on October 14, 2010
Rarely have I encountered a history that is as enlightening and thought-provoking as Snyder's account of the impact of forced starvation, genocide, war, ethnic cleansing, and geographic re-location on the peoples of Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltic Republics, and the formerly German Reich over the two decades between 1933 and 1953, when Stalin died. Residents of the region of Europe he calls the Bloodlands experienced atrocities of an unprecedented nature and scope in this period. What is especially striking is how many people were victimized multiple times in this relatively brief period--first by the Soviet authorities, then by the Germans, and then again by the Soviets as Stalin and Hitler imposed their insane doctrines on civilian populations.
Snyder is an extremely skillful writer and holds the reader's attention throughout in what could easily have been a dry treatise on the demographic dimensions of human suffering. He skillfully weaves in the gripping stories of individual people caught in the maelstrom, giving a human face to the numbers. I have to disagree with one reviewer who alleges this is just another study of the similarities between Soviet and Nazi totalitarianism; Snyder is careful to compare and contrast these two tyrannical regimes.
This is an engrossing book, but may be a bit too ambitious for people without some familiarity with modern European history. However, it is certainly worth reading and gives valuable new perspectives on the impact of the 30s, World War II, and the Postwar Era on residents of Eastern Europe. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in the history of the period.
"Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin" by Timothy Snyder, is a book about the intentional mass murder of over 14 million people between 1930 and 1947 in a general area that encompasses what is now Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, and western Russia. And by murder, I mean that. As part of that 14 million number, Mr. Snyder counts only those that were outright killed, intentionally starved, or otherwise were put to death outside of military actions or by being worked to death. If you were to include the deaths that could have been predictably forseen as a result of certain actions taken, that number jumps to between 17 and 21 million people who were killed.
The author breaks the killing periods into 5 general subsets ... Stalin starving the Ukrainian kulaks in 1932-1933, Stalin's Great Terror of 1937-1938, Hitler and Stalin murdering and otherwise removing Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian intelligentsias from 1939-1941, Hitler's murdering the Jewish population and "undesirables" of many countries, intentionally starving Russian POWs and Soviet civilians, and executing civilians as part of partisan reprisals in 1941 - 1945, and people who died as a result of forced resettlements in 1945-1947.
While I've read extensively about World War II, I learned a great deal from this book. As one example, there were no purely death camps in Germany proper, the Germans built those in occupied Poland. While there were concentrations camps in Germany and many of these camps contained extermination chambers, their primary function was as forced-labor camps. Personnel assigned to the labor camps had a slim chance of surviving. There were 6 death, or extermination, camps set up in Poland ... Auschwitz, Chelmno, Belzed, Majdanek, Soribor, and Treblinka. Only Auschwitz and Majdanek had labor camps attached to them, the other 4 existed purely to murder people. Of the people who arrived at the death camps other than Auschwitz (and for a time, Jewish prisoners at Majdanek), they were all usually killed within hours of arrival, and of those sent there, only about 100 people saw the inside of the camp and lived to tell of it. At Auschwitz, new arrivals were separated into those who would be killed immediately, and those who would work in the labor camp until they weakened and then they were killed. The survivor's tales from Auschwitz come from those assigned to the labor camps.
This book attempts, with great success, to show the vast scope of death in the bloodlands, and how Hitler's and Stalin's extermination policies were alike and how they differed. He also shows how the Wehrmacht was much more complicit in atrocities than the German soldiers of the time would have liked you to believe, and how international and allied policies overlooked much of the killing for a variety of reasons.
The book is grim reading, and while it is more of a scholarly study of the depredations of Hitler and Stalin, there are anecdotes contained within that are heartbreaking, such as the Polish-Jewish mother breastfeeding her infant mere seconds before they're shot, and a starving Ukrainian toddler hallucinating that he sees the food that will save his family's lives. It is not a sensationalist text; it calmly, objectively, and concisely discusses the horrors that occurred.
