Larry Slawson received his master's degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.
Timothy Snyder’s book, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, provides a detailed analysis of life in Eastern Europe during the reign of Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler. While thousands of books have been written about the horrors and atrocities committed against civilian populations by both regimes, Snyder’s book is unique in that it focuses solely on the experience of Eastern Europeans and the murderous actions committed against not only Jews living in this region, but individuals from all ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic standings. By examining and focusing on the decades surrounding World War Two in this manner, Snyder is able to persuasively argue that Eastern Europe (which he dubs the “Bloodlands”) suffered violence and death on a scale never before seen across the continent.
Snyder's Main Lines of Inquiry
Bloodlands is a story about survival and adaptation in that it demonstrates the great lengths that Eastern Europeans went to cope with the political and social circumstances surrounding them in the early to mid-twentieth century. From famine and genocide perpetrated by the Stalinist regime in the 1920s and 1930s, Eastern Europe underwent additional hardships as World War Two paved a path for the Nazi leadership to implement a large array of death camps and assassination squads across its vast countryside – virtually unchallenged. While the Germans were first perceived as “liberators” to the Eastern Europeans – who were greatly disgruntled with decades of Soviet rule and cruelty – Snyder points out that this sentiment soon changed as Hitler and the Einsatzgruppen began to commit atrocities against civilians on a scope similar to the horrors experienced under Stalin. Hitler, as Snyder demonstrates, merely continued the policies instituted by Stalin and the Communist regime as he sentenced millions of civilians to be shot, gassed, or (in the case of individuals dubbed as “healthy” and competent) to be incarcerated in labor camps.
As millions of additional civilians perished across Eastern Europe under Hitler, however, Snyder points out that the suffering did not end with the collapse of the Third Reich and the retreat of the Germans back to their home front. As the Soviet Union began its bloodthirsty quest for revenge against Nazi Germany, Snyder points out that the “bloodlands” once again fell under the Soviet sphere of influence as Russian troops, vehicles, and tanks began their slow march towards the west. Perceived as traitors to the motherland for failing to “effectively” resist the German onslaught, Snyder describes how millions of Eastern Europeans once again found themselves in the crosshairs of Stalin and the NKVD who began to systematically execute and arrest entire populations suspected as collaborators to the Nazis. These killings and arrests continued unabated until 1953, with the death of Stalin himself.
All in all, Snyder’s book is a welcome addition to the thousands of books already in existence on the Soviet and Nazi regimes. His thesis is both well supported and researched, and clearly demonstrates the tremendous suffering that Eastern Europeans were forced to witness in the decades surrounding World War Two. This is important to consider, as their deaths and suffering are too often overlooked or forgotten by mainstream accounts. Consequently, this book is not only a testimony to their immense suffering but also a source of justice in that it elucidates the crimes of Stalin and Hitler on an even greater scale. Both leaders were madmen, hell-bent on the annihilation and destruction of innocent lives – all for the purpose of solidifying their political positions of power and the future of their ideological beliefs.
I give this book a 5/5 star review and highly recommend it to historians (amateur and professional), or anyone interested in the social and political history of Eastern Europe during the mid-twentieth century. This book is a powerful reminder of how evil and twisted a society can become if precautions are not taken to stymy the development of totalitarianism. Definitely check it out!
Questions for Further Discussion:
1) Did you find the argument presented by Snyder to be well-organized and compelling?
2) Does Snyder organize his chapters in a logical manner?
3) What type of source material does Snyder incorporate in this monograph? Is he more concerned with secondary or primary sources? Or does he rely on both, equally? Does this help or hinder his overall argument?
4) Is it true that Eastern Europeans are too often neglected in histories of the Second World War? If so, then why is this the case?
5) What are the strengths and weaknesses of Snyder's work? In what ways could this book have been improved by the author?
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6) Who was the intended audience for this work? Can it be equally appreciated by scholars and the general public, alike?
7) What scholarship does Snyder build upon with this book? More specifically, which historiographical accounts does he challenge?
8) Does Snyder conclude his work in a satisfying manner?
9) What did you learn from reading this book?
Suggestions for Further Reading
Applebaum, Anne. Gulag: A History. New York: Doubleday, 2003.
Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956. New York: Anchor Books, 2012.
Gross, Jan. Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz. New York: Random House, 2006.
Lowe, Keith. Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2012.
Lower, Wendy. Hitler's Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2013.
Snyder, Timothy. Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2015.
Articles / Books:
Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. New York: Basic Books, 2010.
"World War II Fast Facts." CNN. Accessed February 03, 2017. http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/09/world/world-war-ii-fast-facts/.
© 2017 Larry Slawson