The numbers are mind boggling and they come with despairing frequency in Mr. Snider's book, 'Bloodlands.' Some might blame desperate times, others, dangerous ideologies and still others, ruthless dictators. The strength of 'Bloodlands' is that Mr. Snider lets nobody off the hook. The starvation of Ukranian farmers caused by ridiculous farm quotas was not result of the actions of one man. Others had to enforce the quota. Produce had to be taken from the starving. Those who enacted these policies knew what they were doing. Likewise, Nazis death camps were staffed by otherwise ordinary citizens, men and women like you and me who must have been convinced of either the righteousness of their heinous acts or at least their inevitability. Mr. Snider tells us that it's easy to relate to the plight of the victims. Much harder and perhaps more enlightening, is an understanding of the actions and motivations of the criminals. We know about the Nazi work camps like Auschwitz because there were survivors. We know less about the death camps like Treblinka and Chelmno where Jews were sent for the sole purpose of extermination. And the numbers keep coming and coming, millions gone from the Ukraine, millions from Poland. The Bloodlands of Eastern Europe where more people perished in a generation than at any other time in history. An understanding of the atrocities committed in the name of ideals is essential if we are to prevent a recurrence. Mr. Snider has certainly made a start.
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 March 12, 2013
With 80 pages of bibliography and notes, Timothy Snyder's monumental record of the horrendous assault on the region between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia from 1933-1945 is meticulously researched. Such documentation lends heartbreaking credibility to facts and figures too astronomical to digest. Indeed, who would want to? The story is too gruesome, too maniacal, too sadistic to fathom. However, the tragedy must be told, and Snyder tells it well.
While reading about thousands and millions of people "relocated," starved, tortured, murdered, and worse (yes, worse), we need to keep reminding ourselves that those numbers represent once-living men, women, and children who had every right and reason to live. One page after another divulges new tragedies, yet thankfully Snyder never lets go of the thread of humanity that cries out from all the brutality and mass killing.
We think that history gives us the tools to avoid repeating its folly, but the ever-present danger is that we do not learn. Snyder closes his comprehensive and compelling narrative by speaking about the people of the Bloodlands: "It is for us as scholars to seek these numbers and to put them into perspective. 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." p. 408
on February 9, 2011
Some of us thought we had read all there is to read about WW2. For me,this book was the most captivating one of its kind, with detail that was overwhelming. A must read for even the most knowledgable on the subject of the Second World War, especially with reference to the ideology and methodology of these two leaders; Stalin and Hitler.
on February 1, 2011
I thought I had read all there was to read on this area of the world, at that point in history - what an eye-opener! There were parts during the description of the Holodomor years that I actually had to stop, put the book down and gather my thoughts for a moment. This book should be required reading for all high-school seniors, especially before embarking on the often dubious, post-secondary indoctrination that passes for a liberal arts education these days.
"Bloodlands" is a very engaging study of how two very diametrically-opposing political views on the re-development of Eastern Europe evolved in the 1930s, only to clash a decade later in one of the most destructive periods in modern history, with the loss of over fourteen million people in World War II. The main proponents, in the persons of Hitler and Stalin, looked to this region as the ideal grounds for launching their respective dreams of building a world industrial empire. By seizing, securing and reorganizing large tracts of fertile farmland, they believed they could change the course of history. What makes reading this well-researched book on its blood-stained period so rewarding is the thorough way in which its author, Professor Timothy Snyder, analyzes and explains how these two grand views embraced operational plans that went hopelessly wrong from the outset. Unlike earlier theories that examine why Stalin and Hitler psychologically committed themselves to controlling large areas like the Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland, Snyder's thesis focuses on understanding the gradual unfolding of events that got out of control and wreaked terrible consequences. For Hitler, it was the Final Solution that became the runaway, evil fulfillment of his regime's commitment to a complex and unworkable plan to resettle the East with Germans by murdering Jews, Slavs, Poles and other alleged subhumans. Everything in this book affirms how Hitler's racial ideology morphed into a legacy of national terror and international misery for millions. As for Stalin, his obsession with personal power and deepening paranoia allowed him to use Marxist collectivism and 'socialism in one country' as policies to destroy millions of people who stood in his way. When these two dictators clashed in one of the epic confrontations of the ages - World War II - the human misery factor soared. Such a breakdown of society cannot be appreciated unless one understands the area in which it happened and the chain of events that nearly destroyed it.
