Blood­lands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

  • Review
By – August 31, 2011
Blood­lands” refers to the area which extends from cen­tral Poland to west­ern Rus­sia, through Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States where four­teen mil­lion non­com­bat­ants were mur­dered between 1933 and 1945. Sny­der, a pro­fes­sor of his­to­ry at Yale, records that the vic­tims were chiefly Jews, Belaru­sians, Ukraini­ans, Poles, Rus­sians, and Balts, caught between two geno­ci­dal dic­ta­tors, Hitler and Stal­in.

With­out dimin­ish­ing Hitler’s attempt to elim­i­nate the Jews of Europe, Sny­der states that the Nazi dic­ta­tor not only want­ed to erad­i­cate the Jews, but also planned to destroy both Poland and the Sovi­et Union as states. Sny­der esti­mates that if the Ger­man war against the USSR had gone as planned, thir­ty mil­lion civil­ians would have been starved to death dur­ing the first win­ter of the Nazi attack against the Sovi­et Union that com­menced in June 1941, and tens of mil­lions more expelled, killed, assim­i­lat­ed, or enslaved. He goes on to note that the Ger­mans killed as many non-Jews as Jews dur­ing the war, chiefly by starv­ing Sovi­et pris­on­ers of war (more than three mil­lion), the shoot­ing of civil­ians in reprisals, and oth­er meth­ods of killing that result­ed in the mur­der of the bet­ter part of a mil­lion Belaru­sians and Poles. 

Sny­der points out that Stal­in, in the name of build­ing social­ism in one coun­try” through a bru­tal plan of indus­tri­al­iza­tion, was as much a mass mur­der­er as Hitler. He notes that between 1933 and 1939, Hitler was respon­si­ble for the mur­der of 10,000 of his own cit­i­zens, where­as dur­ing the same peri­od, which wit­nessed the bru­tal cal­cu­lat­ed famine in Ukraine, Stal­in over­saw the star­va­tion of mil­lions of his own cit­i­zens. From 1939 to 1945, how­ev­er, Hitler was respon­si­ble for the death of mil­lions more than his Sovi­et coun­ter­part. Sny­der con­cludes that of the four­teen mil­lion killed in the blood­lands” between 1933 and 1945, a third were due to Stalin’s geno­ci­dal policies. 

Because the Sovi­ets were our Allies after June 1941, we tend­ed to over­look Stalin’s mur­der­ous poli­cies toward his own peo­ple, which includ­ed both Sovi­et Jew­ish cit­i­zens as well as Jews who fled from dif­fer­ent parts of East­ern Europe and the Baltic states to escape the Nazis. Snyder’s book forces us to frame the Holo­caust with­in a wider land­scape of geno­ci­dal poli­cies by both the Nazis and the Sovi­ets with­out dimin­ish­ing the unique­ness of Hitler’s war against the Jews.
Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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