Today marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, also known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact or the Hitler-Stalin Pact.
From an old blog that I used to run, I have the following anecdote concerning Molotov and Leopold Figl, the Austrian statesman. I wrote the blog entry six years ago, in 2003, and based it on an article that I’d read that day in the Austrian daily, Kurier. Unfortunately I don’t have the original anymore, so I’m trusting my translation from back then. Here is the excerpt:
An article concerning the [Moscow] Declaration includes portions of an interview with an Austrian who was present in 1955 during talks — again in Moscow — concerning Austria’s return to independence. This man, Ludwig Steiner, was present when Leopold Figl, who, as Foreign Minister, was part of the Austrian delegation, spoke privately to Russian foreign minister Molotov. Figl had been in a concentration camp from the time of the annexation of Austria in 1938 all the way until the end of the war in 1945. He said to Molotov on that day in 1955,
“Your name has always made an impression on me. Most of all it made an impression on me when we in the concentration camp had to assemble in the yard at five o’clock in the morning. It was cold and we had to stand there for hours. Suddenly your voice came over the loudspeaker. That was when you had concluded the pact with Hitler-Germany [Hitler-Stalin pact, 1939].”
Considering that this Austrian delegation of 1955 was in Moscow and that the future of their state was very much at the mercy of the Soviets, this was quite a gutsy thing to say. Steiner, the Austrian who witnessed this, said that he immediately thought “the world was going under,” that Figl’s honesty would ruin Austria’s chances to quickly attain true statehood. But, says Steiner, “Molotov simply said ‘Da, Da’ and turned away.”