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A brilliant, haunting, and profoundly original portrait of the defining tragedy of our time. In this epic history of extermination and survival, Timothy Snyder presents a new explanation of the great atrocity of the twentieth century, and reveals the risks that we face in the twenty-first. Based on new sources from eastern Europe and forgotten testimonies from Jewish su A brilliant, haunting, and profoundly original portrait of the defining tragedy of our time. In this epic history of extermination and survival, Timothy Snyder presents a new explanation of the great atrocity of the twentieth century, and reveals the risks that we face in the twenty-first. 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 twenty-first 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.


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A brilliant, haunting, and profoundly original portrait of the defining tragedy of our time. In this epic history of extermination and survival, Timothy Snyder presents a new explanation of the great atrocity of the twentieth century, and reveals the risks that we face in the twenty-first. Based on new sources from eastern Europe and forgotten testimonies from Jewish su A brilliant, haunting, and profoundly original portrait of the defining tragedy of our time. In this epic history of extermination and survival, Timothy Snyder presents a new explanation of the great atrocity of the twentieth century, and reveals the risks that we face in the twenty-first. 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 twenty-first 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.

30 review for Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

  1. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    The Continuing Struggle Against Civilisation Black Earth is a remarkable re-interpretation of the Holocaust. Snyder goes beyond the statistical and sociological facts of mass murder in order to understand the underlying evil of the disaster. And he succeeds. His acute insights and narrative skills in the introductory chapter alone are worth the entire price of admission. According to Snyder, Hitler's attempt to annihilate the Jews was not racially motivated nor was it concerned with religion as s The Continuing Struggle Against Civilisation Black Earth is a remarkable re-interpretation of the Holocaust. Snyder goes beyond the statistical and sociological facts of mass murder in order to understand the underlying evil of the disaster. And he succeeds. His acute insights and narrative skills in the introductory chapter alone are worth the entire price of admission. According to Snyder, Hitler's attempt to annihilate the Jews was not racially motivated nor was it concerned with religion as such. Hitler's intention was ecological and intellectual - to reverse the growing disequilibrium introduced to the planet by Jews as the carriers not of defective genetic material but of corrupt ideas. To restore this ecological equilibrium, it was necessary to rid the world of the corrupting influence of Jewish ideas. The most important of these ideas is the distinction made by Jews between nature and morality. Morality is an invention of the Jewish mind which contradicts the laws of nature by limiting the strong through the collective power of the weak. Morality in all its insidious variants must be identified and rooted out. Authentic politics, for example, must conform with the demands of nature, according to the chief political philosopher of the Reich, Carl Schmitt. Schmitt reasons that political power must be exercised only by the strong in their own interests (see for more on Schmitt: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... also the addendum below). Both Capitalist and Communist politics are divorced from nature because they have been conceived from Jewish distortions of natural law. The only authentic politics is one of persecution. Nature is also political so that science is the study of how best to conform to the reality of nature. Reality is a world in which competition for survival - among nations not with nature - provides the only test of scientific or any other truth. Any scientific concepts which do not advance this competition are unnatural and, by definition, Jewish. According to this view, therefore, Hitler was not irrationally or un-pragmatically hateful of Jews. He had a very clear rationality that was based on very reasonable presumptions and clear criteria of success, namely that it was indeed Jewish thinkers who had made the moral break with nature as attested in the Bible and other sacred scriptures. Further, since it had been the self-confessed mission of the Jews, considered by them to be divinely mandated, to maintain this distinction between nature and morality, that is between the world and its creator, and to pass it down from generation to generation forever, the historical link to these ideas must be eliminated. QED: Jews must be destroyed. Snyder's somewhat startling message is that