I highly recommend this book. It is the first book I've read that ties so many of the atrocities committed against the helpless into one highly readable and informative tome, and shows them as part of a larger tapestry against the framework of the times.
on October 21, 2010
I would suggest taking a careful look at the Kindle edition of this book (the free sample) before ordering it: I downloaded the sample of this book and quickly discovered that the maps in the Kindle version were almost illegible. The book looked fascinating, and the maps are important, so I ordered the hardbound version instead.
I have now owned the hardbound edition of this book for a week or two, and, although the book is excellent in every way, my reading progress has been slow because the subject matter is both terrifying and depressing. So far, the book has demolished many of my hazy ideas about what happened in the Bloodlands.
For example, I had a never-closely-examined "picture" of how Hitler killed six million Jews. That would be as follows: he rounded up the Jews living in Germany, took them to concentration camps like Auschwitz, and gassed them. We have all seen the film footage, which makes an indelible impression.
It turns out that my "picture" is completely wrong. Germany simply did not have enough Jews, and a huge number escaped through emigration while it was still allowed. The total of German Jews killed was 175,000. That is (don't mistake my meaning) in itself an incomprehensible, enormous number, but it does not account for six million dead. What Hitler did, in fact, was to conquer Poland (with the connivance of Stalin) and begin massacring Polish and East European Jews. A huge number were simply shot and tossed into unmarked mass graves. There were also "killing camps" (NOT concentration camps) where the average "stay" was just a day or two, and the victims were gassed without any pretense of work whatsoever.
One reason we Americans were slow in understanding the truth is that we (our troops) never even got to the Bloodlands, and so the massive crimes of Hitler and Stalin, amounting to 14 million dead, were simply things that we remained unaware of. I could recite the names of the monstrous killing camps and you most likely would not recognize them --- neither did I.
What we remain ignorant of are horrendous crimes such as Stalin's collectivization drive in the Ukraine, which was an utter failure. Shortly after his wife committed suicide (with a bullet through her heart), Stalin became actively malicious towards the Ukraine, seizing all their grain and selling it abroad, and causing a famine which killed 3.3 million people. This is described in the chapter on "Class Terror."
But then came the show trials and the Great Terror. This time, Stalin went after nationalities which he suspected --- Poles, Ukrainians, Belorussians -- and the Ukraine experienced a second wave of terror-murder, described in the chapter on "National Terror." All of this happened well before World War II, and all of this time Hitler was able to point to Stalin as a horrific example of Bolshevism ("Why You Should Vote for the Nazis").
Very soon, Hitler invaded Poland from the West, and Stalin (after a cautious pause) invaded from the East, and the stage was set for some of the worst crimes in human history. When you realize that Hitler, in annexing "his half" of Poland, had suddenly created a nation with more Slavs than any other nation in the world (aside from the USSR), and when you think of Hitler's lunatic insistence on "racial purity" --- in addition to his initial plan to steal the land of the Slavs, annihilate them, and populate the lands with German farmers --- a genuine shiver of terror runs down your back.
This is a long overdue, magisterial work, which will be a very valuable source for students, teachers, and researchers in the future.
on October 15, 2010
Prof Synder has made a valuable addition to the history of the geonocide of the eastern european people who were caught between the expanionist and ethnic evil of nazi germany and the totalitarian political evil of soviet untion in the 1930's and WWII. While we are all familiar with the loss of life in this area from the Holocaust and death camps, we are reminded how many many more people were systematically killed by these two evil regimes. The soviet deliberate starvation of the ukranian people is 1933, the division of poland between the two nations and the subsequent extinguishing of the polish intelligentsia by both regimes, followed by the ethnice cleansing of jews by the nazis, and the politcal executions of anyone who stalin felt opposed his power. This geographical area was the site of the worst of human nature in the 20th century and this book does justice to the many who died there simply by being in this area caught between two of the centuries most evil regimes.
