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Eastern Front22nd June 1941

Invasion of the Soviet Union

Why did the Nazis invade the Soviet Union?
Hitler’s decision to launch this, the largest land invasion in history, is now seen to have been a disastrous one. So why was the decision ever taken to attack the Soviets?

Video Transcript

Commentary: Berlin, on the morning of Sunday 22nd June 1941. One of the most epic days in the history of the world. The day that Josef Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister, announced that German forces had just launched an invasion of the Soviet Union.

Words of Josef Goebbels (diary entry, 22nd June 1941): One can hear the breath of history. A glorious, wonderful hour has struck, when a new empire is born. Our nation is making her way up to the light.1

Commentary: Hitler said he had decided to invade the Soviet Union only after the Nazis had conquered France the year before. And, strangely, he claimed he wanted to fight the Soviet Union because it was easier than crossing the Channel and destroying Britain.

Professor Sir Ian Kershaw: Hitler had this notion which sounds really odd today, but the idea that he put forward - we defeat London via Moscow. Knock out the Soviet Union in a quick, Blitzkrieg war. By the end of the year we’ve destroyed the Soviet Union, Britain will then be bereft of its only potential ally in Europe. And the Americans will now keep back to their own hemisphere, so by another route we will have won the war. 

Commentary: Hitler had also written years before that Germany should seek ‘Lebensraum’ - living room - in the east. And more than that, that he believed that the people who lived in the Soviet Union were all subhuman.

Professor Christopher Browning: This is certainly going to be a military campaign, but it is a territorial war for Lebensraum, it is an ideological war against Bolshevism, and it is a racial war against the Jews and Slavs. So this is going to be the war out of which his historical meaning, his manifest destiny, is realised.

Words of Wolfgang Horn (German soldier, Eastern Front): I enjoyed the strength of our army, sending thousands of shells into the Russian border line defenses and so on. So it was partly a great feeling also about power being unleashed against a dubious and despisable enemy.

Commentary: But conquering this new land wasn’t going to prove to be quite as easy as Hitler had thought.


1 Fred Taylor (ed.), The Goebbels Diaries: 1939 - 1941, C.P. Putnam's Sons, 1983