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Most important WW2 turning point

LAURENCE REES: What do you see as the major turning point in World War Two?

OMER BARTOV: The invasion of the Soviet Union. You could say it was inevitable because what would Hitler be without fighting a war against Bolshevism? How could Hitler remain an ally of the Soviet Union? And at the same time it was - and he sort of expresses relief when he can finally go to war against the Soviet Union - but that was really the beginning of the end. Once Hitler invades Russia, the war changes completely. Now, you could argue that it really becomes a world war then and that even Hitler starts thinking about it as such only in December 1941 with the Soviet counteroffensive, which means that Germany will not win the war against Soviet Union any time soon, and, of course, Pearl Harbour. And then it becomes a world war. But I think that it is the moment when Hitler launches his three million troops against the Soviet Union that things change and there’s no going back. And Hitler knows it, he speaks in those terms. It is also the beginning of mass genocide, of mass killing on a totally unprecedented scale, nothing like that had happened even in Poland. So I think that’s the turning point.

LAURENCE REES: Would you go as far as to say that if there hadn’t been an invasion of the Soviet Union there wouldn’t have been a Holocaust as we now know it?

OMER BARTOV:  Yes, of course, because the vast majority of Jews lived on the other side of that border. So the sort of irony of the German war is that the farther they go [East] the larger the Jewish populations are that they occupy and then feel that they have to destroy. The largest Jewish population until then that comes under German control is part of Polish Jewry, so they come to control about two million Polish Jews, and that’s a large number. But very large numbers of Jews live on the other side so that’s one reason. The second is that the war in the Soviet Union provides the perfect cover for genocide on that scale, and I mean cover in all ways. Cover vis-à-vis the international community, cover vis-à-vis your own population, even cover vis-à-vis the people who are doing it, because then you’re involved in such a brutal war in which so many millions of people die, that killing another group doesn’t seem very different. And I have to say that if you look at genocide in the Twentieth Century more generally you will find that it almost always happens either at a time of war or is at least described as war, as happening within a war, and a war for existence, not just any war. And so that war, the war of keine Kamaraden, the war in which the normal rules of war do not apply, which is the war in the Soviet Union, is not only the opportunity but the best cover for this kind of genocide.