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Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin is a book by Yale historian Timothy D. Snyder that was first published by Basic Books on October 28, 2010. In the book, Snyder examines the political, cultural and ideological context tied to a specific region of Central and Eastern Europe, where Joseph Stalin 's Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany committed mass killings of an estimated 14 million noncombatants between 1933 and 1945, the majority outside the death camps of the Holocaust. Snyder's thesis is that the "bloodlands", a region that is now Poland , Belarus , Ukraine , the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), northeastern Romania, and the westernmost fringes of Russia , is the area that the regimes of Stalin and Hitler, despite their conflicting goals, interacted to increase suffering and bloodshed many times worse than any seen in western history. Snyder notes similarities between the two totalitarian regimes and also the enabling interactions that reinforced the destruction and the suffering that were brought to bear on noncombatants. Making use of many new primary and secondary sources from Central and Eastern Europe, Snyder brings scholarship to many forgotten, misunderstood, or incorrectly-remembered parts of the history, and he particularly notes that most of the victims were killed outside the concentration camps of the respective regimes. The book earned many positive reviews and has been called "revisionist history of the best kind". It was awarded numerous prizes, including the 2013 Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought.

bloodlands holocaust europe

1. Synopsis

The Eastern European regions that Snyder terms "Bloodlands" is the area where Hitler's vision of Racial supremacy and Lebensraum, resulting in the Final Solution and other Nazi atrocities, met, sometimes in conflict, sometimes in cooperation, with Stalin's vision of a communist ideology that resulted in the deliberate starvation, imprisonment, and murder of innocent men, women and children in Gulags and elsewhere.[1][2] The combined efforts of the two regimes resulted in the deaths of an estimated 14 million noncombatants in the Eastern Europe "Bloodlands;" Snyder documents that Nazi Germany was responsible for about two thirds of the total number of deaths.[2][3][4] At least 5.4 million died in what has become known as the Holocaust – but many more died in more obscure circumstances.[3]

The book confronts a simplistic view of mid-20th century and World War II history that has been termed: "Nazis bad, Soviets good".[2] In addition, Snyder overturns the way that individual regimes are often analyzed as operating alone and absent influence from outside. For instance, Snyder notes that early Soviet support for the "Warsaw Uprising" against the Nazi occupation was followed by an unwillingness to aid the uprising; the Soviets were willing to have the Nazis wipe the city clean for a later Soviet occupation. Snyder notes this as an example of interaction that may have led to many more deaths than might have been the case if each regime had been acting independently.

Snyder re-examines numerous points of the war and postwar years: the Nazi German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact of 1939; the rescue of Jews by Poles during the Holocaust; Soviet persecution of the Polish underground, cursed soldiers and their own prisoners of war after the war.[2][4] Snyder addresses misconceptions; for example, he documents that many Jews were killed by mass shootings in villages or the countryside, in addition to those deaths suffered in the death camps.[2] As Anne Applebaum comments, "The vast majority of Hitler’s victims, Jewish and otherwise, never saw a concentration camp".[1] Similarly, all of the Soviet victims discussed were killed outside the Gulag concentration camp system; within the camps, an estimated million people died.[1] More Soviet prisoners of war died every day in Nazi camps during the Autumn of 1941 than the total number of Western Allied POWs in the entire war. Over 3 million Soviet POWs died in the Nazi camps.[1] The fate of the German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union was little better; more than half a million died in terrible conditions in the Soviet camps.[1]

Snyder focuses on three periods, summarized by Richard Rhodes as:

"deliberate mass starvation and shootings in the Soviet Union in the period from 1933 to 1938; mass shootings in occupied Poland more or less equally by Soviet and German killers in 1939 to 1941; deliberate starvation of 3.1 million Soviet prisoners of war and mass shooting and gassing of more than 5 million Jews by the Germans between 1941 and 1945".[5]

The chapter covering the early 1930s famine in the Ukraine under the Soviet Union (often termed Holodomor, a term Snyder avoids) goes into considerable detail. He recounts that in an unofficial orphanage in a village in the Kharkiv region, the children were so hungry they resorted to cannibalism. One child ate parts of himself while he was being cannibalised.[3][6] 3.3m died during the Ukrainian starvation of 1933.[2] Under his Hunger Plan, Hitler starved 4.2 million persons in the Soviet Union (including 3.1 million POWs), largely Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians.[1][3][7]

