Bloodlands : Europe between Hitler and Stalin

by Timothy Snyder

Paper Book, 2010

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Basic Books, 2010, 2012

Description

Describes how fourteen million people were murdered by Hitler's and Stalin's regimes in the area between Germany and Russia during the time when both men were in power and examines the motives and methods behind the mass murders.

Media reviews

Snyder’s ambition is to persuade the West—and the rest of the world—to see the war in a broader perspective. He does so by disputing popular assumptions about victims, death tolls, and killing methods—of which more in a moment—but above all about dates and geography. The title of this book, Bloodlands, is not a metaphor. Snyder’s “bloodlands,” which others have called “borderlands,” run from Poznan in the West to Smolensk in the East, encompassing modern Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, and the edge of western Russia (see map on page 10). This is the region that experienced not one but two—and sometimes three—wartime occupations. This is also the region that suffered the most casualties and endured the worst physical destruction. More to the point, this is the region that experienced the worst of both Stalin’s and Hitler’s ideological madness.
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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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member labfs39
Reviewing a book you love, can be as difficult as reviewing a book you hate. In the latter case, you want to be fair and not flaming. In the former, you want to be fair and not fawning. When it comes to this book, however, I can’t help but gush. I thought I knew a fair amount about the Holocaust: it’s history, it’s victims, and even the more subtle question of Why? But in [Bloodlands], Timothy Snyder takes everything I thought I knew and puts it in a new context that completely changes the way I view the entire period from 1933 to 1945.

The premise of the book is that in the area between the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line and the Urals lie territories that were under the control of both the Germans and the Russians at some point between 1933 and 1945, an area he calls the Bloodlands. It includes Latvia and Lithuania, eastern Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and western Russia. In these lands, 14 million people were deliberately killed by a combination of Nazi and Soviet policies. This number does not include those who died of exertion, disease, or malnutrition in the camp or during deportment; forced laborers; civilians who died in bombings or wartime hunger; nor does it include the 12 million German and Soviet soldiers who died in WWII. It’s 14 million civilians who were murdered by deliberate policy in this strip of ground unfortunate enough to be occupied by the Germans and the Soviets (often undergoing three separate occupations: Soviet, German, then Soviet again).

So who were these 14 million people? To begin with, the 3 million Ukrainians that Stalin deliberately starved to death in pursuit of collectivization. Although I knew somewhat of the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33, I was shocked by some of the policy decisions that makes this a premeditated mass murder. For instance, that Stalin had the borders of the country closed so that the starving peasants couldn’t escape; that after requisitioning all the food that they had and imposing a meat tax in order to take the livestock, he then black listed the villages so that they could not even trade for food with other villages; that he closed the Ukrainian cities so that peasants could not beg for food. And perhaps most astonishing of all, goes from calling the famine a plot by saboteurs, to a deliberate attack on him, Stalin, and the progression of the Soviet Union to a communist ideal. Stalin becomes the victim, and starvation becomes an aggressive act tied to Ukrainian nationalism that turns the starving into traitors subject to the death penalty.

Hitler too had a “Hunger Plan” even more ambitious than Stalin’s. Hitler had imperialist dreams, but had to confine them to Eastern Europe because of the British Navy’s supremacy on the seas. He started to see the Soviet Union as less of an ally and more of a future colony. His plan? Conquer the Soviet Union in a blitzkrieg, starve roughly 30 million Slavs to death in the first winter (1940-41), raze the cities, and create German settlements all the way to the Urals. The Ukrainian breadbasket only produced enough food for Germany, he lectured the Wehrmacht, so every time you shoot a woman or child (something ordinary soldiers had a hard time doing), you are putting food into the mouths of your own wives and children. It’s us or them. The first step in the plan, conquer the Soviet Union, was not the quick work Hitler had expected, however, and only those Slavs who fell under his direct control were starved: 4 million civilians, mostly in Leningrad, Kiev, and Kharkiv, as well as 3 million Soviet POWs (not counted in the 14 million).

