The day after the signing of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 23 August 1939 Soviet and German newspapers carried the news and text of the treaty to a stunned Europe. However, from the very beginning there was well-founded suspicion that the Pact contained more than met the eye. According to Richard Maasing, an officer in the Estonian general staff, the Estonian military had realized by 26 August that the Pact divided the Baltic States into German and Soviet spheres of interest and that Estonia had been assigned to the latter.
It seems that the Latvian diplomatic service also learned of the contents of the Pact soon after the signing and that rumours about Germany turning over Latvia to Russia proliferated. Thus, while the exact contents of the secret protocol of 23 August and the subsequent secret arrangements of 28 September 1939 were unknown to the governments of the Baltic states, and knowledge of the texts was restricted to a small number of German and Soviet officials, the general outline of the agreements on „spheres of influence” was either known or strongly suspected very soon after they were concluded.
Moreover, despite the provisions on strict secrecy, Stalin and Molotov leaked the fact of their secret agreement with the Germans on the spheres of influence during negotiations with Baltic leaders in Moscow as part of the Soviet strategy of pressuring the Baltic governments into accepting the mutual defence pacts with the USSR. This is confirmed by a number of different sources, including the Lithuanian Foreign Minister Juozas Urbšys and Gen. Stasys Raštikis, the Commander of the Lithuanian Armed Forces during the negotiations in Moscow in early October 1939. The Soviets informed the Germans of their indiscretion; the leaks to the Baltic ministers irritated the Germans who clumsily attempted to diminish the importance of the secret Pact provisions in their replies to the astonished and perturbed Baltic representatives. It is inconceivable that news of the German-Soviet horsetrading concerning the Baltic states did not subsequently come to the attention of the Western powers.
The exact details of the secret territorial provisions of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 23 August 1939, the German-Soviet Boundaries and Friendship Treaty of 28 September, and the Secret Protocol of 10 January 1941 (concerning the so-called Suwalki Strip), were unknown until the appearance of copies of the secret protocols in the West after the Second World War. It came to the public’s attention for the first time as a defense document in the Nuremberg Trials in 1946 and has since been quoted in numerous publications. The description of the secret protocol of 23 August 1939 in the Estonian-language CP daily Rahva Haal of 10 August 1988 (published a week later in Sovetskaya Estoniya) suggested that the original is held by the Foreign Ministry Archive of the German Federal Republic in Bonn. For his part, Valentin Falin, then head of TASS, reiterated at a Moscow press conference that no original of the secret protocol has ever been found.
In a strictly technical sense, Mr. Falin was right. According to American scholars who worked on the mammoth project of classifying and filming captured German records after the war, the originals of many of the most important documents of the Reich’s Foreign Office (Auswaertigen Amt) were, in fact, never found. In 1943, as the archives of the German Foreign Office were being evacuated from Berlin because of the Allied air attacks, Reich Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop ordered the filming of the most important papers. The work was carried out by Paul Otto Schmidt, the chief interpreter of the Reich Foreign Office. Karl von Loesch, Schmidt’s assistant, placed the films into boxes and buried them. Thus, these films survived the destruction of many important Foreign Office records carried out by the Nazis themselves at the close of the war. In late May 1945 Loesch met Lt. Col. R.C. Thomson, chief of the British documents team, and the so-called Loesch films became part of the Captured German Records project. The German-Russian treaties of 23 August 1939 and 28 September 1939, together with their secret protocols, were found in the films of Ribbentrop’s working files. (These are contained in part of the series F1-F19 in the German Foreign Office collections).
Over the years, some East Bloc officials and scholars have either ignored the secret protocols of the German-Soviet treaties, or have presented them as Western forgeries. There are a number of reasons and circumstances that virtually eliminate the possibility that the secret protocols are fakes. As mentioned above, the existence of the protocols was revealed to Baltic statesmen in the autumn of 1939. The Germans, when confronted by indications that territorial arrangements had been worked out between the Reich and the Soviet Union, did not actually deny the existence of such agreements at the time. The behavior of both the Soviet and German governments during 1939-1941 indicates a basic understanding of each other’s territorial prerogatives in Eastern Europe.
Of course, circumstantial evidence of the existence of an agreement does not address the possibility that understandings different from those described in the secret protocols had been undertaken. However, in addition to forensic testing of an actual original or authentic carbon copy, there are other ways of ascertaining the authenticity of a historic document. As medieval and early modern specialists know, few important historical documents have survived in the original. Often we deal with copies of copies made at a later date; sometimes, documents are excerpted in commentaries, that is, secondary works, and other texts written many years after the fact. In other words, we often learn about texts from references to them in other texts. Naturally, the situation is much better for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet any overview of references to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact contained in captured German correspondence makes the theory of a forgery extremely unlikely if downright impossible.
