Bloodletting before and during World War II

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 10, 2010 | Go to article overview

Bloodletting before and during World War II


Byline: John M. Taylor, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Virtually every adult in the Western world is by now aware of the barbarities committed by Hitler's Germany. A smaller number recognize that Stalin also was guilty of many atrocities. What Yale professor Timothy Snyder has now provided is a detailed recounting of the massive bloodletting in the lands between Germany and the Soviet Union before and during World War II.

The author believes that between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi and Soviet regimes together murdered some 14 million civilians of both sexes. But the circumstances varied widely, as did the motives behind the bloodletting. Hitler, of course, was committed to the extermination of the Jews, but Stalin's targets were more diverse, and his motives were often ideological rather than racial.

The author's Bloodlands comprise a broad swath from the Baltic in the north to the Black Sea, including Poland, western Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine. Much of the book focuses on the period of World War II, but Mr. Snyder begins with Stalin's war against the Kulaks (well-to-do peasants) and the deliberate abetting of starvation in the USSR's agricultural south. Ukrainians in particular were considered resistant to collectivization, and therefore to be destroyed.

A Ukrainian doctor wrote to a friend in 1933 that she had not yet become a cannibal, but was not sure that I shall not be one by the time my letter reaches you. Mr. Snyder believes that terror in the USSR far exceeded that in Germany. He writes, Nothing in Hitler's Germany remotely resembled the execution of nearly four hundred thousand people in eighteen months under Stalin. But Hitler would soon catch up. On any given day in the second half of 1941, Mr. Snyder writes, the Germans shot more Jews than had been killed by pogroms in the entire history of the Russian Empire.

The country most affected by German-Soviet rivalry was Poland. An August 1939 pact between Germany and the USSR divided most of the country into German and Soviet spheres, sectors that came into being following the twin invasions of Poland from the east and west in September. The Nazi occupation began a period of unspeakable horror for the Poles. The Germans brought in special operational units to seek out Jews and other potential dissidents and to implement summary executions.

Conditions in the Soviet occupation zone were only marginally better than those under the Germans. Some Polish troops had resisted the Soviet occupation, and when the Soviets encountered resistance their response was instant retaliation.

The Katyn Forest massacre in the spring of 1940 provided a remarkable instance of Soviet brutality. At that time, some 22,000 Poles, most of them army officers, were seized and transported to the remote area of Katyn.

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