The Nazi Invasion of the USSR was NOT Like their Invasion of Western Europe
I think it’s necessary to say a few things about the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and explain why most Russians take such topics very seriously, even nowadays.
Just want to begin by telling a few documented stories to illustrate how Nazis treated the Soviet people on occupied territories.
Mikhail Lukinov, who was taking a part in counter-attack under Moscow in December 1941, for instance, describes in his memoirs the aftermath of German occupation he witnessed in liberated villages, and all the stories the locals told him back then. In particular, there was a story about Nazis who stayed in a hut with a local family who had an infant child. At nighttime, the child was crying, the mother couldn't calm him down. One of the Nazi soldiers got so irritated that he got up and killed the baby by piercing his body with a bayonet. Then the soldiers pushed the crying mother, who was barely dressed, outside into the freezing cold, shut the door and went back to sleep.
Lots of similar documented stories like that of Nazis killing small children, by shooting them, bashing their head against the wall, throwing them out at night time into subzero temperatures, etc, simply for being too loud and/or interfering with their rest. Many of those accounts were later officially presented at the Nuremberg Trials.
Here's another story. In the occupied village of Klushino, Smolensk region, one sadistic German officer, known to locals as Albert, once hung a small boy named Borya (short for Boris) on a tree with his scarf just for amusement. Luckily, the mother was able to take him down before the boy suffocated. The boy was the brother of Yuri Gagarin, who later became the first Soviet cosmonaut and the first person to perform a manned space flight.
Here’s another story for you, with a much sadder ending. A Russian language teacher Maria Derevyanko tells in her memoirs how, in the early stages of German occupation of her hometown Rechytsa, Belarus, a Nazi solider was trying impress a local girl with his marksman skills. He spotted a random 15-year-old boy fishing at the Dnepr river bank nearby, told everyone to watch, then he aimed and shot the boy dead.
The invaders didn’t treat locals as people.
Again, those weren't just some isolated incidents. Such inhumane, often sadistic treatment of locals on occupied territories in Soviet Ukraine, Soviet Belarus, and Soviet Russia was commonplace and systematic.
Lots of civilians were deliberately starved to death, exhausted to death in concentration camps where nazis were using them as expendable slave workforce.
There were lots of documented instances of rape.
Many were killed just for fun or as shooting targets.
Nazi war against the Soviet Union wasn't like their war against France or, say, Denmark, no.
Nazis didn't consider Soviet population proper people. It was their official ideology.
People like Adolf Hitler, Herbert Backe, and Heinrich Himmler were openly calling Soviet population (i. e. predominantly Eastern Slavs and Central Asians) a mindless, amorphous bio-mass controlled by evil "judeo-bolsheviks". They wanted to conquer the European part of the Soviet Union to use its resources and landmass to supply the Their Reich for the war with England, and later use it as a living space for Germans, and for that they wanted to depopulate the area, by letting huge masses of population die (and then push the survivors eastwards over the Ural mountain rage, allowing only the fittest few to live and serve the Germans, as second class, inferior people). They were even doing some calculations on ratios and percentages of people whom they wanted dead, with estimates ranging from 1/3 to 2/3.
Of course, in light of such ambitious plans, they didn't value human life at the Eastern Front during the war, with inhumane attitudes being officially passed top-down the Nazi military ranks.
When the Nazi Blitzkrieg plan failed in 1941, the Red Army began to push back under Moscow, and the Soviet people began to actively form the resistance/partisan movements in Ukraine and Belarus, Hitler personally formulated a directive of punishing local population on occupied territories for attacking German troops. He insisted on a ratio of 50 to 1 – for each Nazi soldier killed by resistance, he wanted 50 locals dead. Historians hypothesise that he got this ratio from... Christopher Columbus, the explorer who is credited for discovering America in 1492. Columbus too practiced a doctrine of massacring 50 local indigenous people as a show of force and as a response to every single European killed.
Speaking of that, Hitler was hugely inspired by the way the White European settlers expanded their territories at the expense of Native Americans, and he was a huge fan of British colonial doctrines (particularly of the way the early British colonists were dealing with indigenous locals in Tasmania, and elsewhere). Hitler was employing this paradigm whereby the “strong races” needed to expand territorially and exercise their dominance over the "inferior races" to fulfill their existential destiny. Factors like him being a fan of cowboy stories (particularly those written by Karl May) in his youth, as well as his interaction with British conservative racial theorists like Neville Chamberlain, certainly played a role in forming his racist worldview.
