The Hollywood-shaped popular image of the Second World War usually boils down to Adolf Hitler, some epic battles that primarily involved Allied troops fighting Nazis on western European soil, and the Holocaust.
In Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, author Timothy Snyder takes a broader, forward-looking and potentially controversial new look at the most devastating period of murder and mass destruction in human history.
Bloodlands, described as “courageous” by prominent historians Norman Davies and the late Tony Judt, is a chilling and instructive story of how 14 million unarmed men, women and children were murdered.
The death toll includes two familiar victim groups -5.7 million Jews in the Holocaust and 3.3 million Ukrainians during the 1932-1933 famine engineered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin -along with lesser-known victims that include three million Soviet prisoners of war who were deliberately starved to death.
And the vast majority of the killing took place between 1932 and 1945 in a specific geographic area Snyder has dubbed the Bloodlands. It includes Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus, as well as the Baltic states and western Russia.
Snyder, a Yale University historian, writes from the horrifying perspective of the victims, whom he constantly attempts to individualize as a way of offering them some sort of posthumous dignity.
They include Ukrainian chil-dren forced into cannibalism, along with a 12-year-old Jewish girl from Belarus named Junita Vishniatskaia who, in a goodbye letter to her father, wrote: “I am so afraid of this death because they throw small children into the mass graves alive. Farewell forever. I kiss you, I kiss you.”
Snyder said he’s so far gratified with the positive reception he’s received from members of the three main victim groups: Jews and Holocaust groups, Poles and Ukrainians.
But he acknowledges that his approach will, and already has, provoked criticism.
Some have argued that Snyder is giving ammunition to those who seek to minimize the Holocaust, even though Bloodlands, which Snyder says is the first major study to consider all of Hitler’s and Stalin’s crimes based on newly available sources, concludes that the Holocaust was an unprecedented form of mass murder because it sought the elimination of an entire people.
Far-right nationalist groups from countries such as Ukraine and the Baltic states, meanwhile, have complained about the attention he pays to local collaborators in the Holocaust.
Read More at Eastern Europe’s bloodbath.
Story by Peter O’Neil