The single most tragic day in Russian history took place on June 22, 1941, when Wehrmacht launched an offensive on the USSR in spite of the Treaty of Non-aggression between the two countries signed in August 1939. Russian daily Kommersant prepared a special multimedia section featuring testimonies of live witnesses and long deceased actors of the drama that unfolded on that first day of the apocalyptic war that cost the USSR 27 million lives. Regardless of the tension in the Soviet Army ranks, June 22, 1941 was supposed to be an ordinary Sunday for the nameless millions who are soon to become victims, war heroes, or both. But what makes the human cost that the Soviet Union paid particularly painful is the realization that the tragedy could have been avoided or at least mitigated.
Kommersant writes about the events that unfolded after it became apparent that the Soviet Union is under attack. The Red Army Chief of Staff Georgy Zhukov made a call to Stalin’s residence in the middle of the night and reported about the bombardment of Russian cities along the border. According to Zhukov’s testimony, Stalin was incapable of uttering a word for the first couple of moments. Before the Soviet leadership figured out what to do, German ambassador officially informed the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov that their countries are at war. It was Molotov who spoke to the people of the Soviet Union at noon that day; Stalin’s voice would not be heard in public for another 11 days. One of the testimonies published by Kommersant is particularly interesting: it comes from a commander of border troops Mayor Bychovsky, who learned about Wehrmacht’s immediate attack from a German deserter. However, when he attempted to report this to his superiors, the lines went down and the offensive was already under way. This was not the only such report, but all of them were dismissed by the Soviet command.
While speculations about Stalin’s plans to attack Germany within a matter of days are impossible to confirm, it is certain that the Soviet leadership had received plenty of warnings about the imminent German offensive. When a German source from Reichminister of Aviation Göring’s office reported about the German plans, Stalin wrote, “You can send your source to his f*cking mother. It is not a source, but provocateur,” on the telegram. Upon hearing that Soviet secret agent Richard Sorge reported the exact date and time of German attack, the head of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs Lavrenty Beria remarked that such agents should be turned to dust in prison camps. With such leadership, Soviet people had no choice but to pay a horrific price for their victory.