Realities of Life in Stalin’s USSR and Hitler’s Germany

Hope. Despair. These two feelings, so different, and yet, so common in the 1930’s in the USSR and Nazi Germany set the tone of Stalin’s and Hitler’s rule of that era. As most historians would agree, hard work and complicated lifestyle characterized most of that time period. Tomes of literary works were written on the subject; generations of historians worked on discovering not only the overall situation in both states, but also looked into individual stories of people of that time. It is truly difficult to comprehend the gloom reality the citizens faced in the 1930’s through the dry statistics and compound reports. However, when one looks at individual stories, especially the lives of human beings like us, it becomes clear what hardships and shortcomings millions of people faced at the time.

One of the more ample works written about the Stalinist USSR is Sheila Fitzpatrick’s Stalinism, New Directions and Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. The books offer a unique insight into the daily routine of the Soviet citizens, their work, families, relationships and more. In the chapters of both books, Fitzpatrick provides detailed description of how strained the everyday life in the Soviet Union under Stalin was.

It was hard to obtain goods. Or rather “get hold of” them. She gives a vivid example of Ivy Litvinov, the wife of the future Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinov. “When I walked about the streets of Moscow peering into ground-floor windows I saw the things of Moscow huggermuggering in all the corners and realized that they had never been so important.” (Fitzpatrick, 40). And by things the woman meant goods. Indeed, the deficit goods were a daily phenomenon. People walked around with string bags, joined queues without even knowing what they are waiting for, haggled with others to “get a pull” to obtain anything they could.

Essay Help on Realities of Life in Stalin’s USSR and Hitler’s Germany

Essay Help on Realities of Life in Stalin’s USSR and Hitler’s Germany

Next, Fitzpatrick provides a memorable quotation that was cited for years in the USSR. “Life has become better comrades; life has become more cheerful,” said Stalin in 1935. Indeed, many goods became available to the Soviet people. People with connections, at least. The notion of “blat” became widespread throughout the country. Whenever you had favorable acquaintances, you could obtain certain goods which were not available to the wider public. Advertisements were created to uphold the image of prosperity. They depicted expensive pieces of furniture, technology and such. Yet, they were never available to the people in general stores.

In truth, shopping was the least of the problems citizens of the USSR faced at the time. In the later chapters, Fitzpatrick contemplates the issue of outcasts and pariahs.

These disfranchised persons constituted the hard core of a wider group of outcasts known collectively as “alien elements” or “social aliens.” This wider group included all kinds of formerly privileged— former nobles, former bourgeoisie, former Tsarist bureaucrats, and so on, known collectively as “formers,” like the ci-devants in the French Revolution…” (Fitzpatrick, 117)

The state followed discriminatory practices in many areas – education, job and housing selection, taxation and so on. The apparat tried to do everything to accommodate the proletarians and punish the “formers”. Further on in the readings, the author notes another level of problems plaguing the Soviet society – family issues. Households bearing a “stigma” had a hard time living in the USSR. They had to refrain to extraordinary and sometimes extreme actions to keep their children from bearing the social curse and lead a normal (by the time’s standards) life. On the other hand, children themselves were brainwashed by the system to the point they resented their parents for bearing the stigma. “Sometimes children of stigmatized parents felt obliged to renounce them, following the example of the legendary Pavlik Morozov” (Fitzpatrick, 140).

In all aspects, Fitzpatrick provides a well researched and balanced account of everyday life in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Her account of larger issues such as collectivization, industrialization, consumerism and societal discrepancies is firmly backed up by the real-life examples of people who lived in that era. Truly so, the author’s works provide a profound base for other historians and scholars to extract information from and use in their own works.

Another renowned historian researching the 1930’s is Ian Kershaw. His particularly famous works are written on the subject of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi rule in Germany of the same period as Stalin’s. The Nazi manipulation of the public, imbued with Nietzsche’s ideas and the Aryan cult of supremacy, the deep separation of social cleavages all contributed to the creation of a distinct ideological movement. Kershaw in his Popular Opinion and Political Dissent in the Third Reich, Bavaria 1933-1945 depicts the coercive methods Hitler and his supporters employed to reshape the German society in their own image. Again, like Sheila Fitzpatrick, Kershaw relies on the accounts of everyday life of the citizens to back up his theoretical claims by hard evidence.

In the opening paragraphs of the book, Kershaw points out the tightening grip of the Nazi regime on the agriculture, industry, and church. First off, the author provides an example of how the government treated the peasants. In the beginning, all attempts were made to overcome the crisis left behind by the Second Reich. New laws were passed, debts were cleared. The peasants remained happy for the initial couple of years. Further on, however, reports of discontent started pouring in from all parts of Germany. Numerous restrictions were introduced together with the new regulations. This phenomenon was deemed “coercive economy”. “According to a report from one locality from Upper Bavaria, the law was attacked and reviled in all the inns of the district” (Kershaw, 43). Same dissatisfaction was spread among the workers as well. They were not paid high enough wages for the long hours on the job. Even though they were somehow grateful to the regime, they kept their discontent to themselves. Soon enough though, the workers started to protest against the Nazi dictatorship over the industry. In between 1936-1937, there were 192 stoppages registered all over Germany. As one can imagine, the situation with both workers and peasants was not favorable.

Next, Kershaw points out that the situation with the church was even more gruesome. The Nazis viewed Christianity as a competing worldview. Starting the mid 1930s, the anti-Christian elements became more prominent within the Nazi party. Hitler thought that religion would die on its own as “science advanced”. The notorious Wagner’s “crucifix action” ordered household, schools, universities to remove the symbols from premises. This caused huge public uproar. “We want our children to be brought up under the sign of the cross. By the time of the petition, the people of the Traunstein district were well on the way to winning their campaign for the crosses: two-thirds of the crucifixes which had been removed had been put back in schools” (Kershaw, 352).  Nevertheless, the Party started suppressing any religious teaching and closed religious youth movement. It was forbidden for religious charities to collect money in public. Dissident Protestants were forbidden to attend universities and private religious schools were closed.

Finally, the author reflects on one of the most atrocious acts committed by the Nazi Third Reich – the extermination of Jews and the anti-Semitism displayed by the population itself. Kristallnacht (Crystal Night) became a turning point for the Jews in Nazi Germany. After the pogrom, most of the Jews migrated to safer grounds. The unlucky ones stayed. Shortly after the Kristallnacht, anti-Semitic laws, such as the one forbidding Jews and non-Jews live in the same tenement block, were introduced. Property and housing was confiscated, people were moved to menial jobs, becoming slaves to the regime’s whims. In the early 1940’s the “Star of David” was introduced. All the Jews were required to wear it on their outfit, thus further separating the population on the nationalistic basis. The deportation and concentration camp placement ensued.

Given the numerous accounts and archival documentation, it became much easier for historians to compile reports and write books on the subject of Stalinism and Nazism. However, Sheila Fitzpatrick and Ian Kershaw stand as one of the most renowned. Their numerous works, including those mentioned above, set an invaluable resource for other scholars to get information from and use it in their own works. The books, without a doubt, are different in their content, style and tone. Yet, they show the realities of life in an authoritarian state through the eyes of the witnesses of the era.

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