About

This exhibition presents a wide range of unique historical documents from Russian federal archives (Russian State Military Archive, Russian State Archive of Social and Political History, State Archives of the Russian Federation, Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, etc.), Belarusian state archives, and the departmental archives of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defence, and Foreign Intelligence Service. They include materials of Soviet high-level state and party agencies and foreign and military ministries, intelligence reports, captured German and French documents, military maps, photographs, newsreels, and documents from foreign archives – over 300 items in all, many of which are made available to scholars and the public at large for the first time ever.

Visitors will get a unique chance to see two political maps of Europe from the private collection of J. Stalin at the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History. On these maps, the Soviet leader traced Soviet ‘security zones’ consisting of territories that had formerly belonged to the Russian Empire.

The Wehrmacht invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 marked the beginning of World War II. The Germans routed the Polish Army in the space of two weeks. The country was abandoned by its leadership. Concerned by the fate of the Ukrainian and Belorussian population, the Soviet Union could not permit the further eastward expansion of the German Army. On 17 September 1939, the Red Army entered Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia, and elections were held to the local people’s assemblies, which then called upon the USSR to reunify the Ukrainian and Belorussian nations. On 1–2 November 1939, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopted a resolution on incorporating Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia into the USSR and reunifying them with the Ukrainian and Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republics. This marked a major milestone in the history of three closely related Slavic nations.

The German-Soviet Friendship and Boundary Treaty was signed on 28 September 1939. It set down a border that virtually coincided with the so-called Curzon Line proposed by the Entente Powers (and especially Great Britain) in 1919 as a fair boundary between Poland and the Soviet republics. Visitors will get to see the original German-Soviet Treaty and its supplementary protocols from the Archive of Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

All their promises notwithstanding, the Anglo-French allies simply looked on while Poland was defeated. This ‘Phoney War’ was a continuation of the French and British policy of appeasing Germany. The exhibition presents pages from the diary of Soviet Plenipotentiary Representative in Great Britain I. Maisky with a description of the situation on the Western Front and the reactions of the international press as well as photographs of British troops in France.

Exhibited for the first time ever, a number of items from the Russian State Military Archive, including German and French documents captured during the war, tell about the plans of the British and French allies with regard to the USSR and, in particular, their plans for attacking the oil-producing regions of the Soviet Caucasus.

In the autumn of 1939, the Soviet leadership initiated talks on the exchange of territories with Finland in order to assure the security of the country’s north-western borders and the city of Leningrad, which was only 32 km away from the border at the time. Finland’s uncompromising stance during the talks was bolstered by its expectations of French, British and American aid. In the conditions of escalating war, the Soviet leadership came to the conclusion that the problems surrounding the Soviet north-western border could not be solved by diplomatic means alone. The exhibition presents the original Peace Treaty between Finland and the Soviet Union that essentially set down the modern border between the two countries as well as a map illustrating Soviet proposals of territorial exchange during the Soviet-Finnish talks in Moscow in October 1939.

In the autumn of 1939, the Soviet Union signed mutual assistance agreements with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which gave it the right to establish naval and military bases in these countries. Archival documents shed light on the political disloyalty of Baltic governments to Moscow and the activities of German and military Fascist organisations in the region. The exhibition also tells about the incorporation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into the USSR and, for the first time ever, presents the original declarations of the Baltic republics about their entry into the USSR in the summer of 1940.

On 27 September 1940, Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Tripartite (Berlin) Pact. This was followed by the start of military operations in the Balkans. Hungary, Romania and Slovakia soon joined the Pact, marking the emergence of an alliance of aggressive states whose goal was to create and support a ‘new order’ in Europe and Asia.

The Soviet Union tried to assure the security of its southern borders by holding talks with Turkey and Bulgaria on mutual assistance agreements. However, talks broke off with Turkey in October 1939 when the latter preferred to rely on the guarantees of France and Great Britain. In late November, Bulgaria, too, declined the Soviet proposals and joined the Tripartite Pact.

In November 1940, Soviet People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs V. Molotov made a visit to Berlin to ascertain the intentions of the members of the Tripartite Pact and assure the recognition of Soviet interests. However, this visit, whose documents are presented for the first time at the exhibition, did not yield any results.

On 18 December 1940, Hitler signed Directive #21 on war with the USSR (‘Operation Barbarossa’). The exhibition displays this directive (whose original is at the Bundesarchiv Deutschland), its translation into Russian made for the Nuremberg Trials (from the State Archives of the Russian Federation), a map of Operation Barbarossa (from the Central Archive of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation) and other materials relating to German preparations for attacking the Soviet Union.

A lot of attention is given to the development of the Soviet military-industrial complex and the preparations of the Red Army to repulse aggression. Documents tell about the production and introduction of new types of armaments, the elaboration of plans for the strategic deployment of the armed forces in the event of war with Germany and its allies, and changes in the top command of the Red Army.

In January 1941, the General Staff of the Red Army held two strategic operational ‘exercises on maps’ to practice conducting frontline and army operations. After the exercises, J. Stalin decided to appoint G. Zhukov as Chief of the General Staff. Visitors will see a number of different documents about these exercises.

The exhibition also presents materials about the trade and economic activities of the Soviet Union during the war. They include documents about economic cooperation between Germany and the USSR (such as the Economic Agreement between Germany and the USSR of 11 February 1940) and statistical materials that show that the Soviet Union’s main trading partner during this period was the USA, which had replaced Great Britain after the latter’s imposition of an economic embargo upon Germany.

