Although World War II is seen as a fight against the wrongs of fascism, winning the war required Allied leaders to make moral compromises that were often far from right. In the United States, Russian leader Josef Stalin was Time magazine’s 1942 “Man of the Year” and heralded as an American ally because he fought the Nazis in Europe. But before he became Hitler’s enemy, Stalin was his ally and worked with the German leader to carve up nations and eliminate political enemies. Recently unearthed documents reveal a clearer picture of the actions that gave Stalin his iron-fisted reputation and the extent to which the United States and Great Britain accommodated him so he would continue to fight Hitler.
Secret Russian documents made available only briefly after the fall of Communism have helped historians get a deeper understanding about what happened between Allied leaders during the war. In WWII Behind Closed Doors, award-winning historian and filmmaker Laurence Rees (Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State, Nazis – A Warning from History) uses these documents to tell the story of the backroom deals that cost many lives but were seen as necessary evils to keep the Soviet Union in the war. Although about 27 million Soviet citizens perished in the war, Stalin’s long-term payoff was Eastern Europe, which fell under the shadow of Communism after the war and remained there until 1989.
Since the fall of Communism, many witnesses to atrocities during World War II have stepped forward to tell their stories–from the brutalized victims to the military collaborators. Rees uses this testimony, along with documents and historical reenactments, in WWII Behind Closed Doors to bring to life a story that was long tucked away in the annals of history–the impact of the Allied leaders’ complicated negotiations and actions on the lives of average people.
Joseph Stalin is played by Alexei Petrenko (Lilacs, Doktor Zhivago, 12, Grachi, The Russian Idea), Winston Churchill is portrayed by Paul Humpoletz (Losing It) and Bob Gunton (24, Shawshank Redemption, Desperate Housewives) takes on Franklin D. Roosevelt. Renowned U.S. presidential historical Robert Dallek served as an academic advisor to the series and Web site and has written an essay evaluating the uneasy alliance between the three.