In this epic history of extermination and survival, Timothy Snyder presents a new explanation of the great atrocity of the 20th century and reveals the risks that we face in the 21st. Based on new sources from Eastern Europe and forgotten testimonies from Jewish survivors, Black Earth recounts the mass murder of the Jews as an event that is still close to us, more comprehensible than we would like to think and thus all the more terrifying.
The Holocaust began in a dark but accessible place, in Hitler's mind, with the thought that the elimination of Jews would restore balance to the planet and allow Germans to win the resources they desperately needed. Such a worldview could be realized only if Germany destroyed other states, so Hitler's aim was a colonial war in Europe itself. In the zones of statelessness, almost all Jews died. A few people, the righteous few, aided them, without support from institutions. Much of the new research in this book is devoted to understanding these extraordinary individuals. The almost insurmountable difficulties they faced only confirm the dangers of state destruction and ecological panic. These men and women should be emulated, but in similar circumstances few of us would do so.
By overlooking the lessons of the Holocaust, Snyder concludes, we have misunderstood modernity and endangered the future. The early 21st century is coming to resemble the early twentieth, as growing preoccupations with food and water accompany ideological challenges to global order. Our world is closer to Hitler's than we like to admit, and saving it requires us to see the Holocaust as it was - and ourselves as we are. Groundbreaking, authoritative, and utterly absorbing, Black Earth reveals a Holocaust that is not only history but warning.
"Timothy Snyder is now our most distinguished historian of evil. Black Earth casts new light on old darkness. It demonstrates once and for all that the destruction of the Jews was premised on the destruction of states and the institutions of politics. I know of no other historical work on the Holocaust that is so deeply alarmed by its repercussions for the human future. This is a haunted and haunting book - erudite, provocative, and unforgettable." (Leon Wieseltier)
"In this unusual and innovative book, Timothy Snyder takes a fresh look at the intellectual origins of the Holocaust, placing Hitler's genocide firmly in the politics and diplomacy of 1930s Europe. Black Earth is required reading for anyone who cares about this difficult period of history." (Anne Applebaum)
"Timothy Snyder's bold new approach to the Holocaust links Hitler's racial worldview to the destruction of states and the quest for land and food. This insight leads to thought-provoking and disturbing conclusions for today's world. Black Earth uses the recent past's terrible inhumanity to underline an urgent need to rethink our own future." (Ian Kershaw)
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Tough book but worth it!
completely new perspective
Wow. Just…wow. I completely misunderstood what this book was going to be about. I first heard the author as a participant in a discussion of some of the current ISIL/Syria/Iraq issues on the radio. The references to the book intrigued me, so I picked it up. I thought it was going to be using facts and details behind the Holocaust as a parallel to better understand todays fun.
Wrong. Absototalutely freaking wrong. Black Earth is a deep dive into the political maneuverings that went on in Europe leading up to (and including, although not in as much detail) World War II, specifically dealing with the Holocaust. Yup, fun reading.
This was unlike any reading I’ve discovered on the topic. First of all, I actually almost understand (yeah, that sounds freaky) where some of the delusional mindsets of Hitler came from. And why it resonated so successfully with so many people who could still (I can only assume) look themselves in the mirror each day.
Also the details behind the concepts of states and statelessness. In the case of countries that were conquered (but the “state” survived), the numbers of people killed, though tragic by any rational measure, were relatively low. But in countries where the “state” was completely destroyed (Poland for all purposes as a state ceased to exist for much of the war) almost all Jews were put to death. The author makes an interesting case that the removal of the “state” removes some of the restrictions of our base instincts. The number of people put to death within Germany itself, as an example, is significantly lower than Poland. And the number of non-Germans directly involved with the killing cannot be ignored (though I think we try).
We also tend to think of Nazis (and Hitler) as absolutely planned to a T, with his “Final Solution” in place from day one. On this topic the author points out many times where the plans of Hitler were of smaller “solutions” or conquests, but was driven in different directions by fate and miscalculation.
We all love to claim we would never do these things. We’d never turn neighbors into the police so we can claim their apartments. We’d never trick people into gathering so they can be shot. We’d never turn children away from our door when they were hiding from certain death.
But if the government was gone…completely gone? And food was scarce? And what passes for security can arrest, convict and imprison you (or worse) at the drop of a hat?
But the fact is, given the right circumstances, I suspect most of us would.
Many of us Americans (and sadly I have to include myself) love to talk a good talk. We’d never…we wouldn’t let…there’s no way we could…
But if we honestly look at how we rise to the occasion when there’s little or no risk? I dunno.
The book is split into really 4 sections. The rise of the Nazi party (and the concepts that rose with), the early years of the war, some anecdotal stories of courage, and some parallels for today. By far and away the strength of the book lies in the first two parts, although the rest was useful as well. The final section was a bit on the opinionated side, but not overly so.
All told, a difficult, disturbing and brilliant read.
- Robert L. Coppedge
A masterfully written book.
- Looky Lou