My personal story
I, Mark Solonin, was born in 1958 in the central Russian city Kuibyshev (known as Samara both before and after the Soviet era). For the vast majority of my contemporaries, but also especially for my family, the Great Patriotic War of the USSR , was not only a history to be read in textbooks. It was also a personal tragedy – my father served with Red Army, his younger brother and brother-in-law were killed in action. Never mentioned was our personal property lost when my family fled from Nazi-occupied Ukraine to Kuibyshev – a common occurrence.
During my school years I had already realized that Soviet society had nothing to do with "the dream of mankind that came true". I loved history, and my straight-A high school diploma entitled me to be considered for enrollment at practically any university. However I also had no illusions about the prospects for a professional Soviet historian to conduct honest unbiased research. So instead I picked aviation engineering. I spent five years at the Kuibyshev Aviation Institute, and this was followed by further six years as an aircraft designer. Those years were not in vain, they gave me invaluable experience of sorting and analyzing information.
The history of the WW2 remained my true calling. I have read the works of practically all Western historians which were available in the USSR: Halder, Tippelskirch, Butler, Liddell Hart…Then a small miracle happened: in spite of all rules, a negligent librarian let me read old Soviet newspapers! The Western reader will find it hard to believe that the Soviet newspapers of the pre-war and war time were not available to the unprivileged readers without special security clearance.
The year was 1983, Brezhnev died, and his successor Andropov was "turning the screws" against whatever civil liberties existed in the USSR. At the same time I was turning the yellowing pages of Pravda which presented the "joint communiqué of the Soviet and German commands" coupled with a huge map of Poland with "the demarcation line of the state interests of Germany and the USSR", the picture of smiling Molotov and Ribbentrop, the puppet "People's Government of Finland". All these were conveniently forgotten, deleted from the memory and forbidden to be mentioned in the Soviet history textbooks.
During 1984-85 I handwrote my first "historical study" - my take of the events of 1939-41 - in a thick notebook. I concluded that during the initial part of the WW2, the USSR acted as an aggressor, starting with its invasion of Poland in September 1939. It was hardly a trailblazing academic work: carving up of Eastern Europe between Hitler and Stalin was common knowledge amongst western historians. But the contents of my notebook surely complied with the Penal Code of the Soviet Russia, paragraph 190: "Dissemination of concoctions known to be a lie and which slander the Soviet state system". Had the existence of the notebook become known to the KGB, for certain I would have no end of trouble. Happily, the Soviet system collapsed first.
In 1985 Gorbachev came to power announcing an era of "glasnost" (openness) and "perestroika" (reconstruction). As for me, I organized first independent political clubs and anti-communist rallies in my city. I quit my job were I had been privy to military secrets (KGB still retained considerable powers, and I could have been easily - and falsely, of course - charged with espionage). So I became a coal stoker in a boiler room for meager pay but with the benefit of plenty of free time just fifty 24-hour shifts per year provided me with immunity from the criminal charges of "parasitism". However it did not take long for the KGB to track me down at my new workplace. In the absence of any espionage charges, they planted a packet of a "white powdery substance" (i.e. narcotics) in the boiler room. Ironically and luckily, they failed in one key area: checking my work schedule. The boiler room was duly searched, but not during my shift – a clear sign that the famed Soviet system was indeed rapidly disintegrating.
During 1988 I was successful in publishing several articles in local newspapers based on my notebook studies of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and I gave an oral presentation at the local university.
It was only in the beginning of 1990-ies that new facts started to emerge, backed by a trickle of documents from the military archives. But it was no more than a trickle, as Yeltsin did not have a decency to open totally the archives of the Soviet regime.
Retrospectively, it is difficult to say what enabled me to see the military catastrophe in 1941 in a completely new light. Most likely it was a statistical study entitled "Declassified: losses of the armed forces of the USSR in wars, military actions, and military conflicts" published in 1993 by the Russian Army's General Staff's Directorate for the Military History.
For the first time the overall losses of the Red Army have been detailed by the years and months, by the various fronts and the specific operations. Being orthodox Soviet officers, the authors of the study clearly never intended to be in breach of Paragraph 190 of the Penal Code, "the slander of the Soviet system". But when I applied my calculator to the mountains of numerical data within the study, it was impossible to overlook one salient fact: in the summer of 1941, the number of soldiers in the Red Army who ended up as prisoners-of-war or deserted was several times larger than the numbers of those killed or wounded.
For example, on the Southwestern front (in Ukraine area), the Red Army soldiers lost in action outnumbered their killed comrades by ten to one, and on the Central front (Belorussia) the ratio was eleven to one. No genuinely fighting army could have sustained losses of such a ratio. The statistical study reported that during the second half of 1941 the Red Army had lost 6,290,000 small arms. One has to ask: what happened to the very reliable Russian rifles? Did they fail? All six millions of them? Or, rather, millions of rifles, and tens of thousands of tanks and cannons were abandoned en masse by the Red Army soldiers fleeing in panic?
