In Downfall, Hitler laments about how he should have purged the military officers like Stalin did, so my question is: would people have actually known about Stalin's purges during that time ?

  • Dunno did anyone read the NY Times? query.nytimes.com/gst/…
    – user45891
    Feb 17, 2015 at 15:46
  • Please provide citation for "Downfall" The NYT article makes me wonder if this is trivial.
    – MCW
    Jul 27, 2017 at 14:39

4 Answers 4


Of course. It wasn't much of a secret. Some 85% of the Soviet military's top positions were removed; the scale alone makes it rather impossible to hide. In fact, knowledge that Stalin had decapitated his own army's backbone was one of the factors motivating Nazi Germany to invade.

But not only did [the Great Purges] do incalculable damage to the future construction of Soviet military strength; they also instilled in Hitler and his advisers an indelible notion of the weakness of the Red Army. To Hitler, this very weakness was an invitation to strike before a powerful military machine could be constructed. In Hitler's eyes, then, Stalin's purges gave him the chance. He thought Stalin must be mad.

- Kershaw, Ian. Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World, 1940-1941. Penguin, 2007.

  • much the same is opined in Edvard RadzInsky's "Stalin" (Doubleday, 1996).
    – jwenting
    Apr 12, 2015 at 4:00

Yes there were many trials. The extent was not nesscarily known but the removal of many senior officers was well known.



This is a very good question. The answer is: yes. Everyone who wanted to know, knew. (This includes Hitler). There were plenty of people who managed to escape to the West, they published their accounts. There were plenty of other sources: Soviet union was never closed completely.

On the other hand, enormous pro-Soviet propaganda, supported by many left-wing Western intellectuals (some of them simply bribed by the Soviet regime) strongly influenced the public opinion. As a result the "general public" did not know much. The Soviets used assassination and intimidation to silence those who wrote on the subject in the West.

By the way the same happens now: Russia continues to manipulate the media of the West to a large extent. I mean the Russian aggression in Ukraine, of course, but not only that. Everyone who cares knows about assassination of Litvinenko, who exposed Putin's regime, for example.

(Downvoting of this answer is another proof of what I wrote, by the way).

  • 2
    I suspect the down-vote(s) are due to a lack of sources rather than Putin targeting you.
    – dave
    Feb 19, 2015 at 4:12
  • References? You want a list of published in then West accounts of Soviet atrocities? It will be too long.
    – Alex
    Feb 19, 2015 at 13:00
  • Well Alex start with the oldest sources (and keep the sources on topic)? E.g. the Times article I posted as a comment to the question - just as evidence that it the existence was known. And if you feel the need to address Russian Propaganda (maybe even slant a few left-wing intellectuals) this is a great example - quote Satre & Busch. But be subtle
    – user45891
    Feb 19, 2015 at 17:58
  • I suspect (and hope) that the downvoting comment by Alex was, at least, partially a joke. However, I should note that if anyone would genuinely and honestly care to compare the amount of anti-Russian propaganda to the amount of pro-Russian propaganda (we are talking about last 20 years, and publications outside of Russia, mainstream media only please) then the result cannot be in doubt. And if I am being too subtle -- what I meant is that the ratio of the former to the latter is most likely wa-a-y above 10.
    – JimT
    Jul 27, 2017 at 14:41
  1. Yes, he knew, and almost anyone who cared knew - see all the answers before this one

  2. From many sources we know that Germany actually actively used Stalin's paranoia to "provide" some damaging information alleging that some generals in USSR's High Command (Tukhachevsky et al.) conspired against Stalin - therefore "helping" Stalin to weaken the Soviet army

  3. Hitler's lament is mostly infantile and self-serving. First of all, one of the reasons that Hitler even dared to invade USSR was that he himself and his military command judged the Soviet Armed forces significantly reduced in their preparedness and overall might by these purges. Second, level of resistance to Hitler in his army was still extremely low even after 1944 overthrow attempt and deterioration of Germany's standing in the WWII at the time. It is well known that quite a few of his generals complained about his many incompetent decisions in the military matters -- but still went along with them as it was nearly impossible for them to defy his orders. So his "lament" basically only served his need to move the fault to someone else.

However, there is some evidence to the following

a) some German generals were not great military commanders who failed because they followed Hitler's "stupid orders"

b) some in the Germany High Command pursued their own agenda, which sometimes undermined Hitler's plans - but general consensus says that does not seem to have played a major role in Germany's defeat


  1. Williamson Murray and Allan R. Millet, A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000

  2. Geoffrey P. Megargee, Inside Hitler's High Command. University Press of Kansas, 2002

  3. Leopold Trepper, The great game: memoirs of the spy Hitler couldn't silence. Нью-Йорк: McGraw-Hill, 1977

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