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April 2022

Bloodlands  

by Timothy Snyder 

Εκδόσεις Παπαδόπουλος (Greek publisher)

Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder is a well known book whose main topic is the mass murder committed by the USSR and Nazi Germany in eastern Europe from 1933 to 1945. The book begins with the story of the Ukrainian famine of 1933 (which is very prescient today). First, Stalin’s decision to collectivise agriculture in the USSR is described. The 1933 famine is revealed to be intrinsically linked to this policy in a broader context, and, specifically, to decisions taken consciously by soviet leaders and officials which they knew may result in an extremely high death toll. Grain exports from Ukraine would continue during the famine so that the quotas could be met, stored food and grain was confiscated by the authorities and any idea of acknowledging the famine and allowing an intervention by the Red Cross was dismissed. An estimated 3,3 million people died in the famine in what the author argues was a planned eradication of a vast swathe of the population of Ukraine. The book also describes the subsequent crackdown on soviet citizens of Polish decent, a deliberate policy of persecution ordered by Stalin and his security chief Genrikh Yagoda spurred by the fears of the Polish state allying with Germany and Japan against the USSR. The persecution of Poles in the USSR, which began systematically in 1939, was clearly carried out on ethnic grounds and without any evidence of treacherous behaviour. Besides these two waves of mass murder, Stalin would kill and deport many more soviet citizens, setting quotas for the police. Together with the atrocities against Poles (many of whom were in the Ukraine) and in the context of the more general Great Terror, 300.000 soviet citizens would die and many more would be sent to labor camps mainly in Kazakhstan. When the war broke out in 1939, Nazi Germany’s deeply racist ideology would lead to concepts such as the hunger plan to starve eastern Europe’s Slavic populations. Jews and Slavs did not fit into the broader plan for German colonization of the former USSR post war, and, therefore, suffered a lot of hardship. More specifically, with the abandonment of the plan to deport Jews to Madagascar, these populations were confined to ghettos with many summarily executed and tipped into mass graves (see, Babi Yar, for example) in appalling conditions and later were subject to mass extermination. The author points out that the extermination of Jews loosely followed a pattern based on German needs. At certain times they were short of labor and used Jewish populations as slaves, at others when food was in short supply Jews were exterminated with most deliberate extermination happening in extermination camps in Poland. Finally, this tragic chapter of history ends with the population movements after WWII, which also had casualties and the growing anti-Jewish sentiment in the leadership of the USSR, which was linked to a suspicion of Israel and their ties to the USA. One of the important thesis of the book is that most of the atrocities of the 1930s and the 1940s were carried out in what the author calls the “Bloodlands” (eastern Europe: Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states, parts of the USSR). The author stresses in the book that it is easy to approach the genocides he examines in an increasingly theoreticised approach of the ideas behind them. The book recalls many incidents that fit into the broader context of extermination. There are also tragic personal experiences which are recounted in the book, personal accounts of cannibalism in Ukraine, executions of Jews or soviet political prisoners. The book points out that these genocidal actions in eastern Europe were deliberate policies which were implemented by brutal armies and security forces. An important message is the how dangerously potent the use of hate is against one's fellow man. Overall the book is a very important read although definitely not a pleasurable one as it recounts the endless suffering of normal people vividly.  Lastly, it was an interesting coincidence that I heard the author talk (Timothy Snyder) on Misha Glenny’s “The Invention of Poland” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0015v83 ) just a week or so after finishing the book.

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My copy

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