Timothy Snyder · 524 pages
Rating: (7.2K votes)
“It is easy to sanctify policies or identities by the deaths of victims. It is less appealing, but morally more urgent, to understand the actions of the perpetrators. The moral danger, after all, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or a bystander.”
“It is less appealing, but morally more urgent, to understand the actions of the perpetrators. The moral danger, after all, is never that one might become a victim but that one might be a perpetrator or a bystander. It is tempting to say that a Nazi murderer is beyond the pale of understanding. ...Yet to deny a human being his human character is to render ethics impossible.
To yield to this temptation, to find other people inhuman, is to take a step toward, not away from, the Nazi position. To find other people incomprehensible is to abandon the search for understanding, and thus to abandon history.”
“When meaning is drawn from killing, the risk is that more killing would bring more meaning.”
“The Nazi and Soviet regimes turned people into numbers, some of which we can only estimate, some of which we can reconstruct with fair precision. It is for us as scholars to seek those numbers and to put them into perspective. It is for us as humanists to turn the numbers back into people. If we cannot do that, then Hitler and Stalin have shaped not only our world, but our humanity.”
“Now we will live!” This is what the hungry little boy liked to say, as he toddled along the quiet roadside, or through the empty fields. But the food that he saw was only in his imagination. The wheat had all been taken away, in a heartless campaign of requisitions that began Europe’s era of mass killing. It was 1933, and Joseph Stalin was deliberately starving Soviet Ukraine. The little boy died, as did more than three million other people. “I will meet her,” said a young Soviet man of his wife, “under the ground.” He was right; he was shot after she was, and they were buried among the seven hundred thousand victims of Stalin’s Great Terror of 1937 and 1938. “They asked for my wedding ring, which I….” The Polish officer broke off his diary just before he was executed by the Soviet secret police in 1940. He was one of about two hundred thousand Polish citizens shot by the Soviets or the Germans at the beginning of the Second World War, while Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union jointly occupied his country. Late in 1941, an eleven-year-old Russian girl in Leningrad finished her own humble diary: “Only Tania is left.” Adolf Hitler had betrayed Stalin, her city was under siege by the Germans, and her family were among the four million Soviet citizens the Germans starved to death. The following summer, a twelve-year-old Jewish girl in Belarus wrote a last letter to her father: “I am saying good-bye to you before I die. I am so afraid of this death because they throw small children into the mass graves alive.” She was among the more than five million Jews gassed or shot by the Germans.”
“Some believed that Satan had come to earth in human form as a party activist, his collective farm register a book of hell, promising torment and damnation.”
“...But this number, like all the others, must be seen not as 5.7 million, which is an abstraction few of us can grasp, but as 5.7 million times one. This does not mean some generic image of a Jew passing through some abstract notion of death 5.7 million times. It means countless individuals who nevertheless have to be counted, in the middle of life...”
“How could a large land empire thrive and dominate in the modern world without reliable access to world markets and without much recourse to naval power?
Stalin and Hitler had arrived at the same basic answer to this fundamental question. The state must be large in territory and self-sufficient in economics, with a balance between industry and agriculture that supported a hardily conformist and ideologically motivated citizenry capable of fulfilling historical prophecies - either Stalinist internal industrialization or Nazi colonial agrarianism. Both Hitler and Stalin aimed at imperial autarky, within a large land empire well supplies in food, raw materials, and mineral resources. Both understood the flash appeal of modern materials: Stalin had named himself after steel, and Hitler paid special attention to is production. Yet both Stalin and Hitler understood agriculture as a key element in the completion of their revolutions. Both believed that their systems would prove their superiority to decadent capitalism, and guarantee independence from the rest of the world, by the production of food.
“Violence is not confidence, and terror is not mastery.”
“Jewish resistance in Warsaw was not only about the dignity of the Jews but about the dignity of humanity as such, including those of the Poles, the British, the Americans, the Soviets: of everyone who could have done more, and instead did less.30”
“During the years that both Stalin and Hitler were in power, more people were killed in Ukraine than anywhere else in the bloodlands, or in Europe, or in the world.”
“The Soviet census of 1937 found eight million fewer people than projected: most of these were famine victims in Soviet Ukraine, Soviet Kazakhstan, and Soviet Russia, and the children that they did not then have. Stalin suppressed its findings and had the responsible demographers”
“In the middle of Europe in the middle of the twentieth century, the Nazi and Soviet regimes murdered some fourteen million people. The place where all of the victims died, the bloodlands, extends from central Poland to western Russia, through Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States.”