So this is how my hypothesis was born, and it was followed by many years of studying documentary evidence of what happened during the battles of 1941. The hypothesis became a firm conclusion, verified by documents and facts: the main cause of the military catastrophe in 1941 (which entailed death of millions) was not the German numerical superiority or the quality of their armaments. I discovered that it was much more simple and frightening: after the very first shots were fired, the Red Army became an ungovernable mob of armed people, which swiftly had turned into endless columns of unarmed prisoners-of-war.
This conclusion not only contradicted all previous theses of Soviet historiography. It mercilessly destroyed the heroic legend about the "unexcelled patriotic upsurge", "unparalleled mass heroism", and "monolithic unity of the Soviet society". Two generations of Soviet people were brought up on this legend. This myth supported (and still supports today) the justification of Stalin's deeds: true, he was a cruel tyrantwho killed many innocent people, but "owing to Stalin, we won the war".
I named my first book "Cask and Hoops". A cask's planks are held together by steel hoops. Removing the hoops causes the cask's disintegration and the loss of its entire contents. My view that Stalin's empire, with its huge army, was kept together by the "hoops" of terror and lies, has its parallels with a cask: deemed to be unbreakable from within, but doomed to disintegrate after the first mighty strike delivered from outside.
I finished the book in April 2003. Sadly, 32 Russian publishers rejected the manuscript, just as 14 publishers did in Ukraine – another country with a large Russian-reading population. The fifteenth Ukrainian publisher, "Renaissance" headed by I. Babik, took a risk and printed six thousands copies - which were quickly sold out. Then P. Bystrov, the CEO of "Yauza" (the subsidiary of the EXMO, the largest Russian publisher) printed this very book in Russia under the name "June,22". Another nine printings followed, each one sold out in two-three weeks. Strangely enough, Babik, Bystrov, and I are aeronautic engineers by training. It looks like our common "view from above" is beneficial for the modern historiography.
My bestseller "Cask and Hoops" encountered a conspicuous silence of the major periodicals and of the official military historians, but it is widely debated in a few remaining opposition media and in the Internet forum groups. S.Gedroits explains in 12/2007 issue of "Zvezda" magazine why the establishment historians hate my books: "Of course, Mark Solonin is not the only agent of this intellectual upheaval. But they [establishment historians] hate him particularly – because he writes colorfully, with lively intonations while being boringly incontestable: his every line (literally!) is backed by a fact with reference…"
I was encouraged when Viktor Suvorov said in a radio interview: "Allow me to use this opportunity for expressing my gratitude to Mark Solonin, to raise my hat and bow to him... When I had read Mark Solonin's book I understood what Salieri felt, and I wept... I think that Solonin committed a scientific feat, and what he wrote is a golden brick in the foundation of the history of the war that will be written one day..." Suvorov's support is particularly important to me in view of my criticism of his explanation of the Red Army colossal defeats. But I wholeheartedly support his naming the USSR, along with the Third Reich, as initiator of the WW2.
The success of my first book allowed me to carry on with the research. In 2006, "Peacefully sleeping airfields" was published. The book's name mocks the myth about the peace-loving Soviet air force. I show that it had not been decimated on the ground by the very first strikes of the treacherous Luftwaffe, and the reason of Soviets' poor performance is, as in the case of their ground forces comrades, their unwillingness to fight. I also analyze the air battles on the German-Soviet front in the first days of the confrontation and compare them with those on the French and Dutch in May 1940, and with "Battle for Britain". Some 170 pages (the third of the book) deal with aerodynamics, armament, and tactics of battle aircraft in the beginning of the WW2. To my knowledge, I am the first who gives the intelligent readers – even those lacking technological education – the basic knowledge needed for understanding my and others' books on air force of that period.
My next book, "June, 23: the M-day", analyzes the Soviet military planning. I develop (and support with more documents and testimony) one of Suvorov's main theses: Stalin prepared the grand invasion of Europe which was to start in July 1941 and had been forestalled by Hitler.
The story of the Second Soviet-Finnish war, which was just touched in the "Cask and Hoops", was researched further and appeared in 2008 under the name "June, 25: stupidity or aggression?" I reconstruct the history of relentless (and mostly unsuccessful) attempts by Stalin to subdue Finland.
Then in July 2008 "Screwing the Brains" appeared, in which I exposed and rebuffed the falsifications, both the old Soviet and the newest ones, of the tragic history of the Great War. This book had won the "Fifteen Best Russian Books of the Year" competition and will be mailed to the universities around the world.
My books sold in excess of 180,000 copies in Russian. They had since been translated and published in Estonia and Poland, and will soon appear in and in Lithuania, Slovakia, Czech Republic.