Highly recommended, but not an easy read.
Snyder does not contend for a supposed moral equivalence between Hitler’s extermination of the Jews and the earlier Stalinist extermination of the kulaks. On the reverse, the industrial exploitation of corpses and their ashes was a unique Hitlerian atrocity – a singular example of human infamy.
Many know that Stalin murdered millions, but may not understand the scope of his crimes or the people he targeted. How many people recognize that the worst killings were carried away by literally starving entire ethnic groups and peasants to death in Soviet Ukraine and other districts.
The book is very, very long and could unquestionably have been abbreviated. At the same time there is a wealth of information that may be new to many readers, like how Concentration Camps actually worked and the fact that the western Allies never actually watched the majority of the camps or locations where mass killings took place. Few people may make that more Jews were wiped out by bullets than were ever gassed in the infamous chambers of the concentration camps.
And then yes, every deed has a name, and every death is an individual, but the commies and the nazis didn’t “personally kill” they were murdered for ideologies, different ideologies with the same horrible results.
Thirdly, what would I or others behave in similar moral and ethical situations, either as a person or as a government functionary. Snyder, without excusing collaboration, provides an explanation and context, thus causing those who resisted all the more remarkable as people
Secondly, a greater appreciation of Eastern European histories, Poland and Ukraine in particular, and their particular challenges of capturing their national stories, collaboration, and the distinctions being Stalinist repression and the Holocaust, and not blurring them together; and
First, the importance of recognizing the humanity and that each number has a name, a person, s family history behind it. It is not 14 million, it is 14 million ‘ones’ as Snyder puts it;
Three particular points resonated with me:
Beyond their ideological differences, Hitler and Stalin were united in a purpose to destroy Poland, having carved up the country among themselves in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. Without this opportunist move, Snyder reminds us, Hitler would not have been capable to implement the mass killings of Jews in Poland, or Stalin has been able to deliver thousands of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian “enemies of the masses” to the frozen vastness of Siberia. In fact, Molotov-Ribbentrop Europe was a “joint production” of the Soviets and the Nazis.
During the anti-German Warsaw uprising of August 1944, for example, Soviet troops stood by and watched as Hitler put the city and its inhabitants to be rejected. By the time the Red Army finally “liberated” Warsaw five months later, in January 1945, there was hardly anything left.
In the concentration camps of the Third Reich, a million prisoners died miserable deaths during the Nazi period. Merely 10 million others who never got into those camps were shot (mostly Jews), deliberately starved to death (mostly Soviet prisoners of war) or gassed in special “killing centres” which were not holding camps at all. At Auschwitz, the overwhelming bulk of Jews were brought straight to the gas chambers on arrival. And Auschwitz, terrible as it was, made a kind of finale to the Jewish Holocaust. By the time the main gas chambers came on line in 1943, most of Europe’s Jewish victims were already numb.
But Stalin was not done. Within a few years, the Great Terror, as it was called, engulfed party officials and the Red Army, conducting to the murder of tens of thousands of officers and officials. The Terror also involved the cleanup of hundreds of thousands of peasants and members of national minorities, most notably Soviet Poles, and again more Ukrainians. Stalin felt the need to explain the casualties of collectivization by blaming enemies who had sabotaged his plans. Poles within the Soviet Union, who numbered over 600,000 at that time, fit the bill. Told to make large-scale arrests, the state police looked for Polish names in the phone book. In Leningrad, nearly 7,000 people were rounded up; a vast majority was done within 10 days.
Ukraine became ground zero for the resulting artificial famine. The regime confiscated grain for the cities, while sealing the borders to prevent people from breaking loose, or bearing witness. The Holodomor, as Ukrainians call it, destroyed over three million men, adult females and children. More than 2,500 were sentenced for cannibalism in 1932 and 1933. By 1937, “the Soviet census found eight million fewer people than planned,” largely in Ukraine. Stalin refused to circulate the information and, consistent with his usual practice, “accepted the responsible demographers executed.”
In “Bloodlands,” Snyder concentrates on the area between Germany and Russia (Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic region and Belarus) that turned the site of horrific medical research and experiments on human beings to create competing utopias based on class or race war. For Stalin, this meant controlling. It is a hefty book, capturing the atrocities perpetrated by both Stalin, in the name of collectivization and the ‘revolution’, and Hitler, in the name of cultural purity and cleansing, and the linkages between the two, in a way that does not diminish the centrality of the Holocaust.
Europe between Hitler and Stalin
The twentieth century bears a long lasting bitter taste in world history. The biting truth about the mass killings in the twentieth century about two nations and these two historical names of west and eastern Europe used their murderous government of killing millions of people. It describes the victims, and the perpetrators. We are however, learning to understand Hitler’s war against the Jews. There have been other massacres in recent times, but none so ferocious, so total in its consequence, as that willed by Hitler’s Germans. The victims and contemporary witnesses become the badlands after the rise of Hitler and Stalin.
FROM BERLIN TO MOSCOW