Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule

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Overview

"If I find a Ukrainian who is worthy of sitting at the same table with me, I must have him shot," declared Nazi commissar Erich Koch. To the Nazi leaders, the Ukrainians were Untermenschen—subhumans. But the rich land was deemed prime territory for Lebensraum expansion. Once the Germans rid the country of Jews, Roma, and Bolsheviks, the Ukrainians would be used to harvest the land for the master race.

Karel Berkhoff provides a searing portrait of life in the Third Reich's largest colony. Under the Nazis, a blend of German nationalism, anti-Semitism, and racist notions about the Slavs produced a reign of terror and genocide. But it is impossible to understand fully Ukraine's response to this assault without addressing the impact of decades of repressive Soviet rule. Berkhoff shows how a pervasive Soviet mentality worked against solidarity, which helps explain why the vast majority of the population did not resist the Germans. He also challenges standard views of wartime eastern Europe by treating in a more nuanced way issues of collaboration and local anti-Semitism.

Berkhoff offers a multifaceted discussion that includes the brutal nature of the Nazi administration; the genocide of the Jews and Roma; the deliberate starving of Kiev; mass deportations within and beyond Ukraine; the role of ethnic Germans; religion and national culture; partisans and the German response; and the desperate struggle to stay alive.

Harvest of Despair is a gripping depiction of ordinary people trying to survive extraordinary events.

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Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement

A pioneering study of the German occupation of Soviet Ukraine...Before Berkhoff, no historian had confronted, with such seriousness and such an impressive range of archival sources, the alternation of Soviet and Nazi rule in Ukraine...He reveals the horrifying extent of human adaptability, and the appalling variety of human suffering. This human element, perhaps, is [this book's] most timely offering. In today's Europe, as the 1930s and 40s are re-evaluated, and narratives of victimhood gain importance, it is useful to know where European totalitarianism was at its blackest.
— Timothy Snyder

Ukrainian Weekly

Berkhoff's book is an extraordinary piece of research that contributes much to an understanding of modern Ukraine.
— Myron B. Kuropas

American Historical Review

It is less a history of the occupation that Karel C. Berkhoff presents in his important and accessibly written book than the story of the experience of the seventeen million inhabitants of the German Reichskommissariat Ukraine from 1941 to 1944...Berkhoff has written the best book on the subject so far and contributes greatly to the research on Ukraine during the German occupation.
— Christian Gerlach

H-Net Reviews

Berkhoff has presented the most detailed analysis of an Eastern European population under Nazi rule to date. By integrating previously unused German security service reports from Ukrainian archives with an imposing collection of Ukrainian source material, both archival and in the form of memoirs, the author has produced an important book that would benefit both upper-division students and specialists alike. While he makes a strong contribution to the historiography concerning German goals and policies in the occupied Soviet Union, his focus on the people at the sharp end of these policies constitutes his outstanding achievement. Instead of merely describing the bureaucratic nature of Nazi occupation, Berkhoff has allowed the victims to speak. They have painted a vivid picture of the terror at the heart of Nazi rule.
— Jeff Rutherford

Journal of Military History

Assessments of the Second World War in Ukraine are mostly fragmentary and dominated by accounts of attempted cooperation with the Nazi Regime or collaboration in the murder of the Jews. Few writers have questioned the official Soviet stance, which regarded those left behind to the mercies of the occupiers as traitors. Rarely has this view been more effectively challenged than in Karel C. Berkhoff's history of daily life in the Reichskommisariat Ukraine...Berkhoff departs from the usual examination of politics and collaboration...This Dutch author's command of Ukrainian, Polish, German, and English secondary materials is also impressive. The book is to be commended not least for its ability to shed light on the burgeoning historiographical debate about European societies under Nazi and Soviet rule. Military historians as well as East Central European and Russian specialists will find this work of immense value in assessing the wartime experience in Ukraine and its historical legacy.
— Matthew R. Schwonek

Jewish Book World
This is a gripping depiction of the Nazi occupation of the Ukraine during the height of World War II...This is an important work on a complex subject and deserves to be read by most readers interested in Eastern Europe.
Russian Review

