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Timothy Snyder delivers lecture on Bloodlands

By Tyler Belanga
On October 3, 2011

  • Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, spoke on topics covered in his book, to be released next year. Joshua Linton

Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, gave an overview of his most recent book, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, at a lecture in the Rapaporte Treasure Hall yesterday. Snyder's book covers the history of the German and Soviet occupations of Central Europe and the unprecedented violence that occurred there from 1933-1945.

About 50 people attended the event, at which Snyder discussed his reasons for writing the book and how Bloodlands differs in its exploration of the unprecedented violence in central Europe before and after World War II.

After being introduced by Prof. Paul Jankowski (HIST), Snyder began the lecture by explaining how the Bloodlands, which include Poland, Belarus, the Baltic Region and Ukraine, acquired their name and why they are historically significant.

Most notably, it was in this region that 14 million civilians died, most from "deliberate actions" on the part of the ruling powers. This land was also unique in that it was occupied by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, creating a complex and often chaotic scene as the two players moved against and responded to one another.

Finally, Snyder called this region the place where the Holocaust really took place, as over 8 million non-Jews were killed alongside millions of Jewish people.

Before the publication of Bloodlands, the occurrences and their motivations in this region had never been so thoroughly explored. "It has seemed like an important subject, but not in its totality, only in its parts," said Snyder.

Snyder went on to explain that there has been much written on the Bloodlands between 1933 and 1945, but that it has all been nationalistic and favorable to either one side or the other.

He explained that the historians who have written about the Bloodlands, many of whom are citizens of the afflicted countries, have viewed the carnage through the lens of a certain paradigm that fails to dig deeper into motivations.

"You can know everything about Jewish history, and it will not explain the Holocaust," said Snyder, emphasizing the fact that explanations are just as important as simple descriptions of events.

Snyder then gave an overview of what the book explores in each of its chapters. Highlighting one piece of the first several chapters, Snyder talked about the famine in Ukraine during which 3.3 million people died as a result of Soviet policies that confiscated farmland in an effort to deliberately deprive people of food. The second half of the book covers, among other things, the invasion of Russia by Germany and the subsequent starvation of over 4 million people, including those imprisoned in camps.

Snyder closed by saying, "Individual cases are important, [and] more important than the cases are the individual people. Fourteen million deaths are what we have to explain. It is not just a big number; 14 million means 14 million times one … these are individual people."

Bloodlands, which was available for purchase at the event, was released in late 2010 and has been highly critically acclaimed around the world, according to Jankowski.

Snyder has been honored with several awards for his historical writing, including the George Lewis Beer Award of the American Historical Association and the Halecki Prize in Polish and East Central European History. In addition to Bloodlands, he has authored and co-authored six other books, exploring mainly topics in Central European history.

Snyder's lecture is one of several that the Tauber Institute has either sponsored or cosponsored over the past two years, including a March 2011 lecture by Naomi Seidman, Koret Professor of Jewish Culture at the Graduate Theological Union.

The lecture was cosponsored by the Mandel Center for the Humanities, the History of Ideas program and the Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry.

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