Judt relies on a distinction, now common in the literature, between history and memory. What is that distinction?
History is objective and scientific whereas memory can easily take on a prejudiced, partisan character that benefits specific individuals or groups.
Judt argues that European nations have forgotten and remembered in very particular ways. What are they?
Judt contends that European nations categorize their wartime experience into two sorts of memories: the first include those actions done to “us” by Germans in the war (considered bad) and the second includes those actions done by “us” to “others” after the war (considered fine). Judt notes that what was done by “us” to others during the war has been conveniently forgotten.
Do you agree with Judt’s analysis of how Europeans remember?
All things considered, I think I generally agree with Judt’s analysis. I think modern scholarly debate coupled with more recent international political trends have led most to reconsider what has been ingrained in our collective memory concerning the Second World War.
Does this dynamic apply universally? That is, perhaps it is not uniquely European but basically human: the way Turks remember the Armenians; Israel the Palestinians; Egypt the Christians; North Americans aboriginals. What do you think?
I think that this is a natural way to remember events that serve to significantly alter domestic and international relations, like the Second World War. Everyone wants to identify as a winner. More importantly, as Judt went on to outline, exaggeration and even deliberate myth-building was often necessary to restore cohesion to society and re-establish the authority and legitimacy of the state.
What are the Bloodlands?
The Bloodlands was the area extending from central Poland to western Russia, through Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States. During the consolidation of National Socialism and Stalinism (1933-1938), the joint German-Soviet occupation of Poland (1939-1941) and then the German-Soviet civil war (1941-1945), mass violence unmatched in all of history was visited upon this region. The bloodlands were where most of Europe’s Jews lived, where Hitler and Stalin’s imperial plans overlapped, where the Wehrmacht and the Red Army fought, and where the Soviet NKVD and the German SS concentrated their forces.
Is it true that mass murder only occurred between Berlin and Moscow before and during the war?
This is largely true, but not completely. At the end of WWII, American and British forces liberated German concentration camps but the western Allies liberated none of the important death facilities. The Germans carried out all of their major killing policies on lands subsequently occupied by the Soviets. American and British forces reached none of bloodlands and saw none of the major killing sites; it was the Red Army that liberated Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sorbibór, Belzec, Chelmno and Majdanek.
What does Stalin’s prewar murders suggest to Judt’s thesis that war makes massacre possible?
I would argue that Stalin’s prewar murders together with the laud and honour he received by the end of the Second World War support Judt’s thesis that the distortion of the wartime experience in continental Europe in public memory gave the postwar era an identity that was fundamentally false.
Perhaps the most poignant example of this is the defeat of Nazi Germany on the eastern front by the Soviet Union. Stalin earned the gratitude of millions and the right to play a key role in the establishment of the postwar order in Europe.
How did the Holocaust and other atrocities in WWII shape the postwar period?
Today there is widespread agreement that the mass killing of the 20th century significantly impacted the moral landscape of the 21st century. Mass killing separated Jewish history from European history, and east European history from west European history. Murder didn’t make the nations, but it still conditions…