Myth 12 – Nazi Germany Attacked the USSR “Treacherously, Without Declaring War”


Nazi Germany Attacked the USSR “Treacherously, Without Declaring War”

Sergii Riabenko

Vyacheslav Molotov, radio speech from 22 June 1941

“Today, at four in the morning, without any claims against the Soviet Union, without declaring war, German troops attacked our country…”

Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition, Volume 5

“On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany treacherously and suddenly attacked the Soviet Union.”

The Essence of the Myth

The essence of the myth can be summarized in two words: “treacherously” and “without a declaration of war”. The “treacherous” and unexpected attack led to the first period of defeats during the Soviet-German military conflict.

Detailed Facts

From April to 22 June 1941, the USSR and its top leadership received dozens of various communications and intelligence reports on the aggressive plans of the Third Reich against the USSR.

On the night of 22 June 1941, the USSR’s People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov received the German ambassador in Moscow, Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg. During the meeting, Schulenburg handed a note to Molotov regarding the beginning of the war.

At four in the morning of the same day in the German Foreign Ministry, the Reich’s Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop gave a written memorandum on the beginning of the war to the Soviet ambassador to Berlin, Vladimir Dekanozov, in which German claims against the USSR were described and the reasons for the attack explained.

And de facto, and de jure, this was the official declaration of war against the Soviet Union.

More Facts

Like many other Soviet historical myths about the war, this myth is a smokescreen. We have to first explain how in 1941, the Soviets failed to prevent the advancement of German troops until the walls of Moscow.

It was said that during the entire pre-attack period, the Soviet Union did everything to consistently “fight for peace” and to “delay” the beginning of the war by any means. But the sneaky and cunning enemy still attacked unexpectedly when no one was ready. That was why the defense failed. That was why, instead of breaking the aggressor with as little blood and hostile territory, the Soviets had to retreat all the way to Moscow. That was why six Soviet republics came under Nazi occupation for such a long time.

The origin of this myth is taken from Molotov’s famous radio speech from 22 June 1941.

German Ambassador to the USSR Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg – he handed Molotov the note of Germany declaring war on the USSR in Moscow

In this speech, Molotov said that at four in the morning, without declaring war and without any claims, German troops crossed the border and attacked the Soviet Union.

Eventually, under the influence of repeated propaganda the myth underwent only minor changes. Its most common version today repeats that Germany treacherously attacked the USSR, without declaring war.

But the creators and the current holders of this myth avoid other facts. The full text of Molotov’s speech is largely unknown by the public. Therefore, only a small portion of his speech is ever cited – that which speaks of the treacherous “attack without a declaration of war.”

However, in the same speech, Molotov said that Ambassador Schulenburg came with “a statement on behalf of his government that Germany decided to declare war against the USSR due to the accumulation of the Red Army near the eastern German border” on the morning of 22 June.

The current holders to this myth prefer not to remember this part of Molotov’s speech. Even after the war, Marshal Georgy Zhukov recalled that around 4:30 am on 22 June, “Ambassador Count von Schulenburg asked to receive him because he had an urgent message. The Ambassador was charged to V.M. Molotov…After some time, Molotov quickly entered the office and said that the German government declared war on us.”

Molotov recalled this 22 June meeting with Schulenburg after the war. In his own words: “The German Ambassador handed the note simultaneously with the attack.”

At four in the morning on 22 June, the Soviet Ambassador in Berlin, Dekanozov, was summoned by Ribbentrop, the head of the German Foreign Ministry. In their recorded conversation, the following was stated:

“The Imperial minister of foreign affairs began the conversation with comments about the hostile attitude of the Soviet government to Germany and the serious threat which Germany sees in the concentration of Russian [troops] on the eastern border to Germany, this forced the Reich to use military countermeasures. Dekanozov found detailed statements for the reasons to explain the German position in the memorandum that the Imperial Minister presented him.”

The act of Germany officially declaring war against the USSR was the presenting of the memorandum to the Soviet ambassador in Berlin, along with the statement given by the German Ambassador Schulenburg in Moscow and Molotov’s relevant notes.

Also, Nazi Germany’s attach on the Soviet Union was accompanied not only by a declaration of war but also an explanation for the reasons which led to it.

This event was preceded by numerous warnings about the Third Reich’s preparations for a war against the USSR. In the summer of 1940, based on intelligence reports by ‘Yarema’, the Soviet spy, (Ukrainian artist Mykola Hlushchenko), a memorandum was given to the top leadership of the USSR about Germany’s preparation for aggression. In addition to numerous warnings, intelligence reports also came in from the Western powers but the Kremlin viewed it as attempts to split the USSR-German alliance. Before the onset of the war, Wehrmacht soldiers deserted, crossed the German- Soviet border and reported to the Soviet military about the upcoming attack. Other researchers call upon various other warnings, from a few dozen to several hundred.

Ukrainian artist and Soviet spy Mykola Hlushchenko

Beginning in April 1941, Kyiv, Minsk and Moscow received information about the preparation and the concentration of military forces along the German-Soviet border. Only 10 days before the Nazi aggression, the Soviet Union received almost 50 different warnings about the exact dates of the enemy’s attack.

Cartoon from L. Illingworth in the British newspaper “Daily Mail” (1941)

In total, the border guards cited 22 June as the date of a possible attack 25 times, based on information from defectors and the Polish population along the border.

One of these documents was published in June 2013 by the Security Services of Ukraine archives and includes a memorandum of the Ukrainian Communist Party Secretary Khrushchev on the concentration of German troops along the border areas of the USSR.

The note was signed on 15 May 1941 by the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Ukrainian SSR, Pavlo Meshyk and revealed a wide range of Wehrmacht preparations: the construction of a military airfield near the city of Jaroslaw, the concentration of a large amount of troops in its vicinity, the relocation of tanks and heavy artillery to the Soviet border from Krakow, Rzeszow and Radom, the arrival of the army leadership (but the name is not mentioned) to Przemyśl.

This document is worth quoting:

“Arriving along the border strip are German soldiers from the occupied countries – France, Norway and Denmark – spreading rumors that German army command intends to capture western Ukraine, cutting off a wedge from the side of Rava-Ruska and Lviv to Romania. The entrance of German troops against the Soviet Union is to begin after the end of the rainy season, as soon as the weather clears.”

As one can see, Commissar Meshyk gave Khrushchev information about a possible attack, along with information about various rumors. The attack on the USSR started at dawn on 22 June 1941, five weeks after the writing of this memorandum. Was it sudden?