The author Timothy Snyder calculates that Stalin and Hitler were responsible for the murder of 14 million people between 1933 and 1945, mainly in Poland, Belarus and Ukraine. This didn’t include those who died from combat. The 14 million were civilians or prisoners of war intentionally killed by starvation, gunshot or gas, including the roughly 5.4 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
It is almost unbelievable that so many innocent people could have been killed. Stalin mostly killed citizens of his own country. Hitler mostly killed citizens of other countries. Stalin began by collectivizing Soviet agriculture and then tried to eliminate anyone who might conceivably pose a threat. Hitler wanted to colonize Eastern Europe and, while doing so, eliminate as many Jews and Slavs as possible. If Germany had conquered the Soviet Union, Hitler intended to kill as many as 30 million.
I didn’t know that Stalin invaded Poland soon after Hitler in September 1939, while Stalin and Hitler were still allies. Or that relatively few German Jews were killed. The concentration camps that were liberated by the Americans and British weren’t the main site of the Holocaust, which occurred farther east and mostly targeted non-Germans.
Snyder ends his book with a chapter that tries to explain how this all happened. Part of his explanation is that both Hitler and Stalin had utopian ideas. Stalin wanted to quickly turn the Soviet Union into a socialist paradise. Hitler wanted to quickly defeat the Soviet Union and create a vast empire that would serve Germany alone. In Snyder’s words:
“Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory”. (1/10/13)