For instance, Snyder notes that early Soviet support for the " Warsaw Uprising " against the Nazi occupation was followed by an unwillingness to aid the uprising; the Soviets were willing to have the Nazis wipe the city clean for a later Soviet occupation. Snyder notes this as an example of interaction that may have led to many more deaths than might have been the case if each regime had been acting independently. Snyder re-examines numerous points of the war and postwar years: the Nazi German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact of ; the rescue of Jews by Poles during the Holocaust ; Soviet persecution of the Polish underground , cursed soldiers and their own prisoners of war after the war. He recounts that in an unofficial orphanage in a village in the Kharkiv region, the children were so hungry they resorted to cannibalism. One child ate parts of himself while he was being cannibalised.
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To be asked to review such a text nearly seven years after its original publication is to an extent to be asked not only to consider the success of the book in meeting these fundamental aims, but its impact on a wider field and understanding of its subject matter. Snyder set out to change our understanding of the Bloodlands — so, to put it crudely, how far did he succeed? In some senses, as Snyder acknowledges, Bloodlands was a history for its own time.
It is, self-evidently, a post-Cold War project not least because in practical terms it has access to insights that were unavailable to scholars before the collapse of the Soviet Union. But perhaps more importantly it is a post-Holocaust analysis too.
By which I mean it is an analysis cast after the Holocaust had been cemented within a wider historical consciousness. The attempt to set the Holocaust in a history of violence has for example been a consistent part of scholarship since even before the Second World War ended. All of these were efforts to position the Holocaust in a particular context. So, when Bloodlands set out to place the murder of Jews in a wider history of violence within Europe, it was following in a rich tradition.
The novelty was therefore not so much the aim of contextualisation but in the choice of context — in this case a geographical space. Snyder reasserted that European history of the Holocaust by putting Nazi anti-Jewish violence in the context of wider German violence against European populations, especially Poles, and also in the context of Soviet violence in the same spaces, for example in terms of the Holodomor. For the non-specialist there is much to learn in the first part of the book about the terror-famine in the Ukraine which Snyder convincingly renders as a kind of self-fulfilling bureaucratic fantasy as well as a human tragedy.
First, understanding the Nazi and Soviet dictatorships together is of course not in itself novel — such efforts had been a Cold War staple. But if we consider an extended geographical context, then it of course ignores the huge violence and population movements associated with the collapse of the multi-ethnic Empires in Europe and on its borders throughout the first part of the century.
Or to put it another way, Snyder draws only geographical links between the two tragedies — he does not attempt to find even partially overlapping explanations or implications for them. How do we join the dots between the events described? Yet we are given nothing to causally link these two approaches to food policy.
This designation is striking, event singular not plural. It is also rather jarring — precisely because at times it is difficult to discern the causal or analytical framework in which we are being invited to understand this litany of violence in such a fashion. The answer to the question what renders it a single event is unanswered. It is also striking that Bloodlands offers very little analysis of the actual geographies in which the violence took place, beyond the designation of the space.
Perhaps the discovery of geography has come late to Holocaust studies, but we know, thanks to the work of scholars such as Tim Cole, that the landscape itself was an important protagonist in Holocaust history. Such an analysis is not present here. At the same time, it is also difficult to find an investigation of the people within the Bloodlands. Who carried out the 14 million murders that define this history; what motivated them? To put it bluntly why did they kill? There is little analysis to be found here, despite the voluminous and sometimes heart-breaking detail around some of the violence.
For the most part, our perpetrators are the familiar leaders of this destruction. If a thesis is put forward in Bloodlands at all, it is where Snyder suggests that Nazi and Soviet violence interacted. At different times the twin totalitarian devils prepared the ground for one another. Hitler and Stalin co-operated in their violent campaigns against Poland — similarly targeting Polish leaders in an effort to effectively destroy the Polish nation.
The Bloodlands were literally the lands between Hitler and Stalin and as such the most violence occurred in a struggle for supremacy over and within those lands.
The argument that it was in the interaction of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that the most lethal violence occurred has two main implications for our understanding of the Holocaust according to Snyder. The first is in the rejection of the over-theorisation of Holocaust studies as he sees it — not least the idea that the Holocaust reveals in general terms something about the logic of modernity or as Zygmunt Bauman described it, that it revealed the truth of modernity.
For Snyder the very opposite is the case, Nazism and Sovietism were an attack on the European Enlightenment not a consequence of it. This is a theme that he recently returned to in his provocative history of the Holocaust entitled Black Earth which argues very clearly that the Shoah cannot be considered as a consequence of the development of the nation-state, perhaps the central story of modern European history, and the effort to remake such a state but in fact can only really be understood in terms of the absence of the state.
