Adolf Hitler and his Nazi organization were often considered the most vicious forces against humanity in the 20th century. They were responsible for the genocide of about 6 million Jews and millions of other victims through gas chambers, shootings, concentration camps, and starvation.
Timothy Snyder, historian and author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, found that Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany together killed an estimated 14 million noncombatants between 1933 and 1945, with most of the killing taking place outside the concentration camps of the Holocaust.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has also caused numerous deaths since it came to power several decades ago. For example, the starvation during the Great Famine (1959-1961) alone led to 45 million deaths.
As one tragedy after another hit humanity, we ponder how such man-made catastrophes could happen time and again. Jay Nordlinger, Senior Editor of National Review, alluded to a contributing factor in a March 2016 article: “The reluctance of major newspapers and TV networks to report on atrocities in China is a sad subject.”
When people turn a blind eye to the brutality and killings, more victims suffer. As the CCP’s cover-up of coronavirus outbreak has resulted in more than 10 million infections and over 500,000 deaths worldwide, it is time to learn from history and wake up to the CCP’s harm so as to lessen the damage.
Hitler and Stalin
Snyder’s book, Bloodlands, argued against the simplified understanding of World War II that “Nazis [were] bad and Soviets good.” In spite of their conflicting goals, both Hilter and Stalin committed mass killings in Central and Eastern Europe, an area that Snyder referred to as “Bloodlands.” Noncombat deaths in that region amounted to 14 million between 1933 and 1945.
“Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable,” he wrote in the book. “Each of them had a transformative Utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”
More specifically, the deaths included 3.3 million during the Soviet Famines, 300,000 during the Soviet’s national terror (700,000 if areas outside the Bloodlands are counted), 4.2 million from the German Hunger Plan in the Soviet Union, and 5.4 million Jews in the holocaust (5.7 million if counting areas outside the Bloodlands).
One example of Soviet brutality was the ruthless forced labor camp system, as depicted in The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, a book published by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1973. Although often associated with Stalin, Solzhenitsyn found this system was rooted in Lenin’s era. Therefore, he considered Gulag a systematic fault of Soviet political culture and an inevitable consequence of the Bolshevik political project.
Situation in China
“One death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic,” Stalin once claimed. Such a mindset, however, was pushed even further in communist China.
In parallel to the Anti-Rightist Campaign in the ideological field (1957-1959), Mao Zedong launched the Great Leap Forward movement in 1958, with an aim to boost grain and steel production, considered key indicators of economic development. Steel production was projected to double within that year at Politburo meetings in August 1958. To achieve that goal, backyard steel furnaces were set up across China, and farm or kitchen tools were treated as ores.
In the countryside, crop yields were inflated up to tens or hundreds of times higher than physically achievable. Based on the exaggerated output, farmers were forced to submit huge amounts of grain to the government and left with nothing for themselves, resulting in mass starvation and deaths. In March 1959, the CCP and State Council issued a policy forbidding peasants leaving their land to look for food. Any violators were subject to harsh treatment.
“One report dated Nov. 30, 1960, and circulated to the top leadership — most likely including Mao — tells how a man named Wang Ziyou had one of his ears chopped off, his legs tied up with iron wire and a 10-kilogram stone dropped on his back before he was branded with a sizzling tool. His crime: digging up a potato,” wrote Frank Dikötter, a professor at the University of Hong Kong, in a December 2010 New York Times article titled “Mao’s Great Leap to Famine.”
Dikötter spent several years in China between 2005 and 2009 examining hundreds of documents. In another account, he read about a boy who stole a handful of grain in a Hunan village. A local official named Xiong Dechang forced the boy’s father to bury his son alive on the spot. The father himself died of grief three weeks later.
Mao grew up in the countryside and knew how much the land could produce. When concerns surfaced during a secret meeting in Shanghai in March 1959 that collecting too much of the harvest could lead to starvation, Mao nonetheless dismissed it. “When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their share,” remarked Mao according to the meeting minutes.
As described in his book, Mao’s Great Famine, Dikötter estimated that at least 45 million people died unnatural deaths between 1959 and 1961.
The Tragedy Continues
One can argue that the Great Leap Forward that happened decades ago had become history. But the harm of the CCP continues today.
One example is how the CCP handled the coronavirus outbreak. According to information received by Minghui, the Hubei Province Public Security Department issued two documents on February 21 and 22. Titled “Daily briefing on disease prevention and control,” the documents stated that the police’s main focus was to maintain social stability by continuing the censorship and disinformation campaign.
For example, the briefing on February 22 stated that “3,295 [online] messages on sensitive topics were blocked, over 200,000 messages with positive information were posted, 637 rumors were investigated, and 628 individuals were disciplined.”
