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In Defense of Bloodlands

The Yale historian explains his masterwork and its transnational narrative of the Holocaust

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German tank in Ukraine on June 21, 1941. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv)
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The Diplomat of Shoah History

Does Yale historian Timothy Snyder absolve Eastern Europe of special complicity in the Holocaust?

The Last Salvo

Mikics Replies to Snyder

Bloodlands is a history of the greatest moral and demographic calamity in modern Western history, the deliberate mass murder of 14 million human beings between Berlin and Moscow by the Nazi and Soviet regimes between 1933 and 1945, from the deliberate famine in Soviet Ukraine through the Holocaust of the European Jews.  The essential point about its reception is this: Because this is transnational history, considering multiple regimes, states, atrocities, and peoples, it is uncomfortable to the national histories that most of us take for granted. While most readers and reviewers have accepted the emotional and intellectual challenge, others, such as David Mikics recently in Tablet magazine, have defended national history, some in more and some in less interesting ways.

As I say in the introduction to the book, national history has preserved knowledge about the Holocaust and other crimes, often intelligently and courageously. Where it is worrisome is in its methodological exclusivity, the assumption that all approaches to history must either be reduced to the national or ignored. The way national history defends itself against transnational history is to deny that transnational history is possible. Since a transnational history such as Bloodlands is uncomfortable to one national history, goes the national reasoning, it must therefore be comfortable to another national history. The author of a transnational history must be, despite appearances, serving some group or another. In the version proffered by Mikics, since what I argue about the Holocaust does not fit with his sense of how it happened, it must be serving a history of non-Jewish East Europeans. This is false: Everyone is uncomfortable. The perniciousness of such arguments is that they assume that history is always just a competition of national narratives and that the task of reviewers is to deconstruct history books along political lines. This national displacement returns everyone to the comfort zone of traditional thinking, reducing scholarly work to conventional emotions. Mikics’ approach is precisely the same as that of nationalists throughout Europe and a fair number of anti-Semites in the United States. They of course think that my “diplomacy” serves the Jews. But the logical error is just the same. Transnational history is not “diplomatic” cover for someone else’s story. It is a way of researching and reasoning that just might help us, among many other things, to understand the Holocaust.

Bloodlands is different from other books about the Holocaust because it begins from the place where most European Jews lived and where the entirety of the Holocaust took place. Because Bloodlands (among many other works) has shifted the focus of the Holocaust to Eastern Europe, it has forced open the question of East European collaboration in a way that the traditional Auschwitz-centered view logically could not and did not. In the United States, Jan Gross began this process more than a decade ago; he wrote about one case, which we now know was one of about 200, of non-Jewish neighbors killing Jews as German occupation succeeded Soviet occupation in summer 1941. Because I can benefit from the explosion of study that has followed Gross’ crucial work, I wrote about the 200 cases. But even this is only the beginning of the history of local collaboration, which is much more important in the mass shootings of Jews that the Germans then organized, which led to about half of the fatalities of the Holocaust. The eastern focus, incidentally, is why I get hate mail from Holocaust deniers: Once the Holocaust is understood as having taken place at thousands of death pits as well as at the death factories, as it now is in some measure thanks to Bloodlands, it becomes even harder to deny.

Mikics cites Christian Dieckmann and Jan Grabowski, about whom he learned from me, on the importance of local participation in the killing. Neither of their recent major studies had appeared when I wrote Bloodlands, neither has yet appeared in English, and insofar as these books are known in the United States, this is in some small measure because I discuss and review them. I see the question of local collaboration as causally significant to the Holocaust and to other policies of mass killings and of course as morally central to contemporary discussions of national identity; unlike Mikics, however, I distinguish between postwar memory and the wartime causes of the Holocaust. Mikics is right that the Holocaust fundamentally altered (in his important example) Polish-Jewish relations; I devoted much of a chapter of the book and other publications to this subject, as he doesn’t say. What is not true is that one can deduce the causes of the Holocaust from the traumatic discussions of national memory, which by their nature include only national and exclude all other factors, and even among national factors privilege only the most personally familiar. Discussions of collaboration beg the question: collaboration with what? The Final Solution was a German policy, and so an explanation must begin with the German aspiration to eliminate all Jews under German control, even if it also must include the participation of Lithuanians, Latvians, Poles, Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians, and must discuss the Jewish police and Jewish councils. These are parts of the story of the German racial empire, in some cases crucial parts; but the explanation must begin with Germany. Thus chapters four, five, and six of Bloodlands, the existence of which Mikics, oddly, denies.

