Neville Chamberlain described Czechoslovakia as a far away land we know little about. He could have said it about any of the countries of east-central Europe. Yet, for the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany east-central Europe, was of prime imp ortance in ways that would have horrible consequences for the people who made it their home, especially in the territories of Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltics and western Russia. Timothy Snyder calls these areas “the Bloodlands,” and with good reason. In Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books, 2010) he explores how two regimes with quite different perspectives ended up perpetrating mass murder on an unprecedented level in that region.
Comparisons of Stalinism and Nazism are hardly new, but Snyder’s book is not a classical comparative study. Rather, it is an attempt to understand how the leaders of the USSR and Nazi Germany thought about the future of the region, and why their visions–despite being very different–both necessitated mass murder. The resulting insights lead to new understanding of both the Great Terror and the Holocaust.