Book Review: Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin


by Timothy Snyder

New York: Basic Books, 2010. Pp. xix, 524 . Maps, biblio, index. $29.95. ISBN: 0465002390

In Bloodlands Prof. Snyder, author of several works on European history (The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 ,The Red Prince: The Fall of a Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Europe , etc.) and a past winner, of the George Louis Beer prize, gives us an interesting reinterpretation of the Hitler and Stalin regimes and their demographic effects on their mutual borderlands in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States.  

Snyder attempts to find a linkage running from Stalin’s starvation of the Ukrainian peasantry during collectivization through his purges to the Nazi Final Solution and their anti-partisan war.  As with many such radical reimaginings, readers who have some knowledge of pieces of his grand thesis will find details they can question.  Thus, I found such in some of his descriptions of both Nazi prewar politics and the military details of the Barbarossa campaign.  None of this invalidates the thesis, but it does get annoying in a petty way.  Overall, the thesis posits that the two stronger powers ground down the demographic and social structure of their mutual borderlands, so that post-1945 Europe had a more coherent map at the cost of oceans of blood.  The thesis is interesting and based on reviews has been well received.  As with most such meta-thesis works there is a certain amount of hammering facts to fit.    

On the German side the book does excellent work tying together anti-Jewish policy, anti-partisan warfare, evolving German colonial/occupation policy in the East, and the actual war.  Snyder also devotes far more attention than most such works to the three to four million Soviet POW’s the Germans effectively exterminated by hunger and disease in the first year of the war and how this ties into the Final Solution.  I am not sure the new construct totally holds water but it certainly merits further careful study.  Similarly on the Soviet side the hunger genocides of collectivization are near seamlessly tied into the purges, which Snyder shows as being in part directed at ethnic cleansing in a manner more commonly thought of as Nazi.  The author also uses new archival work to purport to show that the Stalin purges post-collectivization were in fact less murderous than was originally believed. I await further scholarship on this before accepting it but so far have not found reviews that attack this sub-thesis.  Hopefully in time further scholarship in the Soviet archives will explore this at greater length.

Overall this is a good book for students of totalitarian regimes and of World War Two. In my opinion it is less so for students of the two individual regimes.

Reviewer: Scott Palter   

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