As the war in the East bogged down, Hitler needed both a scapegoat and a new Final Solution to the “Jewish problem”. The first four versions of the Final Solution had to be abandoned: the idea of a giant reservation for Jews in the area of Lublin; sending the Jews to Stalin who could put them into his already existing gulag (after all Stalin had all that land east of the Urals); sending all the Jews to Madagascar; and conquering the Soviet Union and then putting all the Jews into the gulag. Himmler and Heydrich realized that Hitler needed a new plan that would reaffirm his genius and give him a new focus for the war. The new ultimate objective was not the subjugation of the Soviet Union, which was looking less likely, but the elimination of the Jews. Instead of working the Jews to death in a reservation or gulag, they were now to be systematically shot in every area the Germans conquered.

For many Americans and Western Europeans, the Holocaust has come to be symbolized by the concentration camp, particularly by Auschwitz. But the fact is more Jews were shot in the second half of 1941 alone, than were gassed at Auschwitz during the entire war. Another million were shot in 1942. The Nazis were able to convince many Ukrainians and Belorussians that the Soviet atrocities that had so recently been committed against them were in fact caused by Jewish communists. The Germans trained and armed them to assist in the monumental task of shooting millions of people. The Nazis were less willing to arm the Poles as accomplices, and wanting to save ammunition, after two years of occupation, the Germans began gassing Jews at extermination facilities: Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Triblinka, Majdanek, and one part of Auschwitz.

It began in 1941 at Belzec. Guards were recruited from the Soviet populace (mostly Ukrainians) and trained at Trawniki, while Nazi specialists from Germany who had overseen the “euthanasia” program that had gassed 70,000 Germans deemed “life unfit for life” were brought in to supervise. Only 2 or 3 Jews who arrived at Belzec survived. 434,508 did not. And it is precisely because so few people survived the extermination facilities (combined with the fact that American and British armies did not liberate them, the Soviets did) that the concentration camp continues to loom large in our minds and places like Belzec do not. Auschwitz was actually built in 1940 to intimidate the Poles, and then to house Soviet POWs. When I.G. Farben decided the camp would be an ideal place to make synthetic rubber, Slovakia sent its Jews to be used as slave labor (all of them died). In 1942 the extermination facility was added and then expanded with the addition of Birkenau in 1943.

Auschwitz was the climax of the Holocaust, reached at a moment when most Soviet and Polish Jews under German rule were already dead.

But Jews from France, Belgium, and the Netherlands (1942); Greece and now occupied Italy (1943); and Hungary (1944) could and were sent to Auschwitz to die. Although no one survived the gas chambers, 100,000 people did survive the Auschwitz labor camp. (As opposed to less than a 100 people who survived the six extermination facilities.)

If this sounds too familiar, it is because of my ineptitude at summarizing my 62 pages of notes that is at fault, because Snyder brings to light hundreds of details that have not been previously published. His research in newly opened archives guarantees surprises. In addition, he draws conclusions about the nature of the killing and the psychology of victimhood in the double-occupied territories that are entirely his own. Simply reading the introductory and concluding chapters would provide much to consider. Even more than [Gulag: A History] changed the way I think about the Soviet camps, [Bloodlands] has changed the way I think about this region and this time period. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
In Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin Timothy Snyder looks at those lands that were occupied by both the Nazis and the Soviets, and how it impacted those places. He also, more importantly, seeks to both show how mass murder occurred and to make those horrifyingly large numbers represent real people. From the Baltic states, through eastern Poland, Belarus, the western edge of Russia and especially Ukraine, Snyder shows how these lands contained the vast majority of civilian deaths in the twelve years between 1933 to 1945.

Beginning with Stalin's Great Famine in the Ukraine, in which 3.3 people died, and continuing through final acts of ethnic cleansing that turned diverse and vibrant populations homogeneous, Snyder seeks to humanize the statistics, to explain the motivations of the perpetrators and to return to the dead the stories of their lives. He is too successful for this book to be easy reading.

People were perhaps alike in dying and in death, but each of them was different until that final moment, each had different preoccupations and presentiments until all was clear and all was black.

