Book Review- Anatomy of a Genocide

12 March 2018

As part of my research into the Balkans and more specifically the Bosnian war- the causes, implications for the future, and the present situation there, there is always so much additional information that relates to and informs that research. A recently published book titled Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz, by Omer Bartov, is one of those sources. Bartov begins with a brief description of his family’s history in the town and builds from there using interviews, letters, diaries, and archives to give the reader a very clear picture of the persecution and suffering of the residents, and the pathological perspectives of the perpetrators.

Another painful account of murder and genocide, the book focuses and the now Ukrainian town of Buczacz, mainly from 1900 onward through World War II.  I have read many books on the Holocaust, World War II, the Soviet Union, Armenia, and the war in Bosnia and the Balkans. But for me the poignancy in Bartov’s book is its focus on this single town, and how the perpetration of torture, murder, and genocide switched hands, but continued unabated, with whichever conquering army was in control of the region. No matter if Ukrainians or Poles were in charge carrying out their nationalistic agendas, there was murder and genocide, with Jews always a target. And once the Nazis marched in, they found ready perpetrators within all three “ethnic” groups in the town, with Poles and Ukrainians working alongside the Nazis, and complicit Jews aiding in the roundup, incarceration, and delivery of mostly Jewish residents of Buczacz for murder.

The “normalisation of murder”, its acceptance as an everyday occurrence, as part of life, is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the book. Bartov’s book is full of quotes directly from sources, relating the exact words and feelings of the murderers, giving eye-witness accounts from perpetrators, “bystanders”, and surviving victims. Equally disturbing is the almost festive atmosphere of the action by German army officers, and to a lesser degree others complicit in the genocide, who were in charge in the town. They were joined by their families, children, and parents in some cases, all of whom were witness to the brutal, daily violence at times taking place at random on the city streets, in broad daylight, in front of passersby. The town became their playground, with anything they wanted at their fingertips. Anyone who questioned them would be immediately killed without a second thought.

The perpetration of genocide in Buczacz, and how it so many residents became complicit, was recreated in Bosnia 50 years later. The actions of those in the early 1940’s in the Ukraine appear almost as a blueprint for the 1990’s. Pitting one “ethnic” group against another; using ethnic, religious, and socio-economic differences; highlighting, elaborating, and in many cases revising history and past injustices; and finally rewarding the murderers with power, and spoils- the houses, possessions, and property of the murdered. This was the formula used by the Nazis in Buczacz and by Milosevic and the Serbs, and eventually the Croatians, in Bosnia.

Bartov’s book is disturbing; there is no way around it.  But, as I paraphrase so often, “if we do not study history, we are condemned to repeat it.” Unfortunately for so many we DO forget too quickly. Hopefully this book will help make a create a more indelible memory of history that must never be forgotten.

 

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One Response to “Book Review- Anatomy of a Genocide”


  1. […] reviews on Beyond NATO: A New Security Architecture for Eastern Europe (The Marshall Papers) and Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz, both of which are pertinent to the […]


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