The Unholy Alliance: why on earth did Hitler and Stalin sign the Nazi-Soviet Pact when they clearly hated each other?

Starting with the historical puzzle of why Stalin and Hitler signed the Non-Aggression pact on August 1939 which so shocked the world, students then work collaboratively to work out which of the 6 given political cartoons is most effective in terms of capturing both the world’s surprise and the motivation of both the leaders.  They have to make and sustain their judgement as they will be recommending just one cartoon to appear in a new GCSE textbook.

Learning objectives

  • Students learn to analyse and weigh up the possible motives influencing both leaders;
  • they learn to explain the paradoxical nature of the pact and can still offer a coherent and convincing explanation;
  • they evaluate contemporary cartoons, drawing on criteria they generate, based on first activity.


The first part, the history mystery, asks students to work in threes to suggest possible reasons for the surprise pact. These are then shared with the whole class and ideas logged on the whiteboard to be returned to later. This not only allows students to pool any prior knowledge they may have, it also helps

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