on February 7, 2011
Elegantly written, with passion; well-researched without too many anecdotes, this is convincing history. First, it takes the awful recent history of Poland, Belarus and the Ukraine out of the shadow of Russia's Great Patriotic War myth, to show the wholly disproportionate sufferings of the Slavic people between Berlin and Moscow. Second, it shows that the Wehrmacht was every bit as murderously complicit as the SS or NKVD. Third, without disparaging the Holocaust, it shows that the Final Solution was a part, but only a part, of Hitler's initial plan to exterminate 30 million Slavs and Jews by Spring 1942 -- and this plan was itself in some way just a version of Stalin's earlier de-kulakization. In respect of the Jewish murders, the author shows how Hitler's intentions changed as his war situation changed, so that the Final Solution was only the latest of several. (The distinction between murder by gassing and murder by gun has never been so clearly made -- nor the fact that Aushwitz was a "moderate" death camp, because there was no need for barracks or bunks in true 100% death camps like Treblinka.) Finally, the author deals sympathetically with partizan in-fighting and collaborators in a world where all ethical men were already dead, and survival was the only test.
The author's distinction between the different forms of murder in the lands east of the Soviet-Nazi border in 1940 (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line) and those west is illuminating: he shows how one form of arbitrary murder makes the next easier, and how one's personal logic is twisted; likewise, his attempts to explain the perverse reasoning of Nazis and Soviet leaders demonstrates why they felt these inordinate murders were "rational." And his conclusion -- that they weren't rational, that they were pointless, that they have done absolutely no good -- is a fundamental attack on the idea of inevitable and improving progress. This is a harrowing book that is well worth buying -- and in my case, re-reading.
on January 13, 2011
This was a difficult read. Not for the writing but for the content. As a Canadian of Ukrainian descent, the Holodomor or murder by hunger, was a topic of incredible sensitivity and division within our community. Of course, Snyder's tremendous contribution to the examination of Stalin's and Hitler's terror covers more than the Ukrainian famine. He ingeniously casts a light on a geographic area he calls the Bloodlands, where the dictators and their regimes murdered 14 million people from 1933 to 1945.
The Bloodlands extends from central Poland to western Russia, through Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States. Ukraine was the epicenter where the most lives were lost in WW2. Snyder points out that while Hitler's record was atrocious in war, Stalin's was in peacetime and collectively their actions are near unimaginable.
Snyder begins by examining the Ukrainian famine that began in 1933. It was prompted by a failed five year plan and the effects of collectivization. Stalin, loathe to take responsibility, blamed the peasants and "agitators". The author takes a logical view on the lives lost based on the available information and arrives at 3.3 million. This has always been a contentious issue with Ukrainians but Snyder states his assumptions objectively and this adds to his credibility.
Snyder then covers the deportation of Kulaks, the decimation of the Poles from two sides, Jewish persecution and The Holocaust, and economic and ethnic intentions and actions in the Bloodlands. In fact, if there is an explanation for the killing, Snyder roots it in agriculture. Stalin wanted to collectivize farmers; Hitler wanted to eliminate them so Germans could colonize the land.
The book's scope is overwhelming especially to those new to this period. And the first hand accounts are disturbing to say the least involving cannibalism, neighbor turning against neighbor, and the aggregate hardships faced by the inhabitants of the Bloodlands.
I read a review of the book by Istvan Deak, Seth Low Professor Emeritus at Colombia who provided this amazing illustration of the confusion, shifting alliances, borders, ideologies, and need to survive that defined the Bloodlands:
"It is not difficult, for example, to conjure the image of a young Ukrainian patriot in what used to be eastern Poland who, just before the outbreak of World War II, is drafted into the Polish army, but following the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland in September 1939 automatically becomes a Soviet citizen and is drafted into the Soviet army. Captured by the Germans in 1941 and confronted with the choice of starving to death in a POW camp or becoming a policeman in German service, he chooses the latter, and in the next few years he fights Soviet partisans and shoots defenseless Jews. In 1943 or 1944, he goes over to the partisans, as so many other Ukrainian policemen were doing. Soon, we find him in a Soviet uniform again, serving in a combat unit. He makes it across Central Europe, fighting against the Germans, but at one point he deserts, joining the countless other Red Army deserters who are indistinguishable from bandits, and who drift behind the combat units. Finally caught and accused of desertion, he ends up in the Gulag."
