Saturday marked the 75th anniversary of an historical event that seems hard to believe, in retrospect: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union teaming up.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, also known as a “honeymoon for two dictators,” staked out an official alliance between two of the twentieth century’s mightiest totalitarian states, and now, three-quarters of a century later, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is dedicated to making sure the world doesn’t forget about the many millions who were killed under communist rule.
The group held a Black Ribbon Day ceremony Saturday at the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Aug. 23 is the anniversary of “[Josef] Stalin and [Adolph] Hitler conspiring to start World War II,” Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation Executive Director Marion Smith told TheBlaze.
He added that it’s easy to forget that for the first two years of the war, 1939-1941, there was “direct cooperation” between Hitler’s SS and Stalin’s secret police.
“The level of cooperation [between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia] was official, real and deadly,” Smith claimed, saying that the Russians went so far as to round up German Jews who had fled into the USSR and returned them to Hitler’s genocidal control.
“The evil there is just so massive, it’s hard to wrap your head around,” he added.
Smith’s foundation works to keep the memory of the horrors of communism alive, which is a tougher task than some might think.
“When the Soviet Union crumbled in 1989 we started forgetting about everything, dusting off our hands,” Smith said.
The evil of Nazi Germany is nearly universally acknowledged, with the Holocaust standing as a singular representation of Nazi atrocities.
But communism has no one Holocaust to stand as an historical reminder; Communism created dozens of Holocaust-scale killings, which, Smith acknowledged, can make it harder for people to grapple with communism’s evil.
“After the fall of communism [in Europe at the end of the 1980s], they sort of came to terms country by country,” Smith said, contrasting that experience against the global rejection of Nazism in the 1940s.
Adding to the problem: The U.S. worked with the Soviet Union during World War II and afterwards.
“It was a practical matter of geopolitics,” Smith explained. “We had to deal with the Soviet Union.”
Nowadays, he said, Americans still struggle to commemorate the victims of communism, despite the “tens of thousands” of Americans who died fighting communist expansion in Korea, Vietnam and “dozens of other flashpoints” around the world between 1950 and 1980.
“Very powerful interests are communist,” Smith noted, pointing to one particular power: China. “There’s a lot of diplomatic pressure, economic pressure not to highlight the atrocities of communism.”
Plus, as evidenced by the popularity of socialist economists like Thomas Piketty, or the “income inequality” rhetoric of President Barack Obama, many people are still drawn to the ideals of communism/socialism.
Why does there seem to be such a powerful modern pull back towards socialism?
“The idea gets separated from its consequences,” Smith said. “It’s a failure of accurate history, a failure of memory, a failure of truth-telling.”
Smith stressed the importance of remembering a few facts: “Every communist regime has ended up killing a portion of its population,” and, “Ideas have consequences.”
The modern media may harp on “income inequality” and the failures of capitalism, but Smith said that’s no reason to turn back to communist thinking.
“There is a constant and withering critique of capitalism going on,” Smith acknowledged, “but the only real alternative is Marxism. Two imperfect systems, but one is the best that there is and the other, so far as we’ve seen, is the worst.”
“The time is now ripe, 25 years after the fall of communism in Europe, to remember and ask ourselves, ‘What happened? What is at stake?'” Smith said. “We have an opportunity to honor the victims of communism, and to ensure that it never happens again.”
More than 100 million people died under communist regimes worldwide in the twentieth century, with tens of millions perishing in Stalin’s brutal purges and tens of millions more worked to death under Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” in China.
As Smith noted, more than one billion people still live under communist rule in China, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea.
This story has been updated.
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