The Dolan School of Business dining room was standing room only on the evening of October 4th for the undergraduate Judaic Studies Program’s lecture featuring Timothy Snyder, Ph.D., professor of history at Yale University. The lecture was co-sponsored by the Carl and Dorothy Bennett Center for Judaic Studies. Dr. Snyder presented the topic of his new book, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, and was introduced by Professor of History Gavriel Rosenfeld who pointed out that Dr. Snyder speaks 5 and reads 10 European languages. The lecture focused on a discussion of the “Bloodlands” – the area of Europe where the most murders occurred at the hands of Nazi and Soviet soldiers during the Holocaust.
Dr. Snyder opened his lecture with stories of individuals who were affected during the years 1933 through 1945 when the murder count in the Bloodlands was highest. He told the story of a Ukrainian man who, in 1933, dug his own grave to avoid the fate of others who were starved to death and thrown into unmarked graves. In order to avoid being eternally unknown, this man dug his own grave and went to it on the day he knew would be his last. According to Dr. Snyder, stories like this were not uncommon because 14 million people – the subjects of his book – were killed in the Bloodlands of Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Russia, and the Baltic States, where Nazi Germany and Soviet powers overlapped during the Holocaust.
Dr. Snyder pointed out that Soviet history tends to focus mainly on Moscow – where killings took place mainly on the East Asian, Central Asian, and Eastern European periphery – while German history focuses on the Holocaust as only being an outcome of Nazi Germany. In his book, he avoided metaphysics, national exceptionalism, dialectics, and sanctification because he wanted to focus on the Bloodlands as a place – rather than a time. He also wanted to make it clear that because the Soviets were present in the same lands at a later time does not erase the tragedies that occurred previously by the Nazi Germans on those same lands.
The different incentives for the murders were made clear as well. According to Dr. Snyder, the Nazis had a plan for total world dominance whereas the Soviets had a plan for future revolution and needed to control their own internal colony, including the Ukraine. In 1941, when the Nazis betrayed the Soviets and invaded Russia, their plan was to destroy the entire Soviet Union within 9 weeks while starving 30 million citizens. In order to resolve the “Jewish problem,” they had planned on driving the Jews over the Ural Mountains. In 1942 gas chambers were implemented as a more productive form of murder than shooting and starvation. Dr. Snyder continued that his book was about the interaction and the presence of power on the same lands, although some comparative conclusions may be drawn naturally.
The main focus of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin is the 14 million people who were murdered. Dr. Snyder states that it is a question of quantity vs. quality, and one person is an infinite factor. The difference between the murders of 14,000,000 people and 14,000,001 is an infinite difference because each number is a person, a family. That family carries a legacy and it will never be known how many lives may have come out of that one person who was murdered so many years ago.
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