After Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler, totalitarian rulers with purportedly opposing ideologies, signed their 1939 pact to divide up Eastern Europe, one English diplomat remarked that “all the isms have become wasms.” In the Soviet Union, Sergei Eisenstein’s movie Alexander Nevsky, which showed war between Russians and Germans, was withdrawn from theaters, as were all other anti-German or anti-Nazi media. One memoirist recalls a friend lamenting, “Now I’ll never get to see Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator!”

The second volume of Stephen Kotkin’s monumental biography of Stalin focuses on three main events from the years 1929 to 1941: the collectivization of agriculture, the Great Terror, and the Hitler–Stalin pact.


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