Who killed more people Stalin or Hitler

Historians' dispute over Hitler and Stalin

Dan Diner criticizes Timothy Snyder, who won a non-fiction prize at the Leipzig Book Fair with “Bloodlands”. The work relativizes the Holocaust. The author defends his approach.

Two honorable humanities scholars got into a late historians' dispute over the evaluation of crimes against humanity committed by dictators Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin between 1933 and 1945. Among other things, it is about the accusation that an award-winning new historical work underestimates the importance of the Auschwitz mass extermination camp and thus the Shoah, the murder of six million Jews by the National Socialist regime.

The criticized book is by the US historian Timothy Snyder. For “Bloodlands. Europe between Hitler and Stalin ”(2010), which is now also available in German translation (C. H. Beck, 2011), he was recently awarded the Leipzig Non-Fiction Prize together with Ian Kershaw. According to the jury, Snyder's work “contributed to European understanding”.


17 million victims of the two dictatorships

Historians such as Niall Ferguson, Tony Judt, Timothy Garton Ash, and Neal Ascherson had previously hailed it as an innovative, meaningful, notable book. In addition to anthemic reviews in the Anglo-Saxon region, there were also critical reviews, especially in the German-language feature pages. Jörg later found it uneasy in the Frankfurter Rundschau that the study of the mass murders was "geographically" oriented, he suspected tendencies towards revisionism.

"Bloodlands" examines the part of Europe in which the Holocaust took place for the most part, and in which Stalin's terror raged the most: In Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, western Russia and the Baltic States there were 14 million victims between 1933 and 1945 - Victims of the Shoah, the purges of Stalin and the famine caused by the collectivization of agriculture in the early 1930s. A total of 17 million civilians and prisoners of war died under the influence of the two dictators.

Dan Diner disagrees with Snyder's broad approach. The historian criticized him harshly on the literary pages of the German daily newspaper Die Welt: “Auschwitz, the apotheosis of the Nazi system, suffered little from Snyder because of the nature of his storytelling. With him, Auschwitz is rather downgraded to its importance as a labor camp, that is, to the Monowitz complex. "The killing is dealt with" regardless of origin or fate, "a central concern is to" detach the Holocaust from its previously assigned peculiarity and. " to embed it in a far more comprehensive context of the horror story in the area of ​​those Bloodlands. "

This blurs the essential, the difference “between death as a rule and death as an exception”, between the complete annihilation of the Jews planned by the Nazis and Stalin's mass murder, which could affect anyone. Diner also believes that Snyder is accommodating a “topographically privileged Polish story of suffering”. The “Bloodlands” were reminiscent of the “historical Polish border region that extended to the east”.


The singularity of the Holocaust

Snyder replies, also in Die Welt, that his work is just now going against the usual national historiography, that he is trying to write a transnational history. In reality, he criticizes Polish national historiography as much as any other: “My book is in truth the most radical defense of the singularity of the Holocaust that has been written so far,” he says, “because it not only demonstrates the special character of the Holocaust as the only attempt to to completely annihilate a people defined according to racial criteria, but also that the Holocaust murdered more people than any Soviet crime, even more than all Soviet murder measures put together. ”But it is a fact that in the same part of Eastern Europe between 1933 and 1945, eight Millions of Gentiles were murdered.


Five sixths of annihilation elsewhere

These crimes have to be understood in order to "recognize and explain the specificity of the Holocaust". Like Diner, he shows Auschwitz for what it was - “as a murder facility that was built to complement a labor camp. My book does not argue that Auschwitz was less terrible than it was, but that the Holocaust was more terrible than Auschwitz and that our memories must be expanded to include all the horror of historical events ”. Five sixths of the Holocaust took place elsewhere and earlier, says Snyder.

This “elsewhere” begins for Snyder with the famine caused by Stalin in the early 1930s and leads to the terror of the German occupiers in Eastern Europe and their defeat by the Red Army. His overall view, which examines the interactions between the two dictatorships, is far from explaining the crimes of the dictators to one another or even seeing Bolshevism and the Gulag as models for Hitler, as Ernst Nolte once did, who thus broke the "Historikerstreit" in 1986. triggered. In “Bloodlands” the Holocaust was not an “Asian deed” as it was in Nolte, but happened in the middle of Europe.

At a glance

Timothy D. Snyder (* 1969) is Professor of History at Yale University and Permanent Fellow at the Vienna Institute for Human Sciences.

Dan Diner (* 1946) teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is director of the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Culture and professor at the History Department of the University of Leipzig.

("Die Presse", print edition, March 28, 2012)