Snyder looks at why both Stalin and Hitler found it necessary to slaughter so many civilians, most who posed no political threat, many of whom were children. He's interested in the motivations of the guards, the policemen holding the guns, the soldiers obeying orders. He's also interested in the lives of those who died and the reasons for those deaths.

Only there in the ditch were these people reduced to nothing, or to their number, which was 33,761.

I took copious notes while reading this book, to absorb more of what I was learning, but also as a buffer against that relentless stream of information. Snyder writes well, has clearly done extensive research and has a passion for his subject. He wants the reader to be informed of the events of the past, the motivations and reasons, but most of all, he wants the reader to see each death as an individual story cut short.
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LibraryThing member quizshow77
This is a ground-breaking book. I have studied a good bit about this period of history, but Snyder makes observations and connections that seem both fresh and at least potentially well-grounded. His biggest claim is that the mass murders and liquidations carried out by Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany were not carried out in isolation, but in certain ways fed off of each other. From the viewpoint of a Pole or an Eastern European Jew, it was indeed as if these two regimes were cooperating to wipe out whole classes of people, even if they were not technically doing so.

Snyder also documents some interesting facets of the situation that other accounts have not emphasized:
1. Neither regime committed mass murder in its heartland. Soviet liquidations (and Gulags) happened mostly in peripheral areas of the Soviet Union (read: subject non-Russian republics), while none of the Nazi extermination camps were in Germany--they were in Poland.
2. A majority of the Jews that perished in the Holocaust were shot. The experience of lining up to take a "shower" only to be gassed to death, terrifying as it was, was not typical of these victims. More typical was getting shot quickly and summarily in some rural field, forest, or ditch.
3. Also not typical was the experience of working at a labor camp, even if it meant working to death. Most victims of the Holocaust were killed right away, without any pretense of trying to get any useful work out of them.
4. It is not accurate to speak of the Germans occupying and committing mass murder in "Russia." The Baltic states, Belarus, and Ukraine were completely occupied and run by the Germans for several years. The Germans occupied only a slice of western Russia proper.
5. The Soviet designation of the conflict we call the Second World War as "The Great Patriotic War" was/is part of a larger effort to obscure the Soviet role in precipitating the larger war. In particular, this narrative erases the fact that the Soviet Union invaded Poland in 1939 (and promptly started committing atrocities against the Polish people and trying to wipe out traditional Polish society in the part of Poland that it occupied). After all, did not the Great Patriotic War begin when Germany invaded the Motherland in 1941, Comrade? How could the Soviet Union have contributed to this national disaster?

