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Harvest of Despair

Harvest of Despair

Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule

Karel C. Berkhoff

ISBN 9780674027183

Publication date: 03/15/2008

“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.


  • 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.

    —Norman M. Naimark, author of Fires of Hatred


  • 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.

Book Details

  • 480 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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