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German-Soviet Non Aggression Pact, Signed August 23, 1939 - World War II

Updated on March 20, 2015
Stalin in foreground, Hitler background
Stalin in foreground, Hitler background | Source

By August 1939, moves towards World War II were well underway and the German-Soviet non-aggression pact signed on August 23, 1939, was one more sign of this fact. This treaty was signed by Russia and Germany and separated Eastern Europe into separate spheres of influence. World War II began a few days after the pact was signed.

The Non Aggression Treaty as Primary Source

The Treaty text is available online for primary source analysis. It states that Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics reached agreement, further to the Neutrality Agreement of 1926, principally to confirm that neither country would be responsible for attack on the other, either individually or in conjunction with other world powers. The countries also agreed to support each other in the event of attack by other countries. There were three other articles to the Treaty, which were not so important, and it was a ten year agreement.

Secret Additional Protocol

The online Treaty source document, published by Fordham University, includes a secret added protocol to the agreement which was not published at the time (see Reference 2). Article VII of the published Treaty text indicates it was to be ratified in Berlin, however the secret protocol seems to be an added afterthought. This additional protocol delineates territorial spoils and division of Europe in spheres of influence. It is possible it was in place to halt territorial disputes between the two countries that might be likely to arise at future dates and gives statements of interest and intent.

An historic town

Vilnius old town
Vilnius old town | Source

Primary Source Interrogation

It is impossible to provide complete analysis of the Treaty within this framework, however it should be noted that the principal terms of agreement are generally listed in order of importance and the Treaty was to be signed in Germany, presumably by Stalin and Hitler or Ribbentrop and Molotov. The secret Protocol addition is an interesting aspect indicating just how diplomacy and affairs of state are actually dealt with by governments and politicians. The secret Protocol may have originated from Russia or the complete Treaty may have been written by Ribbentrop or Molotov. Ribbentrop was the German Foreign Minister (1938 - 1945) while Molotov was First Deputy Premier of Russia (1942 - 57). Molotov was also appointed to act as Commissar of Foreign Affairs after the Jewish origins of acting Commissar of Foreign Affairs, Litvinov, were exposed. It could possibly be assumed that Vilna (Vilnius) was included within the German territorial gains and sphere of influence due to its important status within the Jewish world, majority Jew population and high numbers of Jewish communities. You can check out the links below to see just how important Vilna was to the Jewish community, it was known as the second Jerusalem.

Any student of history attempting primary source analysis of the treaty document (text below) might immediately jump to the conclusion that Vilna was included in the German sphere of influence due to Hitler's stated views (from the 1920s) against the Jewish people, and other groups of people. Hitler's views can be sourced from his book "Mein Kampf" linked below and written while he was in prison.

Results of the Treaty

Within a few days of ratification of the Treaty, the invasion of Poland commenced. It was a two-pronged attack, separately from Russia and Germany. Each country had its own motive for attacking Poland. Historically, one of the events leading up to the Kristallnacht Pogrom (Night of Broken Glass) was the forced return of German-based Polish Jews, who were subsequently refused entry to Poland and remained on the borders of the country in makeshift camps. Stalin's economic problems and beliefs indicated territorial gains were a necessity if the Soviet Union were to be successful.

Study of History

Studying history is an interesting academic discipline and lessons can be learnt from events of the past. For historians the study of primary source documents and materials is the best way to garner insight. The wealth of primary source documentation and materials since the invention of the printing press and growth in education has opened the study of history to new levels, with diaries, newspapers and other materials that offer a glimpse of society and life, hitherto untold.

Old diary
Old diary | Source

© 2014 Dawn Denmar


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