Snyder carries the story forward to after the war, where he provides interesting details and interpretations of both the expulsion of ethnic Germans from the rest of Europe and continued Soviet anti-Semitism and oppression, symbolized by Stalin's "Doctor's Plot."
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LibraryThing member PennyAnne
An incredibly important book which examines the period between 1933 and 1945 when the "Nazi and Soviet regimes starved, shot and gassed 14 million people in an area which today comprises Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, western Russia and the Baltic States". These deaths were not of soldiers in battle but of ordinary people. The numbers are incredible, the suffering of these nations during this time was unimaginable. While we all know some of this history there is much that fell behind the Iron Curtain at the end of WWII and is only now coming to light with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of various archives. I am an historian by instinct and I found Snyder's arguments compelling - we must not see these regimes or the people who operated within them as aberrant or inhuman because that "is to take a step toward, not away from, the Nazi position. To find other people incomprehensible is to abandon the search for understanding, and thus to abandon history." (p.400).… (more)
LibraryThing member highlander6022
A very sobering and sad commentary on the atrocities in the geographies the author talks about. Can only be taken in fairly small “doses”, because of the graphic depictions he provides. Even though his numbers might not be exact (and could be exaggerated), he tries to explain the context of how he arrived at them in his afterword. Nonetheless, the numbers issues do not override the sheer volume of atrocities that occurred. I highly recommend this book to everyone – a very strong stomach is required, but the book may cause you to reconsider some of the pre-conceived thoughts you may have about what happened, who did what and where, and how/why some of the “events” in these geographies have gotten greater emphasis in the US press and teaching of history in US schools, versus the emphasis that may be given to these events in Eastern European and Soviet materials. Be sure to read the afterword and other materials at the end of the book for further information, as well as his comments about how we view the individuals who committed these atrocities. An excellent book.… (more)
LibraryThing member mnicol
The bloodlands are the regions between Moscow and Berlin that were subject to BOTH Soviet and Nazi control at some time between 1933 and 1945. 14 million people were murdered in this short period, in this relatively confined area, by active policies of mass killing - besides the deaths of soldiers in battles. Stalin's policies to kill kulaks and minorities had their greatest impact in the Ukraine/Poland, where the Germans killed so many Jews after 1941. The victims are the main story, illustrated in human stories and overwhelming statistics, but Snyder points out "The moral danger, after all, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or bystander" (p.400). This is a brilliant study.… (more)
LibraryThing member TerriBooks
Much of this is history we have heard of - Babi Yar, famine in the Ukraine, Treblinka. But Snyder places it all together in time and space, helping to show not just what but why. Two things especially struck me. First, that in my American sensibilities, I can't seem to "get" the role of nationalism and ethnicity in European politics. The need, for example, to displace "ethnic Germans" from Poland, when they had lived there for generations --- to me, if you've been in Poland for generations, why doesn't that make you Polish, not German? Sure, we talk about our family origins in the U.S, but they don't make a difference in how we see each other as American. Second, I could not help but see the spiritual destruction visited on the men who were ordered to carry out the killings -- the army officer, for example, who came to his assigned workplace every night to shoot 250 people, day after day. He is a victim, too, of Stalin's and Hitler's programs of killing.

While at times this book gets lost in the numbers and the details, it is the way the details add up and build together that make it important and fascinating.
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LibraryThing member yeremenko
A book that looks at topics familiar to historians, the Great terror of Stalin, the Holocaust, the Katyn Massacre. etc, geographically rather than politically, or ethnically. The result is a masterpiece.

Many criticize the book as drawing a equivalency between Stalin and Hitler and rail the primacy of the Holocaust being is denied by including other deaths. Syders points out most Jew killed by the Nazi's dies before any of the gas chambers were built and any western Jews were deported. He says the gas chambers of Auschwitz are central in our image of the mass killing of the 30s and 40s because survivors lived to tell their story, unlike so may Jews in Ukraine, or Belorussia where only numbers, staggering numbers of those shot remain. Nuance exists in history and Snyder goes to great lengths and used detailed information to show differences in many of the tragedies, but does not shy away from pointing out their similarities, as other writers have done to avoid controversy.

Snyder points out that many people suffered from Stalin, then Hitler, then Stalin again as borders shifted during the war. He also painstakingly points out the some of the killers were facing extreme moral dilemmas skillyfully manipulated by the Soviet Union or the Nazis regime to kill innocents in the hope of saving themselves, or families.

