Friday, March 18, 2011

Bloodlands: between thirty-one and forty-five million people were to disappear

More quotes from Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. Chapter 5, titled “The Economics of Apocalypse”, looks at the plans and operations of Germany’s attack of the Soviet Union, focusing on the planned deaths of the Soviets through starvation. While the grand scale of the “Hunger Plan” was not faithfully carried out as intended, the Soviet prisoner-of-war camps would provide something of a model as well as men to staff some of the developing concentration camps.

In the history of the bloodlands, Operation Barbarossa marks the beinning of the a third period. In the first (1933-1938), the Soviet Union carried out almost all of the mass killing; in the second, during the German-Soviet alliance (1939-1941), the killing was balanced. Between 1941 and 1945 the Germans were responsible for almost all of the political murder.

Hitler intended to use the Soviet Union to solve his British problem, not in its present capacity as an ally but in its future capacity as a colony. During this crucial year, between June 1940 and June 1941, German economic planners were working hard to devise the ways in which a conquered Soviet Union would make Germany the kind of superpower that Hitler wanted it to become. … Under the general heading of “Generalplan Ost,” SS Standartenfurhrer Professor Konrad Meyer drafted a series of plans for a vast eastern colony. … General would deport, kill, assimilate, or enslave the native populations, and bring order and prosperity to a humbled frontier. Depending upon the demographic estimates, between thirty-one and forty-five million people, mostly Slavs, were to disappear. In one redaction, eighty to eighty-five percent of the Poles, sixty-five percent of the west Ukrainians, seventy-five percent of the Belarusians, and Fifty percent of the Czechs were to be eliminated.

As German planners saw matters, the collective farm should be used again to starve millions of people: in fact, this time, the intention was to kill tens of millions. Collectivization had brought starvation to Soviet Ukraine, first as an unintended result of inefficiencies and unrealistic grain targets, and then as an intended consequence of the vengeful extractions of late 1932 and early 1933. Hitler, on the other hand, planned in advance to starve unwanted Soviet populations to death.

Ruthlessness is not the same thing as efficiency, and German planning was too bloodthirsty to be really practical. The Wehrmacht could not implement the Hunger Plan. … The problem for the Germans was rather that the systematic starvation of a large civilian population is an inherently difficult undertaking. It is much easier to conquer territory than to redistribute calories. … Germany starved Soviet citizens anyway, less from political dominion than political desperation. Though the Hunger Plan was based upon false political assumptions, it still provided the moral premises for the war in the East. In autumn 1941, the Germans starved not to remake a conquered Soviet Union but to continue their war without imposing any costs on their own civilian population.

The greater the control the Wehrmacht exercised over a population, the more likely that population was to starve. The one place where the Wehrmacht controlled the population completely, the prisoner-of-war camps, was the site of death on an unprecedented scale. It was in these camps where something very much like the original Hunger Plan was implemented. … It was the Wehrmacht that established and ran the first network of camps, in Hitler’s Europe, where people died in the thousands, the tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands, and finally the millions. … The organization of the camps in the east revealed a contempt for life, the life of Slavs and Asians and Jews anyway, that made such mass starvation thinkable. In German prisoner-of-war camps for Red Army soldiers, the death rate over the course of the war was 57.5 percent. In the first eight months after Operation Barbarossa, it must have been far higher. In German prisoner-of-war camps for soldiers of the western Allies, the death rate was less than five percent. As many Soviet prisoners of war died on a single given day in autumn 1941 as did British and American prisoners of war over the course of the entire Second World War.

From among the terrorized and starving population of the prisoner-of-war camps, the Germans recruited no fewer than a million men for duties with the army and police. … Some prisoners were sent to a training camp in Trawniki, where they learned to be guards. These Soviet citizens and war vetrans, retrained to serve Nazi Germany, would spend 1942 in three death facilities in occupied Poland, Treblinka, Sobibór, and Bełżec, where more than a million Polish Jews would be gassed. Thus some of the survivors of one Germany killing policy became accomplices in another, as a war to destroy the Soviet Union became a war to murder the Jews.

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