Timothy Snyder: Hitler’s, Stalin’s bloodlands instructive history

Source: Ken Osborne, the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2011 H7

Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin By Timothy Snyder, Basic Books, 524 pages, $36

BETWEEN 1933 and 1945, more than 14 million people in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and western Russia were killed, not for anything they did but simply for who they were.

Their political beliefs were suspect, they were the wrong religion or nationality or social class, they were too educated, or were simply judged to be in the way.

This mind-numbing figure does not include the millions of soldiers killed in combat on the eastern front during the Second World War. It describes only non-combatants who were killed as the result of decisions knowingly made by Nazi and Soviet policy makers.

This is why Yale University historian Timothy Snyder calls his comprehensive analysis of this European catastrophe Bloodlands.

He argues that the deaths he describes were the result of competing Nazi and Soviet ideologies reinforced by the mutual tensions that existed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

For the Nazis, Eastern Europe and the western Soviet republics were to be the basis of a new German empire, emptied of their inhabitants and peopled by Germans, embodying Nazi principles and providing food and raw materials for the fatherland.

For the Soviets, control of Eastern Europe provided defence in depth and security for their vulnerable western borders in the war with capitalism that Stalin believed was inevitable….

Snyder’s decision to put aside the brutalized nature of combat on the Eastern front and the resulting millions of military deaths between 1941 and 1945 detracts from the grim story he has to tell. Life and death in the bloodlands were even more horrifying than he describes.

Even so, Bloodlands deserves to be read. It is instructive history in every sense of the word.

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