Hitler viewed the Jews not as corrupters of civilisation but as the creators of civilisation. Civilisation itself, in its recognition of ideals like mutual respect and peace; in its encouragement of virtues like compassion and intellectual ambition, is the problem that the Third Reich was intended to solve. Jews in other words were not racially inferior; they had no race. Hence the term 'mongrels' which referred to the fundamentally un-natural position of Jews in the world. It was the absence of Jewish racial conscience and racial competitiveness that was their sin. Whether or not you are persuaded by Snyder's rhetoric (as I am), you will not be able to forget its logic nor the challenge of its conclusions. The reason for continuing anti-Semitism, especially in the United States and in Europe, is precisely because of the continuing war against civilisation, the principles and aims of which are still those articulated by Hitler. The implications for how one sees recent elections in the US and Europe are staggering. Trump, for example, is clearly pursuing the programme for the destruction of civilised society outlined by Hitler. Trusting in the robustness of American institutions to withstand this assault may be as pointless as it was in Germany in 1933. Postscript Another GR reader (see comments) alerted me to the similarity between the Nazi thesis about nature and that of the early 19th century Catholic philosopher, Joseph de Maistre. De Maistre's vision of life is certainly as bloody as that of the leaders of the Third Reich as summarised in this excerpt from his Soirees de Saint Petersbourg: In the whole vast dome of living nature there reigns an open violence, a kind of prescriptive fury which arms all the creatures to their common doom: as soon as you leave the inanimate kingdom you find the decree of violent death inscribed on the very frontiers of life. You feel it already in the vegetable kingdom: from the great catalpa to the humblest herb, how many plants die and how many are killed! but, from the moment you enter the animal kingdom, this law is suddenly in the most dreadful evidence. A power, a violence, at once hidden and palpable, has in each species appointed a certain number of animals to devour the others: thus there are insects of prey, reptiles of prey, birds of prey, fishes of prey, quadrupeds of prey. There is no instant of time when one creature is not being devoured by another. Over all these numerous races of animals man is placed, and his destructive hand spares nothing that lives. He kills to obtain food and he kills to clothe himself; he kills to adorn himself; he kills in order to attack and he kills to defend himself; he kills to instruct himself and he kills to amuse himself; he kills to kill. Proud and terrible king, he wants everything and nothing resists him…from the lamb he tears its guts to make his harp resound… from the wolf his most deadly tooth to polish his pretty works of art; from the elephant his skin to make a whip for his child—his table is covered with corpses…. And who [in this general carnage] exterminates him who will exterminate all the others? Himself. It is man who is charged with the slaughter of man…. So is accomplished…the great law of the violent destruction of living creatures. The whole earth, perpetually steeped in blood, is nothing but a vast altar upon which all that is living must be sacrificed without end, without measure, without pause, until the consummation of things, until evil is extinct, until the death of death. Schmitt was a self-confessed admirer of de Maistre as a 'political realist', by which he meant one who knew how to distinguish between friends and enemies. Schmitt is de Maistre's equal in dismissing the 'sentimentality' of liberal ideas of human nature. Where he differs from de Maistre is his rejection (by silence) of providential action in the world. De Maistre considered the French Revolution a punishment by God for a European sinfulness for example. Schmitt rejects this sort of theological meddling as unnatural. Schmitt had a new Darwinian foundation that was unavailable to de Maistre, and he made the most of it to justify the separation of politics and ethics. Or rather to create an ethic closer to the divine and, incidentally of course, supportive of genocide. It was God after all, operating through the laws of natural selection, who demanded the natural ascendancy of the strong. God has established the rule of survival of the fittest. It was man who broke that rule. Even God had been subtly naturalised by Schmitt. De Maistre had shown the way. With Natural Law, you pick your desired outcome, and then work backwards to suitable premisses. Paul of Tarsus did it. Thomas Aquinas did it. De Maistre did it. And Schmitt did it. None of them liked the Jews very much. Seems like a pattern. See, for more on the perils of Natural Law: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show.... And for more on how it affects recent philosophical thinking see: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....