There is, of course, plenty of room for disagreement about causes; here Mikics is quite right, and he is drawing attention to very important thinkers and scholars. What we must not do, as we consider causes, is to dismiss out of hand the ones that do not match our ethnic presuppositions. Mikics professes not to see the connections between the Soviet Union and the Holocaust. Readers of Bloodlands will remember eight: 1) Germany and the Soviet Union both focused their (quite different) plans for colonial modernization on the East European homelands of the Jews; 2) Germany could not have carried out a Holocaust without a war in Eastern Europe, and the USSR allied with Germany in 1939 to begin the war that brought, for the first time, millions of Jews under German control; 3) the Holocaust began in 1941 after Germany betrayed its Soviet ally and invaded it in a “war of extermination” that spuriously conflated the Soviet state with Jewish power; 4) the mass killing of Jews began on territories such as doubly occupied Lithuania and doubly occupied eastern Poland where statehood and the rule of law had already been destroyed by the prior Soviet invasion; 5) the vast majority of the direct collaborators in the shooting of Jews, and of the early death-camp guards, had been Soviet citizens; 6) many of the collaborators in the Holocaust had previously collaborated in Soviet repressions; 7) the entirety of the Holocaust took place on lands touched during the war by Soviet power; 8) Soviet Jews were the second-largest victim group in the Holocaust, after Polish Jews.

One may debate the meaning and significance of these relationships; what one may not do is write the history of the Holocaust without accounting for Soviet factors. Simply expressing confusion about the USSR and then moving on to ethnicity is one hallmark of a conventional national approach. All three historians that Mikics cites against me have, despite what Mikics suggests, considered Soviet factors in their own studies. Mikics expresses puzzlement at the idea that Stalin’s deliberate starvation of Ukrainians in 1933 had any connection to the Holocaust. The connections are many. The fiasco of the Soviet collectivization of agriculture radicalized relations between German socialists and communists, hindering the cooperation that might have prevented Hitler from coming to power; Hitler himself used the famine to scare the German middle classes away from the Left in his election speeches. The Ukrainian breadbasket was central to Hitler’s idea of Lebensraum, which motivated the invasions that brought Jews under German control. The German wartime Hunger Plan involved taking control of the Soviet collective farms and using them to starve Jews and others in the Soviet cities. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, they did in fact use the Stalinist collective farms to control food supplies, starving Jews in the first instance. Just as important, the spectacle of Ukrainians starving other Ukrainians in 1933 also helps us to understand the nonethnic motivations of local participation in killing policies, which it behooves us to consider before we follow the ethnic conventions. The tragic thing about collaboration is that it was much more ecumenical than we like to think. When we cordon it off into the familiar national oppositions, we have vastly minimized its significance.

But that criticism about the relationship between the Ukrainian famine and the Holocaust misses an important point: Bloodlands is not only a book about the Holocaust. The 3 million people deliberately starved in Soviet Ukraine (like the million people killed by Stalinist terror, or the 3 million Soviet POWs starved by the Germans) are themselves a legitimate, and indeed crucially important, historical subject. Mikics doesn’t consider, at all, anything that I argue in the book about other German and Soviet crimes; he mentions the non-Jewish dead to dismiss what they might tell us about the Holocaust. Central as the Holocaust must be to any history of European mass killing, it was not the only episode. The subject of Bloodlands is a series of policies of mass killing, of which the Holocaust was the largest in scope and most horrible and the only to target an entire group for extermination. Sometimes earlier policies of mass murder help us to understand the Holocaust; sometimes they do not. Because they sometimes do, Bloodlands offers perspectives on the Holocaust that other studies have not. Of the many books written about the Holocaust, not one had previously sought to account systematically for the 8 million non-Jews killed in the lands where the Holocaust took place during the years Hitler was in power. Surely there is room in the discussion for one such book. And surely we should attend to the lives of all of the murdered, regardless of how we categorize them, and regardless of whether or not their fate helps us to understand the Holocaust. I would venture to say that this universalist approach is not “diplomatic,” in Mikics’ sense; if it were, everyone would be doing it.

Mikics’ chosen theme of diplomacy, is, I fear, not very applicable to me personally.  If Bloodlands works as a general history, this is because I didn’t think about how each group might read the book and then adapt my arguments to them. If I had done this, I would have been tied up in knots and unable to write a book that cuts across national assumptions generally, regardless of whose national assumptions they are. If I had written the way Mikics thinks I did, the book would have had no impact and we would not now be discussing it. Mikics assumes that he understands me personally, which is perhaps premature, and then that his understanding of my personal motivations, which is perhaps erroneous, is the key to the book. What Mikics has to say about me personally is misleading. If readers are interested in my actual relations with actual nationalists, they can read my articles on Ukrainian fascists, the neglect of the Lithuanian Holocaust, the Austrian far right, Anders Breivik and Christianity, or, since criticism begins at home, nationalism in the Midwest, the Great Plains, and talk radio.