The book points out similarities between the two regimes:[2]

Snyder also describes how the two regimes often collaborated and aided one another, at least until the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union (see for example the Gestapo–NKVD Conferences).[1] They collaborated in the killings of Poles (see Nazi crimes against ethnic Poles and Soviet repressions of Polish citizens (1939–1946); between the two of them, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union killed about 200,000 Polish citizens in the period 1939–1941.[1][3][8]

Snyder noted that, after the Western Allies had allied themselves with Stalin against Hitler, when the war ended they did not have the will to fight the second totalitarian regime. As American and British soldiers never entered Eastern Europe, the tragedy of those lands did not become well known to the American or British populace (see Western betrayal).[1][4]

1.1. Number of Victims

Timothy Snyder put the total death toll in the "Bloodlands" at 14 million victims of both Stalin and Hitler, including Jewish civilians transported to German death camps in occupied Poland, Polish intelligentsia killed in war crimes (see Katyn massacre), disarmed military personnel in occupied countries, and prisoners of war. Snyder pointed out that "I am not counting soldiers who died on the fields of battle". He said this "is not a complete reckoning of all the death that Soviet and German power brought to the region". Snyder identifies those victims killed as a result of "deliberate policies of mass murder" by governments, such as executions, deliberate famine and death camps. Snyder said that he "generally excludes from the count" deaths due to exertion, disease, or malnutrition in concentration camps; deportations, forced labor, evacuations; people who died of hunger as a result of wartime shortfalls, and civilians killed by bombings or other acts of war. The geographic area covered by the "Bloodlands" is limited to Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states and western Russian regions occupied by Germany. Regarding the figures, Snyder noted, "again, my reckoning is on the conservative side."[9]

Timothy Snyder provided a summary of the 14 million victims.[10]

  • 3.3 million victims of the Soviet Famines- Snyder uses the term, "the Soviet Famines" in which the victims were "mostly Ukrainians"; he does not use the term Holodomor. According to Snyder, Stalin wanted to exterminate by famine those Ukrainians and ethnic Poles who resisted Collectivization in the Soviet Union.
  • 300,000 victims in the national terror in the Soviet Union from 1937-1938- Snyder uses the term "national terror", which targeted "mostly Poles and Ukrainians", killed because of their ethnic origins (the figure does not include an additional 400,000 Great Purge deaths in areas outside the Bloodlands). According to Snyder, Stalin considered ethnic Poles in the western USSR as a potential agents of the Second Polish Republic; Ukrainian kulaks who survived the famine of 1933 were also considered to be potentially hostile to the Soviet regime in a future conflict.
  • 200,000 Poles were killed between 1939 and 1941 in occupied Poland, with each regime responsible for about half of those deaths. The deaths included civilians and military prisoners of war killed in the Katyn massacre.[11] Most of the victims were the intellectual and political elite of Poland. According to Snyder, both Stalin and Hitler worked to eliminate the leadership of the Polish nation.
  • 4.2 million victims of the German Hunger Plan in the Soviet Union, "largely Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians," including 3.1 million Soviet POWs and 1.0 million civilian deaths in the Siege of Leningrad. Snyder does not include famine deaths outside the Soviet Union.[12] According to Snyder, Hitler intended eventually to exterminate up to 45 million Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Czechs by planned famine as part of Generalplan Ost.[13]
  • 5.4 million Jewish victims in the Holocaust (does not include an additional 300,000 deaths outside the Bloodlands).[9]
  • 700,000 civilians, "mostly Belarusians and Poles," shot by the Germans "in reprisals" during the Occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.[14]

A review of the book in the Ottawa Citizen summarized the number of victims:

Bloodlands "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".[15]

2. Reception

The book received favourable reviews in BBC History[16] The Seattle Times,[17], the New York Observer[18] and has been described as "an impeccably researched history of mass killings in the eastern part of mid-20th-century Europe" by Robert Gerwarth in the Irish Times.[19]