The number of references, partial quotes from, and allusions to the secret protocols in the available collections of diplomatic documents after the war is quite impressive. The various references can be grouped as follows: (a) the preliminary diplomatic exchanges in July and August 1939 concerning German and Soviet diplomats; (b) the correspondence between 23 August and the end of October 1939; (c) the exchanges of views concerning the territorial changes of summer 1940 ending with Molotov’s visit to Berlin in November 1940; (d) the final period before the German attack on the Soviet Union, November 1940-June 1941. The evidence for the authenticity of the secret protocols is overwhelming, even if we ignored the memoir literature of the participants themselves.
The way in which the details of the various exchanges of correspondence concerning Poland, the Baltic States and Bessarabia, the territories explicitly named in the German-Soviet correspondence, dovetail with the provisions of the secret protocols, as well as with actual German and Soviet diplomacy, is striking. Any assumption that the secret protocols were a creation would lead to the conclusion that the hundreds of documents which refer to and quote the protocols would also have to be forgeries. That someone could succeed in such a task strains credibility. No forgerer will go out of his way to make a task unnecessarily complicated by increasing the number of factual variables, thus risking exposure. Certainly any creator of these numerous „supporting” documents would have to be aware of the probability that Soviet archives would contain records conflicting with the accounts of events contained in supposedly forged correspondence of the German Foreign Office.
It is important to remember that there is an immense difference between (a) documenting a nonexistent event or communication for propaganda purposes, a well-known disinformation stratagem, and (b) structuring a forged document, which distorts an otherwise real event in the more distant past, involving real personalities interacting within a complex bureaucracy. The first type of fabrication is relatively simple and risk-free; it normally requires the creation of only a single document and is a „one-shot” operation. From the forgerer’s point of view, the fictitious event cannot be, and need not be, proven or disproven. It can always be affirmed as long as there are those willing to believe the lie.
However, the second type of creation is enormously difficult and, in fact, quite risky for the forger. The danger of discovery is particularly acute if the event in question, such as the negotiation and conclusion of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, is some distance in the past and well-documented by voluminous primary sources. Physical expertise in document creation is of limited help here. Total control over all sources of documentation of the broader historical event in question is the only way to assure success in fabrication. Everything must fit perfectly; every additional fiction necessary to construct the lie considerably increases the number of variables to be taken into account and compounds the risk of detection. The fabricated structure must correspond exactly to the past, both the known and the yet-to-be-discovered. It must fit precisely within the continuum of historical time. The enterprise requires a domination of the past and present as thorough as that envisioned in Orwell’s 1984. In real life, particularly in situations where documentation is abundant and scattered among different jurisdictions, this sort of total control over the sources is virtually impossible to achieve.
The fact is that none of the numerous supporting documents which confirm the existence of the secret protocols has been seriously questioned by competent scholars in the West. There seems little reason to doubt the authenticity of the texts of the secret protocols that partitioned Eastern Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939. However, even the hint of doubt could finally be laid to rest should the Soviet Union provide access to its archives on the 1939-1941 period for credible and independent scholars. There would be no lack of expert help in finding the important documents assuming they are still extant. As one of Lithuania’s leading and most popular poets, Justinas Marcinkevičius, told the 23 August 1988 demonstration in Vilnius on the anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact:
And so, these days Moscow’s scholars have once again announced in the press that they still cannot, are unable, to find these (secret) protocols in Soviet archives. This is a joke, nothing else. It is entirely clear that Moscow does not locate that which it does not want to find, that which is unnecessary to find. One can search, but one doesn’t need to find. I say, perhaps, Baltic historians and archivists could help them (in Moscow). This would truly constitute unselfish fraternal assistance for the sake of historical truth.
Note: Some frames of the microfilm copies of the German-Soviet pacts housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. are not in the best condition. The German and Russian-language facsimiles of the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 23 August 1939 and the Secret Supplementary Protocol presented here were published in Jan Szembek, Diariusz i teki (London: Polish Research Centre, 1972), iv, 752-760. The other texts are from the National Archives, T-120, Records of the German Foreign Office. The English translations are from Raymond James Sontag and James Stuart Beddie, eds., Nazi-Soviet Relations: Documents from the German Foreign Office (Washington: Department of State, 1948). Another useful collection of documents translated into English is Bronis J. Kasias, ed., The USSR-German Aggression against Lithuania (New York: Robert Speller and Sons, 1973).
Copied from the Internet, by Colas Bregnon