Nazi treatment of Soviet people on occupied territories was comparable to and, in some instances, ever worse than the treatment old colonial powers were showing to Africans, Native Americans, and Indigenous Australians.
In addition to the accounts that I described earlier, there were thousands of other documented instances of Russians and other Soviet people being massacred like cattle by the nazis and their collaborators. Hundreds of villages were simply erased (it was especially bad in Belarus, e. g. there is a documented instance of a German military commander ordering to massacre an entire village, killing a few hundred people at once, because he got injured by a landmine set up by local resistance fighters).
Germans changed their attitudes and rewrote some of their doctrines a few years later, after the Battle of Stalingrad, when they began to doubt their ability to win the war, so they started to strategically soften their treatment of people on occupied territories. Alas, it didn't help to bring back to life all the millions who had already been killed by then.
Historians and demographers still debate on how many people were killed by Nazis at the Eastern Front. Modern Russian researchers provide different figures in a range between 6.7 and over 11 million civilian (!) deaths on occupied territories.
The close-to-27-million death toll figure that you can often see circulating on the Internet includes all the demographic losses during the war (including collaborators and, in some regions, probably even natural causes), and it is likely to be inflated.
But, nevertheless, the majority of deaths suffered by the Soviet people were civilian losses that occurred as a result of inhumane and sadistic treatment by the Nazi forces on occupied territories.
The death toll was so high that it still resonates in temporal demographic waves through time, even to date, with Russian birthrates dropping sharply every 20-25 years, simply because virtually an entire generation of people capable of conceiving children and giving birth was either being wiped out or trying to survive physically during the nazi invasion. Not many children were born between 1941 and 1945, and it still echoes.
Huge civilian losses on non-occupied territories were also measured in millions. Lots of deaths occurred when people were getting sick because they were not eating enough due to disruption in supply chains and mobilisation of most of the adult male population to the front, so there were not enough physically strong people left to work at the farms – only women, little kids and elderly, who, although dedicated, couldn't work efficiently enough to meet the full demand.
There was also the Siege of Leningrad, my home-city, now known as St. Petersburg, where German Nazis, along with their allies, Finnish fascists, cut the supply lines to the city for almost 29 months, starving over 1.3 million people to death (that's the latest, revised figure; earlier estimates range from 400 thousand to 1.5 million, depending on research methodology).
Add to this the killed resistance fighters on occupied territories, and the direct military losses.
By the way, modern researchers estimate that the overall direct Nazi-Soviet battlefield loss ratio was close to 1.0 : 1.29 in nazi favour (for each lost nazi soldier, there were 1.29 Soviet soldiers killed), which destroys the myth about Soviets zergrushing the Germans with expendable cannon meat. Also, it's important to keep in mind that the Soviet Army suffered its heaviest losses at the beginning of the War in 1941, when Nazis performed a highly concentrated strike with over 5 million experienced and highly motivated soldiers invading simultaneously, the millions of soldiers who were organised into the World's strongest military force at the time, a huge nazi war machine that was also equipped with the latest weapons and supplied by the joint economies of the entire European continent. Hitler invaded in summer, and not in winter, as many falsely believe nowadays, and he was planning to take over Moscow in 3-4 months. He failed. The Soviet people, the Soviet leadership, and the Soviet economy didn't let him. The nazi advance got stalled long before the Western lendlease program began its rollout (a program which is also a subject to rich anti-Soviet mythology nowadays).
By sustaining and repelling the nazi aggression, and ending the war in Berlin, the Soviet Union (along with Russia and Russian people at its core) had avoided genocidal extermination and subjugation of survivors to subhuman treatment. Russians, along with Ukrainians, Belorussians, Kazakhs, Uzbeks, and dozens of other nationalities and minor ethnicities, had proven their right to live.
The cost was high. As a result of Nazi invasion and all the inhumane atrocities they were committing, every single Russian family had at least one member they lost during the World War II. Virtually every_single_family lost someone!
Hence the significance of the Victory Day that we celebrate every year on the 9 May.
Keeping all of that in mind, it’s always indulgently entertaining to observe those Westerners who try to assert that "the Soviets were just as bad as the Nazis", that "the Soviet people had to choose between fascist invaders and their own tyranny", or that "Nazis brought liberation to some", along with other ideas of a similar depth. Uncritically absorbing repackaged Goebbels and Cold War propaganda through various revisionist right-wing channels can really damage your brain, my friends.