  2. 5 out of 5

    Shelby *trains flying monkeys*

    I picked this book because in the sixth grade I had one of the most amazing teacher that I can remember. She spent 9 weeks teaching us the history of the Holocaust. My son is in the sixth grade so I thought I would brush up with the history of that tragedy with this book. This book is almost over my head. It did not work for what I had intended it for. But does that mean it's a bad book? Of course not. Snyder gives a detailed. (Sometimes almost mind numbingly so) recounting of Hitler's maniacal ri I picked this book because in the sixth grade I had one of the most amazing teacher that I can remember. She spent 9 weeks teaching us the history of the Holocaust. My son is in the sixth grade so I thought I would brush up with the history of that tragedy with this book. This book is almost over my head. It did not work for what I had intended it for. But does that mean it's a bad book? Of course not. Snyder gives a detailed. (Sometimes almost mind numbingly so) recounting of Hitler's maniacal rise and then he makes you stop and think...Could something similar happen now? Don't shake your head no so fast, buster. He uses other for instances but it's my little review space and I tend to ramble so I'm using one that I know of recently.. My state Six Flags featured a day for each of several religions. I know that they had "Christian Day" and several other "special days" featured. Then they had "Muslim Day". People flipped their lids. Social media blew up with hate and ramblings and honestly? If I had been Muslim there is no way in heck that I would attend that event that day. Because what was being posted scared me. Hate festers and spreads. Then Snyder talks about world climate and how if food sources were in short supply, what would happen? Would people turn against a group of people with the whole survival of the fittest in mind? Most of the reviews on Goodreads and everywhere else I looked have this book as a highly rated book. And it's good. But, to me the author talks over most people's head on a subject that needs to be talked about and remembered. I just wish that it had been a tad bit more understandable. Booksource: Blogging for books in exchange for review. Of course, everyone has differing opinions of books and their meanings. I adore my friend Elyse's review and wish that I had gotten as much from the book as she had.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Turgid, tiresome, tedious and inelegant, hammering metronomically away at three fundamental ideas, this book nevertheless gives the patient reader (you have to be very patient) some great perspectives on the Holocaust. BIOLOGICAL ANARCHY Prof Snyder kicks off with maybe the best part of the whole dense book which is an analysis of Mein Kampf and Hitler’s mental universe. Hitler was “a warmongering biological anarchist” and it’s a great mistake to think he was a German nationalist. He was way beyo Turgid, tiresome, tedious and inelegant, hammering metronomically away at three fundamental ideas, this book nevertheless gives the patient reader (you have to be very patient) some great perspectives on the Holocaust. BIOLOGICAL ANARCHY Prof Snyder kicks off with maybe the best part of the whole dense book which is an analysis of Mein Kampf and Hitler’s mental universe. Hitler was “a warmongering biological anarchist” and it’s a great mistake to think he was a German nationalist. He was way beyond what you might have thought he was. AH believed that all races on Earth must contend for its limited resources in ceaseless struggle. Ceaseless means ceaseless. If the Aryan race succeeds in colonising the vast lands occupied by Slavic subhumans to the East, then so be it. If they fail, as they did, then so be that too. (In the bunker in 1945 Hitler acknowledged Russian superiority and washed his hands of the rubbishy Germans before committing suicide.) Snyder presents Hitler as an apocalyptic radical. I never read an account of Hitler like this. Fantastic stuff. EMPTY TERRITORY After that comes the trudge east, through Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic states and into the USSR. The murder of Jews is hardly mentioned for entire chapters. The intricate politics of Poland, a mouse between two ravening tigers, and their deep involvement in the attempts to forge a Jewish state in Palestine are now our subject. It was Polish Jews – Irgun and Stern’s more violent group – who were bringing the argument to the British, who were controlling Palestine at the time. You see the complexities of it right here – the British declared war on Germany in support of Polish independence. Poland was supporting Jewish terrorists in Palestine against the British because if there was a Jewish state, Poland could ship its three million Jews off there. The British were fighting these Polish Jews because they wanted Arab support in North Africa. The snake eats its own tail. Other Holocaust histories begin in Germany with the Nazi state beginning to crush the Jews – excluding them from professions, expropriating their property, making them change their names to Abraham and Sarah, etc. The picture is one of ever-tightening screws applied by the State. Snyder’s big idea which he beats the reader over the head with all through the book was that it was the LACK of a state which killed Jews. Jews were killed where states had been destroyed. This is why the second section is all about how the Nazis destroyed the states of Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. (In order to destroy the state of Poland the first mass killings were of 60,000 educated Polish elite.) According to Nazi logic, there was no occupation, but rather a colonisation of legally ‘empty’ territory. The Jews there were rendered stateless. Only at that point could the Nazis do what they wanted with them. He says that throughout the war, Jews with British or American passports were not killed. If that is true, it is a very remarkable thing which I have not read elsewhere. THE HOLOCAUST BEGAN IN LITHUANIA In these countries, the Nazi propaganda machine informed the people that they had been liberated from the evil of communism, that communism was a Jewish conspiracy and the USSR was a Jewish empire, and that it was now time for payback. Killing units were formed, which would travel in a bus from village to village, killing Jews and other undesirables like communists, Gypsies and disabled people. The commanders of these units had to improvise. They had to persuade their own men to kill women and children; and they had to find ways to generate local collaboration as the job became too large and difficult But it turned out this wasn’t too difficult. Because one of the ways you could prove you weren’t a communist was to kill Jews. The whole point of anti-Jewish violence, from a Lithuanian perspective, was to demonstrate loyalty before the Germans had time to figure out who had actually collaborated with the Soviets. The make-up of these Einsatzgruppen