Yet the emphasis on diplomacy does suggest a certain more fundamental truth about the discussion of Bloodlands. Although Mikics himself skillfully defends a traditional national construction of the book, the remarkable feature of the publication of Bloodlands has been the intellectual breadth of the discussion. The partisan memory debates turn out to be tractable by history. Readers of Bloodlands, Jewish and non-Jewish, here and around the world, have been impressively willing to accept a transnational perspective and strikingly generous in, so to speak, allowing others into their own national histories. That human capacity for the broadening of understanding does require a kind of moral diplomacy, beginning with the capacity to see the perspective of others as important in and of itself, rather than simply a challenge to one’s own perspective. The credit for that is readers’, not mine; but I do feel very privileged to have observed it and am very glad to have the occasion to say so.

***

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dovidkatz7 says:

Readers interested in following up what some have legitimately disagreed with in “Bloodlands” and/or the author’s recent instrumentalization by the Lithuanian government, are invited to visit:
http://defendinghistory.com/30081/30081
Dovid Katz (Vilnius, Lithuania)

Dr. Efraim Zuroff says:

It takes incredible chutzpa, which Snyder apparently has in abundance, to posit that adherents of national history cannot possibly write an accurate history of events like the Holocaust (which by its nature is truly exceptional in that it directly affected an entire continent) and only transnationalists like himself are capable of presenting an academically accurate narrative of its development. In doing so, he very conveniently dismisses all the findings of “national” historians which justifiably and convincingly disprove his own theories as presented in Bloodlands, in which Snyder simply ignored the facts which did not correspond to his basic theses. One of the most glaring mistakes in Snyder’s book is his downplaying of the role and scope of local Nazi collaborators, particularly in the Baltics, and especially in Lithuania, where he has recently been welcomed and feted several times since its publication. One article about Lithuania’s failure to confront its Holocaust past cannot erase his glaring misrepresentation of the unique scope of Lithuanian complicity in Holocaust crimes in Bloodlands, and the incredible fact that Snyder had nothing to say about the recent reburial with full honors in Kaunas of Nazi collaborator and PM of the Lithuanian Provisional Government Juozas Ambrazevicius, despite his participation in Vilnius in a symposium on the Holocaust in Lithuania shortly after this outrageous event was held. It was clear from the day of its publication, that Bloodlands would be used and abused by East European nationalists to rewrite the narrative of the Shoa in their countries, to hide or at least minimize the complicity of their nationals in Holocaust crimes, but Snyder has never done anything to combat this phenomenon or at least protest the utilization of his magnum opus to distort the narrative of the annihilation of European Jewry.

A tactful and thorough takedown. Excellent article.

“Soviet Jews were the second-largest victim group in the Holocaust, after Polish Jews.”

I would call them one group. To the Nazi antisemites and even to the Soviet antisemites all Jews belong to the same group.

It’s not as if the French collaborationists asked Jews if they were Soviet or Polish Jews?

Royq says:

You posit the existence of two distinct categories of historical analysis, the national and transnational, blithely insisting the two form a dichotomy, while never actually spelling out what you mean by these terms. Based on their usage in your piece, it’s impossible to arrive at more than a hazy impression of narrow-minded parochialism in the former case, as exemplified by your critics, and a post-ethnic, or more specifically non-Jewish outlook in the latter, flitting about above the heads of those of us too mired in our sense of wounded identity to grasp the big picture of what occurred in the Second World War. I’m sure you don’t really believe that those of us with more or less direct connections to the Holocaust are ignorant of the geographic scope of the phenomenon or the fact that Eastern Europe was a locus of killing on a mass scale, every bit as much as Germany. You needn’t have a had a friend whose parents were Polish survivors, too traumatized by their experience to give their sons a Jewish religious education. You only have to have read Isaac Bashevis Singer, or at least seen Enemies: A Love Story, or Sophie’s Choice, for that matter. And I’m sure the history of Eastern European collaboration doesn’t begin with Jan Gross. I read Gitta Sereny in the 1990s, and she took pains to discuss the scale and significance of the mass shootings in the eastern precincts of the German invasion and occupation, a phenomenon with which she acquired an intimate acquaintance while working to repatriate Eastern European children whose allegedly Aryan features made them coveted commodities as forced adoptees in Germany.