This book is tough to read but important for this point provided by the author, "The Nazi and Soviet regimes turned people into numbers. It is for us as humanists to turn the numbers back into people. If we cannot do that, then Hitler and Stalin have shaped not only our world but our humanity."
on November 5, 2010
Bottom line: Buy this book for the reader on your holiday list who only has room on the shelf for one more book about WW2 history.
Look here for the best professional review of "Bloodlands" book by the Literary Review: [...].
Americans do not study geography in school the way Europeans and Asians do, and we have much to learn from Timothy Snyder's approach to counting, narrating and explaining some of the worst crimes against humanity committed during World War Two. They took place in a region where no GIs ever traveled, between Berlin and Moscow conprising all of Poland, Belarus and the Ukraine (among other regions). This bloody stage was covered up by the Iron Curtain from 1945 until 1989. As a result, the way World War Two history has been written (mostly by the victorious Allies) up til now misses fact, context and nuance.
"The best died first," Snyder writes in a paragraph that will haunt me the rest of my life.
Adding to the problems that historians face, according to Snyder, most of what is known about this planned killing has come from, and has been framed by, survivors. Survivors had luck or made choices which alter their view of the killing field, Snyder notes, and that in turn makes history problematic. For instance, it is hard for the survivor to accurately report or even understand the odds of his or her own survival, to detail the resources available at the time and compare them with resoruces available to others (especially in terms of energy--calories), or to comprehend all the possible choices which he or she did not take under extreme distress. Survivors cannot always remember every moral hazard they encountered, and they are not the best people to rate them. Snyder comments about this, both in the beginning and at the end of "Bloodlands," raising objections to conventional scholarship. But the dead victims of crimes against humanity never spoke. The dead perpetrators have rarely spoken. Less so the bystanders, living or dead. Survivors tell a tale that must be told, and they are in the majority when telling it. It is hard to see a way out of the perils Snyder warns of.
Getting underway with the narrative, Snyder chillingly introduces the reader to horrific killing fields where there were no survivors. Take Ukraine, for instance. There in 1932-1933, Stalin literally starved three million by ordering paid & well-fed employees ("party members") to take the grain away from the Ukrainian people before their eyes so they could not plant next season's crop, upon which they solely subsisted. To minimize the chances of resistance, the perpetrators regularly round up large numbers of people, took them away in the middle of the night to trenches dug in the woods farther than anybody could walk to (based on a rough estimate of the calories available), and shot them dead. These facts are undisputed. A third alternative fate was banishment to concentration camps in Siberia, where 25% died (not, apparently, the low number of 10% that Snyder asserts).
After killing all the livestock in the country, the remaining Ukranians starved to death. Men, women, children--all starved according to plan. Almost none of these people could read or write. They left almost no diaries. The few survivors had nobody to tell their stories to, unless they made contact with Westerners or Soviet dissidents. Afterwards, a few Russian homesteaders took the bait and migrated east to take over "abandoned" (I would say "widowed") Ukranian farms, only to return east when they could not abide the stench, no matter how hard they tried to fix up the dwellings. A few of these people wrote about what they found and sensed, particularly the silence that accompanies barren farmland bereft of animal presence. Even all the birds had been shot. Those few who told this story catalogued artifacts: skulls, bones, shallow graves, slowly decomposing human remains. At the time of the Ukrainian forced starvations, about 40% of the Soviet intelligence bureau whose employees perpetrated this horror was Jewish. (This can be verified because very Soviet passport contained the ethnic or national identity of the bearer. In addition, stalin kept lists.) These perps were later murdered ("purged" is a needlessly political term for having been tortured then hanged or shot), in turn, by Stalin, and before they died some of them clearly told the truth about what they had done in Ukraine in 1932. So there is a record. But statistically speaking, it is a miracle that primary sources even exist. Add to that the fact that Snyder has done most of his own translations of primary sources which many native speakers never even knew of, and you have a linguistic feat in itself which puts this book in the Pantheon.