units was interesting – the majority were in the age range 16 to 21. So this means 16 and 17 year old boys were driving from village to village killing men, women and children day after day for months. This first phase of the Holocaust can be compared with the slaughter of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. Here’s a sour comment from our author In other words, Ukrainians who spent the first two years of the war helping the local Soviet NKVD commander (who was Jewish) deport Poles, Jews and Ukrainians shifted to helping the SS kill Jews, Ukrainians and Poles whom they – actual Soviet collaborators – denounced as Soviet collaborators. HOLOCAUST SECOND PHASE : AUSCHWITZ Snyder finally crystallised a series of thoughts which had been nagging at my mind for a very long time. I think – and he thinks – that the looming symbol of ultimate awfulness which is Auschwitz is used, unwittingly, to conveniently block out a lot of what happened, to consign the first phase of the Holocaust to a footnote. I don’t mean that Auschwitz blocks out the knowledge of the hundreds of other concentration camps, but of the non-camp killing, which was in fact the greater part of the Holocaust. Auschwitz has been a relatively manageable symbol for Germany after the Second World War, significantly reducing the actual scale of the evil done. The conflation of Auschwitz with the Holocaust made plausible the grotesque claim that Germans did not know about the mass murder of European Jews while it was taking place. It is possible that some Germans did not know exactly what happened at Auschwitz. It is not possible that many Germans did not know about the mass murder of Jews… which was known and discussed in Germany, at least among families and friends, long before Auschwitz became a death facility. So if Auschwitz is a convenient symbol for post-war Germany, it was also convenient for the USSR: Auschwitz was one of the few parts of the Holocaust to which Soviet citizens did not contribute Auschwitz is useful for us all – it confines the evil behind the famous gates; we never have to open those gates if we do not wish. We can say well, the Nazis kept it all secret, maybe no one else knew. There would be rumours but no real knowledge. Auschwitz – bitterly ironically – helps us to keep the evil of the Holocaust mentally manageable. TWO RANDOM THOUGHTS How many eager participants in the slaughter of Jews were regular churchgoers? Given that almost no one in that time would have described himself as an atheist, we must assume that the murderers could reconcile their murders with their Christianity. Also : the massive theft of Jewish property in all these various countries would have been a guilty fact for decades after the war. Thousands of people must have ended up living in houses formerly owned by now dead Jews. What did they think of that? THE HOLOCAUST AS A WARNING In the last chapter Prof Snyder goes off the rails – he thinks the looming ecocatastrophe of global warming and shrinking resources might ignite Hitlerian lebensraum-style lunacy in the minds of some – and he fingers the Chinese and the Russians under Putin as ones to watch. It does his book no credit at all and causes it to end on a distastefully catchpenny note.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    This is a challenging book to comprehend entirely. "Black Earth" is much-in part-about the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust. The author explains how in Hitler's mind, the thought of elimination of Jews – – all of them – – would restore balance in our world. Germany would then be able to have the resources they needed. The author also says it was the National States- soviets and Nazis-Who took the protection away from people, leaving millions to die. Timothy Synder also talks about the fa This is a challenging book to comprehend entirely. "Black Earth" is much-in part-about the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust. The author explains how in Hitler's mind, the thought of elimination of Jews – – all of them – – would restore balance in our world. Germany would then be able to have the resources they needed. The author also says it was the National States- soviets and Nazis-Who took the protection away from people, leaving millions to die. Timothy Synder also talks about the fact that there are important lessons we still have not learned ... which is 'the warning' for our future. For example, with environmental challenges that we have today, if not careful, we could be facing another war. For some reason-- I was reminded of another book: "Water Knife", by Paolo Bacigalupi. - with the possibility of the drought becoming permanent drying up most of our water in certain states. With despair and corruption... fighting over water rights. In that book we saw violence and betrayal and humans doing nasty things to each other. In some ways the violence and murdering in 'Water Knife', came to my thoughts when the author in this book talks about us not learning our lesson from history: Same purpose: – eliminating large groups of people...killing them off. So?? I wondered is this 'somewhat' what Timothy Synder is saying 'really' could happen? Not just 'speculative fiction'. Looks that way to me. The second half of this book is where things begin to feel really scary - too realistic. It's not that far of a stretch to see that the the same thinking that Hitler expressed in the 1920s could happen again in our future. Ecological panic and ideology of murder might not be so distant. "Tens of millions of people died in Hitler's war not so Germans could live, but so that Germans could pursue the American dream in a globalized world. " "In a scenario of mass killing that resemble the Holocaust, leaders of a developed country might follow or induced panic about future shortages and act preemptively, specifying a human group as the source of an ecological problem, destroying other states by design or by accident." The planet is changing. Climate change is unpredictable. Coasts are likely to flood that when and where is impossible to say. "As Hitler demonstrated during the Great Depression, humans are able to portray a looming crises in such a way as to justify drastic measures in the present". The more I continue to read - toward the last half of this book.., considering all the countries involved: China, Africa, Russia, etc etc ... with each one's contribution to climate change and conflicts... It's not that difficult to see the future dangers of destruction. "All forms of counterglobal thinking create the possibility that particular groups can be blamed for planetary phenomena." Powerful book... Thought-provoking....a little scary.... Challenging to read... extremely important that I did. I'll be suggesting that our Jewish book club reads it. My Rabbi, ( I know her well), will definitely read this book. Thank You to Crown Publishing, Netgalley, and Timothy Synder for the opportunity given me.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ilse

