Who was worse Stalin or Mao

"One should look at all crimes"

... thinks about the assessment of the crimes of Hitler and Stalin. Michael Freund spoke to him.


DEFAULT: In your book Bloodlands you treat Europe between Hitler and Stalin and describe the entirety of the crimes that were committed against the civilian population. The reviews were very positive, but one of them said that you did not address the German historians' dispute about the uniqueness of the Holocaust. Was there a particular reason for this?

Snyder: Everyone was wrong in the historians' controversy. At the time, Jürgen Habermas had prescribed a framework within which the discussion had to take place. So there was ideological censorship combined with relatively little technical knowledge. Since then, however, there has been incredible progress in Germany, as far as the increase in knowledge about that time is concerned. Continued work on the topic made the Holocaust worse on the one hand, and more plausible than fact on the other. If you see it as metaphysically unique, you withdraw it from history - and what else can you do then?

DEFAULT: What do you think of the criticism that the Holocaust is being used as a weapon by various sides in political debates?

Snyder: The Holocaust functions as a national myth in Israel, just as World War II functions as a national myth in Russia or Katyn in Poland. This is one of the ways the Holocaust became history: by producing national myths. Many people are unsure what to think of this historical phenomenon because they know too little about all the other crimes that have taken place. What Bloodlands showed is that the Holocaust was by far the worst crime, not just because of the racial motive, but because more people perished in it than in any other German or Soviet crime. But you can only say that if you look at them all. I think we should look at them all so that we can evaluate and weight them - but many researchers shy away from it.

DEFAULT: There are some on the left who either deny Stalin's crimes, or refuse to admit that there were death rates for the officials, or say that one or the other happened for a higher reason.

Snyder: There are still many of them. It is precisely this "for a good cause" argument that is heard. Those were the arguments of those in power, and they are simply not true. The Soviets did not win the war because of these actions ....

DEFAULT: ... they won it despite these deeds.

Snyder: Yes. And even if it had been, it's not a historical argument, but a metaphysical one. If the Nazis were the bad guys, then we must have had good guys too, the Soviets. And whatever we say about them, they couldn't have been that bad, because the really bad ones were the Nazis. We still have this mentality that you have to be against one side and therefore for the other side. It was difficult for us Americans to accept what was really going on in the Soviet Union. By the time the US allied with the Soviets, they had killed more people than the Nazis.

DEFAULT: In the United States there was little information about the crimes of the Soviets in the 1930s, especially the systematic starvation of millions in the Ukraine - not even from the New York Times, which at least had a correspondent in Moscow.

Snyder: It must be said that this reporter was an apologist from Stalin who swallowed up the modernization argument. In addition, he probably did not want to lose access to his sources. The Times published at least two articles, however, without a title line, which described the situation fairly well; only the Einspalter were somewhere in the back of the sheet. American - and English - readers had little idea what was really going on in the Soviet Union. And when we became allies, the Hollywood propaganda machine started with its pro-Soviet films. The criticism of Moscow did not begin until the Cold War - and the situation there was no longer that bad.

DEFAULT: After Stalin's death in 1953, the very worst was over. But there was still Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Snyder: There were up to thousands of dead, but not hundreds of thousands. The Soviet Union went from mass killings plus gulag to gulag. Fewer were killed, more were sent to the gulags. The heart of the darkness, however, had been the willful death from starvation, especially in the Ukraine, and the deliberate mass shootings.

DEFAULT: Your next work was a book that you put together with the historian Tony Judt, who died in August 2010. How did that happen?

Snyder: We met almost every week in 2009. The book will essentially consist of transcripts of our conversations, which I have sometimes supplemented with my own observations. The whole thing came about when I realized that Tony, who was suffering from a progressive nerve disease, could no longer use his hands, could no longer write. We went through the individual chapters and were able to finish the book together in July 2010 - which we had no longer hoped for.

DEFAULT: What were the topics?

Snyder: Among other things, it was about Marxism and liberalism, intellectuals in public, the unity of Europe, Keynes vs. Hayek and more. It is, so to speak, his legacy as a contemporary historian. . In the end he emancipated himself from working with me and dictated autobiographical essays on his own until his death, for the New York Review of Books, on very personal issues.

