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Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin Paperback – October 2, 2012
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If there is an explanation for the political killing perpetrated in eastern Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, historian Snyder roots it in agriculture. Stalin wanted to collectivize farmers; Hitler wanted to eliminate them so Germans could colonize the land. The dictators wielded frightening power to advance such fantasies toward reality, and the despots toted up about 14 million corpses between them, so stupefying a figure that Snyder sets himself three goals here: to break down the number into the various actions of murder that comprise it, from liquidation of the kulaks to the final solution; to restore humanity to the victims via surviving testimony to their fates; and to deny Hitler and Stalin any historical justification for their policies, which at the time had legions of supporters and have some even today. Such scope may render Snyder’s project too imposing to casual readers, but it would engage those exposed to the period’s chronology and major interpretive issues, such as the extent to which the Nazi and Soviet systems may be compared. Solid and judicious scholarship for large WWII collections. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
[G]ripping and comprehensive.... Mr. Snyder's book is revisionist history of the best kind: in spare, closely argued prose, with meticulous use of statistics, he makes the reader rethink some of the best-known episodes in Europe's modern history . Even those who pride themselves on knowing their history will find themselves repeatedly brought up short by his insights, contrasts and comparisons.... Mr. Snyder's scrupulous and nuanced book steers clear of the sterile, sloganising exchanges about whether Stalin was as bad as Hitler, or whether Soviet mass murder in Ukraine or elsewhere is a moral equivalent of the Nazis' extermination of the Jews. What it does do, admirably, is to explain and record. Both totalitarian empires turned human beings into statistics, and their deaths into a necessary step towards a better future. Mr. Snyder's book explains, with sympathy, fairness and insight, how that happened, and to whom.”
Snyder's research is careful and thorough, his narrative powerful.... By including Soviet with German mass atrocities in his purview, Timothy Snyder begins the necessary but as yet still taboo examination of the full depravity of total war as it was practiced in the 20th century, before the advent of nuclear weapons foreclosed it.”
The Economist, Books of the Year
How Stalin and Hitler enabled each other's crimes and killed 14m people between the Baltic and the Black Sea. A lifetime's work by a Yale University historian who deserves to be read and reread.”
The Financial Times
[A] superb and harrowing history.... Snyder presents material that is undeniably fresh what's more, it comes from sources in languages with which very few western academics are familiar. The success of Bloodlands really lies in its effective presentation of cold, hard scholarship, which is in abundance.”
Ian Thomson, Telegraph (UK)
In this scrupulously researched history.... Snyder does not argue for a supposed moral equivalence between Hitler's extermination of the Jews and the earlier Stalinist extermination of the kulaks. On the contrary, the industrial exploitation of corpses and their ashes was a uniquely Hitlerian atrocitya unique instance of human infamy. Nevertheless, this is the first book in English to explore both German and Soviet mass killings together. As a history of political mass murder, Bloodlands serves to illuminate the political sickness that reduced 14 million people to the status of non-persons.”
Samuel Moyn, The Nation
Snyder is perhaps the most talented younger historian of modern Europe working today. Astonishingly prolific, he grounds his work in authoritative mastery of the facts, mining tomes of information in multiple languages and brilliantly synthesizing his findings. At the very least, Bloodlands is valuable for its astounding narrative integration of a gruesome era of European history.... A preternaturally gifted prose stylist, [Snyder] strives for a moral urgency appropriate to his depressing topics, and he rarely succumbs to bathos.... [B]y any measure Bloodlands is a remarkable, even triumphant accomplishment.”
If you want to understand the real history of what is going on between Ukraine and Russia and the West, you have to read this harrowing history. Between 1943 and 1945, 14 million people died in Eastern Europe, killed by Stalin or Hitler. Snyder explains why and how this part of the world became the 20th century's hell hole.”
New York Times Book Review
Timothy Snyder compels us to look squarely at the full range of destruction committed first by Stalin's regime and then by Hitler's Reich. Each fashioned a terrifying orgy of deliberate mass killing.... Snyder punctuates his comprehensive and eloquent account with brief glimpses of individual victims, perpetrators and witnesses.”
The New Republic, Editors' Picks: Best Books of 2010
Between 1933 and 1945, 14 million people were murdered in Eastern Europe. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin catalogues how, where, and why these millions died. The cumulative effect makes you reconsider every aspect of modern Europe and World War II. Along the way, Snyder achieves something more vital: he wrests back some human dignity for those who died, without treating them solely as victims.”
Istvan Deak, The New Republic
[A] genuinely shattering report on the ideology, the political strategy, and the daily horror of Soviet and Nazi rule in the region that Timothy Snyder calls the bloodlands.... Timothy Snyder did archival research in English, German, Yiddish, Czech, Slovak, Polish, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Russian, and French. His learning is extraordinary. His vivid imagination leads him to see combinations, similarities, and general trends where others would see only chaos and confusion.... This is an important book. I have never seen a book like it.”