Professor Neal Pease wrote: "Many books are useful; a handful can be called important; Bloodlands does no less than change the way we think of 20th century history, and of the deadly human cost of the totalitarian utopianism that was among its most distinctive characteristics."[20]

Guy Walters writing in the Financial Times said he found the book disturbing, writing,

"Some may find Snyder’s staking-out of the area of the bloodlands too arbitrary for their tastes, and might accuse him of creating a questionable geographical delineation. Agree with it or not, in a sense it does not matter, because Snyder presents material that is undeniably fresh – what’s more, it comes from sources in languages with which very few western academics are familiar. The success of Bloodlands really lies in its effective presentation of cold, hard scholarship, which is in abundance."[3]

Anne Applebaum writing for The New York Review of Books said,

"Snyder’s original contribution is to treat all of these episodes—the Ukrainian famine, the Holocaust, Stalin’s mass executions, the planned starvation of Soviet POWs, postwar ethnic cleansing—as different facets of the same phenomenon. Instead of studying Nazi atrocities or Soviet atrocities separately, as many others have done, he looks at them together. Yet Snyder does not exactly compare the two systems either. His intention, rather, is to show that the two systems committed the same kinds of crimes at the same times and in the same places, that they aided and abetted one another, and above all that their interaction with one another led to more mass killing than either might have carried out alone."[1]

Neal Ascherson writing for The Guardian said,

"In this book, he seems to have set himself three labours. The first was to bring together the enormous mass of fresh research – some of it his own – into Soviet and Nazi killing, and produce something like a final and definitive account. (Since the fall of communism, archives have continued to open and witnesses – Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian especially – have continued to break silence.) But Snyder's second job was to limit his own scope, by subject and by place. He is not writing about the fate of soldiers or bombing victims in the second world war, and neither is he confining himself to the Jewish Holocaust. His subject is the deliberate mass murder of civilians – Jewish and non-Jewish – in a particular zone of Europe in a particular time-frame."[8]

The book has been criticized for its suggestion of a moral equivalence between Soviet mass murders and the Nazi Holocaust. Cambridge professor Richard Evans, who wrote a "blistering review"[21] of the book, commented, "It seems to me that he is simply equating Nazi genocide with the mass murders carried out in the Soviet Union under Stalin […] There is nothing wrong with comparing. It's the equation that I find highly troubling."[22] Charles Coutinho suggested that some of Evans' response was due to Snyder's critical review the year before in The New York Review of Books of the Evans' The Third Reich at War.[23][24] This point was conceded by Evans.[24]

Dovid Katz, a historian of Lithuanian Jewry, commented that "Snyder flirts with the very wrong moral equivalence between Hitler and Stalin […] None of these incidents besides the Holocaust involved the willful massacre of a whole race. There is something very different going on, beyond politics, when people try to murder all the babies of a race."[21] Other professional historians to take issue with Snyder's arguments and methods include Thomas Kühne, Omer Bartov, Dan Diner, Christian Ingrao and Dariusz Stola.

Bloodlands was named a book of the year for 2010 by The Atlantic,[25] The Economist,[26] The Financial Times,[27] The Jewish Daily Forward,[28] The Independent,[29] The New Republic,[30] New Statesman,[31] Reason,[32] The Seattle Times,[33] and The Daily Telegraph.[34]

2.1. Awards

Bloodlands won a number of awards, including: Cundill Prize Recognition of Excellence; Le Prix du livre d’Histoire de l’Europe 2013; Moczarski Prize in History; Literature Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters; Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding; Phi Beta Kappa Society Emerson Book Award; Gustav Ranis International History Prize; Prakhina Foundation International Book Prize, honorable mention; Jean-Charles Velge Prize; Tadeusz Walendowski Book Prize; Wacław Jędrzejewicz History Medal; shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize; shortlisted for the Wayne S. Vucinich Prize (ASEEES); shortlisted for the Austrian Scholarly Book of the Year; shortlisted for the NDR Kultur Sachbuchpreis 2011; Jury commendation, Bristol Festival of Ideas.[35] The book was also awarded the 2013 Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought.


