At the beginning of WW2, Nazi Germany orchestrated the infamous Gleiwitz Incident, which was used by Hitler to publicly declare, that since 5:45 we are returning fire.

The invasion of Poland triggered the UK and France to declare war on Germany. The USSR, on the other hand, was in a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany.

Was there any justification provided to the public by the government or Hitler himself as to why the Wehrmacht was invading the USSR? Or by this stage of WW2, had the war already progressed beyond the point where there was any need for reasons as to why attack another country?

Both the German and the English Wikipedia are quite silent on the topic of the public justification of Operation Barbarossa. They discuss the planning and the timeline, yet there is no mention of any propaganda activities.

Only Hitler's views on Bolshevism, which were made public in his book, are discussed.

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    They are likely quiet about it because everyone both then and now knew his public excuse for the attack was nothing more than a big steaming pile of propaganda. It matters about as much as the bully's excuse for why he's taking your lunch money matters.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 7, 2018 at 15:21
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    I thought Dohn’s question was about the collapsing Germany/NSDAP economy and its drive for plunder to avoid crisis. Nov 8, 2018 at 2:33

2 Answers 2


Radio broadcast to the German people

Hitler gave his reasons to the German people via a radio broadcast on the morning of June 22nd, 1941.

At 0500 GMT, an hour after the invasion began, the Nazi Minister for Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, went on national radio to read a proclamation by Adolf Hitler

The proclamation can be seen here in full. Basically, Hitler argued that the Soviets were a threat to Germany and had broken the peace. Thus, Germany was 'forced' into a preemptive strike:

...the invasion was presented as a pre-emptive defensive move that the Wehrmacht leadership had to undertake in order to avert a Soviet attack on the Reich...

Source: Aristotle A. Kallis, Nazi Propaganda and the Second World War (2005)

He also railed against the threat posed by 'Jewish-Anglo-Saxon warmongers'. Below are some excerpts for those who (understandably) don't wish to wade through the entire proclamation:

...Moscow not only broke our treaty of friendship, but betrayed it!

I was forced by circumstances to keep silent in the past. Now the moment has come when further silence would be not only a sin, but a crime against the German people, against all Europe.

Today, about 160 Russian divisions stand at our border. There have been steady border violations for weeks, and not only on our border, but in the far north, and also in Rumania. Russian pilots make a habit of ignoring the border, perhaps to show us that they already feel as if they are in control.

During the night of 17-18 June, Russian patrols again crossed the German border and could only be repelled after a long battle.

Now the hour has come when it is necessary to respond to his plot by Jewish-Anglo-Saxon warmongers and the Jewish rulers of Moscow’s Bolshevist headquarters.

There was no build-up propaganda prior to the invasion - after all, why give the Soviets any hints? On the contrary, German propaganda focused on attacking Britain.

The absence of any reference to Bolshevism, Stalin and his empire, even for the purpose of negative integration or diversion from the evident failure of the regime’s anti-British strategy, had been conspicuous in the output of NS propaganda for a while – and it remained so until 22 June 1941, that is after the start of the war in the east....Although the time of the invasion of the Soviet Union was drawing near, Goebbels continued to deceive not just public opinion but everyone involved in the dissemination of information.

Source: Kallis

Attacks on Bolshevism had essentially ended with the 1939 non-aggression pact but were now renewed, bundled together with anti-semitism in a

‘Jewish–Bolshevik–plutocratic’ conspiracy

with the added ingredient of Germany protecting Europe's "civilization and history".

German public's reaction

How much of this the public believed or felt justified the invasion is hard to determine. Kallis suggests that the public was wary at first of taking on such a large opponent but, when reports came in of a series swift victories, attitudes changed. The article Attack on Russia cites the recollections of one German girl:

Maria Mauth, a 17-year-old German schoolgirl at the time, recalled her father's reaction: "I will never forget my father saying: 'Right, now we have lost the war!' " But then reports arrived highlighting the easy successes. "In the weekly newsreels we would see glorious pictures of the German Army with all the soldiers singing and waving and cheering. And that was infectious of course...We simply thought it would be similar to what it was like in France or in Poland – everybody was convinced of that...

This new optimism of a quick victory didn't last, of course.

Letter to Mussolini

In a letter to Mussolini, dated June 21 1941 (i.e. before the invasion began), Hitler outlines many of the same reasons, emphasizing his belief that the Soviets had to be dealt with as

...with so gigantic a concentration of forces on both sides—for I also was compelled to place more and more armored units on the eastern border, also to call Finland's and Rumania's attention to the danger—there is the possibility that the shooting will start spontaneously at any moment.

Interestingly, Hitler does not attempt to fool Mussolini with the claim (made in his radio broadcast) that the Soviets had been provocatively attacking German positions along the border.

Other related links

German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop text justifying war against Soviet Union

Soviet response: Radio speech by Molotov 22-06-1941 in which he lays the blame specifically on the 'Fascist German rulers' rather than the German people:

This war has not been forced on us by the German population, nor by the German workers, farmers and the intelligentsia, whose suffering we understand very well but by a clique of blood thirsty, Fascist German rulers who have suppressed the French, Czechs, Poles, Serbs, Norwegians, Belgians, Danish, Dutch, Greeks and other peoples.

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    So, Hitler's justification was a "They are the bad guys, and they did bad things. Believe me!"? There were no false-flag operations, no propagandistic build-up; or any other propagandistic claims, e.g. alleged atrocities?
    – Dohn Joe
    Nov 7, 2018 at 13:46
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    @DohnJoe as Lars pointed out in the quote provided from the proclamation, there were alleged violations of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and alleged border incursions by Soviet forces (those are propaganda claims). Keep in mind too that Hitler needed the element of surprise for Barbarossa to succeed. Long build-up at home would have tipped off the Soviets. Although the Soviets were tipped off by the UK from Ulra decrypts (but ignored this).
    – Kerry L
    Nov 7, 2018 at 14:57
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    @DohnJoe Kerry L just beat me to it with a partial response to your comment. I'm not aware of any false-flag operations. On propaganda build-up, I'll edit that into the answer. Nov 7, 2018 at 15:00
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    @DohnJoe The false flag operation at the start of the Polish war could be used to give justifications to those in Britain and France who did not want a war. But by June 1941 the only major power outside the war was the USA, and it was very unlikely that it would enter the war to defend the Soviet Union. In fact I find it surprising that Hitler even bothered with justifying the attack as a defensive action instead of just saying "Well, I have told you for years that I was to attack the SU so now it is the time".
    – SJuan76
    Nov 7, 2018 at 15:07
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    The build-up angle is just icing. The Poland justification read "since 5:45 we're shooting back". While the exact same principle is at work in the proclamation (border incursions, inciting the Serbs (recall '18!), the Molotow questions etc) it is still salient that most of this is framed as a pre-emptive strike (troops amassed). Nov 7, 2018 at 16:07

In addition to Hitler's speech addressed to German people and National socialists, there exists a formal declaration of war delivered by Ribbentrop to the Soviet ambassador.

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    This answer would be improved by quoting some justifications included in the declaration, if any.
    – Schwern
    Nov 23, 2020 at 21:32

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