Written by Timothy Snyder
Review by Doug Kemp

The bloodlands are defined by the author as that part of central Europe – Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states – which suffered grievously from 1933-1945 under both Soviet and Nazi rule. The author narrates a relentlessly gruelling tale of terror against civilians – from Stalin’s collectivised famines of the early 1930s, the Great Terror of 1937-38 and then the deaths in the Second World War – this, of course, is where the Germans “excelled”, though the Soviet Union also played a nefarious part, in the killing of Jews, Poles, Ukrainians, Belarusian and Baltic peoples.

Snyder, a respected historian of this region, unfolds this litany of human misery, and also explains and analyses the perverted reasoning that justified the taking of some many millions of lives by these regimes. It is easy to be lulled by the immeasurable weight of numbers in any such study – so that, as an example, an action in an obscure town of Belarus which kills a few hundred people seems to be nothing much in the overall scheme of the atrocities; but Snyder attempts to maintain the focus and understanding that each one of these 14 million or so deaths was the life of a person, just like the reader of the book and this review. After the War, Snyder analyses the expulsion of ethnic Germans from the bloodlands to Germany, as well as discussing how the Soviet Union controlled the national memory of these atrocities to show, incorrectly, how Russians were the overwhelming sufferers of the Great Patriotic War, whereas the truth is that non-Russian nations and peoples were the worst afflicted.