Bryan Caplan  

Soviet Poland, 1939-41

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Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands is the best history I've read in five years: important, careful, beautifully written, and morally wise.  Many excellent books explore the parallels between Nazism and Communism, between Hitler and Stalin.  But Snyder almost makes you feel like you're really there in the "Bloodlands" - the tragic region that endured both Nazi and Soviet rule.

The book's full of gems, and I plan on sharing quite a few in future posts.  For now, here's a great passage on Soviet-annexed Poland during the years of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact:
The two cultures [Polish and Soviet] did not communicate well, at least not without some obvious shared interest.  During this period, when Stalin was Hitler's ally, no such common ground could easily be imagined.  The possibilities for misunderstanding, on the other hand, were enormous.  Collectivization and industrialization had modernized the Soviet Union, but without the attention to the population, or rather to consumers, that characterized the capitalist West.  The Soviet citizens who ruled eastern Poland were falling off bicycles, eating toothpaste, using toilets as sinks, wearing multiple watches, or bras as earmuffs, or lingerie as evening gowns.  Polish prisoners were also ignorant, and about more fundamental matters.  Unlike Soviet citizens in their position, the Poles believed that they could not be sentenced or killed without a legal basis.  It was a sign of the great civilizational transformation of Stalinism that these Soviet and Polish citizens, many of whom had been born in the same Russian Empire, now understood each other so poorly.

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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Tracy W writes:

I wound up this book feeling even more sorry for the Poles during this time than I already had.
And as for the Belarussians...

Kurbla writes:

What, Poland in period of 1919-39 changed so much that they were unable to communicate with Russians? Bicycles and toilet seats were introduces / disappeared so rapidly that they were normal for Poles, and unknown for Russians? I don't know ... Also, idea that Poles somehow believed that Soviet occupying forces do not sentence or kill against law is strange. They couldn't be that stupid. Heck, even if modern USA, Britain or France occupy some country, would you believe that occupying forces do not sentence, torture or kill illegally? I wouldn't.

But tell us, what happened to Jews? As we know, Poland, like Nazi Germany or USA had racist laws before WWII. Did Soviets changed at least that?

Julien Couvreur writes:

Bryan, you will probably enjoy the documentary entitled "The Soviet Story": http://www.sovietstory.com/

mdc writes:

"Collectivization and industrialization had modernized the Soviet Union"

Citation needed?

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