When T.Snyder came to visit us at the Lithuanian Jewish Community, I said to him personaly: “I am sorry to have to tell you that your “Bloodlands” here in Eastern Europe is rapidly becoming the third book on the table of the powerful anti-Semitic establishment. First is the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. Second is Finkelstein’s “The Holocaust Industry” and the third is your “Bloodlands”. . .

I wrote something similar elsewhere,
this is a slightly edited version of that post.

I take issue with how Snyder portrays
the link between the Soviets and the Holocaust in this article. I know that
this is not the main argument of this article, but I will focus on this. Snyder
wrote: “Mikics professes not to see the connections
between the Soviet Union and the Holocaust”. He then proceeds to enumerate
eight ways in which the Soviets were linked with the Holocaust. He also leaves
out many other crucial factors in the Soviet Union’s relationship with the Nazi’s destruction of the Jews. As a result, Snyder’s picture of the Soviet factor in the Holocaust
is one-dimensional and far less complex than the reality.

I may have
gotten this wrong, but is Snyder saying in the second point that without the
Soviet-Nazi Pact the Germans would not have invaded Poland? If so, that negates
the general Nazi ideology of eastward expansionism and it ignores the practical
steps which Berlin had already taken in that direction such as the occupation
of Czechoslovakia. This was done with Poles’ participation and the French and English
reluctant approval (Sudetland) and resignation (occupation of the rest of the
country). The Soviets were not German allies at the time, instead, Moscow was
Berlin’s primary rival in Europe having fought a proxy war in Spain. The claim
that “the entirety of the Holocaust took place on lands touched during the war
by Soviet power” is patently false. There was Theresienstadt in the
Protectorate. The Jews of occupied Yugoslavia were murdered in the Balkans. In
Serbia they were shot and gassed in vans (the technology was perfected and
later on used in the death camps), while in Croatia they were massacred in
Ustaša concentration camps.

Snyder also
omits other obvious aspects of the Soviet factor in the Holocaust. 1) Following
the Red Army’s entry into Poland, the Soviet Union, albeit reluctantly,
accepted hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews from parts of Poland assigned to
Germany. According to Josef Litvak, the Soviets “displayed greater generosity
[towards the Jewish refugees] than any other country.” (ed. Gitelman, Bitter
Legacy, p.148). 2) In the light of the German advance, Moscow ’s evacuation of
industries and people away from the advancing German armies saved hundreds of
thousands of Soviet Jews. 3) The activities of the Soviet Partisans and the communist
underground in the occupied territories more likely than not had a positive
impact on the Jews’ likelihood of survival. In exceptional circumstances, the
Soviet Partisans and the communist underground took steps specifically save the
Jews. 3) The Moscow’s wartime propaganda helped publicize the plight of the
Jews in occupied territories. 4) The Red Army’s reentry into the Bloodlands in
the later phases of the war put an end to the death camps and liberated
hundreds of thousands of Jews. 5) The Soviet and communist relentless postwar
prosecutions of wartime collaborators in the Bloodlands targeted those who
participated in the murder of the Jews.

Snyder writes: ”One
may debate the meaning and significance of these relationships; what one may
not do is write the history of the Holocaust without accounting for Soviet
factors”. But it seems to me that Snyder is actually building a case for the Soviet
complicity in the Holocaust, not just outlining the various connections between the two. If he were interested in the latter, he
could not have missed these obvious Soviet factors in the Holocaust which throw different light on Moscow’s role in Shoah (and certainly deny its complicity).

There was no take down.

The exchange of articles on the mass murders and Holocaust in Europe was enlightening. I saw no attempt on either side to “takedown” or put down the other side.

I could see that, Milan, but that is nor his fault. Antisemites will read books in antisemitic ways not intended by an author.

I think Snyder should write a separate book on the Lithuanians participation in the Holocaust.

Claims of exceptionalism (national narrative) are cruel, clever, paradoxial and yet always effective because they play to the ancient-primitve and instinctive in-group/out-group drives of our brains. These evolved, apparently, to protect from disease from out group members and conserve ones own genes — so called “altruism.”

Crying exceptionalism is also most effective when threat is experienced.. There is an evolved instinct to pull “in” while in fact, now, the best problem solving comes from reaching outside of ones in-group and expanding the definition of in-group. There is data supporting this.

