Let me start with a digression : during my life which was spent in Poland, some other parts of Europe, and in the USA I learned that the image of the world seen by mass media very rarely gives an objective insight into past and present. Especially distorted are the images of history and politics.
Here is an example - just a week ago a Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh, 46, mother of 9 and 12 year old, was stabbed to death. Mass media in the USA paid very little attention to this unfortunate event in spite of the fact that it was an act of terror done just before important referendum in Sweden. "Terror" - is a fashionable word now, sometimes used too often to describe too many violent acts. In the same time the American mass media were focusing almost exclusively on Iraq and the Middle East, as usual, and on some local events like a death of American singer, John Cash and another popular actor from American sitcom. I do not want to suggest that the mass media are lying, yes, bad things were happening in Middle East and Iraq, but there are also other places full of conflicts and unsolved problems like Liberia, Sudan, Philippines, Indonesia, Zimbabwe which were just ignored.
What are the main misconceptions about history of the WW II in Eastern Europe?
The war in Europe is generally perceived as a war against Nazi Germany. It is seen mainly in the aspect of Jewish Holocaust and the fight against Germany on Eastern and Western fronts. But this picture is not a complete truth. Just like the USA had to fight in two fronts - against Japan and Germany, the same happened to countries of Eastern Europe. For many countries in Eastern Europe it was not Germany but Soviet Russia who was the main enemy, at least until Germany attacked Soviets in June 1941.
While Germany was attacking Czechoslovakia, Western parts of Poland and France, Soviet Union was invading Finland, Latvia, Latvia, Estonia and Eastern parts of Poland and much more, for instance who heard about conquering of Bessarabia by Stalin's Secret Nazi-Soviet pact divided Eastern Europe between these two countries. Baltic republics and Finland were trying to find ways to free themselves from Soviet Union and ended up on the "wrong side" of the war, since they eventually united (in the certain time during the war) with Germany against Soviet Union. Luckily Soviet Union ended up on the "right" (proper) side - together with Great Britain and the USA, but only after it was attacked by Nazi Germany. Stalin was a great winner of the war. The most physical and sociological damage was done in these regions of Eastern or Central Europe which were first invaded by Soviet and later by Nazi Germany. First people were subdued to communistic propaganda and brainwash, millions were deported to Siberia from all soviet occupied regions and had no chance to come back. Later Nazi government persecuted these who survived. Rapidly changing political situation lead to peculiar and short-lasting alliances between the local people and newly arriving aggressors (Germany) against newly emerged class of people during Soviet occupation. A class of people that either arrived with invading previous aggressor (Soviet Union) or were benefiting or collaborating with them. This led to aggravation of ethnic tension - like Jedwabne tragedy in extreme case - where local Poles united with incoming German forces against Jews who were seen mainly as collaborators of withdrawing Soviets.
There is quite a controversy whether military personnel, especially war combatants who were fighting along Nazi army are given any combatant benefits. We need to remember that although some of these units might collaborate in killing innocent civilians or ethnic minorities, majority of them enrolled because they were fighting to defend their country against Soviet aggressor. The war has many faces, for these people Soviet Union was the worst evil at that time. Soviet policy shaped the response of the other countries to Nazi policies so that eventually many of these countries ended up on a "wrong" side. They had to pay a high price. Some lost parts of their territory, the other lost even their independence for many years after the war.
Fate of Ukraine is even more entangled. Many Ukrainians were fighting along with Nazi Germany for their own freedom on the other hand many Ukrainians were fighting along the Red Army. 20% of Ukrainians were killed during the WW II on both sides. This is the highest percentage of population killed during the war than any other ethnic group except Jews and gypsies.
The history of Soviet Russia is also very dramatic. Until now, people in Russia prefer to blame war on loss of lives rather than the policy of internal repression of communistic government. It is always easier to blame foreign forces than domestic tyrants. During the war Stalin released many political prisoners and there was a relief from internal repression in Russia. Unfortunately, not for a long time. Just after the war the haunt for potential enemies of communism started with a double force. In that time it was not only limited to Soviet Union but "internationalized" that means it was extended to all Eastern block countries.
Just the short history note from Wikipedia about little known Bessarabia: In June 1940, Romania had to cede the region to the Soviet Union, which divided it between the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Ukrainian SSR. Bessarabia's northern and southern districts (largely inhabited by Ukrainians and Romanians) were exchanged with Transnistria (the districts on the left or eastern bank of the Dniestr, largely inhabited by Russians). Following the Soviet takeover, many Moldavians of Romanian origin were deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan.
History is seen by the eyes of victors. Stalin and Soviet Union was one of the victors of the WW II. He even benefited from nuclear bombs which were drop in Japan by the USA since Russia started the war with Japan just after this event and gain some territories there. Victors are often forgiven their mistakes and bad deeds.
Please, read the following article. We will talk specifically about war time in Poland. Read also more articles related to war from the History Section of Polish Culture. One of the articles describes How Poles broke Enigma Code.
17th of September (today) is an anniversary of Soviets invading Eastern part of Poland in 1939. I did not realize it until I posted the article. We never celebrated this date in Poland because the official propaganda blamed the war only on Nazi Germany.