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Top Customer Reviews
One such number is 33,761. That is the number of Jews shot at Babi Yar, near Kiev, in the Ukraine. On numerous occasions throughout this monumental and essential history, Timothy Snyder uses very precise figures such as 33,761. Admittedly, it rubbed me the wrong way, since in the world of much uncertainty, as Heisenberg and others have proclaimed, it is impossible to know such a number, with that type of certainty and precision. But on the very last page of his account, the author, a Yale historian, explained fully why it is so important to use the “odd” number. It is the humanity that is revealed in the “1”, which can be multiplied by a million or more. It is the fragments of the stories of individuals who once had a real name, that have been preserved in diaries, or the memories of others, or simply a departing sentence scratched on a wall.
Snyder does also use “round” numbers, as in 14,000,000. That is his estimate of the number of CIVILIAN deaths in an area he defines as the “Bloodlands,” between 1933 and 1945. It is an area that stretches from St. Petersburg in the north, encompasses the entire eastern shore of the Baltic to Danzig, all of Poland, and on, down to the entire Crimea, and touching the Don River in the east. One of the many strengths of this book is the numerous excellent maps set within the narrative. His contributions to our understanding of what happened in that space and time are numerous. Central is his examination of the disparate motives behind these numerous deaths, and to present a “balanced” account, in a world of madness. Snyder starts in the Ukraine, with Stalin’s efforts to collectivize agriculture, which lead to the death, by starvation, of millions. Many others were deported to the “Gulag.” Next there was the “Terror,” in the late ‘30’s, in which Stalin purged many in the leadership ranks of the Soviet Union, with a particular focus on the Poles. In fact, the “Polish Military Organization” was simply invented for the purpose of justifying the terror. Though the Soviet Union promoted an image of their tolerance towards minorities, which many in the West, probably at one time including myself, accepted, with the “you can make an omelet without breaking a few eggs” rationalization, Snyder concludes otherwise, to a stark degree. Next there was the brief period that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were allies, which, in part, resulted in the partition of Poland between them, and the calculated decimation of the Polish leadership.
What more can be said about the Holocaust and the Jews? Actually, quite a lot, I found. Once again, Snyder condemns best in measured, factual analysis. He deals with the “big picture,” and demonstrates how, after the German failure to take Moscow in 1941, that the destruction of European Jewry became a wartime German objective. He names numerous concentration camps I had never heard of, because they were taken by the Red Army. Prior to reading Snyder’s account I was under the impression that the gas chambers had to be constructed because there was some natural “limit” whereby soldiers could not be ordered to shoot and kill unarmed men, woman and children, and be expected to obey. The soldiers themselves would simply rebel and refuse to participate in these heinous crimes. Not so, apparently, as the author documents how so very many were simply shot, including all those at Babi Yar.
Amos Oz, the Israeli novelist once proclaimed that “the dead of the Six Day War belong to all of us; the dead of the Lebanese War belong only to their mother’s.” Snyder posits a similar issue concerning a Soviet Ukrainian Jew who had once lived in an area considered to be Poland. She can be claimed by four different national entities; who does she belong to? And to what political purpose today will these entities use her death? And like Bernard Schlick’s principle character in The Reader, who is accused of war crimes, but asks the Judge: “What would you have done?” and receives no reply, Snyder cautions against assuming the identity of the victim, and raises the issue of what people who are just “trying to get by” will do in order to stay alive… including being Jewish policeman in the ghetto.
My first efforts to obtain a different vantage point on the Second World War, other than the one I was brought up on, as an American, that is, Pearl Harbor and D-Day, was reading Alexander Werth’s Russia at War: 1941-1945, in the ‘60’s. William Shirer proclaimed it to be “the best book we probably shall ever have in English on Russia at war.” I found it strange therefore that in Snyder’s extensive 37 page bibliography, it is never mentioned. Of course, some of Werth’s information and opinions, as set forth in 1964, are outdated and have been superseded. For example, Werth had left it an open question as to who killed the Polish officers in the Katyn Forest, the Soviets or the Nazis. We now know for certain it was the former, and Snyder details this.
I also compared accounts concerning the doomed Warsaw uprising of 1944. I found Snyder’s account less rigorous, with the implicit assumption that the Russians had simply stopped, for no particular reason, and allowed the Poles to be slaughter as a result. Werth seemed to be much more explicit and detailed, clearly condemning “…the awkward questions of the Moscow radio appeals at the end of July to the people of Warsaw to ‘rise’… and the Russian refusal to let supply planes from the West land on Soviet airfields.” Also, it was clearly in Stalin’s interest to allow the Polish elites again to be decimated. Nonetheless, Werth quotes the German general, Heinz Guderian on the inability of the Russians to take Warsaw, cites the failure to cross the Vistula in July, with a loss of 30 Russian tanks, and Werth concludes: “The only conclusion this author, at any rate, has been able to reach is that in August and September, 1944, the available Red Army forces in Poland were genuinely not able to capture Warsaw, which Hitler was determined to hold.” At a minimum, I think Snyder should have at least addressed this issue, and Werth’s knowledge of the matter.
Despite the above one flaw, I consider this an essential historical work. 6-stars.
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.
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.
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