It is clear Snyder can only go so far in his designation of the Holocaust as a part of European history. He argues, in repetition of debates about decision making from the s, that the Nazi Final Solution emerged in revenge for Nazi perception of their failure to win the war in the Soviet Union. Both Nazi and Soviet regimes dreamed of empire, and both saw within empire the same possibilities — namely economic security and self-sufficiency.
As such, the violence that underpinned both regimes and the struggle between them can be realistically understood as part of the general history of European imperialism. This is a welcome argument, notwithstanding the links between that imperialism and the Enlightenment, but it is a contextualisation that requires a history beginning long before , and as such Snyder really only begins to ask the question about how we might situate these events within our understanding of the violence exported from Europe rather than finding any particular answers.
How far has Bloodlands shaped or impacted understanding either within the academy or in terms of a wider public? To deal with the latter first, this is an almost impossible question to answer, but I can offer some speculations. Snyder was in part motivated by what he felt were the limitations of a general understanding of the Holocaust in the 21st century despite the widespread acceptance of the importance of remembering these events.
I would personally argue that the deficiencies in the general picture of the Holocaust that exist, for example in modern Britain, might be better understood as a consequence of that widespread memorialisation rather than despite it, but that is an argument for another day. Auschwitz remains the central symbol of the Holocaust, for example, with little or no sense that the complexity of this institution is widely appreciated or the fact that before it began its operation the vast, vast majority of the victims of the Bloodlands had already been murdered.
In terms of scholarship, it is perhaps best to reflect that Bloodlands asked several of the questions that continue to detain scholars of the Holocaust in particular, and of mass violence more generally. The question of the context in which we should understand the genocide of the Jews remains the central concern for scholars of this period, even if answers are often widely and politically differentiated. Similarly, we see a steady stream of scholars attempting to assert the wider contexts for Nazi violence — in terms of the history of imperialism; the wider history of genocide or of inter-ethnic tensions beyond simply a history of German antisemitism.
As such while Snyder did not provide many of the answers in Bloodlands, he did begin to ask the questions. December
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A glance at a map of the same area in shows that in the intervening years the bloodlands had become two countries: the German Reich and the Soviet Union. Clearly, then, Bloodlands is not only the story of hunger, war, and massacre, but also of imperial conquest. And rather than satisfying the two monster states, their imperialism caused them to turn against each other until one disappeared from the map, if only temporarily, while the other triumphed, only to disappear five decades later. After all, many more people died in the bloodlands in the s and s—of hunger, typhus, frost, arson, forced labor, torture, and murder—than in all the rest of Europe. The major victims of one or the other killer, or of the two killers acting in unison, were Jews, Poles, ethnic Germans, well-to-do farmers, members of the intelligentsia, and religious and ethnic minorities.
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
Start your review of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin Write a review Shelves: non-fiction , history , polish , central-european-setting , world-war-2 , russian , jewish , german , my-must-reads , 20th-century I was raised amongst survivors of the great horror that was the War in Eastern Europe. My mother endured forced labour under the Soviets in and slave labour under the Nazis after She saw some of her family being deported by the Soviets to almost certain death in Kazakhstan and discovered the rest in a mass grave, shot by the Nazis. Her best friend survived Auschwitz. My Godfather was a partizan in the forests around Lwow, fighting both Nazis and Soviets. My Godmother lived through the I was raised amongst survivors of the great horror that was the War in Eastern Europe.
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder – review
Share via Email , Kiev. The novelist Vasily Grossman , then a Red Army soldier, was walking across the still-settling wasteland where the extermination camp of Treblinka had stood until nine months before. As Timothy Snyder writes, Grossman "found the remnants: photographs of children in Warsaw and Vienna; a bit of Ukrainian embroidery; a sack of hair, blonde and black". The loose soil, flung around by peasants digging for Jewish gold, was still "throwing out crushed bones, teeth, clothes, papers". Forgotten stuff works its way to the surface.
To be asked to review such a text nearly seven years after its original publication is to an extent to be asked not only to consider the success of the book in meeting these fundamental aims, but its impact on a wider field and understanding of its subject matter. Snyder set out to change our understanding of the Bloodlands — so, to put it crudely, how far did he succeed? In some senses, as Snyder acknowledges, Bloodlands was a history for its own time. It is, self-evidently, a post-Cold War project not least because in practical terms it has access to insights that were unavailable to scholars before the collapse of the Soviet Union.