Part of The Best Books of 2011 on Western Europe

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin

This magisterial work chronicles in horrifying detail the mass murder of civilians by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany from 1930 to 1945 in the "bloodlands" that lay between them: Poland, the Baltic republics, Belarus, and the Ukraine. Snyder's account is engaging, encyclopedic -- and controversial. Whereas many accord Hitler more blame than Stalin for such atrocities, Snyder treats the two as comparable. The numbers are similar. Hitler is customarily thought of as pioneering systematic extermination, but Stalin predates him by nearly a decade. German concentration camps are often referred to as a uniquely calculated, even "industrial," form of butchery. Yet camps account for only a few million of the 14 million deliberate and systematic civilian deaths carried out by the two countries. Most victims of both governments were shot or driven into the wilds to die of starvation and disease. Many still insist that Stalin, believing that communist transformation would falter in the face of opposition from national minorities and rich kulaks, espoused more pragmatic views than his maniacal German counterpart. Yet Hitler was just as results-oriented, believing that military victory and fascist rule would elude Germany unless minorities were eliminated. For Snyder, what mattered most in the end was the commonality that both leaders sacrificed millions to grandiose totalitarian projects.

Latest Commentary & News analysis