DEFAULT: In the meantime, you are pursuing one of your main research areas and will publish a volume with articles on the Holocaust.

Snyder: Yes, some of it has already been written and published, some things are just emerging. One of the issues at stake is anti-Semitism. If he is made primarily responsible for the events, then one has to ask how Poles, Ukrainians, Jews and Lithuanians were able to live together relatively peacefully for 500 years in the areas mainly affected. Which is not to say that there was no anti-Semitism back then ...

DEFAULT: .... there were always pogroms ....

Snyder: .... yes, but adding up all the pogroms before the First World War resulted in fewer deaths than a week in October 1941. The pogroms were terrible, the reactions were violent, but compared to later the murders were very few. In the 1920s after World War I, tens of thousands of Jews were murdered in Ukraine. These were not pogroms, but the deeds of various armies that stormed through the country and seized on Jewish property and life. Jews suffer when there is no law. This even applies to World War II: in countries where there were still some laws in place, the Jews had a better chance of survival.

DEFAULT: That was possibly even true for Germany.

Snyder: Half of the German Jews somehow survived - because they were married to someone, because they emigrated. It was still bad enough. But if you first destroy the Polish state and then say that no law applies to these people, they have no protection - that has completely different consequences. Such details are overlooked if one just sticks to the concept of anti-Semitism. He's an idea. In the postmodern era, people like ideas. But they're not the only thing that matters.

DEFAULT: To take up the previous example, what else came in the Ukraine?

Snyder: There was certainly the stereotype that the Jews were communists. And it is true that Jews were over-represented in Eastern European communist parties. But these parties were very small in number, including the Bolsheviks themselves.

DEFAULT: But they were very visible.

Snyder: There is a problem: that many communists were Jews does not mean that many Jews were communists.

DEFAULT: How did the rest of the population perceive that?

Snyder: As a historian, I first stick to facts. The fact is that the vast majority of those who created the great famine of the 1930s by requisitioning grain from farmers were Ukrainians. The great Stalinist terror, on the other hand, began under a regime in which Jews were overrepresented, but at the end that was over as the Jews themselves were liquidated.

DEFAULT: Was that reflected in the perception of those affected?

Snyder: No, all of this was hardly known. If we try to find out what people thought about such things, it becomes very difficult because of the Nazi influence. They had this very firmly anchored idea of ​​"Judaeo-Bolshevism". With this propaganda they came to Eastern Europe and have certainly convinced many people who may not have thought that way before. And one more thing: Most of the people in Ukraine with the Soviets When the Germans occupied the country and said that all the collaborators were Jews, the Ukrainian collaborators had a way out: they weren't Jews, so equating them also provided an excuse for behavior.

DEFAULT: In parallel to this research, you are already working on your next project, Brotherlands. What is it about?

Snyder: It is about families in which brothers or sisters choose different national identities and occupy important positions in their movements. It's about nationality as politics, as choice; to answer the question of why we have the nations that we have. The examples range from approx. 1860 to 1960. The most important period is the last quarter of the 19th century, because at that time the direction towards nation states was clear, but unclear what they would look like.

DEFAULT: So it's not about the present.

Snyder: No, it is an addition to the terms father or mother country: These metaphors mean that one inherits the nation. The idea here is that someone makes it, makes it, and his brother can make another nation at the same time.

DEFAULT: Do you have enough examples like this at hand?

Snyder: Yes, I have identified more than ten such relationships that are relevant as case studies. It is not random people, but those who became significant: poets, presidents, etc. The condition was that they grew up in the same household and only then decided on opposing backgrounds. I have already published an example as a separate book because the material was so rich: The King of Ukraine (on Wilhelm von Habsburg, who was brought up to rule over a nation state before the First World War; Zsolnay 2009; note). This will be chapter four in Brotherlands. (Interview conducted by Michael Freund. Country version of the interview in the STANDARD print edition of October 18, 2011.)

Timothy Snyder (42) is a historian at Yale University and researches mainly on Eastern European history and the Holocaust. Snyder is a Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences and will be working in Vienna again from June 2012. "Bloodlands" is published in German by Beck. Snyder will present the book on Thursday, October 20th at 6 pm at the IWM.