This wider definition of in-group, is the model of Snyder. There is both logic and evidence to support it but aggressive, mainly testostorone driven, human nature cannot tolerate this and will literally kill to defend a narrow view of in-group and specialiness.

Certain areas of the world where physical boundaries are trivial seem to suffer most from this killing ethnocentrism and have so throughout recorded history. Recent archelogical evidece shows group murder in the Levant has been continuous. This earliest evidence is of fatal clubbing. Now it’s rockets. The same is true of Balkans, and broad plains of Germany, Poland, etc. Mongolia, etc.

Thus, the victims of national/exceptionalism claims embrace the same fallacy to defend and recover from harm — draw the in-group tighter in upon itself. It is a deal with the Devil. Pretty much, exceptionalism is the road to evil in modern life. The main evil being the dehumanization of others — whether they be Jews or goys.

I was stunned to discover that Raul Hilberg didn’t know any of the languages of the peoples that help perpetrate the Holocaust. Did he even know Yiddish?

The genocide of the Jews in the time of the Second World War is sharply distinguished from the Stalinist repressions, first, in so far as that genocide entailed overwhelming participation of local residents in some countries. Without the active participation the genocide in Lithuania would never had had such horrific consequences: 95% of the country’s Jewish population was killed.
Second: After the Stalinist repression, by contrast, there remained alive and returned from Siberia thousands of Lithuanians. But from the pits of Ponar, of the Ninth Fort and more than 200 mass graves around the country, nobody has ever come back.

They are just not remotely the same.

Timothy Snyder’s attempt to equate the Stalinist repressions with the genocide of the Jewish population, is, it seems to me, a result of the personal will of the scholar to win hero-status from the Lithuanian and other East European governments and powerful establishments.

As a scholar, Timothy Snyder cannot pretend that he does not understand that with his book Bloodlands in its present form he is actually serving the political needs of the Baltic right and far right establishments. And it’s no wonder, that the same Snyder and the same crew of sycophants is invited again and again to the same-sounding Holocaust-issues conferences in Lithuania and internationally.

They see huge benefit in using him, because of the intertwined and nexus he tries to set up between the Holocaust and Stalin’s repressions.

This, in turn, enables these establishments to complain that the massive participation and collaboration of locals in the Holocaust is a result of the Stalinist repressions. That is the next step in the inglorious campaign of state-sponsored distortion of history and obfuscation of the Holocaust.
Interested readers are invited to follow my column in DefendingHistory.com at: http://defendinghistory.com/category/milan-chersonski.

Ad hominem attacks are intellectually dishonest and should be condemned. Without alternate data and facts it is a tired ideological rhetorical trick. The personal motives of anyone are unknowable and irrelevant to matters of fact. Best to discuss ideas and evidence, not people.

The participation of locals is a straightforward empirical question. The impression is many were threatened with death to drive their behavior.

genelevit says:

Nowadays many liberal “progressive” scholars, who believe in some absolute or “universal” truth, are trying to present the war on the Eastern front as the fight between two evils: Hitler and Stalin. However, I want to remind everybody that one of these “evils” was murdering Jews and another saved them from the extermination. We are not “impartial observers” of the history; we have our own view, quite different from the view of anti-Semites and Nazi apologizers. Although we are looking at the same facts we do it from the different angle and it is a big mistake when someone tries to replace the notion of objectivity with the notion of impartiality.

Efraim, I’m sorry, I’ve read Snyder’s book cover to cover and he does nothing of the sort. Its all in my article in: http://www.aapjstudies.org/index.php?id=170
In fact he is very critical of local collaborators and raised many examples that are too often forgotten. I don’t really think this is the issue. What he does, which is very important, is to finally give recognition to the millions of Ukrainians and others who lost their lives, yet who the West forgets. This book forces nationalists, of all groups to an encounter with the other, to see in them the sufferings and humanity that one’s own traditional perspectives only viewed in a single and negative light. The way his work is being used or misused by those who deny the Holocaust, or by those who deny (or at least neglect as unimportant) Soviet mass murders, is another issue.

Is the goal to establish facts as a basis for addressing the problem of ethnocentric mass murder, or promoting/selling of idiosyncratic articles, opinions and ideologies?

dovidkatz7 says:

Yes, the book and its (ab)use are separable at one level but interconnected at others. There are legitimate disagreements with aspects of ‘Bloodlands’ and the attempts by certain East European governments to instrumentalize the book and its author. Serious issues are raised by a number of reviews for which links are provided at:
http://defendinghistory.com/30081/30081. It is possible to disagree both with certain aspects of the book and the recent behavior of its author in Eastern Europe without losing respect for his enormous scholarship and talent. Best wishes from Vilnius, Dovid Katz

sleeprunning says:

All scholarship is flawed and filled with errors, of course. Human beings produce it. Intelligence and critical thinking thus move our knowledge and understanding along. Jewish thought and literature, above all, teach us that.