  1. Applebaum, Anne (November 11, 2010). "The Worst of the Madness". The New York Review of Books: p. 1. Retrieved November 2, 2010. 
  2. "History and its woes". The Economist: p. 1. October 14, 2010. Retrieved November 2, 2010. 
  3. Guy Walters (November 1, 2010). "Bloodlands". The Financial Times: p. 1. Retrieved November 2, 2010. 
  4. Kaminski, Matthew (October 18, 2010). "Savagery in the East". Wall Street Journal: p. 1. Retrieved November 2, 2010. 
  5. Richard Rhodes, Review of Timothy Snyder's "Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.", Washington Post, 16 December 2010
  6. Lapham, Lewis (February 12, 2011). "As Stalin Starved Ukrainians, Kids Ate Each Other". Bloomberg: pp. 1. Retrieved March 7, 2011. 
  7. Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands, Basic Books 2010 Page 411(this can be verified on
  8. Ascherson, Neal (October 9, 2010). "Neal Ascherson on why Auschwitz and Siberia are only half the story". The Guardian (London): p. 1. Retrieved November 2, 2010. 
  9. Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands, Basic Books, 2010, pp. 410-412
  10. Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands, Basic Books 2010 Page 411–412
  11. Timothy Snyder, "Hitler vs Stalin, who was worse", The New York Review of Books, 27 January 2011
  12. Snyder (2010), Bloodlands,p. 411. Snyder states "4.2 million Soviet citizens starved by the German occupiers"
  13. Snyder (2010), Bloodlands, p. 160
  14. Snyder (2010), Bloodlands, p. 411
  15. "Eastern Europe's bloodbath" by Peter O'Neill, Ottawa Citizen, February 27, 2011.
  16. Moorhouse, Roger. "Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin". BBC History. 
  17. Smith, Douglas (November 6, 2010). "'Bloodlands': An account of Hitler and Stalin's frenzied era of mass murder". The Seattle Times: p. 1. Retrieved November 9, 2010. 
  18. Glazek, Christopher (November 2, 2010). "Body Count: Timothy Snyder Strips the Holocaust of Theory". The New York Observer: p. 1. Retrieved November 9, 2010. 
  19. Gerwart, Robert (January 8, 2011). "A forgotten European horror". The Irish Times. 
  20. Pease, Neal (2010). "Timothy Snyder. Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin. New York: Basic Books, 2010. Pp. xix, 524.". The Polish Review 55 (4): 486–492. ISBN 9780465002399. 
  21. Gal Beckerman (13 March 2011). "Exploring the 'Bloodlands'". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  22. Richard J. Evans (2010). "Who remembers the Poles?". London Review of Books 32 (21): 21–22. Retrieved 13 November 2018. 
  23. Charles Coutinho (2010). "Letters: 'Bloodlands'". London Review of Books 32 (23). Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  24. Guido Franzinetti (2010). "Letters: 'Bloodlands'". London Review of Books 32 (24). Retrieved 5 August 2013. For Snyder's offending review, see Timothy Snyder (2009). "Nazis, Soviets, Poles, Jews". The New York Review of Books 56 (19). Retrieved 17 May 2013. 
  25. Schwarz, Benjamin (2010). "Books of the Year". The Atlantic. 
  26. "Page turners". The Economist. December 2, 2010. 
  27. Critics, FT (November 26, 2010). "Nonfiction round-up". The Financial Times. 
  28. Beckerman, Gal (December 28, 2010). "Forward Fives: 2010 in Non-Fiction". The Jewish Daily Forward. 
  29. "The best books for Christmas: Our pick of 201". The independent (London). November 26, 2010. 
  30. Messinger, Eric (December 22, 2010). "Editors' Picks: Best Books of 2010". The New Republic.,2. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  31. Gray, John (November 19, 2010). "Books of the year 2010". New Statesman. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  32. Moynihan, Michael C. (December 30, 2010). "The Year in Books: Reason staffers pick the best books of 2010". Reason. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  33. Gwinn, Mary Ann (December 18, 2010). "27 best books of 2010: The Seattle Times looks back at a year of great reading". The Seattle Times. Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
  34. Beevor, Antonio (November 19, 2010). "Books of the Year for Christmas". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved March 10, 2011. 
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