Karel Cornelis Berkhoff. Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule. Cambridge: Belknap Press Harvard University Press. 2004. Pp xiii, 463.
Karel Cornelis Berkhoff's Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule is a multi-faceted account of life in the Reichskommissariat, Germany's largest colony. This book stands alone in the Nazi history canon for its focus on the people whose lives were unequivocally changed by the Germans. Through the extensive examination of historical archives with a particular emphasis on interviews with witnesses, Berkhoff paints a poignant portrait of the true lives of people living under Nazi rule.
1. Coercive Leadership
¬¬¬¬¬¬¬Professor Berkhoff begins the book by describing life in Soviet Ukraine. After annexation, Stalin replaced all independent cultural or economic institutions with state run institutions (p 10). Joseph Stalin was a coercive leader. He believed that the people of Ukraine needed instant correction. There was a need to transform the political and economic landscape in a bid to fit into the Soviet picture. Berkhoff treats the German invasion of 1940 with acute tension. He describes it purely from the point of view of the Ukrainians.
In Soviet Ukraine, despite having been exposed to the idea of an imminent war, the populace was largely unprepared. Joseph Stalin believed the people were an important resource. Involving them politically would only cause dissonance and interrupt their agrarian state duties. Only the political city dwellers seemed to think of war in anything more than passing and even they didn’t expect it to happen when it did. This political tension and the jarring nature of the invasion are both very powerfully portrayed in the first chapter. Berkhoff describes the horrors committed by the Russian army as it retreated from the advancing Germans. From the paranoia that led to numerous dead from mere suspicion of having betrayed the state to the “scorched earth” policy, the casualties were truly the unsuspecting citizens. These scenes help to further illustrate the coercive nature of Stalin’s leadership style. He believed in swift punishment without exception. Hundreds were wrongfully killed for being German spies in the cities. In the country, the Red Army’s fires made sure that nothing would grow.
2. Affiliative Leadership
The Germans, initially were seen as deliverers. After all, the Soviets had replaced the national culture with a state run culture; they had closed down the churches and created forced collective farms. The Germans re-opened the churches and even allowed Ukrainian newspapers to start publishing again, as long as they didn’t print anything too controversial. Adolf Hitler, unlike Stalin before him, thought that pacifying the population would enable him to secure the people’s support.
Professor Berkhoff depicts the German invasion and occupation from the Ukrainian perspective and the sigh of relief expressed in the jubilant peasants as they disbanded their collective farms would be just as deep in the reader if it weren’t for the palpable dramatic irony.
3. Transformational Leadership
The celebration didn’t last very long, the dust had hardly settled on the ground from the soldiers’ boots when it was raised once more by administrators. Hitler and the Nazi party had planned to use the Ukraine as a bread basket, a fertile land that could be used to feed the empire. They condemned the average city dweller to starvation despite rich harvests. Berkhoff states that some of the citizens of Ukraine were able to take up positions in German controlled organization but under Nazi rule, men and women in the city often had to risk their lives to find food despite having jobs. They lived in a land filled with supervisors who abused every power against them, their future was uncertain.
Hitler sought to govern Ukraine…