Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin



The Pequod Review:

Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands is a nuanced account of the genocides in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, and specifically how each reinforced and overlapped with the other. Snyder narrows his focus to the contested region between central Poland and the Russian border (an area he lumps together as “the Bloodlands”), where about 14 million people were either killed or starved to death by one of the two regimes. Snyder’s choice to limit his geographical scope at times leads to a forced and incomplete narrative, but nonetheless he goes deep to show how and why people actually died. We tend to remember World War II for its Stalinist gulags and Nazi concentration camps, but Snyder shows that in fact most of Stalin’s deaths were the result of starvation and famine. And under the Nazis, only about one million people actually died in concentration camps; the others were killed without even entering camps, mostly shot in plain sight by Nazi soldiers. Here is Snyder putting Auschwitz in proper perspective:

Auschwitz is the most familiar killing site of the bloodlands. Today Auschwitz stands for the Holocaust, and the Holocaust for the evil of a century. Yet the people registered as laborers at Auschwitz had a chance of surviving: thanks to the memoirs and novels written by survivors, its name is known. Far more Jews, most of them Polish Jews, were gassed in other German death factories where almost everyone died, and whose names are less often recalled: Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibór, Belzec. Still more Jews, Polish or Soviet or Baltic Jews, were shot over ditches and pits. Most of these Jews died near where they had lived, in occupied Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Soviet Ukraine, and Soviet Belarus.

And some of Snyder's best sections detail the tragedies in the Ukraine (where a deliberate Stalin-imposed famine led to the death of around three million people) and especially Belarus (where close to fifty percent of its people were either killed or deported).