To believe that anyone’s motives or behaviors are inherently better, or worse, is naive and a dumb ideological tactic. Thank the very primitive in-group/out-group biology we all inherited from other animals.

These are vitally important topics and yet instead of Snyder’s work being evaluated, critically, of course, to increase in our knowledge or insight on these horrible matters of human behavior and organization there is little serious commentary and mainly personal sniping.

We are discussing ideas, not personalities or individual behavior.

Ad hominem attacks are fundamentally dishonest, off topic and the default reaction of ideologues — of all stripes it appears.

Instead of seriously considering, ideas, argument and above all, data and new data, the “thought police” on this comment board want to score points against someone to win points for themselves.

Devolving to self-righteous claims about the author’s behavior, is a symptom of a weak intelligence. “Blaming the messenger” is just sleazy.

Apparently, for most commentators here, the ethnocentrism and complexity driving the horrors of the 20th century are merely a backdrop for their own flag waving. Whatever flag that may be.

It dishonors the dead, deflects learning and those of us who demand this topic receive serious discussion, thought and principled argument and dispute.

It appears we will not find that here. That’s a shame.

jamesmace says:

At the risk of seeming to defend Snyder, it is possible that “Bloodlands”
does not take into account the latest information on the events surrounding the
Einsatzgruppen which was the wholesale slaughter of communists and Jews as the
Nazis invaded Ukraine.

Yes, the residents of Ukraine were complicit in this eastern Holocaust but
it is now clear that they were primarily German Ukrainians; Mennonite and other
fundamentalist Germans who fled persecution in Germany and migrated to Ukraine
at the invitation of Catherine the Great. That part of Ukraine in the 1700′s had just been
cleared of the Turks. With the “Black Earth” of that region, over the course of
many generations these German Ukrainians built many vibrant and wealthy
communities with huge farms, orchards, and mills. These were some of the first
“Kulaks” targeted by the Bolshevics starting in 1921 and by 1939, most of these
German Ukrainians were killed in what can only be described as a genocide.
http://library.ndsu.edu/grhc/order/general/sinner.html

Trotsky, Kagonovich, and Yagoda were prominent in these killings and the ethnic
cleansing of this southern part of Ukraine included an influx of Russian
Jews.
http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3342999,00.html
Thus the duplicity of German Ukrainians from the Odessa area being complicit with the Nazis should be of no surprise.

The Amish Ukrainians were also destined for anhiliation but they managed to
launch a world wide campaign to raise a $1mm ransome in 1930 which was just
prior to the heaviest deaths during the Holodomor. They escaped just in time.

sleeprunning says:

At last, some thoughtful, intelligent and useful additional information. Defending or otherwise Mr. Snyder is irrelevant and a distraction from problem-analysis and discussion.

The concentration of Jewish populations in these parts of the world, intelligently some of the best farmland in the world, apparently goes back to the conflicts and dynamics of the Holy Roman Empire which is useful to study. Knowing why there was such a concentration offers hints to dynamics that get played out over the centuries since the ecosystem and typology does not change.

So the fertile farmland, lack of natural borders, etc of that part of the work create the stage on which human behaviors get canalized.

The strong trends I have read about at the end of WWI included:
- Breakdown of pretty much all civil social structures, except the army.
- Hyper-growth of urban centers
- Food shortages in urban centers
- Resistance of framers to sending food to the cities

Starvation has been a historical terror of this part of the world. Many of Grimm’s Fairy Tales are stories about starvation,for example. Germany apparently was especially susceptible to this. This collective terror about starvation is impossible for Americans to understand.

It is a mistake, or at least 1/2 the story, to say the Nazis/Stalin were clever at picking the tropes and themes that resonated. More like they tried a bunch of things and the things they did that got the most support they blew up using the new communications technology. Anyone trying to get and keep attention-power does this still. Of course, they also killed anyone who didn’t respond.

The nativist appeal to German settlers in other lands was a strong sales pitch.

Here’s the problem (well there are many):
- Stalin has to feed the fast growing cities – The Russian revolution literally started from women’s bread riots
- The farmland transportation and production infrastructure is crippled – so food is accumulating in the farmland because of structural problems. Probably no one was purposefully withholding food from markets but the railroads didn’t work well
- The only working entity in the country is the Army.

