Bloodlands Review

Snyder, Timothy. (2010) Bloodlands, Europe between Hitler and Stalin. New York: Basic Books.

This book covers the time between the beginning of World War I (1914) to the end of World War II and beyond, but focuses mostly on the inter-war period and World War II. Geographically speaking, this book covers the area between Germany and Russia, specifically, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. This area is what Snyder refers to as the “Bloodlands.” He argues that Hitler and Stalin fought a bloody war on this land and killed millions. It might seem like a redundant thesis but this book is anything but redundant. He points out that when most think of WWII they think of Jews and the Holocaust. Not too much thought is given to the millions of Ukrainians that were systematically starved to death during the Great Terror. “During the years that both Stalin and Hitler were in power, more people were killed in Ukraine than anywhere else in the bloodlands, or in Europe, or in the world.” (pp.20) The killings didn’t just happen in gas chambers, in fact, most victims were shot at the edges of mass graves. He points this out early and gives numerous, chilling, examples to back it up. This book was hard to get through for that fact alone.

Snyder’s methodology includes in-depth analyses of the bureaucratic policies and practices that governed the area during the time. Obviously, these policies and practices were created, enforced, and perpetuated by the two regimes that terrorized the bloodlands, the Nazis and the Soviets. Snyder rehashes Nazi politics, the final solution, the Moltov-Ribbentrop Pact, ethnic cleansing, and the justification of the systematic starvation of millions. Starting with the Soviet famines, Snyder argues that collectivization was Stalin’s idea to “jump-start” the industrial revolution which had yet to come to Russia. This was his Five-Year Plan, which, big surprise, failed, and led to more terror. Persecution of the kulaks  was the justification for the starvation, in Stalin’s twisted mind, when collectivization failed.

Although Snyder does spend a big chunk of the book on Stalin and Soviet policy, he analyzes Nazi policies, too. And, like Stalin who used the kulaks as his scapegoat, Hitler placed blame on Jews for all of Germany’s economic strife. This is basic stuff that we already know, but Snyder did a fantastic job of putting it all together. This book gave me a real sense of cause and effect. Hitler and Stalin were at each others throats for the most part, and creating policies to “get” each other, also “got” millions of innocent people.

Snyder’s historiography can be seen throughout the countless first-hand accounts he employed. This book was full of facts, but heavy on the emotional appeal. I don’t know if there is any other way to tell this story, though. I honestly had nightmares from reading it and I think I may have even suffered a short bought of PTSD from it. Seriously, I was very depressed after reading it. To this day, I remember one of the very first quotes he used, right on the first page of the preface. This is a letter from a twelve-year old Jewish girl in Belarus: “I am saying good-bye to you before I die. I am so afraid of this death because they throw small children into the mass grave alive.” Chilling.

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