Party shall in no manner lend its support to this third Power.
Article IIIThe Governments of the two High Contracting Parties shall in the future maintain continual contact with one another for the purpose of consultation in order to exchange information on problems affecting their common interests.
Article IVShould disputes or conflicts arise between the High Contracting Parties, neither shall participate in any grouping of Powers whatsoever that is directly or indirectly aimed at the other party.
Article VShould disputes or conflicts arise between the High Contracting Parties over problems of one kind or another, both parties shall settle these disputes or conflicts exclusively through friendly exchange of opinion or, if necessary, through the establishment of arbitration commissions.
Article VIThe present Treaty is concluded for a period of ten years, with the proviso that, in so far as one of the High Contracting Parties does not advance it one year prior to the expiration of this period, the validity of this Treaty shall automatically be extended for another five years.
Article VIIThe present treaty shall be ratified within the shortest possible time. The ratifications shall be exchanged in Berlin. The Agreement shall enter into force as soon as it is signed.
Secret Additional Protocol
Article IIn the event of a territorial and political rearrangement in the areas belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern boundary of Lithuania shall represent the boundary of the spheres of influence of Germany and U.S.S.R. In this connection the interest of Lithuania in the Vilnius area is recognized by each party.
Article IIIn the event of a territorial and political rearrangement of the areas belonging to the Polish state, the spheres of influence of Germany and the U.S.S.R. shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narev, Vistula and San.
The question of whether the interests of both parties make desirable the maintenance of an independent Polish state and how such a state should be bounded can only be definitely determined in the course of further political developments.
In any event both governments will resolve this question by means of a friendly agreement.
Article IIIWith regard to Southeastern Europe attention is called by the Soviet side to its interest in Bessarabia. The German side declares its complete political disinterest in these areas.
Article IVThis protocol shall be treated by both parties as strictly secret.
Moscow, August 23, 1939.
For the Government of the German Reich v. Ribbentrop
Plenipotentiary of the Government of the U.S.S.R. V. Molotov