The conclusion of the book in an essential read. This portion shows the exaggerated numbers and erroneous causes cited by many national groups to advance an agenda.
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LibraryThing member neddludd
A path-breaking book that analyzes the murderous fate that was visited upon the citizens of nations in East and Central Europe under Stalin and Hitler. Incredibly detailed, the book explores such brutal Soviet policies as the Moscow-ordered famine in Ukraine, the Great Purge, and ethnic deportations that led to tens of thousands of deaths. The author also analyzes the Holocaust and presents a new theory of its cause and an overview of its process. The residents in this narrow slice of Europe had to be some of the unluckiest humans on the planet; for some, Stalin's NKVD was followed by Nazi death squads--and then, as the miltary situation changed--by Soviet terror again. Excellent for understanding the policies and planning that the wartime German and Soviet governments employed. New information includes Nazi documents that forecast the starvation of tens of millions of people in Soviet Russia given a Wermacht lightning victory. Of course a quick knockout did not occur. But the Germans did starve millions of Russian prisoners of war and the death rate was in the millions. The cruelty of these two states is boundless; after the Katyn Forest massacre of Polish officers, Stalin had the families of these men deported to Kazachstan, where many perished in such an alien location. This book demands a strong stomach and a strong urge to learn the "truth." One encounters aspects of humanity--such as routine cannabalism in the face of starvation--that are shocking and simultaneously "rational" given the provocation.… (more)
LibraryThing member br77rino
Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus were the scene of mind-boggling levels of human destruction, and Mr. Snyder describes it all in almost excessive detail. Reminded me of "The Great Hunger" which was about the Irish Potato Famine.
LibraryThing member rivkat
The history of mass killings in the lands between Soviet Russia and Germany in the run-up to and during World War II, where Stalin and Hitler oversaw the slaughter of millions of people, mostly Jews, Poles, and Ukrainians, often by the thousands at once. Snyder emphasizes the length of the devastation as well as the scale, given that the Germans regularly swept through places that had just seen a Soviet purge. Stalin was trying to get rid of useless classes—peasants—while Hitler was trying to get rid of useless races; the effect was much the same.… (more)
LibraryThing member Narboink
This is a superb history written in the best academic and scholarly traditions. Timothy Snyder has a clear methodology buttressed by sharply delineated geographic, temporal and conceptual boundaries; he has wisely limited his study to mass killings (as a consequence of deliberate policy) in a roughly 10 year period in the area he coins "the Bloodlands". In doing so, the 14 million mortal casualties of such actions are made evermore intellectually comprehensible. Snyder has, at long last, shed a brilliant light on the interplay between Stalinism and the Third Reich, and how that interaction (and geographic/political overlap) contributed to the crimes and tragedies of the Second World War. Popular history has, perhaps inevitably, occluded over time the true dimensions of what happened in the the lands of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. By widening his focus to include the actions of the Soviets, partisans, nationalists, Nazis, et at. (as opposed the narrower view offered by other historians), Synder is able to make the Ukrainian famine (Holodomor) part of a comprehensive narrative that includes Babi Yar, Katyn, Treblinka and the larger actions of the Holocaust. It is a tremendous achievement.… (more)
LibraryThing member mrafael
This is an awesome work that place the context of industrialization and corrupt democracy around the greatest villains of 1930s: Stalin and Hitler. It is surprising in how the evidence accumulates against Stalin as Hitler's role model. The crime against the Ukrainian people in the contrived starvation seems unprecedented in its calculated amoral horror.… (more)
LibraryThing member jcvogan1
A comprehensive catalog of the policies of mass killing carried out in lands occupied at one time by the Nazi regime and another by the Soviet regime. The concluding essay is pretty.
LibraryThing member John_Vaughan
From the opening words comes a quote from a young girl writing to say goodbye to her father that she ‘fears this death’ because she has heard that young children are thrown into the killing pits alive. One almost hopes her father was already dead himself before he read that chilling, plaintiff and brave note. These Bloodlands are the region between the Nazi terrors and death camps and the Communist purges and engineered famines, trod and fought over by both creeds until they were indeed soaked in the blood of an estimated minimum of fourteen million murdered souls (in total deaths however, the estimates show between 17,000,000 to 21,000,000!).

Poland, Ukraine and Belarus Slavic nations surged and were slaughtered between the advancing and retreating armies, between the chilling blood-lusts of two opposing nations, between Berlin and Moscow.

This period of history is well documented but the story of what was happening in these bitter Bloodlands is newly, if chillingly, told in greater detail than before in Professor Snyder’s book.

