Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bloodlands: a deadly competition

More quotes from Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. Chapter 6 (“Final Solution”) and Chapter 7 (“Holocaust and Revenge”) continue the look at the evolution of the “Jewish problem” and confrontations between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, particularly in Belarus (where half the pre-war population had been killed or moved by the end of the war).
Himmler succeeded because he grasped extremes of the Nazi utopias that operated within Hitler’s mind, even as Hitler’s will faced the most determined resistance from the world outside. Himmler made the Final Solution more radical, by bringing it forward from the postwar period to the war itself, and by showing (after the failure of four previous deportation schemes) how it could be achieved: by the mass shooting of Jewish civilians. His prestige suffered little from the failures of the lightning victory and the Hunger Plan, which were the responsibility of the Wehrmacht and the economic authorities.

As the war turned Stalin’s way, Hitler recast its purpose. The plan had been to destroy the Soviet Union and then eliminate the Jews. Now, as the destruction of the Soviet Union was indefinitely delayed, the utter extermination of the Jews became a wartime policy. The menace henceforth was less the Slavic masses and their supposed Jewish overlords, and more the Jews as such. 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). … Henceforth resettlement or resettlement to the East [of the Jews] would mean mass murder. Perhaps the resettlement euphemism, by suggesting an essential continuity of policy, helped Nazis to overlook the fact that German policy not only changed by had to change because the war was not going as expected.

By early 1943, the people of Belarus, especially the young men, were caught in a deadly competition between German forces and Soviet partisans that made nonsense of the ideologies of both sides. The Germans, lacking personnel, had recruited local men to their police forces (and, in the second half of 1942, to a “self-defense” militia). Many of these people had been communists before the war. The partisans, for their part, began in 1943 to recruit Belarusian policemen in the German service, since these men had at least some arms and training. …By the end of the war, some eight million foreigners from the East, most of them Slavs, were working in the Reich. It was a rather perverse result, even by the standards of Nazi racism: German men went abroad and killed millions of “subhumans,” only to import millions of other “subhumans” to do the work in Germany that the German men would have been doing themselves—had they not been abroad killing “subhumans.” The net effect, setting aside the mass killing abroad, was that Germany became more of a Slavic land than it had ever been in history.

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