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Timothy Snyder defines the Bloodlands in today's terms as Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States, Petersburg, the western rim of the Russian Federation, and most of Poland. Between 1930 and 1945, the region saw the murder of more than 14 million people. The famine associated with farm collectivisation took more than three million lives, mostly in Ukraine. The Great Terror (/Purge/Yezhovshchina), also pre-war, took 700,000. The Nazis and Soviets then invaded Poland and the Baltic States, and both set about eliminating the educated classes; 200,000 dead. Hitler invaded the Soviet Union and starved to death a million or more Leningrad residents and three million prisoners of war. More than five million Jews living in Poland, the Baltic States and the occupied Soviet Union were shot or gassed. After the tide of war turned, the Soviets encouraged partisans to harry retreating German troops (but gave them little support) and a further half million civilians were killed in Belarus and Warsaw.

As the 700 plus entries in the bibliography of this volume demonstrate, there is a vast scholarship that falls within or overlaps this subject area. Timothy Snyder's achievement, and it is very considerable, is to bring it all together, presenting data, narrative and a selection of first-hand accounts as a coherent and digestible whole. The horror and the scale of the slaughter are hard to comprehend - staggering numbers of people rounded-up, transported, killed, and bodies disposed of in very short spaces of time, even a single day, or night. They are also hard to take, especially when a few last words reach us from a victim, such as from a child who knows she is about to be killed, and how.

But Timothy Snyder has a bigger purpose than merely to shock us. After rather more than 300 pages detailing the crimes, the last two chapters become extended essays addressing wider issues, invoking and seeking to take further the analyses of commentators such as Vasily Grossman, Hannah Arendt and Anna Akhmatova. He pleads with us not to fall into the moral trap of dismissing the Nazis or the Soviets as inhuman, for that is how they viewed the people they killed. Like their victims, they were indeed human, and we must persist in endeavouring to understand them.

One `by-product' of the book was entirely new to me and, as such, particularly interesting - Nazi plans for the newly-conquered territories post-war. Additional to total removal of the Jews (not necessarily by killing them), a large proportion of the indigenous population was to be starved to death, or terrorised into fleeing East, beyond the Urals. The rest were to be enslaved in a purely agrarian economy presided over by immigrant German farmers. Existing cities and towns were to be razed and a new network of small (German) towns established. When capitulation of the Soviet Union was not immediately achieved in autumn 1941, Generalplan Ost was largely put on hold. Jews were in any case virtually eliminated from the occupied territories and millions of Slavs starved to death, but those actions were not directly in fulfilment of the plan.