What does Stalin do to get food to the cities and his Army, which he must use to get food to the cities……? Human, and other animal, nature when food is short is to attack, scapegoat, kill, etc. and become inhuman.

If we are serious about problem-solving here, rather than venting, food shortages appear the “evil” — the rest appear to be symptoms of this problems. Tragic symptoms, of course. Was Stalin a deranged, psychopathic killer — of course. But why was a psychopathic, deranged mass murder given so much power? We have to assume by millions of people who were “normal.”

Put another way, if we want to prevent these horrors from happening again — where should we spend our energy? Blaming or studying the impersonal factors that seem to drive this mass inhumanity? Here is a new and vital perspective on this — http://www.amazon.com/The-Taste-War-World-Battle/dp/1594203296/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pdT1_nS_nC?ie=UTF8&colid=1UC1U2DI2OYZA&coliid=I3GS65BR4SSUXE

Of course, the problem is that studying impersonal forces and economic, ecological and structural contributors are really boring, for practically everyone and make mind-numbing headlines.

Even on this comment stream, see how some folks need to make Snyder’s impressive discussion into a personal matter about “him” — to stay active in the discussion. Our minds default to ad homimen attacks.

Basically, if you don’t play to simple emotions — mainly fear — you can’t “sell” anything, especially ideas. Takes real courage to fight that impulse.

The fact is that modern medical science has taught us that all human behavior is a matter of individual brain processes, the molecules of the brain and therefore psychiatry. Mass murder is actually a very large number of individuals individually killing individuals. Snyder documents how much (most) of the mass murder was by gunshot and herding people into starvation camps. That is a lot of one-by-one murders.

It is not possible for so many people to have the brain disorder of psychopathic mudding. In fact, most “normal” murders are done by young, drunken (probably depressed) men impulsively. I believe close family members are also the main victim of murder. Steve Pinker has the definitive tome on violence.

The mass murders of WWII had to be carried out by mainly psychiatrically normal people. In fact, it seems hard to find anyone who is not actively or passively responsible for these murders in the Bloodlands. For example, of all the Russian soldiers killed thru starvation, how many of them were or would have been serial murders? The railroad workers had to know what was going on, etc.

So we are talking about wide swaths of the population engaging in everyday serial murder, for years. They had to know what they were doing since these murders demand planning and premeditation. It’s staggering to even write but seems the fact. Historically, this kind of behavior seems “normal” to human, and some animal, in-group out-group conflicts and seems a given to social species. Humans, of course, mechanized this behavior in the 20th Century.

Seems the historically common blood lust.

Brain research suggest however, that this is a problem of individual psychiatry and not ideology/beliefs/politics/etc. The ideology accompanied the mass murder but may not be causal — “Correlation is not causality.” There is further brain research to suggest ideological explanations are post hoc and not causal of behavior.

The primary cause appears to be hysteria over food shortages. This clearly was amplified by modern mass communications methods. After that, the expression of the hysteria seemed somewhat random but unstoppable. Whole societies had to be destroyed for this hysteria to end. Mind numbing. (Shudder)

jamesmace says:

The Germans would reply that they were fighting communists that killed over 10 million Christians prior to 1939 including Kagonovich and Yagoda who were Jews.

Isn’t the fact of the matter that everyone was pretty much killing everyone else during the breakdown in civil society and food pressures following the end of WWI?

Individual’s emotional reactions to this horror fall pretty much along personal in-group/genetic/tribal loyalties. The same tribal loyalties that correlate, we don’t know if they are causes or symptoms, of mass murder.

If this discussion cannot rise above narrow self interests and venting, nothing new will be learned.

Either all deaths are of equal horror and value or the instinct to dehumanize others wins — as it usually does. If we cannot discuss “evil” as part of regular human behavior we create nothing new, interesting or of value in avoiding such horrors in the future.

gtsmith says:

Two points, though many could be made.