    In the end, then, the working farm was a sort of institution, both economic and moral, in which Jewish children could find a place. Like the bond between mothers and children, or fathers and children, or nannies and children, a farmstead provided a relationship where some Jewish children could fit. Like marriage, the prospect of marriage, or sexual desire, labor could generate an image of the present or the future where someone was missing, where someone was needed, where someone could be added. In the end, then, the working farm was a sort of institution, both economic and moral, in which Jewish children could find a place. Like the bond between mothers and children, or fathers and children, or nannies and children, a farmstead provided a relationship where some Jewish children could fit. Like marriage, the prospect of marriage, or sexual desire, labor could generate an image of the present or the future where someone was missing, where someone was needed, where someone could be added. That someone, sometimes, could be a Jew.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jay Green

    Starts very promisingly, with some fascinating insights into Hitler's worldview and philosophy, as well as a novel (to me) holistic approach to European international relations that enables Snyder to explain why the Holocaust took the precise shape that it did, a shape that we tend to think of as fully formed from the beginning but which in fact appears to have occurred the way it did because of numerous errors of judgement, policymaking on the fly, and developments on the ground. Snyder's proce Starts very promisingly, with some fascinating insights into Hitler's worldview and philosophy, as well as a novel (to me) holistic approach to European international relations that enables Snyder to explain why the Holocaust took the precise shape that it did, a shape that we tend to think of as fully formed from the beginning but which in fact appears to have occurred the way it did because of numerous errors of judgement, policymaking on the fly, and developments on the ground. Snyder's process of unfolding the narrative works well for the first two-thirds of the book but devolves into anecdote towards the end, with an eye to justifying his conclusion, the lesson we need to learn from the Holocaust, which seems to be that it was statelessness that made the mass murder of Europe's Jews possible, rather than the existence of totalitarian, authoritarian, militaristic states intent on carving up the continent in pursuit of their own interests. Snyder does not hide his indebtedness to Hannah Arendt's philosophy, and pretty much appears to repeat her views. How this constitutes a new lesson to be learned is unclear, then. It just seems to be Arendt redux.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    some timely quotes from this book.... “Most of us would like to think that we possess a “moral instinct.” Perhaps we imagine that we would be rescuers in some future catastrophe. Yet if states were destroyed, local institutions corrupted, and economic incentives directed towards murder, few of us would behave well. There is little reason to think that we are ethically superior to the Europeans of the 1930s and 1940s, or for that matter less vulnerable to the kind of ideas that Hitler so successfu some timely quotes from this book.... “Most of us would like to think that we possess a “moral instinct.” Perhaps we imagine that we would be rescuers in some future catastrophe. Yet if states were destroyed, local institutions corrupted, and economic incentives directed towards murder, few of us would behave well. There is little reason to think that we are ethically superior to the Europeans of the 1930s and 1940s, or for that matter less vulnerable to the kind of ideas that Hitler so successfully promulgated and realized.” “When we lack a sense of past and future, the present feels like a shaky platform, an uncertain basis for action.” “We are in the presence,” said Winston Churchill, “of a crime without a name.” Its perpetrators were human beings, operating with initiative and creativity in political circumstances of their own making. State destruction did not alter politics, but rather created a new form of politics, which enabled a new kind of crime." ============== Excellent new documentary. About 95% of the photos and film footage were new to me. https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Conor Ahern

    I decided to read this one because Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale, has been making a lot of high-profile, baleful predictions about Trumpian autocracy. I kind of wanted to see how sensationalist he was in one of his books, and I'm always eager to try to use history as a way to understand the present. The thesis of the book comes most succinctly in its final pages: Gustaw Herling-Grudzinski, . . . wrote that 'a man can be human only under human conditions.' The purpose of the state is I decided to read this one because Timothy Snyder, a history professor at Yale, has been making a lot of high-profile, baleful predictions about Trumpian autocracy. I kind of wanted to see how sensationalist he was in one of his books, and I'm always eager to try to use history as a way to understand the present. The thesis of the book comes most succinctly in its final pages: Gustaw Herling-Grudzinski, . . . wrote that 'a man can be human only under human conditions.' The purpose of the state is to preserve these conditions, so that its citizens need not see personal survival as their only goal. The state is for the recognition, endorsement, and protection of rights, which means creating the conditions under which rights can be recognized, endorsed, and protected. The state endures to create a sense of durability. Snyder focuses his attention for most of the book on elucidating the Nazi/Soviet destruction of the states that buffered them, and how this immiserated the majority of world Jewry scattered amongst them. The findings are really quite shocking; in addition to the barbarity that is never forgotten yet freshly sickening upon each renewed encounter, the differences in treatment between Jewish citizens of Denmark vs. Estonia, and those of France vs. those of Greece, are truly astounding. Snyder makes a really strong case for the idea, certainly not new, that Jews and other atomized, conspicuous minorities have only the bureaucracy and protection of the state when passions grow enflamed and institutions and customs break down. Perhaps this is why he is so choleric about the Trump presidency. While I agree that our mores are in complete shambles, and the heralded destruction of government gives me pause, I think (hope) that the Trump administration's incompetency and lack of coherent ideology will be enough to stave off the horrors of Nazi and Soviet atrocities, and anything resembling them in form if not size. But it's still so sad for our country. And really, the United States (and Britain, as it turns out) should stop applauding itself for intervening to stop the Holocaust. As Snyder mentions: by the time the doughboys landed at Normandy, most of the worst of it was over. Bureaucratic interposers are the unlikely heroes of this book, with diplomats from China, Japan, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and other less congratulated nations issuing sham passports that saved tens of thousands of lives. Meanwhile, in an America demonstrating its tendency toward miserliness and apathy to the travails of "others," our Jewish refugee policy was contemptible in the extreme. To wit: "Between July 1942 and June 1943, only 4,705 Jews were admitted to the United States. Fewer than the number of Warsaw Jews who were killed on a given day in Treblinka in the Summer of 1942." Perhaps if we spent less time congratulating ourselves we would understand our humane obligations better? Maybe if we understood how short we've fallen in past times of need, we would be more charitable, neighborly citizens of the world.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David M

