A chillingly systematic study of the mass murder mutually perpetrated by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.
From 1933 to 1945, 14 million people were murdered between the two regimes, as Stalin and Hitler consolidated power, jointly occupied Poland and waged war against each other. The region of mass slaughter was largely contained between the two, from central Poland to western Russia and including Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states—a region Snyder (History/Yale Univ.; The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Duke, 2008, etc.) terms the “bloodlands.” The author asserts that the fuzzy understanding of the death camps has skewed the truth about the mass killing, only hinting at their terrifying extent. “The horror of the twentieth century is thought to be located in the camps,” he writes. “But the concentration camps are not where most of the victims of National Socialism and Stalinism died.” Half of the killings within this period were caused by starvation, as a result of Stalin’s starvation policy of the early ’30s (a five-year plan of “industrial development at the price of popular misery”) and Hitler’s deliberate starvation of Soviet prisoners of war. Snyder traces how Stalin’s focus on collectivization and famine “had unwittingly performed much of the ideological work that helped Hitler come to power.” Stalin had already been secretly practicing mass murder on the Polish population during the Great Terror, well before the “large open pogrom” of Kristallnacht. Hitler recognized their joint “common desire to get rid of the old equilibrium” and neatly divide and destroy Poland at the Molotov-Ribbentrop line. His Hunger Plan was followed by massive depopulation in the forms of deportation, shooting, forced labor and, eventually, the death factories. Snyder devotes ample space to the partisan efforts, the incineration of Warsaw and Stalin’s eager postwar ethnic-cleansing sweep. In the concluding chapter, “Humanity,” the author urges readers to join him in a clear-eyed reexamination of this comparative history of mass murder and widespread suffering.
A significant work of staggering figures and scholarship.