First, Bloodlands is in no way a “transnational” history of
this period and place. To be that history, it would have to delve into the
details of the interactions of the different peoples – by no means only “national”
units, by the way – in and around the territories of the former Pale of
Settlement (for which “bloodlands,” I’m tempted to say, is a euphemism). Indeed,
if the book were to provide an actual explanation of the Holocaust, it would
have to go beyond to look at the attitudes and policies of distant Allied and
Axis powers. In fact, however, Bloodlands is focused overwhelmingly on the rather
well known policies and actions of just two nations – Germany and the USSR – with
the “transnational” aspect largely a matter of citation of death-count
statistics. This was the main point made by Thomas Kühne in a superb critique (http://clarku.academia.edu/ThomasK%C3%BChne/Papers/1548660/Thomas_Kuhne_Great_Men_and_Large_Numbers._Undertheorizing_a_History_of_Mass_Killing_Contemporary_European_History_21_2_2012_133-143),
a critique that elicited an hysterical and evidently wholly uncomprehending
reply from Snyder (www.yale.edu/history/faculty/…/CausesoftheHolocaust.pdf)
that inverts Kühne’s argument
completely. The facts offered, and the numbers, are both very
widely known and cited with far too much confident exactitude: for this reason
among others, the book falls short of being a work of transnational historical
explanation (and no, citing research produced in several different languages
does not solve the problem). David Mikics’s remarks about the feebleness of
Snyder’s causal claims are exactly right.

Second, Snyder
grossly understates the virulence of Nazi racial ideology independent of any
“Soviet” dynamic, and wildly understates or even diminishes the immediately
preceding history of anti-Semitic violence in Ukraine and environs during the
Russian Civil War: the worst anti-Semitic violence prior to the Holocaust, and
which would have been a direct or indirect (but certainly living and effective)
memory for the majority of people living there. (The literature on this is
enormous: see Oleg Budnitskii’s recent book for a fine summary.) In a
devastating review that appeared in Slavic Review, Omer Bartov put the matter
very succinctly: “surely a defeat of the USSR would not have prevented the
Holocaust.” Of course, it is above all Snyder’s vaguely argued but unmistakable
ascription of (necessary if not sufficient) causal responsibility for the
Holocaust to the Soviet regime that accounts for the book’s popularity in
contemporary Eastern Europe.

Have been reading the horrible/wonderful book – The Taste of War a useful companion to Snyder’s book. The global orgy of suicidal and homicidal behaviors from 1939-45 is stunning and stomach turning.

There really are no words to discuss or describe this behavior. Some extended quotes:

“The Holocaust was not just the product of an irrational ideology but the conclusion of a series of crises in the German conduct of the war. The failure to conquer the Soviet Union, the rise of partisans in the occupied zones, a dwindling food supply in the Reich – which was diminishing the productivity of workers and might provoke resistance to the regime – all created an atmosphere of crisis and the belief that extreme action was necessary to remedy the situation. This came together with the unfortunate circumstance that the organizational and military means to commit murder on a vast scale were being put into place. The appetite of the SS had been whetted by the ease with which the Soviet Jews had been eradicated. An extermination camp at Chelmo had already been built as an experimental pilot project and the systematic gassing of Jews from the Warthegau had been carried out there. It had always been the intention of Hitler and a section of the National Socialist leadership to eradicate the Jews from Europe. The food crisis of 1941– 42 provided an ostensibly rational reason why the crime of murder should be committed. The Jews could not be allowed to continue eating the precious food which the German workers deserved: they must die in order to free up desperately needed food supplies. Thus food worries gave added impetus to the Holocaust. The historian Christian Gerlach argues that without the food panic that winter, many more Jews might have survived, albeit under terrible conditions as forced workers.

In December 1941 the Governor-General Hans Frank returned to the General Government of Poland, having met with Hitler. He announced that plans to deport Polish Jews to the east were no longer viable. Given that they were ‘extremely damaging eaters’ they needed to be removed as quickly as possible. A meeting in January would decide exactly what action should be taken. 129 The meeting he referred to was the now infamous Wannsee Conference at which plans were laid for the deportation and extermination of the European Jews. It was at this conference that the decision was taken to target first the Polish Jews in the General Government. 130 During the winter and spring of 1941– 42 preparations for industrialized murder on a massive scale were made with the construction of the extermination camps at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. These death camps were not extensions of the concentration camp system, but were specifically built in order to kill Jews efficiently. Most of the people who arrived at these camps were dead within twenty-four hours.

They were quite different from the concentration camps, which were places of punishment where the inmates often died of hunger and overwork but were not systematically murdered. Although extermination camps were built at the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Majdanek, the death camps tended to be separate from the concentration camps and their administrators were drawn not from the camp system but from members of the euthanasia campaign who had conducted the elimination of the mentally ill within Germany.”

Collingham, Lizzie (2012-03-29). The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (p. 205). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

The madness of mass homicidal and suicidal behavior extended throughout Japan and Russia as well. It appears the most fatalities occurred via ones own governments. For example, apparently 85 Russian soldiers died for every single Brit of Yank solider!

As Snyder suggests, lack of food seems the main source of death directly or via related illnesses.

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