    Greatest book I've read this year The conclusion, which purports to give the 'warning' of the title, is probably the weakest part. I don't want to focus on that now. Frankly I don't much want to attempt an intellectual evaluation at all. Black Earth leaves me very nearly speechless. More than an impressive piece of scholarship, truly a work of art. Utterly devastating. Aside from a few old favorites I revisited, the greatest book I've read so far this year. * No one knows more about this subject Greatest book I've read this year The conclusion, which purports to give the 'warning' of the title, is probably the weakest part. I don't want to focus on that now. Frankly I don't much want to attempt an intellectual evaluation at all. Black Earth leaves me very nearly speechless. More than an impressive piece of scholarship, truly a work of art. Utterly devastating. Aside from a few old favorites I revisited, the greatest book I've read so far this year. * No one knows more about this subject than Timothy Snyder, and he thinks there's some merit to the comparison http://www.slate.com/articles/news_an...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Barlow

    This may well be one of the single most impressive books that I have ever read about the Holocaust. Snyder approaches the subject from multiple angles and completely reinvents how we think about this period of history. Unlike many Holocaust books, Black Earth does not focus directly on mass murder, but instead on the political and institutional ideologies that made it possible. Snyder examines Hitler in his earliest political form in order to understand his thinking and rational so that it is pos This may well be one of the single most impressive books that I have ever read about the Holocaust. Snyder approaches the subject from multiple angles and completely reinvents how we think about this period of history. Unlike many Holocaust books, Black Earth does not focus directly on mass murder, but instead on the political and institutional ideologies that made it possible. Snyder examines Hitler in his earliest political form in order to understand his thinking and rational so that it is possible to better follow his train of thought in later events. This means that the reader is not simply presented with a stack of information without context, but rather has context built up in order to build an understanding of the causality. Much of the book deals with Hitler's methodology specifically the erasing of states such as Poland and the Ukraine. This goes beyond simple destruction to the complete removal from history, which in practice removes the existence of the state and the protections it provides to its citizens. The removale of citizenship allowed Hitler to commit mass murder without the objection of the states in which he performed it. In this way the conquered peoples, especially Jews suffered greatly as they were seen as non-humans without state legal protection meaningful they were completely vulnerable. As a result of this Jews who lost their state were at a fa greater risk that Jews living in Germany proper. These people had no protection and were unforgivingly massacred by Nazis and Soviets alike. In addition to the process of state removal Snyder demonstrates that responsibility for the killings rests not only at the feet of German leaders,but at the feet of the German people as well. He shows that in many cases the German people were not only complacent, but directly involved in the process of mass murder as a way of financial or material gain or simply as a way of avenging a perceived wrong. Snyder concludes his text by demonstrating that the ideologies and process that allowed the Holocaust to happen are far from being extinct, they Re in fact very much alive and can be seen in events such as African tribal genocide, and the current situation in Russia where leadership has created a world wide conspiracy of homosexuality that closely resembles the Judeobolshevik plot that Hitler so readily blamed for everything. Ecologic and climate factors are also zheading in a direction where another such event may occur. And Snyder skillfully shows that we are not immune from the horrors of the past. I highly recommended this book to anyone interested in 20th century history.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    You can think of this as a kind of sequel to Snyder's 2010 book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. He continues the story of how misemphases of parts of the Holocaust have led us to place the camps as the primary locales of death (they weren't, most of the killing was done outside of them) and German borders as the ones our imaginations take us to, when very little killing, in relative terms, was actually done inside those borders. Snyder has shifted the Holocaust east. He has also em You can think of this as a kind of sequel to Snyder's 2010 book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. He continues the story of how misemphases of parts of the Holocaust have led us to place the camps as the primary locales of death (they weren't, most of the killing was done outside of them) and German borders as the ones our imaginations take us to, when very little killing, in relative terms, was actually done inside those borders. Snyder has shifted the Holocaust east. He has also emphasized the nature of the double occupation: how those areas where first the Soviets, and then the Germans, terrorized populations, removed civil law, and engaged in mass killing, were the locales of supreme danger and horror. He stresses the risks of statelessness; losing one's citizenship made it many times more likely that one would die. Snyder roots Hitler's political aims in a twisted planetary ecology, and in a slightly strange epilogue which veers outside the normal historian's purview, ties the Holocaust predictively to current and future threats of climate change, severe political disruption, and mass death. It must be said that the cover of Black Earth is pleasing, with a delicious debossed black sans-serif font over what looks like magnified marble.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Black Earth – A Warning from History Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning is the latest book from the excellent historian Timothy Snyder, which we should sit up and take notice of. Like the famous statement that if we fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, is never more apt than now with the current situation in the middle east. The lessons from this book can be used time and time again especially when we allow civilisations to collapse. In what has to be one of the best Black Earth – A Warning from History Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning is the latest book from the excellent historian Timothy Snyder, which we should sit up and take notice of. Like the famous statement that if we fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, is never more apt than now with the current situation in the middle east. The lessons from this book can be used time and time again especially when we allow civilisations to collapse. In what has to be one of the best introductions on the subject Snyder examines Hitler’s beliefs that drove his politics and actions such as, nature, struggle, Jews, race, murder, sex and religion, He is also asking the questions of Why neighbour turned on neighbour? How strangers can kill others? His reading of the primary sources as well as secondary sources is second to none, and those sources are excellent. Snyder is able to show that Hilter believed that history was a perpetual struggle for survival of the fittest race and that morality, secular ethics stood in the way of that supreme drive. That he was able in his mind reduced all humans to a state of nature, ignoring modern science, and that interfering in nature was right. Snyder also notes that race replaced the state as the supreme element of human society. This he believed would allow for anarchy, a stateless society where no laws, ethics or rules exist in order for the Nazi’s to carry out what they needed for the improvement of the ‘Aryan’ race. It must also be understood that is was why the Holocaust succeeded so well in Eastern Poland, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. By the time the concentration extermination camps opened it must be understood that around three million Jews had already been murdered in Eastern Europe. This had been made easier by the Nazi’s early Soviet allies when they invaded Poland and removed many layers of society, just as they had in Ukraine, leaving behind an anarchic state, a lawless wild east, where neighbour had been turned against neighbour. There had been anti-Semitic actions prior to the war in the east, and many of the German Jews had left Germany before the war, the seed of hatred had already been planted. The war created the ‘prefect’ storm for Hitler’s race wars to begin, when states were swept aside, the rule of law no longer applicable. Snyder also points out that Hitler was no German nationalist as has been portrayed in many accounts, but in the ecological world of races united and survival of the fittest. Whereas Slavs were an inferior race of European grounding who needed to be destroyed, but Jews fell in to a far different category. Jews were not a regional, European enemy but a global one that needed to be wiped of the map as they were a ‘non-race’ who were not part of the laws of nature. What we learn is that statelessness decided the scale of the murdering, especially when comparing Estonia with Denmark, as one killed all their Jews while the other protected them, as one retained its state structures while the others had been destroyed. Saying that, statelessness of individuals within the countries that were able to retain its structures, were more likely to face round ups and death. Black History’s overriding argument that if conditions are right then another Holocaust is possible, especially when we make people stateless, remove their human rights and try and keep them in camps. Black History is an excellent review of the Holocaust and the conditions that led so easily for over six million Jews to be murdered systematically. It also points out the lessons that we need to learn and understand if we do not wish to repeat them with such dire affects.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ionia