Based on the skillful integration of materials from German, Russian, Ukrainian, and American archives, from the vast memoir literature, and from secondary works on the Holocaust and on the war in many languages, this monograph is a triumph of dispassionate scholarship. As a territorial (not national) history of Reichskommissariat Ukraine, it provides a highly subtle portrait of the multiple, often conflicting, perceptions during the 'fog of war' and occupation, when the multinational native population acted on its unspoken assumptions, fears, and confusions in an environment of total political powerlessness and moral paralysis...Berkhoff's work is the most comprehensive history of the German occupation of Ukraine and a major contribution to the study of the war on the Eastern front...Everyone interested in the history of twentieth century Ukraine, the Soviet Union, World War Two, or the Holocaust should read this book.
— George O. Liber

Journal of Modern History

Berkhoff offers a vivid account of what life was like for the local population in Nazi-occupied Ukraine. Other books that might embark on presenting a more perpetrator-centered view of the German occupation regime and its lethal economic and extermination policies in Ukraine will have to meet the high standards set by this impressive piece of victim-centered historical analysis.
— Isabel Heinemann

Strategy Page

This is a grim work, delving deeply into the horrors of the Nazi regime, as imposed on the Reichskomissariot Ukraine from 1941 through 1944...The work is rich in detail on popular reactions to the harsh regime, ranging from collaboration to resistance, and the surprising range of political, social, cultural, social, and religious developments. A good work for anyone interested in the war in the East, the Holocaust, or the nature of the Nazi regime.
— A. A. Nofi

