October 1st 2011


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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Asylum-seekers: Labor's failures will hurt Australia

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Seeking an answer to asylum-seeker dilemma

DEFENCE: Australia's defence priorities

CARBON TAX: Power industry warns Canberra against carbon tax

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Greens set Labor's agenda on euthanasia, same-sex marriage

COVER STORY: The Greens' assault on human life and freedom

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: The do-nothing approach that's crippling our economy

INDUSTRY: Sophie Mirabella's vision for manufacturing in Australia

WORKING HOURS: The high cost of cheap and convenient shopping

MIDDLE EAST: Arab Spring presages endgame for Egypt

THE GREAT WAR: How the war to end all wars ended

ABORTION: Abortion's impact on women's mental health

LETTERS

BOOK REVIEW A time for truth

BOOK REVIEW Europe's darkest chapter

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BOOK REVIEW
Europe's darkest chapter




News Weekly, October 1, 2011

BLOODLANDS:
Europe between Hitler and Stalin

Bloodlands book cover

by Timothy Snyder

(New York: Basic Books)
Hardcover: 524 pages
ISBN: 9780465002399
RRP: AUD$49.95

 

Reviewed by Bill James

 

A few weeks ago, at the time I was beginning to read this book, I heard on my car radio a program on the ABC about Paul Robeson (1898-1976), the black American singer and actor.

Robeson was an otherwise intelligent and talented man, but his anger against racism in the United States led him, in the year of Hitler’s accession, to devote his allegiance to the Soviet Union.

Needless to say, the ABC had nothing to say about conditions in the USSR at the time.

Award-winning author Timothy Snyder, in chapter one of his acclaimed book, sets out in documented detail, the way in which Stalin starved to death three million Ukrainian men, women and children during that fateful year, 1933.

(By the outbreak of war in 1939, Hitler had killed fewer than ten thousand victims, and Stalin nearly four million).

The Bloodlands of the title refers to the area covered by pre-World War II Poland; the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; Soviet Ukraine; Soviet Belarus; and the western edge of Soviet Russia.

During the period 1933-45, 14 million civilians in this region died as a result of deliberate murderous policies pursued by the Russian communist empire and Nazi Germany. With the exception of Mao’s China, this is the worst example of mass killing known to history.

Although Snyder’s Introduction consists of a comparison of Hitler and Stalin, this is not a reprise of the twinned biography exercise carried out by writers such as Alan Bullock in Hitler And Stalin: Parallel Lives, or Richard Overy in The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia.

Instead, Snyder works his way chronologically through events confined to his designated region between Germany and the USSR.

The Ukraine famine is followed by chapters on, among other things, Stalin’s Great Terror and his campaigns against national minorities; the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and invasion of Poland; the implementation of the Nazis’ Final Solution; the 1943 and 1944 uprisings in Warsaw; and the mass reprisals in response to partisan warfare.

Snyder’s analysis of this era and area is replete with stimulating assertions, revelations, insights, connections, reminders, ironies, and new ways of looking at the salient phenomena.

Even those readers who think that they are familiar with this period of history will find something which forces them to think — or re-think — on almost every page.

Here is a random selection of just a few of them which struck me.

First, concentration camps were not the same as death camps. The vast majority of Jews murdered in the Holocaust died not in concentration camps such as Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau or even Auschwitz/Birkenau (which was, uniquely, a combination of both), but in the death camps east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Line: Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Belzek.

Second, the mass killing of Jews was the fifth version of the Final Solution. Preceding plans had included deporting Europe’s Jews overseas to Madagascar, or overland to the eastern USSR.

Third, while we are familiar with the extraordinary sufferings of the Polish people (both Jewish and non-Jewish) at the hands of Soviet communists and German Nazis during the years 1939-45, the comparable torment of Belarus by the same two powers is less well-known.

“By the end of the war, half the population of Belarus had either been killed or moved. This cannot be said of any other European country,” writes Snyder.

Fourth, while we are constantly regaled with assurances from our culturally dominant Left that education is the universal panacea, the huge number of Western academic “useful idiots” who supported communism for decades suggests that morality and wisdom might be just as important as knowledge.

So does Snyder’s throw-away comment that in Nazi-occupied Poland, “fifteen of the twenty-five Einsatzgruppe and Einsatzkommando commanders had doctorates”.

Fifth, Snyder concludes that Nazi Germany murdered about 11 million people in total, and the Soviet Union under Stalin about six million.

“If foreseeable deaths resulting from famine, ethnic cleansing, and long stays in camps are added, the Stalinist total rises to perhaps nine million and the Nazi to perhaps twelve,” he says.

These figures for Stalinism are much lower than most previous estimates, and it will be interesting to see whether Snyder is successfully challenged over them.

Sixth, Snyder reminds us that there “were never more Soviet citizens in the Gulag than in the years after the war; indeed, the number of Soviet citizens in the camps and special settlements increased every year from 1945 until Stalin’s death”.

Anne Applebaum, in her Gulag, gives a figure of 336,719 as the number who died in the Gulag during those years 1945-53.

This should be borne in mind when listening to claims in the media that the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims under General Ratko Mladic in the Balkans was the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.

Finally, there are Snyder’s strategically placed quotes, which carry more impact than any statistics and narration of events.

A 12-year old Jewish girl from Minsk writes to her father: “I am saying good-bye to you before I die. I am so afraid of this death because they throw small children into the mass graves alive.”

Also in Minsk, Jewish children caught by the gas vans would ask the Germans as they walked up the ramp to their deaths, “Please sirs, do not hit us. We can get to the trucks on our own.”

And in 1933 Soviet Ukraine, more than one child had to tell a brother or sister, “Mother says that we should eat her if she dies.” 


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