    Rarely do I give any book having to do with the Holocaust more than three or four stars, as I usually feel like the information has just been recycled. This book, however, deserves all five stars. Whether you are an historian or simply have an interest in this subject, 'Black Earth' will be very eye opening. In this detailed account, the author offers a broader look at the events leading up to the more commonly discussed and recounted Holocaust. Instead of starting at the height of the Nazi regi Rarely do I give any book having to do with the Holocaust more than three or four stars, as I usually feel like the information has just been recycled. This book, however, deserves all five stars. Whether you are an historian or simply have an interest in this subject, 'Black Earth' will be very eye opening. In this detailed account, the author offers a broader look at the events leading up to the more commonly discussed and recounted Holocaust. Instead of starting at the height of the Nazi regime and continuing forward, Timothy Snyder gives his readers a basis of information to help them understand how one event led to another and ultimately changed the face of history. This is an extremely well-researched, very organised book that will answer your questions and leave you feeling more knowledgeable for having read it. I was greatly impressed by the depth of information available here and the way it was presented. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more of the story of the Holocaust and the people affected by it. Very provoking, very interesting. This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Charlie - A Reading Machine

    Not an easy book to read but an incredibly interesting one. Focusing on Hitlers attempted extermination of the Jews and the fact that it represented the political climate at the time and there are signs we are in the middle of a resurgence. A real eye opener that drags you kicking and screaming into the shit that is currently happening in this world of ours.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Coppolo Holsing