I do not think I will ever be able to forget that little girl’s note to her Daddy – it is Timothy Snyder’s skills in bringing forward many these human notes and tales in his narrative that make this book so dramatic - it should be required-reading for all peoples.
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LibraryThing member Beezie
Snyder beams a bright hideous light on western civ. Modern European culture stands naked...ugly, ashamed.
LibraryThing member Sullywriter
This is an outstanding work of history that examines the deliberate mass-killing campaigns in eastern Europe (focused primarily on Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine) organized by Stalin and Hitler in the years leading up to the outbreak of World War II Europe, during the war and several post-war years. A dense, thorough, and most impressive work of scholarship, and an important contribution to Holocaust and genocide studies.… (more)
LibraryThing member JayLivernois
Quite an unique and intelligent work bringing out the new information on this part of the world since the fall of the Soviet system.
LibraryThing member RobertP
Powerful. Hard to conceive of what happened there . It is best we never forget what we people are capable of.
LibraryThing member Philip100
This book should be required reading in all History classes. If you are a follower of this WWII read this book. This is a very good book I learned a lot more about what happened on the eastern front.
LibraryThing member twp77
In writing Bloodlands, Timothy Snyder has given us a new way to look at the tragedy of the years leading up to and including the Second World War. While it makes for a harrowing read, it is a necessary book for anyone interested in Eastern Europe and the Second World War.

Snyder rightly eschews simplistic comparisons between the deaths caused by both Hitler and Stalin but does not shy away from a brutal retelling of the stories of those many millions who were soon to be voiceless.

If anything, this book provides a brilliant polemic against bureaucracy and totalitarianism while being careful not to dismiss the violence to come out of both fascism and communism as madness or behavior beyond the pale. Snyder teases out the perspectives of victims and oppressors on all sides, allowing one to see causes and consequences not of individual inhumanity but the inhumanity of the systems in which human beings were helplessly entangled.

Finally, Snyder's book provides a useful corrective to the dearth of information which still exists due to decades of Soviet secrecy in the wake of the USSR's victory. One gets the sense that there are volumes of research yet to be undertaken before a complete picture of the tragedy emerges, particularly surrounding deaths in the Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Undoubtedly the task to uncover this information remains daunting, but Snyder has provided us with the first steps as well as an excellent framework for doing so.
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LibraryThing member Dettingmeijer
The book describes the killing of more than 14 million people in the name of Stalin and Hitler. Many more people died by deliberate starvation, executions, and other forms of murdering than as direct casualties of the war in the so-called bloodlands: Poland, Ukraine, Belarusse, the Soviet Union west of Moscow.
The author is clear about his aim in this book and in later publications: "The nazi and Soviet regimes turned people into numbers, some of which we can only estimate, some of which we can reconstruct with fair precision. It is for us as scholars to seek these and put them into perspective. it is for us as humanists to turn the numbers back into peoplel if we cannot do that, the Hitler and Stalin have shaped not only our world, bur our humanity." (p.408)… (more)
LibraryThing member fist
In spite of the abundant WWII literature and movies, we only have a partial understanding of things since the first half of the 20th century is still too often viewed through Western European eyes only. Without wanting to minimise what happened in the Western half of the continent, the atrocities in Eastern Europe belonged to a wholly different order of magnitude. The author concentrates on this part of Europe that found itself between two totalitarian states - with tens of millions of civilian victims as a result. He makes the counterintuitive and chilling case how Hitler and Stalin, though political opponents, were often strategic allies in obliterating the population of these bloodlands. The consequences reverberate to this day, both in the physical landscape of the ruined cities, the silence of its lost population and in the geopolitical tensions in countries like Poland and Ukraine.… (more)
LibraryThing member epersonae
Intense and disturbing look at eastern Europe 1933-1946: "I wish to test the proposition that deliberate and direct mass murder by these two regimes in the bloodlands is a distinct phenomenon worthy of separate treatment" - by "the bloodlands", referring a region encompassing pre-1939 Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus, along with the Baltic states and parts of western Russia. A somewhat different approach, looking at the commonalities of these areas and the waves of killing, starting with deliberate starvation in the Ukraine and going through to the ethnic cleansing (without much killing) of the immediate postwar period. A common theme is the ways that Hitler and Stalin basically played into each other's hands. The massive numbers make it difficult to comprehend, which is why he uses a lot of particular individual stories to illustrate each phase. A thoughtful book, worth reading if you can stand it.… (more)
LibraryThing member Savagemalloy
Excellent survey of the carnage

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