Stalin & Hitler: Mass Murder by Starvation

Wielki Terror: operacja polska 1937–1938 [The Great Terror: The Polish Operation, 1937–1938]

edited by Jerzy Bednarek and others
Warsaw: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, 1,984 pp., zł 97.84

Deutsche Besatzungspolitik in Litauen 1941–1944 [German Occupation Policies in Lithuania, 1941–1944]

by Christoph Dieckmann
Göttingen: Wallstein, Volume 1, 2,439 pp., $79.00

The Road: Stories, Journalism, and Essays

by Vasily Grossman, edited by Robert Chandler, translated from the Russian by Elizabeth Chandler, Robert Chandler, and Olga Mukovnikova
New York Review Books, 373 pp., $15.95 (paper)
ITAR-TASS Photo Agency/Alamy
A bomb-damaged house on Ligovka Street, Leningrad, 1942

In 1932 and 1933 a few starving Ukrainians made their way to Leningrad, where they had family connections. They narrowly escaped joining the seven million Soviet citizens who perished from malnutrition in the early 1930s, as the Soviet leaders brought peasant farms under collective control. Josef Stalin punished Soviet Ukraine particularly harshly for the shortfalls in production that resulted from collective agriculture, allowing about 3.3 million people to starve to death in that republic alone. In 1941, Leningrad went hungry, after Germany invaded the USSR and laid siege to its second-largest city. The deliberate starvation of Leningrad was the most notorious example of the Nazis’ policy of killing by hunger, which in the early 1940s caused the death of four million Soviet citizens in the western parts of the Soviet Union they occupied.

In the decade between 1932 and 1942 some eleven million people in the Soviet Union starved to death, first as a result of Soviet policy, then as a result of German policy. In the western Soviet Union, in places like Leningrad and Ukraine where Soviet power was temporarily supplanted by German power, starvation was the result of two official policies. In those lands, under both the German and Soviet regimes, seven million people were deliberately starved to death.

Between about 1932 and 1942, the lands between the Baltic and Black seas, between Leningrad and Ukraine, were subject to two very different, but territorially overlapping, kinds of ideological transformation. Both the Nazis and the Soviets thought globally but acted regionally. The men and women who made the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 had dreamed of a world revolution, but they had to concentrate instead on making a Eurasian state. After the workers of the world failed to unite, Russia’s revolutionaries built a regime around their own revolution, the Soviet Union, whose task was to embody “socialism in one country.”

In the 1920s and 1930s, thought Stalin, the British fleet presided over an imperialist world of global free trade; all that remained for him was the selfcolonization of the USSR.1 This meant above all the control and exploitation of fertile lands in Ukraine and southern Russia, where a surplus could be extracted and used to finance industrialization and defense. Stalin was particularly concerned about Soviet Ukraine, since it had to be simultaneously mastered by violence and protected from the influence of the capitalist states on its western border, such as Poland. He feared that Ukraine might be lost to the imperialists of the capitalist world, but he only slowly grasped the specific German threat.

Adolf Hitler’s quite different vision of ideological transformation was also global in principle but regional in practice. In his view the Jews were Germany’s misfortune, not only at home, but abroad. They had, he believed, created the heartless British and American finance…

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