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Adolf Hitler

“Barbarossa, as the invasion of the Soviet Union was codenamed, unleashed the greatest, bloodiest and most difficult land campaign ever fought in the history of warfare. The failure of the German army to conquer Russia did indeed guarantee that Germany as a nation would be destroyed and that the eastern half of Europe would remain in bondage to the Communists until 1989. The tragic paradox at the center of mid- to late-twentieth century history is that Europe, and the world, owed its deliverance from the tyranny of Hitler to the heroism of the Red Army. Of course, Britain’s resistance to Hitler in 1940 played its part at the beginning of the conflict, as did the enormous contribution of men and arms by the United States when they eventually entered the conflict. But the Russian contribution was crucial: it was the resistance of the Russian people to invasion, siege, and starvation, and the preparedness of Stalin to sacrifice millions of lives, both military and civilian in what Russians still call the Great Patriotic War, which secured Hitler’s defeat. To be delivered from the tyranny of Hitler, it was necessary to be delivered into the tyranny of Josef Stalin. If you were a Pole, a Czech, an East German, a Hungarian, a Serb or a Croat you did not have to be A. J. P. Taylor to see that this was a questionable form of liberation. […]

The immense strength and skill of the Red army and the titanic heroism of the Russian people in resisting invasion must have taken Hitler by surprise. To the reader sixty and more years later, the sheer scale of the campaign is not possible to absorb. Within one day, German attacks had demolished a quarter of the entire Soviet air force. Within four months, the Germans had occupied 600,000 square miles of Russian soil, captured 3 million Russian troops, butchered countless Jews and other civilians as they went, and come within sixty-five miles of Moscow. But within a further four months, more than 200,000 German soldiers had been killed, a staggering 726,000 wounded, and a further 113,000 incapacitated by frostbite.”

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Excerpted from A. N. Wilson’s Hitler — one of the more absorbing biographies I’ve read in a long while. At just shy of 200 pages, the book pays significant dividends of insight for the time and attention it demands.

Joseph Stalin