on January 30, 2015
This was a required reading for my University course on WWII in Eastern Europe. Although the thickness of the book is a little daunting, it is well worth the read. Snyder uses a different approach to WWII and mass genocide in the Bloodlands, modern day Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states. Snyder describes the mass killing of peoples in perspectives, between Hitler and Stalin. He is not saying who is worse, but more how and why these killings came about. When reading this book, it should be noted to read it with an open mind. Snyder challenges traditional western view of the Holocaust, as well as other events such as the Great Famine in the Ukraine. He does not take sides in any event, and instead only tries to explain what happened in a clear way. It is up to you to decide what the evidence being presented means. Needless to say it is a somewhat controversial book, but Snyder does the Historian justice. There are many things in this book that even I went “What!” and changed my entire perception of the events in the Bloodlands both Pre WWII and during. This is not a book for the faint hearted or staunchly opinionated. As good as it is, Snyder might press a few buttons, be forewarned. It is still an eye opening book and Snyder explains his evidence and arguments very well.
on July 2, 2013
If you live in the west and think you understand the history of WWII, Bloodlands will shake you to the marrow. The horrors of what happened to ordinary people in Eastern and Central Europe caught between the two greatest mass murderers of our time are so overwhelming I had to put the book down from time to time to absorb and recover from what I just read. Fourteen million people, non-combatants, wiped from the earth by the political ambitions of Stalin and Hitler.
Snyder tallies these deaths over a period of twelve years - from 1933 to 1945 - but he widens the scope to include WWI up to 1953 when Stalin died. It's an historical undertaking that doesn't double our understanding of WWII, it triples, even quadruples, our knowledge. The years behind the Iron Curtain, where the majority of the deaths occurred, has obscured our knowledge but with the fall of the Soviet Empire, the information is now becoming available and the reality coming to light is beyond anything we ever imagined. It's not only the scale of death, but the cruelty with which it was undertaken that makes it difficult to comprehend. As Snyder points out, to measure these deaths only by numbers is a disservice to those who died. Each human being, a man, a woman, a child, died a personal death, the power of one, as they each lived an individual life.
I recommend this book as something that must be read by everyone who cares about human life and I foresee a day when it is required reading in high schools.
on April 8, 2013
This is nightmarish reading. WW2 was bad enough in general. WW2 on the eastern front was a few magnitudes worse again. Both Hitler and Stalin committed genocide. We all know about concentration camps. At least some few survived to tell their stories. However, then there were the DEATH FACTORIES. Nobody survived them.
This is a massive book with all the details and statistics included, so many millions killed by Hitler and this many millions by Stalin. The Jews in eastern Europe were completely eliminated. However, all the others were badly decimated too, Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians and Russians.
Snyder has done everyone a favour by tackling this subject and attempting to humanize what was by definition and intent a dehumanizing series of events. Rather than focusing on a history of Hitler or Stalin or any particular nation, Snyder tells the story of what he calls the bloodlands, for obvious reasons - the area of eastern Europe which was terrorized and brutalized by both Hitler and Stalin. He particularly focuses on the period of 1933 to 1945, from the first artificial Stalinist famines in Ukraine up to the end of the Second World War. Snyder balances a big picture project with personal anecdotes that help you to feel the individual impact of what was a widespread series of killings.
At the conclusion, he reminds us that each death was personal - that rather than thinking of say six million dead, we should think of six million "times one". Each person killed was important in and of themselves - their deaths did not serve some "greater purpose" such as Stalin or Hitler envisioned to justify the slaughter.
In the end, we are still overwhelmed by the slaughter, but by forcing ourselves to look at what happened and understand how it was justified, maybe we can avoid allowing the same sorts of justifications to take hold in the modern world