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Why were so many Soviet films about an anticipated Nazi German invasion into the USSR shot in 1938–1939, both before the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and after it?

Before the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact Nazi Germany had no shared border with the USSR, yet the movies show German (and not, say, Polish) invasion. After the pact, the countries were formally friendly, but still the USSR issued many films about a sudden German invasion. Could the public of the time interpret such films as an indication of Soviet desire to invade Germany (especially given in all such films the Soviets usually pushed the enemies back and defeated the Germans on German territory)?

Most of such films were destroyed after the war, but here are some examples:

  • Tankers (1939) - the invading power is clearly Germany, the officers with German names speak about "Versalles humilation" and superiority of Aryan race. They call themselves "Aryan army". They also consult with the "Supreme Leader". The soldiers wear Stahlhelm.

  • If a war is tomorrow (1938) - the officers of the invaders speak German language, speak about superiority of their race, and the helmets and tanks have swastikas (although the design of the helmets is French).

  • Deep raid (1938)

  • Squadron No. 5 (1939) - again, the invading power is Nazi Germany

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  • 4
    Alexander Nevski might also belong on the list (invaders are Germans and some of the helmets look like Wehrmacht helmets).
    – Jan
    Sep 24, 2020 at 15:18
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    I don't think i can do a full answer, but Hitler was already known as a warmonger, and especially stated that Slavs weren't aryan and were actually subhumans by their standards. That would most likely make Russians kind of wary
    – LamaDelRay
    Sep 24, 2020 at 15:22
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    I think it's pretty much confirmed that, from at least '33 onward, Stalin assumed a German invasion. Was this belief widespread in the soviet union or at least the party? much historiography concentrates on Stalin so that may be not trivial to answer, but could be an avenue when answering this question.
    – mart
    Sep 24, 2020 at 15:31
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    Given that Germans invaded Russian territory within living memory of most of those who made these movies and that the German leader of the time was vocally anti-Soviet, it shouldn't be all that surprising.
    – user15620
    Sep 24, 2020 at 22:32
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    "Mein Kampf" dates back to 1925, and states in no uncertain terms that Hitler deemed war inevitable, and since the rise of the Bolsheviks, deemed it inevitable that this war would have to be waged against Soviet Russia. When you have this kind of clear statement by an omnipotent head of state, the only open question is "when?".
    – DevSolar
    Sep 25, 2020 at 7:39

1 Answer 1

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TL;DR the Soviet Union was preparing for war against Nazi Germany, on a timeline that exceeded the span of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

This is discussed in some detail in this thesis by Olga Grivorieva. In it, she cites Evgeniy Margolit's article "Doppelganger Country" about the depiction of Germany in the inter-war period.

In the period ending around 1934, Germany is seen as a "red front" - in the context of the international revolution, the German proletariat is an ally. Before that point, Polish symbols are used among pictured enemy troops.

До середины 30-х годов в советских «оборонных» фильмах неприятель изображался в непременно польских фуражках-конфедератках, в фильме 1936 года «Родина зовет» по сценарию Валентина Катаева впервые появляется фашистская свастика

Until the mid-30s, films in the Soviet "defense" genre showed an enemy in Polish-style "confederate" caps. "The Motherland Calls", based on Valentin Katayev's scenario, is the first to feature the fascist swastika.

As the reality of the fascist regime in Germany (and its opposition to the USSR's interests in Spain, etc) sunk in and as the USSR retreated from internationalism towards "socialism in one country" - the tone of these films changed to one of self-defense against fascist aggression (as plainly and publicly expressed by the German Reich in its "Lebensraum" ideology). Even historical movies such as Alexander Nevsky paint allegories of Germany as a sort of underworld, with a fully militarized society and a monstrous government.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact should not be seen as an extension of increasingly positive relations, but as a step to buy time between two bitter enemies - for Hitler, to strike west, and for Stalin (who sought but was unable to secure mutual guarantees from the West) to reform the Red Army.

For movies of the genre filmed during the brief 1940-41 period, Japanese or vaguely Western/Finnish enemies are used.

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  • Stalin believed war with Hitler was inevitable and made many attempts to ally with UK and France to prevent this as the Russians point out - Why the West Turned Down an Alliance with Moscow. After the agreement was signed, Stalin comments in private, "Of course, it's all a game to see who can fool whom. I know what Hitler's up to. He thinks he's outsmarted me, but actually it's I who have tricked him."
    – sfxedit
    Apr 4 at 5:58

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