The Nazi-Soviet Pact and the Partition of Poland

  • Geoffrey Roberts


The conclusion of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Treaty of 23 August 1939 constituted the most stunning volte-face in diplomatic history. On the very eve of war the state of enmity that had bedevilled Soviet-German relations for over six years was declared dissolved as the two states signed a treaty pledging non-aggression, neutrality, and mutual consultation over matters of foreign policy. Attached to this published treaty was a secret protocol, which must surely be one of the most famous documents in the history of international relations:
  1. 1.

    In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement in the areas belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern boundary of Lithuania shall represent the boundary of the spheres of influence of Germany and the USSR…

  2. 2.

    In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement of the areas belonging to the Polish state the spheres of influence of Germany and the USSR shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narew, Vistula and San.1



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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    R.J. Sontag and J. S. Beddie (eds), Nazi-Soviet Relations 1939–1941(New York, 1948), pp. 76–8, for the text of the non-aggression treaty and the secret additional protocol. Although the secret protocols to the Nazi-Soviet pact were published in the west just after the war they were not officially admitted to exist or published in the USSR until 1989. In December 1989 the Soviet Congress of People’s Deputies condemned the signature of the secret protocols as morally, politically and legally invalid.Google Scholar
  2. See L. Bezymensky, ‘The Secret Protocols of 1939 as a Problem of Soviet Historiography’ in G. Gorodetsky (ed.), Soviet Foreign Policy 1917–1991(London, 1994) and the appendix to the present book which reproduces the text of the resolution passed by the Congress of People’s Deputies.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    A.J. P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War(Harmondsworth, 1964), p. 318.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    W. S. Churchill, The Gathering Storm(London, 1964), p. 346.Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Soviet Peace Efforts on the Eve of World War II(Moscow, 1973), part 2, doc. 445.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Telegram, from Beck to Grzybowski in W. Jedrzejewicz (ed.), Diplomat in Berlin 1933–1939(New York, 1968). See also Documents Diplomatiques Frangais,2nd series, vol. 18, doc. 374.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    J. Degras (ed.), Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy,vol. 3 (Oxford, 1953), pp. 361–2.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    See Documents on Polish-Soviet Relations, 19391945,vol. 1 (London, 1961), doc. 36; Documents on British Foreign Policy,3rd series, vol. 7, doc. 694; and Foreign Relations of the United States 1939,vol. 1, pp. 348–9.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    The Polish White Book: Official Documents Concerning Polish-German and Polish-Soviet Relations 19331939(London, 1940), p. 209.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Dokumenty Vneshnei Politiky 1939 god(DVP 1939),vol. 2 (Moscow, 1992), doc. 541.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Degras, Soviet Documents,pp. 363–71.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    The treatment of Comintern policy is based on material from the Comintern archives reproduced in ‘Komintern i Sovetsko-Germanskii Dogovor o Nenapadenii’, Izvestiya Tsk KPSS,no. 12 (1989). See also the essay by the British scholar Monty Johnstone who was given access to Comintern archives for the same period: ‘Introduction’ to F. King and G. Matthews (eds), About Turn: The Communist Party and the Outbreak of the Second World War(London, 1990).Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    Cited by Alexander Yakovlev in his interview in Pravda,18 August 1989.Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    On the change in line of the communist parties: P. Spriano, Stalin and the European Communists(London, 1985), ch. 10;Google Scholar
  15. F. Claudin, The Communist Movement(London, 1975), pp. 294–304;Google Scholar
  16. F. Cremieux and J. Estager, Sur Le Parti 1939–1940(Paris, 1983); and J. Haslam, ‘The Policy of the Communist International from August 1939 to June 1941’, unpublished discussion paper, Birmingham University.Google Scholar
  17. 14.
    Documents on German Foreign Policy(DGFP),series D, vol. 7, docs 360, 382, 383, 387, 388, 413, 414, 424.Google Scholar
  18. 15.
    NSR, p. 86. See also Ribbentrop’s telegram to Schulenburg on 15 September (NSR, pp. 93–4) and Schulenburg’s report of 20 September that ‘Molotov hinted that the original inclination entertained by the Soviet government and Stalin personally to permit the existence of a residual Poland had given way to the inclination to partition Poland.’ (NSR, p.101).Google Scholar
  19. 16.
    The quote is from a transcript unearthed from Schulenburg’s personal archives by Ingeborg Fleischhauer. See International Affairs(Moscow), August 1991, pp. 114–29, p. 119 for the quote.Google Scholar
  20. 17.
    NSR p. 87. Also DVP 1939, vol. 2, doc. 540, for the Soviet report on the meeting.Google Scholar
  21. 18.
    DGFP, series D, vol. 8, doc. 37.Google Scholar
  22. 19.
    See L. N. Kutakov, Japanese Foreign Policy on the Eve of the Pacific War(Florida, 1972), pp. 151–3.Google Scholar
  23. 20.
    NSR, pp. 91–6.Google Scholar
  24. 21.
    Degras, Soviet Documents,pp. 374–6.Google Scholar
  25. 22.
    N. Bethell, The War Hitler Won(London, 1972), pp. 306–7Google Scholar
  26. and A. Werth, Russia at War, 1941–1945(London, 1965), pp. 74–6.Google Scholar
  27. 23.
    Bethell, War Hitler Won,pp. 311 ff. and Werth, Russia at War,pp. 76–8.Google Scholar
  28. 24.
    On the occupation, incorporation and sovietisation of the Polish territories see J. T. Gross, Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland’s Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia(Princeton, NJ, 1988). For a record of some of the politburo’s decisions on the organisation of the incorporation see DVP 1939, vol. 2, doc. 536.Google Scholar
  29. 25.
    NSR, pp. 105–7.Google Scholar
  30. 26.
    Ibid., p. 108.Google Scholar
  31. 27.
    Degras, Soviet Documents,pp. 388–92.Google Scholar

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© Geoffrey Roberts 1995

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  • Geoffrey Roberts

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