Norman M. Naimark
This is an amazing book, a real milestone in the literature. Everyone interested in the history of Ukraine, the Soviet Union, World War II, and the Holocaust will surely want to read it. The description of the purposeful starving of Kiev is especially poignant. By the end, the reader is left with a sense of the hopelessness and terror of the Nazi occupation of Ukraine. Karel Berkhoff has told this very important story--central to the history of World War II--as no one else has. I recommend Harvest of Despair with enthusiasm.
Times Literary Supplement - Timothy Snyder
A pioneering study of the German occupation of Soviet Ukraine...Before Berkhoff, no historian had confronted, with such seriousness and such an impressive range of archival sources, the alternation of Soviet and Nazi rule in Ukraine...He reveals the horrifying extent of human adaptability, and the appalling variety of human suffering. This human element, perhaps, is [this book's] most timely offering. In today's Europe, as the 1930s and 40s are re-evaluated, and narratives of victimhood gain importance, it is useful to know where European totalitarianism was at its blackest.
Ukrainian Weekly - Myron B. Kuropas
Berkhoff's book is an extraordinary piece of research that contributes much to an understanding of modern Ukraine.
American Historical Review - Christian Gerlach
It is less a history of the occupation that Karel C. Berkhoff presents in his important and accessibly written book than the story of the experience of the seventeen million inhabitants of the German Reichskommissariat Ukraine from 1941 to 1944...Berkhoff has written the best book on the subject so far and contributes greatly to the research on Ukraine during the German occupation.
H-Net Reviews - Jeff Rutherford
Berkhoff has presented the most detailed analysis of an Eastern European population under Nazi rule to date. By integrating previously unused German security service reports from Ukrainian archives with an imposing collection of Ukrainian source material, both archival and in the form of memoirs, the author has produced an important book that would benefit both upper-division students and specialists alike. While he makes a strong contribution to the historiography concerning German goals and policies in the occupied Soviet Union, his focus on the people at the sharp end of these policies constitutes his outstanding achievement. Instead of merely describing the bureaucratic nature of Nazi occupation, Berkhoff has allowed the victims to speak. They have painted a vivid picture of the terror at the heart of Nazi rule.
Journal of Military History - Matthew R. Schwonek
Assessments of the Second World War in Ukraine are mostly fragmentary and dominated by accounts of attempted cooperation with the Nazi Regime or collaboration in the murder of the Jews. Few writers have questioned the official Soviet stance, which regarded those left behind to the mercies of the occupiers as traitors. Rarely has this view been more effectively challenged than in Karel C. Berkhoff's history of daily life in the Reichskommisariat Ukraine...Berkhoff departs from the usual examination of politics and collaboration...This Dutch author's command of Ukrainian, Polish, German, and English secondary materials is also impressive. The book is to be commended not least for its ability to shed light on the burgeoning historiographical debate about European societies under Nazi and Soviet rule. Military historians as well as East Central European and Russian specialists will find this work of immense value in assessing the wartime experience in Ukraine and its historical legacy.
Russian Review - George O. Liber
Based on the skillful integration of materials from German, Russian, Ukrainian, and American archives, from the vast memoir literature, and from secondary works on the Holocaust and on the war in many languages, this monograph is a triumph of dispassionate scholarship. As a territorial (not national) history of Reichskommissariat Ukraine, it provides a highly subtle portrait of the multiple, often conflicting, perceptions during the 'fog of war' and occupation, when the multinational native population acted on its unspoken assumptions, fears, and confusions in an environment of total political powerlessness and moral paralysis...Berkhoff's work is the most comprehensive history of the German occupation of Ukraine and a major contribution to the study of the war on the Eastern front...Everyone interested in the history of twentieth century Ukraine, the Soviet Union, World War Two, or the Holocaust should read this book.
Journal of Modern History - Isabel Heinemann
Berkhoff offers a vivid account of what life was like for the local population in Nazi-occupied Ukraine. Other books that might embark on presenting a more perpetrator-centered view of the German occupation regime and its lethal economic and extermination policies in Ukraine will have to meet the high standards set by this impressive piece of victim-centered historical analysis.
Strategy Page - A. A. Nofi
This is a grim work, delving deeply into the horrors of the Nazi regime, as imposed on the Reichskomissariot Ukraine from 1941 through 1944...The work is rich in detail on popular reactions to the harsh regime, ranging from collaboration to resistance, and the surprising range of political, social, cultural, social, and religious developments. A good work for anyone interested in the war in the East, the Holocaust, or the nature of the Nazi regime.
Times Literary Supplement
A pioneering study of the German occupation of Soviet Ukraine...Before Berkhoff, no historian had confronted, with such seriousness and such an impressive range of archival sources, the alternation of Soviet and Nazi rule in Ukraine...He reveals the horrifying extent of human adaptability, and the appalling variety of human suffering. This human element, perhaps, is [this book's] most timely offering. In today's Europe, as the 1930s and 40s are re-evaluated, and narratives of victimhood gain importance, it is useful to know where European totalitarianism was at its blackest.
— Timothy Snyder
American Historical Review
It is less a history of the occupation that Karel C. Berkhoff presents in his important and accessibly written book than the story of the experience of the seventeen million inhabitants of the German Reichskommissariat Ukraine from 1941 to 1944...Berkhoff has written the best book on the subject so far and contributes greatly to the research on Ukraine during the German occupation.
— Christian Gerlach
Journal of Military History
Assessments of the Second World War in Ukraine are mostly fragmentary and dominated by accounts of attempted cooperation with the Nazi Regime or collaboration in the murder of the Jews. Few writers have questioned the official Soviet stance, which regarded those left behind to the mercies of the occupiers as traitors. Rarely has this view been more effectively challenged than in Karel C. Berkhoff's history of daily life in the Reichskommisariat Ukraine...Berkhoff departs from the usual examination of politics and collaboration...This Dutch author's command of Ukrainian, Polish, German, and English secondary materials is also impressive. The book is to be commended not least for its ability to shed light on the burgeoning historiographical debate about European societies under Nazi and Soviet rule. Military historians as well as East Central European and Russian specialists will find this work of immense value in assessing the wartime experience in Ukraine and its historical legacy.
— Matthew R. Schwonek
Russian Review
Based on the skillful integration of materials from German, Russian, Ukrainian, and American archives, from the vast memoir literature, and from secondary works on the Holocaust and on the war in many languages, this monograph is a triumph of dispassionate scholarship. As a territorial (not national) history of Reichskommissariat Ukraine, it provides a highly subtle portrait of the multiple, often conflicting, perceptions during the 'fog of war' and occupation, when the multinational native population acted on its unspoken assumptions, fears, and confusions in an environment of total political powerlessness and moral paralysis...Berkhoff's work is the most comprehensive history of the German occupation of Ukraine and a major contribution to the study of the war on the Eastern front...Everyone interested in the history of twentieth century Ukraine, the Soviet Union, World War Two, or the Holocaust should read this book.
— George O. Liber
H-Net Reviews
Berkhoff has presented the most detailed analysis of an Eastern European population under Nazi rule to date. By integrating previously unused German security service reports from Ukrainian archives with an imposing collection of Ukrainian source material, both archival and in the form of memoirs, the author has produced an important book that would benefit both upper-division students and specialists alike. While he makes a strong contribution to the historiography concerning German goals and policies in the occupied Soviet Union, his focus on the people at the sharp end of these policies constitutes his outstanding achievement. Instead of merely describing the bureaucratic nature of Nazi occupation, Berkhoff has allowed the victims to speak. They have painted a vivid picture of the terror at the heart of Nazi rule.
— Jeff Rutherford
Journal of Modern History
Berkhoff offers a vivid account of what life was like for the local population in Nazi-occupied Ukraine. Other books that might embark on presenting a more perpetrator-centered view of the German occupation regime and its lethal economic and extermination policies in Ukraine will have to meet the high standards set by this impressive piece of victim-centered historical analysis.
— Isabel Heinemann
Strategy Page
This is a grim work, delving deeply into the horrors of the Nazi regime, as imposed on the Reichskomissariot Ukraine from 1941 through 1944...The work is rich in detail on popular reactions to the harsh regime, ranging from collaboration to resistance, and the surprising range of political, social, cultural, social, and religious developments. A good work for anyone interested in the war in the East, the Holocaust, or the nature of the Nazi regime.
— A. A. Nofi
Ukrainian Weekly
Berkhoff's book is an extraordinary piece of research that contributes much to an understanding of modern Ukraine.
— Myron B. Kuropas
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674027183
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 1,267,625
  • Product dimensions: 5.96 (w) x 8.89 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

