Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 21 May 2014
While most of us know that Eastern Europe suffered dearly during the WW2 era, other than the Holocaust and the NKVD terror, we in the West often found difficulty in describing exactly what the sufferings were. In Bloodlands, author Timothy Snyder set out to document the deliberate mass murders planned and conducted by both Germany and the Soviet Union in the region unfortunate enough to be situated between the two powers. In 1932, Joseph Stalin orchestrated a famine in the Ukraine that led to at least 1,800,000 deaths. Then, the National Operations of the Soviet NKVD systematically rounded up and murdered at least 200,000, about half of whom were of Polish in ethnicity. While these wounds were still fresh, Germany and the Soviet Union jointly invaded and occupied Poland, and the killings continued. The NKVD eliminated the Polish intelligentsia in the Soviet occupation zone, and the German Einsatzgruppen murdered large numbers of Jews by shooting in the German occupation zone. Gas chambers would be added to the German arsenal in dealing with the undesired ethnic groups, but the defeat of Adolf Hitler's Germany did not bring relief to the peoples of Poland, Ukraine, Byelorussia (now Belarus), Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, for they would once again face the Soviets. By Snyder's account, 14,000,000 people succumbed to German and Soviet planned mass murders. When describing the atrocities, he held back little, making sure that the mental images of Ukrainians driven mad by hunger and thousands of Jews being shot one by one at the edges of trenches remained scarred in our minds. When speaking of numbers, he made sure that his readers understood that these statistics were not anonymous; they were made of fellow human beings.
Perhaps of little consequence, I found it interesting that Snyder categorized Jews as a national group rather than just a religious group. He seemed to suggest that Polish Christians were Polish nationals while Polish Jews were guests of sorts in Poland; the same distinction would be made throughout the book when he spoke of the people of the other "Bloodlands" nations. I found it to be a different view of Eastern European demographics than what I was used to.
I had reviewed this book in its audio book format. Ralph Cosham did a fine job with the reading. Although my knowledge of Russian, Polish, and other Eastern European languages was completely lacking, he seemed to have ample proficiency in the reading of the many names of people and places found in this book.
Bloodlands was not an easy book to go through, for that it reminded me how terrible we as human beings could be. I had picked up several books about the Holocaust previously, but Snyder's accounts of German atrocities against the Jews still made me shiver. Meanwhile, I learned much about the murderous Soviet programs against its own people, something that I had only vague notions of prior to this book. While most histories viewed the sufferings of the Eastern European people as the result of two imperialist powers, this book made clear that this nightmarish chapter deserved to be studied on its own. To say that this work made a lasting impression on me would be too little.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939