Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder investigates the fate of the people who were caught between the regimes of Hitler and Stalin, in the area of Poland, the Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States. This area was the location of the majority of the killings and deportations done by both regimes, before, during and after WWII.

I would recommend having a solid knowledge of the history of both German and the Soviet Union at the time in order to read this book, that makes it much easier to follow. Snyder gives a extensive account of the mass murders that happened in the Bloodlands and investigates the reasons for them. Hitler and Stalin cooperated, used mass killings done by the other for their own purposes or used them as propaganda for their own agenda.

Just as often, the killings done by their own regime were used to support it, like the famine in Ukraine. This was very much man-made and planned and could have easily been avoided. Instead, the farmers were accused of refusing to support socialism, hiding food and starving on purpose. When people resorted to cannibalism, the propaganda cited that as proof of their barbarism.

It's not an easy book to read. I found the chapter on the Ukraine famine particularly heartbreaking, maybe because I never read such a detailed account of it. Like the Holocaust, it was a case of people believing so much in a regime's propaganda that they were willing to deny other people their status as fellow human beings. It makes me wonder if I could fall for any idea so much that I would be willing to do that. I hope not, but I'm by no means sure. Snyder discusses this question as well in the last chapter of his book, suggesting that putting oneself in the place of the perpetrators of such crimes, although rarely done, is important and useful for exploring moral questions and understanding of history.

Bloodlands offers a new perspective of the Holocaust as well by not focusing on the concentration camps, where actually only a minority of the victims died (but still a vast number). He explores often neglected facets of the history of the region, like the Warsaw Uprising and the Polish (often Jewish) partisans who were caught between the Nazi and Soviet armies and who had much to fear from both of them. He mentions Tuvia Bielski and I can recommend the movie Defiance for a closer look at this group of Jewish partisans - fictionalised, of course, but still very much worth your time.

I would definitely put Bloodlands on the reading list for anyone interested in the history of the countries involved.

1st book for the Non-Fiction Challenge
2012 reviews

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