The book is well written, and there are only a couple of points where the American English might obscure the intended meaning for the user of British English. Some repetition, especially of lists of locations and numbers, suggests the book is expected to be prescribed to students one chapter at a time, and not necessarily sequentially, but the occasional re-cap can be helpful and does not become irritating. The book is well supplied with useful maps illustrating changing boundaries and the locations of key events, and well indexed.
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on 24 October 2011
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 1940 and slave labour under the Nazis after 1941. 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 Stalinist regime, survived the battles for Kharkov and slave labour in Germany. I was taught chess by a White Russian whose memories of that time were horrific. Even I visited Auschwitz in 1963 - when I returned to England I was shocked to realise non of the English people I knew knew anything about the place. Until recently who, apart from the Poles, knew the truth about Katyn?
So, when I started reading Timothy Snyder's "Bloodlands" my first impression was "There is nothing new here". I'd heard it all in one place or another. But what Snyder does do is take all those evils and puts them together in his Pandora's Box - only one thing is missing, Hope. Because there was no hope, only fear and death. The depressing bleakness hollows out the soul. One has to pause to take stock, to look away, to absorb the evil and hear the dead cry out for justice, and an understanding that what happened there, on the "Eastern Front", in the "Bloodlands", actually exceeded anything the West could understand: "...The American and British soldiers who liberated the dying inmates from camps in Germany believed that they had discovered the horrors of Nazism. The images their photographers and cameramen captured of the corpses and the living skeletons at Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald seemed to convey the worst crimes of Hitler...this was far from the truth. The worst was in the ruins of Warsaw, or the fields of Treblinka, or the marshes of Belarus, or the pits of Babi Yar." Timothy Snyder is the conscience of us all.
Snyder fills his Pandora's Box and then he reveals its contents to us. He deals with the real terrors of Stalinism; the tragedy of the Great Famine of the Ukraine, the nightmare of the Great Terror, and the cold-blooded elimination of the educated classes and all forms of potential resistance in Poland. He goes on to deal with Nazism; once more, the elimination of educated Poles, the attempts to depopulate Belarus, and the Final Solution. He looks at Post-War Cold War anti-Semitism in a very knowledgeable manner that makes the era clearly understandable. He does a wonderful job of sorting the truth out from the "false history" we have in the West by reminding us (for example) that "by the time the gas chamber and crematoria complexes came on line in spring 1943, more than three-quarters of the Jews who would be killed in the Holocaust were already dead." The name of Belzec is less well known than that of Auschwitz because it was a death camp - those who survived it were highly lucky and could be counted on the fingers of one hand. "The vast majority of Jews killed in the Holocaust never saw a concentration camp."
Snyder debunks the modern attempts to "balance" out history: the Nazis and the Soviets were not inhuman beasts - they were ordinary men and women like you and me. These men and women had ideals which they tried to live up to. They saw themselves as victims of other groups and their actions were a form of self-defense. They forced others to collude in their plans by giving them a choice between that or death. He reminds us of the real atrocities carried out in the war, for example, "About as many Poles were killed in the bombing of Warsaw in 1939 as Germans were killed in the bombing of Dresden in 1945. For Poles, that bombing was just the beginning of one of the bloodiest occupations of the war... " and that "German journalists and (some) historians ... have exaggerated the number of Germans killed during wartime and postwar evacuation, flight, or deportation..."
Snyder's "Bloodlands" are, for me, the lands of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth partitioned between 1772 and 1794. The horrors that took place here are just a continuation of the policies of the Germans and Russians to control those lands. Perhaps I fall into that category of historians who try to understand the horrors in nationalistic terms - he debunks the Russian myth of the "Great Patriotic war" and points out that most of the "Russian" dead were "Soviet" and came from Belarus, the Ukraine and Eastern Poland - themselves victims of Stalinism in 1939 (and earlier).
