A remarkable account of an atrocious period of world history. Brilliantly researched and written in a way that is easy to follow. A must read for anyone interested in history, particularly European history during WWII.
This was a difficult read. Not for the writing but for the content. As a Canadian of Ukrainian descent, the Holodomor or murder by hunger, was a topic of incredible sensitivity and division within our community. Of course, Snyder's tremendous contribution to the examination of Stalin's and Hitler's terror covers more than the Ukrainian famine. He ingeniously casts a light on a geographic area he calls the Bloodlands, where the dictators and their regimes murdered 14 million people from 1933 to 1945.
The Bloodlands extends from central Poland to western Russia, through Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States. Ukraine was the epicenter where the most lives were lost in WW2. Snyder points out that while Hitler's record was atrocious in war, Stalin's was in peacetime and collectively their actions are near unimaginable.
Snyder begins by examining the Ukrainian famine that began in 1933. It was prompted by a failed five year plan and the effects of collectivization. Stalin, loathe to take responsibility, blamed the peasants and "agitators". The author takes a logical view on the lives lost based on the available information and arrives at 3.3 million. This has always been a contentious issue with Ukrainians but Snyder states his assumptions objectively and this adds to his credibility.
Snyder then covers the deportation of Kulaks, the decimation of the Poles from two sides, Jewish persecution and The Holocaust, and economic and ethnic intentions and actions in the Bloodlands. In fact, if there is an explanation for the killing, Snyder roots it in agriculture. Stalin wanted to collectivize farmers; Hitler wanted to eliminate them so Germans could colonize the land.
The book's scope is overwhelming especially to those new to this period. And the first hand accounts are disturbing to say the least involving cannibalism, neighbor turning against neighbor, and the aggregate hardships faced by the inhabitants of the Bloodlands.
I read a review of the book by Istvan Deak, Seth Low Professor Emeritus at Colombia who provided this amazing illustration of the confusion, shifting alliances, borders, ideologies, and need to survive that defined the Bloodlands:
"It is not difficult, for example, to conjure the image of a young Ukrainian patriot in what used to be eastern Poland who, just before the outbreak of World War II, is drafted into the Polish army, but following the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland in September 1939 automatically becomes a Soviet citizen and is drafted into the Soviet army. Captured by the Germans in 1941 and confronted with the choice of starving to death in a POW camp or becoming a policeman in German service, he chooses the latter, and in the next few years he fights Soviet partisans and shoots defenseless Jews. In 1943 or 1944, he goes over to the partisans, as so many other Ukrainian policemen were doing. Soon, we find him in a Soviet uniform again, serving in a combat unit. He makes it across Central Europe, fighting against the Germans, but at one point he deserts, joining the countless other Red Army deserters who are indistinguishable from bandits, and who drift behind the combat units. Finally caught and accused of desertion, he ends up in the Gulag."
This book is tough to read but important for this point provided by the author, "The Nazi and Soviet regimes turned people into numbers. It is for us as humanists to turn the numbers back into people. If we cannot do that, then Hitler and Stalin have shaped not only our world but our humanity."