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Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy J. Snyder

Timothy J. Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University and no stranger to writing on the Holocaust has written an excellent new book on the Holocaust entitled Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.  Snyder opens his book by focusing on the fountainhead of Hitler’s views, his concept nature and his worldview.  Politics and power were but empty stereotypes that were left for the author to fill them with meaning.  Snyder writes, “Reason was replaced by references, argumentation by incantations…The totalistic idea of life as struggle placed all power to interpret any event in the mind of its author (Introduction).”  Science, for Hitler, was not about increasing advancements for the benefit of the common man, “rather it was a completed revelation of the law of racial struggle.”  There were no questions that would lead the scientist to further discoveries because this would be disastrous for Hitler, for with new discoveries, his racial struggle theory would come to its groundless state.

In the first chapter Snyder opens up to his reader’s Hitler’s interpretation of the word Lebensraum.  Coming into the German language as “habitat,” it also had the household definition of “living room.”  Snyder writes, “Nature was nothing more than society, society nothing more than nature.  Thus there was no difference between an animal struggle for physical existence and the preference of families for nicer lives (chapter 1).”  How does this play out for Hitler?  For one, these European populated lands, specifically east of Germany could be colonized to increase the living space of the racially superior.  Further, as Snyder reiterates in his book, these foreign lands would also be the place where the killing fields existed, where the Nazis would send the Jews to die.  The sense of purging the land of inferior peoples and inhabiting them would only increase the area for the extermination of Jews, outside of the purview of those living in cities like Berlin, Stuttgart, and Munich. 
In chapter 11, Snyder chronicles the events and people involved in the Polish Home Army and their attempts to counter the Germans.  What I found to be most interesting was the paper mills that were created by the Home Army to save many Jews.  Snyder writes, “The Home Army also carried out some actions to save Jewish lives, or support Jewish struggles.  Probably the most significant way…was by the production of false German documents.  Their famous “paper mills” could generate Kennkarten , indicating in fact that Jews were in fact Poles:…”  The Jews had safety from their identity being found out by German officers and belonged to an organization who came together to fight. 

This is a captivating book and one which I will go back to and read again.  With an amazing ability to bring to light sources from many other languages, Snyder is unparalleled in his abilities.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.


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