Monday, March 28, 2011

Bloodlands: Three different histories

More quotes from Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder. Chapter 10 (“Ethnic Cleansings”) and Chapter 11 (“Stalinist Anti-Semitism”) look at Stalin’s actions post-World War II and how they impacted the “bloodlands.” With the relocations of ethnic populations, Stalin moved millions of people in order to create the client states he wanted.
At Yalta in February 1945, the Americans and the British agreed in principle that Poland should be shifted west, but were not convinced that Poland should be moved all the way to the Oder-Neiße line. Nevertheless, as Stalin anticipated, they came around to his way of thinking by the next summit at Potsdam in July. By that time, much of his policy had already been achieved on the ground. By March the Red Army had already conquered all of the German lands that Stalin intended to concede to Poland. … Soviet troops had moved through eastern Germany with such extraordinary haste and violence that suddenly anything seemed possible. Six million or so Germans had been evacuated by German authorities or had fled before the Red Army, creating the basic preconditions for Stalin’s ethnic and geographic version of Poland. Many of them would try to come back after Germany’s surrender, but precious few would succeed. In Britain, George Orwell raised his voice one last time, in February 1945, calling the planned expulsion of the Germans an “enormous crime” that could not be “carried through.” He was wrong. For once, his political imagination failed him.
While I was familiar with the relocations, I didn't know how vast the project had been. The numbers are difficult to comprehend:
By the end of 1947 some 7.6 million Germans had left Poland, roughly half of them as refugees fleeing from the Red Army, roughly half as deportees. … In all of this flight and transport, from early 1945 to late 1947, perhaps four hundred thousand Germans native to lands that were annexed by Poland died: most of them in Soviet or Polish camps, and a second large group caught between armies or drowned at sea. … [A]nother three million [Germans] or so were deported from democratic Czechoslovakia. About nine hundred thousand Volga Germans were deported within the Soviet Union during the war. The number of Germans who lost their homes during and after the war exceeded twelve million. Enormous as this figure was, it did not constitute a majority of the forced displacements during and after the war. Two million or so non-Germans were deported by Soviet (or communist Polish) authorities in the same postwar period. Another eight million people, most of them forced laborers taken by the Germans, were returned to the Soviet Union at the same time. … In the Soviet Union and Poland, more than twelve million Ukrainians, Poles, Belarusians, and others fled or were moved during the war or in its aftermath. This does not include the ten million or so people who were deliberately killed by the Germans, most of whom were displaced in one way or another before they were murdered.
Before Stalin’s death in 1953, a new pogrom of sorts began, which involved a complete rewriting of World War II with Russians, mostly Jews, as victims:
In late 1948 and early 1949, public life in the Soviet Union veered toward anti-Semitism. The new line was set, indirectly but discernibly, by Pravda on 28 January 1949. An article on “unpatriotic theater critics,” who were “bearers of stateless cosmopolitanism,” began a campaign of denunciation of Jews in every sphere of professional life. … Taking into account all the trials in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe, and all the people who died in police custody, Stalin killed no more than a few dozen Jews in these last years of his life. If he indeed want one final national terror operation, which is far from clear, he was unable to see it to completion. … Stalinist anti-Semitism in Moscow, Prague, and Warsaw killed only a handful of people, but it confused the European past. The Holocaust complicated the Stalinist story of the suffering of Soviet citizens as such, and displaced Russians and Slavs as the most victimized of groups. It was the communists and their loyal Slavic (and other) followers who were to be understood as both the victors and the victims of the Second World War. The scheme of Slavic innocence and Western aggression was to be applied to the Cold War as well, even if this meant that Hews, associated with Israel and America in the imperialist Western camp, were to be regarded as the aggressors of history. So long as communists governed most of Europe, the Holocaust could never be seen for what it was. … During the Cold War, the natural response in the West was to emphasize the enormous suffering that Stalinism had brought to the citizens of the Soviet Union. This, too, was true; but like the Soviet accounts it was not the only truth, or the whole truth. In this competition for memory, the Holocaust, the other German mass killing policies, and the Stalinist mass murders became three different histories, even though in historical fact they shared a place and time.

In Bloodlands, Snyder pulls these “three different histories” together and shows their interrelationships (more than just place and time). Some last thoughts and a summary post when I finish the book's Conclusion.

Update (17 June 2012): For more on the forced relocations see the article The European Atrocity You Never Heard About.

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