Thursday, August 3, 2023

the last book I ever read (The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy, excerpt eleven)

from The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine by Serhii Plokhy:

The idea of Lebensraum for the Germans was not Hitler’s creating. First formulated before World War I, it envisioned the acquisition of German territory all over the world. Germany’s defeat in the war made colonial expansion across the British-controlled seaways all but impossible, and Hitler saw room for growth in eastern Europe alone. “It would have been more practical to undertake that military struggle for new territory in Europe rather than to wage war for the acquisition of possessions abroad,” he wrote in Mein Kampf. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (19180, which included the recognition of a Ukraine independent of Russia and occupied by German and Austrian troops, provided one model for German eastward expansion. But Hitler had little appetite for nation building in the east. His goal was different: to wipe out the existing population all the way to the Volga and settle the fertile lands of eastern Europe—Ukraine in particular—with German colonists. “Too much importance cannot be placed on the need to adopt a policy that will make it possible to maintain a healthy peasant class as the basis of the national community,” wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf. “Many of our present evils have their origin exclusively in the disproportion between the urban and rural portions of the population.”

Hitler’s rural utopia for the Germans required not only the acquisition of new territory but also its deurbanization and depopulation. His vision for eastern Europe differed greatly from the one introduced by the Bolsheviks and promoted by Joseph Stalin. Both dictators were prepared to use brute force to build their utopias, and both needed Ukrainian territory, soil, and agriculture to achieve their goals, but they had dissimilar attitudes toward the cities and the population at large. Ukraine would learn what that meant in practice and assess the degree of difference between the two regimes during its three-year occupation by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944. With its pre-1914 reputation as the breadbasket of Europe and one of the highest concentration of Jews on the continent, Ukraine would become both a prime object of German expansionism and one of the Nazis’ main victims. Between 1939 and 1945 it would lose almost 7 million citizens (close to 1 million of them Jewish), or more than 16 percent of its prewar population. Only Belarus and Poland—two other countries within the sphere of Hitler’s Lebesraum—sustained higher proportional losses.

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