But the campaign against the "kulaks" was the greatest and most pervasive of Stalin's terrors during this era. In scope, ferocity, and cruelty, it warrants comparison to Hitler's Holocaust. The apparatus of death was cruder than the tightly regimented German system, but the toll was just as high, and the ideological fervor bore a striking resemblance to Nazism's strident anti-Semitism. The kulak, the "enemy of the people", was treated as subhuman and demonized just as thoroughly as Germany's Jews. The vast system of labor camps that sprang into being in the early 1930s--the "gulag"--bears comparison to the Nazi concentration camps. Vasily Grossman, who would later become the Soviet Union's chief authority on the Holocaust, made the comparison explicit:
They would threaten people with guns, as if they were under a spell, calling small children "kulak bastard," screaming "bloodsuckers!"...They had sold themselves on the ideas that the so-called "kulaks" were pariahs, untouchables, vermin. They would not sit down at a "parasite's" table; the "kulak" child was loathsome, the young "kulak" girl was lower than a louse. They looked on the so-called "kulaks" as cattle, swine, loathsome, repulsive: they had no souls; they stank...they were enemies of the people and exploited the labor of others...And there was no pity for them. They were not human beings; one has a hard time making out what they were--vermin, evidently.
To the West, the Soviet Union was a closed country, and western visitors saw what Stalin wanted them to see. During this period, with Europe and America wracked by the Great Depression, the now all-powerful Soviet leader presented them with smiling, happy villagers, bustling factories, and statistics that showed a truly remarkable period of industrial growth, unmatched by any industrial nation in the 19th century. Of course, the Soviet Union remained a desperately poor country, as every penny was reinvested in building industry, rather than improving the quality of life, and later analysis would show the Five Year Plan barely matched the growth that would have been expected had the N.E.P. been left in place. But in the early '30s, eager western intellectuals flocked to Moscow to see "the future" in action. Stalin's Soviet Union, where a cheerful, prosperous facade masked a regime built on murder and terror, was considered by its western sympathizers to be the wonder of the world.