Thursday, November 11, 2010

Non-Fiction: Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder

Esteemed historian and author, Timothy Snyder (The Red Prince, The Reconstruction of Nations) offers up a more chilling vision of WWII in Europe than has been seen before. In the preface he sets things up with simple words we know are irrefutable:
In the middle of Europe in the middle of the twentieth century, the Nazi and Soviet regimes murdered some fourteen million people.
In the same paragraph, he explains the title:
The place where all of the victims died, the bloodlands, extends from central Poland to western Russia, through Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States .... The victims were chiefly Jews, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, Russians, and Balts,the peoples native to these lands. The fourteen million were murdered over the course of only twelve years, between 1933 and 1945, while both Hitler and Stalin were in power. Though their homelands became battlefields midway through this period, these people were all victims of murderous policy rather than casualties of war.
This taste of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books) is perfect because it displays the simple power Snyder brings to this work. Throughout the book, his words are straightforward, simple and all the more compelling because it’s easy to recognize the truths he brings us, though sometimes in new and shocking ways.

Bloodlands is not a military history as much as it is a sociopolitical one. As he stresses again and again, the fourteen million he mentions weren’t soldiers, lost on the field of battle. “Most were women, children, and the aged; none were bearing weapons; many had been stripped of their possessions, including their clothes.”

Bloodlands presents some volatile material and I suspect that some of it will be controversial. Yet it gives a fuller and more complete picture of the events that led to all those unthinkable deaths than we’ve seen before. “This is a history of political mass murder,” Snyder writes.

Lest we forget.

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