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Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

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

Misperceptions, misconnections, and missed observations are just some of the issues that Timothy Snyder raises in his book, Black Earth, concerning the Holocaust.  Snyder, no stranger to the frontlines of scholarship on the Holocaust, with his previous book Bloodlands, that concerns the land from Hitler to Stalin, takes a look at the Holocaust from new sources and new avenues of thought.  How did some nation-states survive relatively unscathed from Nazi persecution while others, notably Jewish populations, succumb to a wave of killings?  Also, what was the role of the Soviet Union in the war and how did Stalin effect changes in the Final Solution?  These questions are only two of the many that Snyder answers in his detailed account of the Holocaust.

One of the best chapters was entitled The Auschwitz Paradox.  Generally when the public thinks about the Holocaust, we think of Auschwitz first or at the top of our mental map.  Snyder writes, “The word “Auschwitz” has become a metonym for the Holocaust as a whole.  Yet the vast majority of Jews had already been murdered, further east, by the time that Auschwitz became a major killing facility.  Yet while Auschwitz has been remembered, most of the Holocaust has been largely forgotten (207).”  It isn’t that Auschwitz isn’t an important point in Holocaust discussion, but “The mass murder of Jews was known and discussed in Germany, at least among families and friends, long before Auschwitz became a death facility.”  Three years leading up to the construction and installation of Auschwitz, Jews were routinely executed and killed east of this dreadful killing site. 

A second aspect of the book that shows evidence of the systematic nature of Germany as state destroyers is seen in the country of Poland.  “The Polish central government was destroyed, Polish law was abolished, and the Polish state was declared to have never existed…There were no longer ministries and there were no longer citizens.  Instead, local authorities were made personally responsible for the implementation of German racial policies.  They oversaw the deportation of Poland’s Jews and the distribution of property not taken by the Germans (110).”  One of the major goals for Hitler’s eradication of the Polish nation was to take down the Polish elites, so that the governing and respected authorities would no longer influence the masses.  A dreadful fear cast its ugly shadow on the Polish people and for many it was follow these horrendous policies or be killed.

This was an extraordinary book to say the least.  Snyder helps the reader understand how such Final Solution policies could slowly but surely cover vast nation states by looking at their implementation.  I think all who are interested in how the Holocaust took place and what ways nation states act similarly should read this book.

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


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