The briefings also listed detailed action items. Most of them were censorship, surveillance, and other types of security measures that aimed to suppress opinions or actions inconsistent with the Party line. On the other hand, there was no mention of how to take care of people who were confined to their homes and needed help.
Similar to Stalin and his followers, the CCP not only ignores ordinary people’s lives but also bluntly attacks other countries, especially it is criticized for covering up the coronavirus outbreak.
An editorial by the CCP state-run media Global Times claimed that China needed to increase its number of nuclear warheads to 1,000 to counter threats from the U.S.. Chief editor Hu Xijin urged the CCP to have at least 100 DF-41 strategic missiles in its nuclear arsenal. With the longest operating range in the world, about 12,000 to 15,000 kilometers, such missiles could reach the continental United States.
The threat could be real. “If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition on to the target zone on China’s territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons,” Zhu Chenghu, a PLA major general and dean of the Defense Affairs Institute for China’s National Defense University, said to the The Wall Street Journal in 2005, “[We] will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all of the cities east of Xi’an [a city in central China]. Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds … of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese.”
Although astonishing, such words or mindsets are not unexpected, given the track record of brutality from the Soviet Union to the CCP mentioned above.
How to Prevent Tragedies from Happening Again?
Why did the world fail to intervene in the Holocaust and communism-caused tragedies earlier? Among many factors, one major reason is disbelief.
Jan Karski, a Polish diplomat, met with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1943 and told him in detail the horrors of the Holocaust. In particular, Karski had personally witnessed Nazi atrocities in the Warsaw ghetto and a Nazi transit camp in Poland. “I do not believe you,” the judge responded.
Jan Ciechanowski, Poland’s ambassador to the United States, was present at the meeting. He explained that Karski was telling the truth. Frankfurter, also a Jew, replied, “I did not say that he is lying; I said that I don’t believe him.”
The catastrophe in the Soviet Union played out similarly. Walter Duranty, Moscow Bureau Chief of The New York Times(1922–1936), received a Pulitzer Prize for a series of reports about the Soviet Union, most of which were very positive.
Gareth Jones, a young journalist from the U.K., visited the Soviet Union and issued a press release upon coming back, describing what was really going on. Duranty wrote several articles denouncing Jones and denying the famine. As facts surfaced years later, calls were made to revoke his Pulitzer. The New York Times, which submitted his works for the prize in 1932, wrote in 1990 that Duranty’s later articles denying the famine constituted “some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper.”
Another reason such calamities could continue were intentional cover-ups. One example was the visit of former French Prime Minister Édouard Herriot to Kiev in August 1933, as documented in Snyder’s Bloodlands: “The day before Herriot was to visit the city, Kiev had been closed, and its population ordered to clean and decorate. The shop windows, empty all year, were now suddenly filled with food. The food was for display, not for sale, for the eyes of a single foreigner… Everyone who lived or worked along Herriot’s planned route was forced to go through a dress rehearsal of the visit, demonstrating that they knew where to stand and what to wear.”.
The trip also included a children’s commune in Kharkiv. “At this time, children were still starving to death in the Kharkiv region. The children he saw were gathered from among the healthiest and fittest. Most likely they wore clothes that they had been loaned that morning…What, the Frenchman asked, entirely without irony, had the students eaten for lunch?” Snyder wrote, “The children had been prepared for this question, and gave a suitable answer.”
Upon his return, Herriot told the public that the collective farms of Soviet Ukraine were well-ordered gardens. The official Soviet party newspaper, Pravda, quickly reported on Herriot’s remarks.
A similar situation is happening in China, where the persecution of tens of millions of Falun Gong practitioners represents one of the biggest human rights atrocities in modern history.
Shao Chengluo, a physician in Shandong Province, was sentenced to 7 years of imprisonment and subjected more than 150 torture methods for refusing to renounce Falun Gong. Solzhenitsyn and Snyder both documented many types of torture used in Soviet concentration camps, such as forced labor, solitary confinement, starvation, and others. All these and more are now used in China, where detained Falun Gong practitioners are deprived of sleep, denied toilet use, and left outdoors for hours or days to scorch or freeze. Healthy practitioners are put in mental hospitals and injected with nerve-damaging drugs.
After forced organ harvesting from Falun Gong practitioners at Sujiatun in Liaoning Province was exposed, some people did not believe it. “And I recall what Robert Conquest, the great analyst of totalitarianism, once told me: The world has seldom wanted to believe witnesses. Ten, 20, or 30 years later, maybe, but rarely sooner,” wrote Jay Nordlinger, Senior Editor of National Review in his March 2006 article “A Place Called Sujiatun.”
Citing historical lessons from the Soviet Union, Communist China, Cuba, and so on, he said such tragedies tend to be overlooked. “My main hope, at the moment, is that readers will glance at the reports I have mentioned,” he wrote, “Because, sometimes, the unthinkable needs to be thought about, just a bit.”