Karel C. Berkhoff is Senior Researcher at the NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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Table of Contents

Figures

Preface

Introduction

1. Soviet Ukraine and the German Invasion

2. The Reichskommissariat Ukraine

3. The Holocaust of the Jews and Roma

4. Prisoners of War

5. Life in the Countryside

6. Conditions in the Cities

7. Famine in Kiev

8. Popular Culture

9. Ethnic Identity and Political Loyalties

10. Religion and Popular Piety

11. Deportations and Forced Migrations

12. Toward the End of Nazi Rule

Conclusion

Appendix: Tables

Abbreviations

Notes

Sources

Acknowledgments

Index

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 8, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent study of the Nazi genocide in Ukraine during WWII

    This remarkable and harrowing book is a study of the Nazis’ genocidal rule over the Ukraine from 1941 to 1944, which killed 4.1 million people. Hitler’s view was, “The destruction of the major Russian cities is a prerequisite for the permanence of our power in Russia.” Erich Koch, Reichskommissar for Ukraine, aimed to ‘smash Ukrainian industry and drive the proletariat back to the country’. Berkhoff describes what he calls the Nazis’ ‘genocidal massacre’ of Soviet POWs.

    He points out that by contrast, the Soviet authorities appealed to ‘the self-esteem, independence, and trustworthiness of ordinary people’.

    Appallingly, elements in Ukrainian society collaborated with the Nazi occupier. Orthodox Church leaders in the Ukraine condemned not the Holocaust but ‘Jewish-Bolshevism’. A Ukrainian Nationalist leaflet of 1941 said, “Moscow, Poland, the Hungarians, Jewry are your enemies. Destroy them.” Ukrainian nationalist leaders admitted that the Ukrainian Insurgent Army policy was to ‘exterminate Ukraine’s national minorities’. In 1943, Ukrainians killed more than 15,000 Poles living in the Ukraine.

    Berkhoff sums up, “the Nazi regime in the ‘East’ was driven by the Nazi conviction that Ukraine was, or should become, a clean national minorities’ slate for the German people. … This extreme German nationalism combined with anti-Bolshevism, anti-Semitism, and a racist view of the ‘Russians’, and the results were terror, murder, massacre, and genocide.”

    In his book on the Ukraine, Harvest of Sorrow, the Foreign Office propagandist (and Thatcher speech-writer) Robert Conquest had devoted just one sentence to this genocidal Nazi occupation, calling it ‘a period between two waves of Red Terror’.

    But Berkhoff concludes more accurately, “never before in the history of Ukraine did so many social and ethnic groups suffer so much during one period.”

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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