20th Century Europe is one embedded in so manyviolent and historic acts that not one person around the globe would not havebeen affected by them, in one way or another. Timothy Snyder’s ground-breakingbook entitled ”Bloodlands” focuses on what is most certainly the mostimportant and deadliest age of this historic period; Europe between Hitler andStalin. The books aim is to collect and present the extreme amount of researchinto this area of history in order to come up with an accurate count of thoselives lost and to displace common myths that are projected to this period.Other main focuses are the geographic importance of these ”Bloodlands” that ”extendsfrom central Poland to Western Russia, Through Ukraine, Belarus, and the BalticStates” (Pp.
viii) to these two super powers. He is also not including thosekilled in action or just focusing on the deaths attributed to that of the holocaustbut to the memory of all the deliberate mass killings of civilians enforced by theHitler and Stalinist Regimes. Snyder’s time period of this book starts from the early1930s where Stalin first introduces his approach to the modernisation of the USSRVia his first few five-year plans; where at the price for industrialisationcame from that of the millions that died from starvation in the Ukraine where ”thecity housewives making queues had to watch as peasant woman starved to death onthe side-walks” (Pp. 22). With his period of focus coming to an end at the endof the second World War. During this time period and within the lands earlierdescribed is where more than 14 million people lost their lives due to thepolicies of two men. Snyder deliberately starts with the Ukraine faminesbecause it is commonly thought that Stalin’s greatest terror was with hisgulags, however, he shows that with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 manyclassified documents have been released that show how a sentence to the gulags wasn’tnecessarily a death sentence, showing that nine out of ten people sentencedwould survive. Thus, Stalin’s greatest mass murder lay with the over 4 millionmen, woman and children he deliberately starved in the Ukraine and easternEurope and with the deliberate mass killing of the Kulak peasants.
In regard to the Third Reich, Snyder again shows how it isalso commonly thought that most of the Jewish community died within the awfulgas chamber of concentration and death camps, however, he asserts his researchinto stating that in a matter of fact most of the Jews killed in Europe of thistime were actually killed before 1943 and before the first gas chambers were everconstructed. The mass killings that took place before the gas chambers werewith mass graves being dug and individuals being lined up and shot, or with thecreation of mass ghettos where tens or even hundreds of thousands of men, womanand children would die from either starvation or neglect. This wasn’t just thefate of those who were ethically (Jewish/minority populations) or politically ‘opposed’to the Nazi regime but to that of the prisoners of war, mainly Russiansoldiers, where over 4 million died through mass targeted starvation or neglectduring the war. This figure is including the siege of Leningrad where again theNazi regime starved over a million civilians. Snyder is extremely effective at describing the events inthe build-up to the final solution, where again this is another common misconceptionwhere people tend to think that Hitler’s plan all along was for the gassing ofthe Jews.
However, Snyder showed how his plan was far greater in that theoriginal plan was obviously including the successful invasion of operation Barbarossaand that with this he was planning to deport and starve almost up to 30-40million people in and around Russia in the first year. When the German armycame to a halt in 1941, Hitler’s plans inevitably had to change and so this iswhere they had their ‘hand forced’. So now instead of mass killing of their ‘unwanted’they started to use their prisoners for forced labour and began with theprocess for a ‘modern technique’ for mass killing that is the creation of thefinal solution. Snyder effectively argues that these ”Bloodlands” weregeographically the main focal points for both Hitler and Stalin’s regimes. Hesays that for Stalin, the Ukraine was the perfect environment, due to itsclimate and soil, for food supplies to be based in order for his collectivisationto achieve its goal and for the political influence of the Eastern Europeancountries that was extremely valuable. For Hitler, the land east held much of thesame agricultural and political values as it did for Stalin, but also for theland, manpower and deep-rooted cultural reasons.
The main argument that Snyder argues most importantlythroughout the book that hasn’t been touched on yet, is this notion that allthese horrific crimes that were carried out by these regimes were on such agrand scale that it is easy to think about them as just statistics and not asindividual human beings. The way he structures his points with constant referencesof diaries taken from the dead or letters that were sent to loved ones justdays or sometimes on the day they would have been killed really makes thisincredibly researched book so impactful. Snyder has achieved tremendousaccomplishments with this book; the debunking of common misconceptions thatsurrounding this period of history on both Hitler’s and Stalin’s regimes andthe way he has produced accurate statistics in such a humane way that honoursthe memory of these unlucky 14 million men, woman and children that were caughtbetween the crossfire of what was not only the deadliest conflict that Europehas ever seen but that of which the world has seen. With everything that hasbeen said, Snyder has truly written a historical masterpiece that isunforgettable once read.