I said there was nothing new here - that isn't completely true. Snyder's research is so broad as he brings the strands together that there will always be a fact that will surprise you, no matter how much you think you know the history. I never knew that the invading Germans, in 1939, tended not to treat captured Polish soldiers as prisoners-of-war but simply shot many of them as they surrendered. Snyder filled his history with facts and figures throughout. One simple fact stands in for so many in the book: "On any given day in the second half of 1941, the Germans shot more Jews than had been killed by pogroms in the entire history of the Russian Empire."
There's nothing new in this book. The story and the facts have always been available. In this post-Cold war era the truth about what went on in the East has been slowly revealed to the West: all the "false" history is been revealed as another version of the West's anti-Communist propaganda, a Big brother version of history in which Polish troops, for example, were not allowed to partake in VE celebrations because the country was Communist (albeit sold out by the allies at Yalta). Snyder brings the true history of this era to the attention of the West. Everyone should read it - but then I would say that, wouldn't I, I was raised amongst survivors of the great horror that was the War in Eastern Europe.
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on 21 February 2011
As stated or implied in a number of other reviews this book is extraordinarily well researched. It has a particularly high level of scholarship, while being eminently readable. The concluding essay,entitled "Humanity" is particularly perspicatious, and has lessons for us today. The author points out the danger of identifying with victims, and separating victims from perpetrators without understanding that a victim can also be a perpetrator. For a victim and a perpetrator can be one and the same: victimhood can stand as a justication for the crimes commited. Thus both Stalin and Hitler claimed to be victims of international capitalist or Jewish conspiracy, fuelling both the Soviet Great Terror of the 1930s and the Holocaust respectively. One can see similar ideas of victimhood active in today's world,for example in the Middle East, leading to e.g. suicide bombings on the one hand and disproportionate reprisals, human rights violations,even retributory murders on the other. Another point brought up is that of regarding the perpetrator as beyond the pale of understanding, in fact to be subhuman or inhuman. This is a cop-out and in effect buys into the same philosophy as Hitler. As Lawrence Rees has pointed out in a number of his books(e.g. Auschwitz : The Nazis & The 'Final Solution', interviews with war criminals reveal them to be banal and ordinary, in fact all too human. It is this which needs explaining, and Snyder goes some considerable way to doing this. Another point addressed is who the perpetrators were: in the case of the Germans, not just party functionaries or the SS, but also the Wehrmacht, many ordinary people,and even citizens of overrun countries - after all, killing on an industrial scale requires logistics, infrastructure and a lot of manpower. This fits in rather well with what Richard Evens says in the his magnum opus, The Third Reich at War: How the Nazis Led Germany from Conquest to Disaster.
I read the book through sequentially. I suggest that a better approach might be to read in the order abstract, introduction, conclusion and then the rest of the chapters sequentially. This will help the mind to better grasp the mass of detail. Finally, I must frankly add - and this is not a negative criticism - that the sheer magnitude and cruelty of the killing reported makes this a shocking and depressing book. I think it is important to understand how these atrocities came about, but be prepared to be upset.
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on 3 November 2010
An extraordinary work that puts in the State sponsored slaughter that took place in the 30's and 40's in Belarus , East Poland (as defined then) and the Ukraine into context. Its not quite in the nightmare-generating category but it's close . I think the way in which the death toll at , say , Treblinka is put onto a footing that can be understood and assimilated is masterful.This work is not quotes just unquotes another study of the Holocaust but it is an analysis that takes a broader vista and brings the totalitarian Stalinist elimination programs into an appropriate context.

