Between them, the Nazi and Stalinist
regimes murdered more than fourteen million people in what historian
Timothy Snyder terms the Ďbloodlandsí of central and Eastern Europe.
The killing began with a political
famine that Stalin directed at Soviet Ukraine, which claimed almost
four million lives. It continued with Stalinís Great Terror of 1937
and 1938, in which some seven hundred thousand people were shot,
most of them peasants or members of national minorities. The
Soviets and Germans then cooperated in the destruction of Poland and
of its educated classes, killing some two hundred thousand people
between 1939 and 1941. After Hitler betrayed Stalin and ordered the
invasion of the Soviet Union, the Germans starved the Soviet
prisoners of war and the inhabitants of besieged Leningrad, taking
the lives of more than four million people. In the occupied Soviet
Union, occupied Poland and the occupied Baltic states, the Germans
shot and gassed some 5.4 million Jews.
The Germans and Soviets provoked one
another to even greater crimes, as in the partisan wars for Belarus
and Warsaw, which resulted in another 500,000 civilian deaths at the
hands of the German invaders. As Snyder reminds us, these
atrocities shared a place, and they shared a time: the bloodlands
between 1933 and 1945.
Timothy Snyderís masterful new work
combines vivid evocations of place and period with a typically
scrupulous reliance on statistics and primary source material. The
end result is a frequently startling, thoroughly nuanced and deeply
humane retelling of the bloodiest epoch in human history: in 400
pages of typically powerful, sparsely poetic prose, Snyder captures
the suffering of the peasant populace under Stalinism and the
barbarity of Nazi invasion more effectively than any other historian
of living memory.
Bloodlands also differs from
many other histories of the period in that it doesnít take its
concluding point to be the end of the war. Rather the tale
continues on into post-war Russia and its far-flung socialist
satellites, exploring the manner in which the Holocaust and ĎGreat
Patriotic Warí were ceaselessly propagandised in the years leading
up to Stalinís death in 1953. The bookís concluding chapters also
delve into the oft-overlooked rise of state sanctioned anti-Semitism
in the final years of Stalinís reign, and tell of the warís
forgotten heroes such as Tuvia Bielski, a partisan leader who saved
the lives of more than 1200 Jews by hiding them in the Belorussian
forests throughout the German occupation.
Distinctive, ambitious and genuinely
gripping, Bloodlands finds Snyder at the top of his game.
Itís an unflinching and inventive exploration of mankindís seemingly
monumental capacity for destruction, and one in which rare glimmers
of humanity shine like beacons in the near-total darkness.