Americans think of World War II as The Good War, a moment when the forces of good resoundingly triumphed over evil. Yet the war was not decided by D-day. It was decided in the East, by the Red Army and Joseph Stalin.
While conventional wisdom locates the horrors of World War II in the six million Jews killed in German concentration camps, the reality is even grimmer. In 13 years, the Nazi and Soviet regimes killed 13 million people in the lands between Germany and Russia. The majority of these deaths occurred in Eastern Europe, not Germany.
In the groundbreaking long-view style of Tony Judt and Niall Ferguson, Tim Snyder, one of America's foremost historians of Eastern Europe, has written a new history of Europe that focuses on the battleground of Eastern Europe, which suffered the worst crimes of Hitler and Stalin. Based upon scholarly literature and primary sources in all of the relevant languages, Bloodlands pays special attention to the sources left by those who were killed: the letters home, the notes flung from trains, the diaries found on corpses.
This is a new kind of European history, one more concerned with suffering than with intention, one that recognizes how stories of progress or victory have excluded the most salient human experience, and one focused on the extreme predicament of the tens of millions of Europeans who found themselves between Hitler and Stalin.
The scale of destruction in the lands between Germany and Russia has eluded historians and baffles the cynicism of our new century, but for these very reasons, Bloodlands offers the way forward to a sensible reconstruction of European history. Ultimately, in Snyder's matchless telling, the German and Soviet regimes appear not so much as totalitarian twins, but as rivals whose ruthless pursuit of similar goals doomed millions of innocents.