Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Timothy Snyder published a new - and instantly controversial - history of the Holocaust, titled Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin .

What is controversial about it is the fact that it is not ONLY about the Holocaust, as is clear from the title. Snyder's main point is that the Nazi murder of the Jews should be seen in the context of the death of at least 14 million people in the hands of the two utopian regimes, Communism and Nazism, or if you prefer, their leaders Stalin and Hitler (who could not single-handedly kill even a single human being without the majority of their subjects aiding and abetting them). Snyder puts the Holocaust in the context of Stalin's deliberate starvation of perhaps as many as 3 million Ukrainian peasants (known today in Ukraine as Holodomor), the Great Terror, execution of the Polish intelligentsia by both regimes and so on.

I have read outraged responses to that, including Efraim Zuroof's indignant article in last week's Haaretz called, tellingly, "The Equivalency Canard"

Many such responses conflate morality and ideology. By what measure is death in Auschwitz more morally repugnant than the death of a Ukrainian child locked up in a barrack and left to starve (there were 20,000 of them in Kharkiv only)? Mass murder is mass murder.

But ideologically, the Holocaust IS different because all Jews, no matter their self-identification, were slated for extermination. Stalin did not plan to kill ALL Ukrainians. There was no place for ethnic genocide in Communist ideology, while class genocide by definition does not apply to national entities. It does not make Stalin and Mao better than Hitler. It just makes them different.

We have to move beyond the ethnocentric idea than only genocide directed against peoples count. Unless we develop ways of talking about auto-genocides of nation-states, we will never learn the true lesson of the Bloodlands or the blood century that produced them.

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