20th of the USSR Via his first few five-year

20th Century Europe is one embedded in so many
violent and historic acts that not one person around the globe would not have
been affected by them, in one way or another. Timothy Snyder’s ground-breaking
book entitled ”Bloodlands” focuses on what is most certainly the most
important and deadliest age of this historic period; Europe between Hitler and
Stalin. The books aim is to collect and present the extreme amount of research
into this area of history in order to come up with an accurate count of those
lives lost and to displace common myths that are projected to this period.

Other main focuses are the geographic importance of these ”Bloodlands” that ”extends
from central Poland to Western Russia, Through Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic
States” (Pp. viii) to these two super powers. He is also not including those
killed in action or just focusing on the deaths attributed to that of the holocaust
but to the memory of all the deliberate mass killings of civilians enforced by the
Hitler and Stalinist Regimes.

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Snyder’s time period of this book starts from the early
1930s where Stalin first introduces his approach to the modernisation of the USSR
Via his first few five-year plans; where at the price for industrialisation
came from that of the millions that died from starvation in the Ukraine where ”the
city housewives making queues had to watch as peasant woman starved to death on
the side-walks” (Pp. 22). With his period of focus coming to an end at the end
of the second World War. During this time period and within the lands earlier
described is where more than 14 million people lost their lives due to the
policies of two men. Snyder deliberately starts with the Ukraine famines
because it is commonly thought that Stalin’s greatest terror was with his
gulags, however, he shows that with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 many
classified documents have been released that show how a sentence to the gulags wasn’t
necessarily a death sentence, showing that nine out of ten people sentenced
would survive. Thus, Stalin’s greatest mass murder lay with the over 4 million
men, woman and children he deliberately starved in the Ukraine and eastern
Europe and with the deliberate mass killing of the Kulak peasants.

 

In regard to the Third Reich, Snyder again shows how it is
also commonly thought that most of the Jewish community died within the awful
gas chamber of concentration and death camps, however, he asserts his research
into stating that in a matter of fact most of the Jews killed in Europe of this
time were actually killed before 1943 and before the first gas chambers were ever
constructed. The mass killings that took place before the gas chambers were
with mass graves being dug and individuals being lined up and shot, or with the
creation of mass ghettos where tens or even hundreds of thousands of men, woman
and children would die from either starvation or neglect. This wasn’t just the
fate of those who were ethically (Jewish/minority populations) or politically ‘opposed’
to the Nazi regime but to that of the prisoners of war, mainly Russian
soldiers, where over 4 million died through mass targeted starvation or neglect
during the war. This figure is including the siege of Leningrad where again the
Nazi regime starved over a million civilians.

 

Snyder is extremely effective at describing the events in
the build-up to the final solution, where again this is another common misconception
where people tend to think that Hitler’s plan all along was for the gassing of
the Jews. However, Snyder showed how his plan was far greater in that the
original plan was obviously including the successful invasion of operation Barbarossa
and that with this he was planning to deport and starve almost up to 30-40
million people in and around Russia in the first year. When the German army
came to a halt in 1941, Hitler’s plans inevitably had to change and so this is
where 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 the
process for a ‘modern technique’ for mass killing that is the creation of the
final solution.

 

Snyder effectively argues that these ”Bloodlands” were
geographically the main focal points for both Hitler and Stalin’s regimes. He
says that for Stalin, the Ukraine was the perfect environment, due to its
climate and soil, for food supplies to be based in order for his collectivisation
to achieve its goal and for the political influence of the Eastern European
countries that was extremely valuable. For Hitler, the land east held much of the
same agricultural and political values as it did for Stalin, but also for the
land, manpower and deep-rooted cultural reasons.

 

The main argument that Snyder argues most importantly
throughout the book that hasn’t been touched on yet, is this notion that all
these horrific crimes that were carried out by these regimes were on such a
grand scale that it is easy to think about them as just statistics and not as
individual human beings. The way he structures his points with constant references
of diaries taken from the dead or letters that were sent to loved ones just
days or sometimes on the day they would have been killed really makes this
incredibly researched book so impactful. Snyder has achieved tremendous
accomplishments with this book; the debunking of common misconceptions that
surrounding this period of history on both Hitler’s and Stalin’s regimes and
the way he has produced accurate statistics in such a humane way that honours
the memory of these unlucky 14 million men, woman and children that were caught
between the crossfire of what was not only the deadliest conflict that Europe
has ever seen but that of which the world has seen. With everything that has
been said, Snyder has truly written a historical masterpiece that is
unforgettable once read.