“Political calculation and local suffering do not entirely explain the participation in these pogroms. Violence against Jews served to bring the Germans and elements of the local non-Jewish populations closer together. Anger was directed, as the Germans wished, toward the Jews, rather than against collaborators with the Soviet regime as such. People who reacted to the Germans' urging knew that they were pleasing their new masters, whether or not they believed that the Jews were responsible for their own woes. By their actions they were confirming the Nazi worldview. The act of killing Jews as revenge for NKVD executions confirmed the Nazi understanding of the Soviet Union as a Jewish state. Violence against Jews also allowed local Estonians, Latvian, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Poles who had themselves cooperated with the Soviet regime to escape any such taint. The idea that only Jews served communists was convenient not just for the occupiers but for some of the occupied as well.
Yet this psychic nazification would have been much more difficult without the palpable evidence of Soviet atrocities. The pogroms took place where the Soviets had recently arrived and where Soviet power was recently installed, where for the previous months Soviet organs of coercion had organized arrests, executions, and deportations. They were a joint production, a Nazi edition of a Soviet text.
“The predominant view was that budgets should be balanced and money supplies tightened. This, as we know today, only made matters worse.”
“No major war or act of mass killing in the twentieth century began without the aggressors or perpetrators first claiming innocence and victimhood.”
“It was in Poland that the Einsatzgruppen were to fulfill their mission as “ideological soldiers” by eliminating the educated classes of a defeated enemy. (They were in some sense killing their peers: fifteen of the twenty-five Einsatzgruppe and Einsatzkommando commanders had doctorates.)”
“In 1942, propaganda against Slavs would ease, as more of them came to work in the Reich. Hitler’s decision to kill Jews (rather than exploit their labor) was presumably facilitated by his simultaneous decision to exploit the labor of Slavs (rather than kill them).”
“Father Stalin, look at this Collective farming is just bliss The hut’s in ruins, the barn’s all sagged All the horses broken nags And on the hut a hammer and sickle And in the hut death and famine No cows left, no pigs at all Just your picture on the wall”
“Daddy and mommy are in the kolkhoz The poor child cries as alone he goes There’s no bread and there’s no fat The party’s ended all of that Seek not the gentle nor the mild A father’s eaten his own child The party man he beats and stamps And sends us to Siberian camps38”
“As an SS officer said to the guards at Dachau: “Any of the comrades who can’t see blood should resign. The more of these bastards go down, the fewer of them we’ll have to feed.”4”
“No matter what Germany or Germans did, it was because they were defending themselves from international Jewry. The Jews were always the aggressor, the Germans always the victims.”
“By July 1933 it was illegal in Germany to belong to any other political party than the Nazis. In November the Nazis staged a parliamentary election in which”
“When meaning is drawn from killing, the risk is that more killing would bring about more meaning.”
“The German communist party, for years the strongest outside the Soviet Union itself, was broken in a matter of a few months. Its defeat was a serious blow to the prestige of the international communist movement.11”
“The premise of National Socialism was that Germans were a superior race, a presumption that, when confronted by the evidence of Polish civilization, the Nazis had to prove, at least to themselves. In the ancient Polish city of Cracow, the entire professoriate of the renowned university was sent to concentration camps. The”
“The German settlers would defend Europe itself at the Ural Mountains, against the Asiatic barbarism that would be forced back to the east. Strife at civilization’s edge would test the manhood of coming generations of German settlers.”
“Colonization would make of Germany a continental empire fit to rival the United States, another hardy frontier state based upon exterminatory colonialism and slave labor. The East was the Nazi Manifest Destiny. In Hitler’s view, “in the East a similar process will repeat itself for a second time as in the conquest of America.” As Hitler imagined the future, Germany would deal with the Slavs much as the North Americans had dealt with the Indians. The Volga River in Russia, he once proclaimed, will be Germany’s Mississippi.9”
“One class of elementary school students, for example, sent a letter to party authorities asking “for your help, since we are falling down from hunger. We should be learning, but we are too hungry to walk.”75”
“it is the only time I can rest without sleeping, think without deciding, speak and hear my own voice. It is the only time I can be alone. Slightly less than an hour each weekday when no one makes demands.”
“If I told you, you'd only know it in your mind, not in your heart. There's a big difference.”
“More than anything." Rob persisted. "You'd crawl on your belly over broken glass for her. Easy.”
“What the hell is that?"
I jumped and glanced over to see Kristof staring at Grady, who was waving his arms, rolling his eyes, shaking and moaning.
"I think he's possessed," I said.
"By what? Epilepsy?”
“He gently covered her hand with his, wishing he could feel her soft skin through the rough leather of his work gloves. He dragged her fingers down from his mouth and cradled them against his chest. His gaze never left her face. Her breath caught in her throat, but she didn’t look away. Fingers splayed, her palm pressed against the thin cotton of his shirt, directly over his heart. In that moment, he knew she belonged to him.”
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