Snyder places blame squarely and personally on Hitler and Stalin who imagined, designed and crafted the massacres detailed here, then set and controlled conditions to that the massacres could be carried out. I approve of the general movement by historians towards this approach, labeling leaders with the personal crimes they actually commit--in particular, these two men who were murderous psychopaths first, "political leaders" second. I am also aware that two men did not murder fourteen million people. I kept asking myself how many other killers were involved in every incident where Snyder counts the victims, and I noticed that (as he forewarns) it is easier to understand what the victim experienced than to understand what the actual perpetrators experienced. In the case of German bystanders who gathered to view a pile of Jewish bodies, or starving Ukranians who ate their own children, the reader almost cannnot make sense of the scene. Snyder points out that to say "it is senseless" is just as unhelpful; when any crime is regarded as beyond understanding, "beyond history," then we play into the hands of the mass murderer.
The facts are overwhelming, and I had trouble keeping tabs on the numbers. Paradoxically, Snyder realizes that when we focus on the statistics and logistics of massacres, we are only validating the aims of the killers. He admits that it is necessary for the historian to imagine, to try to understand, every single extinguished life, but on the scale of what Stalin and Hitler accomplished this is clearly impossible, and so Snyder's paradox makes for uneasy reading and digestion.
There are apparently some mistakes, as in any sweeping history, and Snyder's attempts to distinguish different kinds of killing and murderous policies sometimes seem forced. This may be because we are not used to thinking in these terms yet. We are not used to making distinctions yet between war and war crimes, between planned massacres and political policy, between necessary killing and murder, between leaders of a willing populace and criminals with power over a willing populace. I urge interested readers to compliment "Bloodlands" with "Human Smoke" by Nicholson Baker. Baker's book is a completely different kind of history, intimate vignettes compiled chronologically, but Snyder's answers only raise more of Baker's questions.
These two books are a good start for American readers training themselves to think holistically about war and global conflicts. No matter what your war experience, ethnic identity, personal beliefs or political leanings, these books will challenge you and horrify you. Read them both.
Three and a half stars.
on December 13, 2010
I am not a historian, but a reader who is trying to learn more about the history of one of the most seminal event of the century - World War II. So, I am writing from a point of view of an informed reader, but not a scholar of history. I learned an enormous amount from Snyder's book and highly recommend it to those who want to learn about a history that has been avoided in the prevailing narratives of World War II.
This chilling, blood-curdling book is a tour de force. Employing a vast number of sources, many of which Snyder had to read in Polish - not an easy feat - Bloodlands successfully presents the vast scope of Hitler's and Stalin's extermination policies that resulted in the deaths of FOURTEEN MILLION INNOCENT LIVES. In comparing the two dictators' policies, he analyzes how they were alike and how they were different. Of course, in the final analysis, this is of academic interest, the outcome was the same: FOURTEEN MILLION INNOCENT PEOPLE LOST THEIR LIVES.
