ONE of the most disastrous historical events was the Stalin-Hitler pact of 1939; diastrous alike to both parties. and in its influence on worldhistory. Exactly how and when the fateful agreement was reached has so far eluded historians, but any solid historical study of pre-war links between Moscow and Berlin is bound to be of absorbing interest.
Weimar Germany and Soviet Russia, 1926-1933, by Harvey Leonard Dyck, the Assistant Professor of Hi s t o r y at Columbia University, is just such a study (Chatto and Windus, 42s.). It has an impressive foundation of new material, chiefly the microfilmed German official documents, immense quantities of which fell into Allied hands in 1945. Copies are in the Public Record Office in London, and in the Federal German archives.
It is this, and much else not published before, that Mr. Dyck has used to produce a readable account of the ups and downs of German-Soviet relations over 17 critical years.
Soviet material is meagre; in particular Moscow has been silent about the full extent of pre-war Soviet-German military collaboration. But Mr. Dyck has used all he could find.
In 1922 the sensational Rapallo Treaty was no more than a bond of common interest between two defeated and humiliated nations. Its development. however. was for different reasons.
For the Soviet Union the German link meant security against what Moscow considered to he the threat of an anti-Bolshevik coalition headed by Great Britain. For Germany the pact had important military, political and commercial advantages.
"By 1925-1926", Mr. Dyck says, "it had become an axiom in the thinking of the German Foreign Ministry that Locarno was a harvest of Rapallo".
With Russia as lever, Germany hoped to recover some of the territory lost to Poland, and to evade the disarmament clauses of the Versailles Treaty.
Mr. Dyck has given some striking new evidence of the technical profit both Russia and Germany drew from the clandestine use of Russian territory to develop new German arms; there was even a joint German-Russian factory for making poison-gas.
Much remained secret, run by the military without the full knowledge, at any rate, of the German diplomats. It is one of the bitterest ironies of history that Germany and the Soviet Union helped each other forge the very weapons through which they nearly destroyed themselves, and in fact did ruin independent Poland.
Mr. Dyck gives a fascinating glimpse of the inner workings of German diplomacy, the struggle of Easterners and Westerners. The most determined of the former, Rantzau, was disillusioned at the end; he realised the incompatibility between Germany pursuing national ambitions, and Moscow working for international revolution, using the German Communist Party as a tool.
Mr. Dyck's admirably documented study will whet the reader's appetite for more. Could his researches not now illuminate that obscure corner of history in which Hitler and Stalin came together, and not only carved up Poland, but gave Hitler the final push to his round of aggressions?