Tuesday I finished reading maybe the best book I’ve read in a long time. And, Tuesday I finished reading what may be the worst book I’ve read in a long time. The best and the worst. Finished reading on the same day. And it was the same book. Maybe the best and worst I’ve ever, ever read, too. What was it? It is called “Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin” by Timothy Snyder. What’s it about? It’s about the murder of 14,000,000 people. That’s a 14 followed by 6 zeros.

In the world today, only Shanghai has more people in it, at 17 million. Istanbul, the second largest city in the world, has less than 14 million people. Today, Belgium, Cuba, and Greece are all countries of less than 14,000,000 people. Fourteen Million. 14 million. However you type it, it’s an incomprehensible number, when you add the word “murdered” to it. Yet, it’s true. It’s history. It happened. It can’t be denied.

Bloodlands is not about the Holocaust–though that is a part of it. It’s not about genocide–though that may be a part of it. It’s about the thoughtful, methodical, and at times efficient murder of 14,000,000 people. The “bloodlands” refers to the area of central and eastern Europe that, between 1918 and 1950 or so, was under the control of Germany and or the Soviet Union, and sometimes under the control of both, at one time or another.

It is a sad story, a story about people, human beings, caught up in politics. Ukrainians, Poles, Belarusians, and Jews (who may be also identified as any of those groups) were systematically killed. Some by starvation, some by being worked to death, many with a bullet in the back of the head. Their crime? Being Ukrainian, Polish, Belarusian, or Jewish–among others. Women and children often were murdered quickly, the men sometimes pulled into forced labor before they died or were killed. And soldiers, German and Soviet–each side had bitter contempt for the other and did all they could to kill their “prisoners.”

We in the west tend to think of what happened in the Bloodlands as solely the work of Nazis against the Jews. That is a part of it, but only a part. It is a sad chapter in history. And only a part of the total devastation that was World War II.  The atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki “only” killed a mere 150,000 people, a drop in the bucket. Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews, but “only” managed to kill 5 or 6 million. A drop in the bucket, though a few big drops….

Hitler and Stalin wanted to “cleanse” their countries of “undesireables” These included Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and a host of others they deemed undesireable. They tried. The tried very hard. The killed the cream of the crop of many of these groups.

But, look at the world today…..

Still, a very sad, sad, deeply sad story. I recommend you read Bloodlands… but keep a handkerchief nearby. I know you’ll need it!

This entry was posted in culture, history, History of Poland, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Bloodlands

  1. My parents immigrated in 1948 to the United States. The stories they told were horrific. I have always wondered that if I was born then, would I have survived?
    I have the book on my list and will have a box of tissues near by.
    Its almost as if I already know the contents. Sad period in the World and sadly,
    the world did not learn any lessons from this.

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