One very important aspect to this book is that it exposes a history that has been woefully neglected by U.S. history books and historical accounts written by the victorious Allies. With the exception of some mention in Holocaust scholarship, U.S. attention is shamefully ignorant of the plight of non-Jewish peoples who lost their lives as a result of Stalin and Hitler's murderous policies. Hitler and Stalin were both mass-murderers and Professor Snyder makes this abundantly clear, although we already know this and it is not news to people who bother to read history. He also brings the deaths of those and the criminal behavior of the SS, NKVD, Wehrmacht, Gestapo and Soviet army to light. What is new is the light that he shines away from the Allies WW II narrative, which focuses so much of its attention on D-Day, Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, and makes heroes out of the French - who essentially collaborated with the Nazis. This narrative ignores the plight of the "eastern" Europeans: Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania. From reading the hegemonic narrative written post WW II, one would scarcely know that these countries existed.
I read a reviewer's comment that accuses Snyder of being too sympathetic to the Poles. Of course, I have a personal interest in Poles and their history, and I take umbrage to that remark, but it is interesting that the same reviewer did not accuse him of being too sympathetic to the Ukraines who were starved to death by Stalin's policies, or the Leningraders who were similarly starved under the relentless pounding of their city by the Wehmacht.
How could anyone not be sympathetic to the plight of any of these groups who suffered so, and their suffering neglected by revisionist history?
We should be grateful that the curtain is being lifted (many decades after Perestroika and the Solidarnosc movement in Poland) on the neglected history of the "bloodlands." We should applaud historians who are willing to put the effort into examining those archives and bringing that overlooked history to an English speaking audience. We should celebrate those scholars who can actually write that history, and write it in such an interesting and accessible manner.
The book is not easy reading through no fault of Snyder's. He is a superb writer whose style is compelling and engaging. It is not easy reading because it is difficult to put one's mind around the fact that so many people were killed; that so many were tortured and suffered horribly. It is distressing that those lives were lost in the name of ideologies that were false and unsustainable, and further that those who perpetuated those mass slaughters are now allies and trading partners of the U.S. Perhaps that is the most depressing realization of all - and something of which we should be reminded on which we should reflect when we think of any war - the present adventures of the U.S. in "the stans" and Middle East included.
on May 26, 2011
The Germans invaded my native land of Poland in September 1939. I saw them looting, expropriating, mocking, beating, breaking fingers to get at wedding rings, torturing, shooting, hanging, starving and other unimaginable acts of extreme wickedness carried out against innocent people. As a Jew, I was considered to be genetically programmed as subhuman. I was hated, persecuted and tortured by people who did not know me. While being captive in forced labor camps, I knew nothing what was going on in the world. We were cut off of any source of information. I was not even aware of the existence of Auschwitz, or Chelmno, Belzed, Majdanek, Soribor, and Treblinka, killing centers in Poland. After the war, I became aware that the United States had joined the Allies and defeated the Germans.By German edict, my formal education ended at the age of thirteen. At that point, I vaguely knew anything about WW I; nothing about the terrible atrocities carried out against innocent people during Stalin's rein. The Nazis turned me into a number (From A name to A Number, as the title of my autobiography indicates). Now, I learn that Soviet regimes turned many people into numbers.
Timothy Snyder's book:"Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler is for me a good lesson in history. I have read some books about that period, but nothing as comprehensive as Bloodlands. I am thankful for enlightening me about the horrific events, like the Soviet genocide, prior to WWII, during the Holocaust and its aftermath. I am catching up, at 85, with education that I had been deprived of during regular school years. I knew very little, then, about the dark heresies of collectivization, liquidation of certain classes. The almighty God was displaced by the communist God. In Bloodlands I am reading about the intentional mass murder of millions of people by starvation or by being worked to death, in several countries in Europe between 1930 and 1947. From this book I see the extent of human criminality other than just the Nazis' that I had witnessed and experienced. I am shocked by the narrated human monstrosity. In soviet Ukraine "families kill their weakest members, usually children, and use the meat for eating (p.50). Having faced starvation myself and witnessing others starving, cannibalism would have been inconceivable. I saw corpses every day, but never being ripped apart for consumption by starving inmates. I am also struck by the fact that individuals like Stalin or Hitler could have so much power and leverage to impact the destiny of so many millions of people. "It was the intention of the Leader (Adolf Hitler the Führer from 1934 to 1945) to destroy and exterminate the Polish people. "Close your hearts to pity (p121)". "Destroy Poland as a functioning society (p126)" it is just another corroboration that "Every Jew was a victim but not every victim was a Jew."