In the spring of 1941, Germany began to make preparations to invade Greece and Yugoslavia in order to consolidate its position in the Balkans. The exhibition presents the original Soviet-Yugoslavian Friendship and Non-Aggression Treaty of 5 April 1941. The day after it was signed, Germany subjected Belgrade to mass bombing and invaded Greece. During a lightning campaign, Germany took full control of the Balkans. Due to the events in Yugoslavia, Hitler had been unable to complete the deployment of his main forces in the East by 15 May, as planned by Operation Barbarossa. The German invasion of the USSR was postponed until 22 June 1941.

Shortly before the German invasion, the USSR signed a neutrality pact with Japan, which greatly helped to assure the security of the Soviet far eastern border.

Visitors will also see documents of the Soviet intelligence services, including reports by R. Sorge (‘Ramsay’), N. Skornyakov (‘Meteora’), members of the Cambridge Five, German anti-Fascists from the ‘Red Orchestra’ and other agents, whose names are still unknown to the public at large. The Soviet intelligence services managed to obtain a considerable amount of convincing information about the preparations of the Third Reich and its allies for war against the USSR. Some of these reports contained contradictory information – in particular, about the date of the German invasion of the USSR.

The exhibition includes key documents of May–June 1941 concerning R. Hess’s mission to Great Britain, a note from Soviet People’s Commissar of Defence S. Timoshenko and Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army G. Zhukov to J. Stalin with proposals on the plan for the strategic deployment of the armed forces in the event of war with Germany and an attached diagram, transcripts of conversations between V. Molotov and German Ambassador to the USSR F. von der Schulenburg, and other documents.

For the first time ever, visitors will get to see the last pre-war resolution of the Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party about the creation of the Southern Front and armies of the second line of defence and the appointment of their commanders that was adopted at a meeting in J. Stalin’s office in the evening of 21 June 1941 and drafted by G. Malenkov as well as Directive of Soviet People’s Commissar of Defence #1 about putting Soviet troops on alert. The directive was given to the cipher department for distribution at 11:45 p.m. on 21 June and sent to the military districts at 12:30 a.m. on 22 June 1941.

At 5:30 a.m. on 22 June 1941, German Ambassador F. von der Schulenburg read Soviet People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs V. Molotov a note about the start of military operations. The transcript of their conversation and the pages of 22 June 1941 from the visitors’ log of J. Stalin’s Kremlin office close the exhibition.

The thematic sections of the exhibition are accompanied by explications in Russian and English. On the opening day of the exhibition, the official website of the Russian Federal Archival Agency will launch a bilingual internet project with full-text electronic copies of all archival documents, photographs, maps, and newsreels displayed at the exhibition.

 

Exhibition organisers

Federal Archival Agency of Russia

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Russian State Military Archive

Russian State Archive of Social and Political History

Russian Historical Society
 

Exhibition participants

Archive of Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation

State Archives of the Russian Federation

Russian State Archives of Film and Photo Documents

Russian State Archive of Contemporary History

Russian State Archive of Economy

Central Archive of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation

Archive of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia

National Archives of the Republic of Belarus

Belarusian State Archives of Films, Photographs and Sound Recordings

Bundesarchiv Deutschland

 

Exhibition curators

V. Artsybashev (RGVA), N. Kirillova (RGASPI)

Exhibition operator

Svyaz Epokh Foundation

 

We would like to thank the following for their assistance in preparing the exhibition and catalogue:

Federal Archival Agency of Russia

A. Artizov (director), A. Yurasov (deputy director)

Russian State Military Archive

V. Tarasov (director), E. Afanasyeva, G. Belousova, E. Klimova, V. Korotaev, L. Kostareva, L. Kudryavtseva, L. Lomova, I. Mesyats, N. Myshov, R. Frolov, G. Frolova, S. Sharonova

Russian State Archive of Social and Political History

P. Skorospelov (director), A. Sorokin (scientific director), D. Agafonov, T. Volobueva, N. Volkhonskaya, E. Grigoryev, V. Dorofeev, A. Kochetova, A. Lukashin, N. Lysenkov, S. Rozental, A. Travnikova

State Archives of the Russian Federation

L. Rogovaya (director), S. Mironenko (scientific director), E. Aniskina, N. Vladimirtsev, A. Sventsitskaya, M. Sidorova, R. Sultanov

Russian State Archives of Film and Photo Documents

N. Kalantarova (director), S. Deeva, G. Koroleva, E. Petrova, N. Rozhkova

Russian State Archive of Contemporary History

I. Permyakov (director), N. Emelyanova, A. Kazinov, A. Sokolova

Russian State Archive of Economy

E. Tyurina (director), A. Gapuzin, E. Kurapova, V. Pushkarev, I. Tsyganov

Historical and Documentary Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia

N. Barinova (director), A. Romanov

Archival Service of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation

E. Paderin (director)

Department of Archives and Records, Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus

V. Kurash (director)

National Archives of the Republic of Belarus

A. Demyanyuk (director), M. Starostenko

Belarusian State Archives of Films, Photographs and Sound Recordings

A. Gonchar (director), E. Tretyak

Svyaz Epokh Foundation

G. Kuchkov (director), S. Alfimova, A. Evdokimova, I. Silkova

 

Exhibition information partners