The only mild criticism I would offer is that there is some repetition in the work and a skillful editor could sharpen the narrative on occasions. This does not lessen the impact of the contents . It is one of the most significant books that I have ever read. In my opinion , a must-read for anybody interested in the 20th century History of Europe.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 September 2012
There is very little one can add to the excellent reviews already listed save to say that in this book Snyder again demonstrates his ability to write yet another magnificent history. A Professor at Yale, he has already written acclaimed books such as :'The Reconstruction of Nations', books that reek of deep knowledge and meticulous scholarship.

Sad to say there are still people who deny the atrocities committed by Stalin and Hitler (plus of course thousands of willing assistants). They ought to be force-fed this book. The crimes these monsters were responsible for are almost impossible to comprehend. How can one, for example, imagine millions being deliberately starved to death?

Snyder has linguistic skills of a very high order and an ability to write outstanding books based on original research. No matter how many books one has read on this period of history you will learn a great deal that is new from 'Bloodlands'.

For students, and some historians, he usefully explains the distinction between concentration camps and death camps. There is much confusion about these terms and Snyder makes the difference very clear. As he points out many people survived the horrors of the camps while none survived the killing sites. There was an enormous difference between labour and gas, slavery and bullets.

Snyder's discussion of the appalling Gulags should be read in conjunction with Applebaum's brilliant account in :Gulag'. Both remind us that in order to defeat the Nazis we had to 'sup with the devil' who ruled the Soviet Union.
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on 12 February 2013
This book depressed and shocked me more than any other book that I read in a long long time. The human suffering explained in great detail in this book and the amount of numbers Snyder is referring to are at times hard to take in. It almost unbelievable that no-one intervened earlier and that both Russia and Germany were given so much space (mainly in the Ukraine, the Baltic States and Poland) to commit such atrocious crimes. Crimes that started far before WWII started and continued long after the war ended. As such the book makes a very strong point for the fact that there were two evil countries and not only just one. The result : 14 million people perished and Snyder narrates without exception, does not hold back and decribes this crimes till the last detail. The story itself is about through what way and methods, did Stalin and Hitler got rid of unwanted people. Of course the most famous are the 6 million Jews who perished in the Nazi death camps. But as Snyder demonstrates, most Jews that were killed never even saw a concentration camp from the inside. Far more were shot, starved to death or asphyxiated in one of the gas vans that were driving around (as in Minsk, for example). But, there is also much space about how the Germans treated Russian prisoners of war, and how visa versa the Russians avenged their comrades once the roles were turned around. Katyn, Babi Jar, the deployment of Trawniki's, etc. Because Snyder often cites from personal accounts, notes, letters of people that survided or died, the story comes very close and becomes very personal. A harrowing read but at the same time also a very compulsory read. This book should be read far beyond the border of historians and serve as a warning and a lesson for all times but is not for the faint hearted.
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on 24 January 2011
....for every single politician and budding politician out there. Bloodlands is probably the best history book I have ever read. Compelling reading presenting the macro view as well as the human detail in a balanced manner. The book puts the Holocaust in the context of the wider mass murder that was perpetrated in this part of Europe by Hitler and Stalin and many other Nationalist groups. The growth of the Holocaust deniers would be seriously impaired if more people read this sad indictment on the evil that was allowed to flourish in the 30's+40's. Learn from the past so not to allow the same mistakes to be made.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 December 2010
This is a book that really adds to available literature on the Holocaust, by placing it within the context of the eastern European Bloodlands - the land fought over by Hitler and Stalin - both before, during and after WW2.
The first part of the book concentrates on the plight of the Ukrainians and Poles, the first victims of Stalin and his murderous ways. Thereafter, the book details Hitler's war of annihilation against the Jews and Slavic people in general. Finally, after many heart rending accounts, the book looks at what happened to the Poles after `liberation', not to mention the plight of the Polish ethnic Germans and ethnic Ukrainians. What struck me most was how disturbingly easy it was for human beings to ignore our common humanity, via Nazi and Communist dehumanising policies, so that they become mere statistics. Timothy Snyder, though, throughout the book, stresses that beneath each number lies a personal story, of tragedy, desire and ambition - each cruelly taken away by the evil dual dictatorships of Stalin and Hitler. Unlike many accounts of such atrocities, the author manages the difficult balancing act of staying `neutral', thereby letting the voices of the past tell their own stories, without feeling the need to embellish the accounts with purple prose.
Equally condemning of both regimes, this truly is a ground breaking book, and key for those seeking a step-by-step explanation for the mass killings of the 20th century.
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on 2 January 2011
This book is an immense and scholarly contribution to the catalogue of second world literature. It takes the reader into areas that are much neglected, not just the Eastern Front, but moreover the fate of the inhabitants of the putative Bloodlands, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland. It's unfortunate that much literature on the Eastern Front focuses on the sensational and ghoulish aspects of war, however Snyder has assiduously researched and sourced his facts to deliver a truly academic study of this topic. Let's hope that Snyder continues to deliver work of this immensity, significance and quality. Incidentally, don't be put off by the garish book jacket - I bought the alternative hardback version which has a black and white photographic cover.
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on 15 January 2013
This book filled me with mounting horror and anger. Horror that so-called civilised states could be captured by gangsters and murderers, who could then conscript millions of ordinary people to carry out tasks of extraordinary insane cruelty. How could in Germany, educated people set out a plan to starve 30 million east europeans to death? How could the leadership of the Soviet Union set quotas for arrests and executions of categories of people (nearly 1 million in 1937-38 alone)? How could the Soviet leadership see millions of Ukrainians starve to death?

I liked (strange word in context) the way Snyder allowed details of individual killings, by Nazis and Communists, to bring home the inhumanity, which can get lost in a litany of statistics.

My anger is that we now excoriate Nazis and Nazism as a creed of horror and terror, but give a pass to Communists, as though the terror and murder was somehow an accident, rather than a core part of Communism. Every Communist regime has been associated with murder and terror - it's obviously part and parcel of their nature. So why aren't Communists and their fellow travellers reviled in the West today?

Read this, and Figes' The Whisperers, and David Satter's "It happened a long time ago" for an idea of the horror associated with Communism in the Soviet Union.
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