On 25 February 1933, Gareth Jones, a Welshman, the first journalist traveled by air with Hitler, from Berlin to Frankfurt, wrote: "If this aeroplane should crash, the whole history of Europe would be changed" (p59). It reminds me how Winston Churchill had a terrible accident in New York on December 13, 1931. While crossing Fifth Avenue, he apparently mixed up traffic directions, being British and all, and was hit by a car. He was in Lenox Hill Hospital for a week. Some historians believe that if Churchill would not have survived that accident WWII casualties would be more than the actual 62 million (37 million of civilians and 25 million military of all involved nations combined). No other statesman understood the menace of Nazism as Churchill did. One person can make a tremendous difference, for better or worse.
In November 1937, celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution Stalin said: "We will mercilessly destroy anyone who, by his deeds or his thoughts - yes, his thoughts- threatens the unity of the socialist state; to the complete destruction of all enemies, themselves and their kin!" I came across a similar phenomenon under Hitler' yoke, in Richard J. Evans' book The Third Reich at War (p.542) Frau Hoffman's husband was sentenced to death, because in letters to his wife he had written that "Germany would never win the war." He was executed for a political offense, undermining popular moral. Such extreme verdict is just indicative how immoral Hitler's and Stalin's dictatorships had been. If the affected peoples would have been granted personal freedom, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion, as we enjoy in the Western societies, those mass murders would not have taken place.
Bloodlands is very well written and brilliantly authoritative. It quickly engrosses the reader into a sad chronology of horrific events under the yokes of Stalin and Hitler, tyrants of the 20th century. The book is a tour de force for anybody interested in history. Conventional and future readers of Bloodlands will have no good reason to say who remembers the Holocaust like Hitler's query: "Who today remembers the Armenians?"
on December 18, 2010
I listened to the audio book courtesy of my public library, and then ordered the hardback for my personal bookshelf. This is the third book I have done that with. I find that otherwise dense reading such as in-depth biography or economics can be easily assimilated orally. Snyder's book is especially compelling in audio form.
Prior to encountering this book, I had no idea why Hitler would invade Russia, or the justifications that Germany & the Soviet Union used in dividing Poland between them. As another reviewer has said, this book integrates into one history what is usually treated as separate subjects.
Having just listened to "The Zookeeper's Wife" (about Warsaw in WWII), I found Snyder's book providing the backdrop to the Russians pausing at the outskirts of Warsaw while the Germans brutally suppressed the Warsaw Rebellion Aug.-Dec. 1944. Stalin wanted the fighting Poles eradicated as much as Himmler & Hitler did.
Especially mind-numbing in their scope are Hitler's chillingly-named "Hunger Plan" (for occupied Russia) and Stalin's starvation of 3.4 million Ukrainian peasants in the year following collectivization of their farms in 1932. In Stalin's scapegoating of the starving peasants (they starved themselves deliberately to discredit his successful collectivization) I found echoes of recriminations I've heard when projects at work have gone bad. It couldn't possibly be the plan; it had to be the underlings that were bad.
Before encountering this book, I had never heard of the ethnic cleansing (mass relocations)of Germans, Poles, Ukranians, and others in post-war eastern Europe that Stalin used to create ethnically homogenous states in lands where ethnic groups had overlapped national borders. Or of Stalin's attempts to suppress knowledge of the Jewish holocaust in order to recast "the Great Patriotic War" as a war effort borne primarily by Russians. Likewise the widespread suffering of German civilians during and after the Russian invasion in 1945. So much heartbreak... and yet we owe the victims awareness of their suffering.