Book Review: The Bloody White Baron

The Bloody White Baron: The Extraordinary Story of the Russian Nobleman Who Became the Last Khan of Mongolia by James Palmer

The 20th Century was remarkable for its voluminous bloodshed and civilizational upheaval yet for inhuman cruelty and sheer weirdness, Baron Roman Nikolai Maximilian Ungern von Sternberg manages to stand out in a historical field crowded with dictators, terrorists, guerillas, revolutionaries, fascists and warlords of the worst description. Biographer James Palmer has brought to life in The Bloody White Baron an enigmatic, elusive, monster of the Russian Civil War who is more easily compared to great villains of fiction than real life war criminals. Palmer’s bloodthirsty Mad Baron comes across like a militaristic version of Judge Holden from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or perhaps more like Hannibal Lecter with a Mongol Horde.

Ill-tempered, impulsively violent, insubordinate and socially isolated even among fellow aristocratic officers, Baron Ungern was, as Palmer admits, without much wit or charm, a complete failure in Tsarist society and the Imperial Army until the coming of the Great War. As with many “warlord personalities“, the chaos and ruin of the battlefield was the Baron’s natural element and for the first time in his life, he experienced great success, his maniacal bravery under fire winning Ungern promotions and the highly coveted St. George’s Cross. This is an eerie parallel with the life of Adolf Hitler, and numerous times in the text, Palmer alludes to similarities between the Baron’s apocalyptic views on Communists and Jews, and that of Baltic-German refugees like Alfred Rosenberg and Max Scheubner-Richter who contributed eliminationist anti-semitism and theories about “Jewish- Bolshevism” to Nazi ideology.

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