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A Mixed Bag
on 26 August 2015
This book is partly a political history of the Baltic States in the 'thirties and 'forties, partly a military history of the conflict in the region in 1941 and in 1944/45, and partly an account of the trials and tribulations of the people of the region caught, as the title suggests, between pernicious giants. The endemic homicidal anti-Semitism of the region that manifested itself in the opening weeks of the war is given a somewhat light touch by Buttar, much of it being explained away as the unfortunate result of pre-war Soviet policies and subsequent manipulative German propaganda. The account of the military conflict in the region in 1941 is somewhat patchy; the opening week or two of the war being described in considerable detail, but the subsequent two months through July and August, during which the Germans gained control over the entire region, being covered rather sketchily. The narrative tends to jump from the end of 1941 to the beginning of 1944 with only limited mention being made of events in 1942 and 1943, though the participation of various Baltic police units in the massacre of civilians, both in their home states and in other German occupied areas of the Soviet Union during this period, is described. In addition to Buttar's extensive portrayal of the wartime political and military personalities of the Baltic States, the book's main strength is its heavily anecdotal account of the German defence of the region during the Red Army's advance of 1944; though in the absence of any orders-of-battle, Buttar's reference to various combat units often lacked meaningful context. Additionally and unfortunately Buttar's detailed description of the Soviet breakout from Leningrad towards Narva in January 1944 was, in the absence of any relevant battle map, difficult to follow. A similar criticism could be applied to Buttar's account of Third Belorussian Front's attempts to break into East Prussia from southern Lithuaniain the autumn of that year. There are also a number of errors, such as Buttar confusing the Soviet First Guards Army (which fought in the Ukraine and the Carpathians) with First Shock Army.
The concluding chapter describes the regional aftermath of the war; the active resistance to Soviet rule that continued for many years, the varied fates of a number of the most prominent pro-Nazi and other anti-Soviet personalities from the war era, and the eventual realisation of independence for the Baltic States during the break-up of the Soviet Union. This book is something of a mixed bag that seems a little uncertain of its target readership. It is, nonetheless, by virtue of its breadth and targeted detail, worth reading.