    Not an easy book, by any stretch, but a compelling and important one. I don't know if I *enjoyed* it, per se, but I'm very glad that I stuck with it. Not an easy book, by any stretch, but a compelling and important one. I don't know if I *enjoyed* it, per se, but I'm very glad that I stuck with it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    When states are absent, rights — by any definition — are impossible to sustain. Black Earth by Timothy Snyder Snyder needs little introduction as he is the author of many best selling books about totalitarianism. He is clearly an expert. In this book, Snyder’s big picture conclusions are spot on - but these views are mostly laid out in the intro and conclusion. The pages in between contain a number of holocaust events in surrounding countries not known to most lay people including myself. But it w When states are absent, rights — by any definition — are impossible to sustain. Black Earth by Timothy Snyder Snyder needs little introduction as he is the author of many best selling books about totalitarianism. He is clearly an expert. In this book, Snyder’s big picture conclusions are spot on - but these views are mostly laid out in the intro and conclusion. The pages in between contain a number of holocaust events in surrounding countries not known to most lay people including myself. But it was largely the process that was discussed and how easy it was for the Nazi’s to use the invaded countries systems to separate the Jews from everyone else. These are the nuggets in a sometimes tedious history. With the extensive maps and countries covered it really has the feel of a military battle history as the Nazi’s swept into various countries. In short I needed more personal and in depth stories from the victims. And having read so many more emotionally powerful books about the Holocaust this read just fell flat. 3.5 stars. His message that something like the Holocaust could happen again was very powerful and cogent but Snyder’s also preaching to the choir here. I didn’t need so much substantiation.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David Boyd

    Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder The author has created a small masterpiece in this cogent examination of one of the world’s greatest sorrows. The book is, chapter-upon-chapter, eminently valuable in its handling of the multiple perspectives required to find the “logic” and “reason” within Adolf Hitler’s determination to create the Holocaust. The book is deftly written, boldly negating long-held beliefs by offering simple, clear solutions based on facts, many o Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder The author has created a small masterpiece in this cogent examination of one of the world’s greatest sorrows. The book is, chapter-upon-chapter, eminently valuable in its handling of the multiple perspectives required to find the “logic” and “reason” within Adolf Hitler’s determination to create the Holocaust. The book is deftly written, boldly negating long-held beliefs by offering simple, clear solutions based on facts, many of them recently come to light. It is a harsh reality that National Socialism was a blight upon the world and the author of Black Earth systematically provides the reasons why it came to be, how it sustained itself as long as it did, and why we hear disturbing echoes of it today. Following the significant, well-known events along Hitler’s road to war and genocide, the author provides critical details on socio-economic, religious, tribal, and cultural factors which the Nazis cajoled, threatened, or smashed in their quest for Lebensraum (“living room”). Of the catastrophic events in eastern Europe, Mr. Snyder has composed as superb a rendering of accounts as I have ever read on the subject. Black Earth is highly recommended!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jan

    The money quote: "The people who killed people, killed people." Timothy Snyder argues that the people in the "doubly-occupied lands" (those that were invaded by the Soviet Union and then by the Germans) shot not only Jews, but the disabled, Gypsies, communists, collaborators, partisans, prisoners of war, Poles, or anyone the currently occupying power viewed as an enemy. Snyder argues that antisemitism was NOT the reason that almost all the Jews in central and eastern Europe were killed. It was t The money quote: "The people who killed people, killed people." Timothy Snyder argues that the people in the "doubly-occupied lands" (those that were invaded by the Soviet Union and then by the Germans) shot not only Jews, but the disabled, Gypsies, communists, collaborators, partisans, prisoners of war, Poles, or anyone the currently occupying power viewed as an enemy. Snyder argues that antisemitism was NOT the reason that almost all the Jews in central and eastern Europe were killed. It was the lack of state institutions and bureaucracy that set up the conditions for mass death. It went like this: The Soviet Union invaded. They captured and killed or deported as many people from the ruling and intellectual classes as they could. They did this with the help of local communists as well as the local police who offered their services to the new regime. (After all, that was their job.) Civilians with an axe to grind, or as a way to prove their loyalty to the new regime and prevent their own capture and deportation, denounced their neighbors and took their property. Then Germany invaded. Those who collaborated with the Soviets then turned around and collaborated with the Germans for the same reasons that they had collaborated with the Soviets. The case of Lithuania, which Snyder names as origin of the Holocaust, is illustrative of the process that took place in all the doubly-occupied lands. For example, killing the Jews gave people social mobility: If communism could be limited to Jews, an exoneration was gifted to Lithuanians and all the other non-Jews who had collaborated with Soviet authorities. Germans did not understand, though Lithuanians did, that Soviet rule had already brought about the expropriation of Lithuanian Jews. Of the 1,593 businesses that the Soviets had nationalized in Lithuania in autumn 1940, Jews had owned 1,327, or 83 percent. ... Lithuanians quickly grasped that the Judeobolshevik myth amounted to a mass political amnesty for prior collaboration with the Soviets, as well as the general possibility to claim all of the businesses that the Soviets had taken from the Jews. p. 163 And blaming the Jews for communism"cleansed" them of all responsibility for collaborating with the Soviets in the first place: If the Jews were to blame for communism, then the Lithuanians could not have been. Individual Lithuanians who killed Jews were undoing their individual past under the Soviet regime. Lithuanians as a collectivity were erasing the humiliating, shameful past in which they had allowed their own sovereignty to be destroyed by the Soviet Union. The killing created a psychological plausibility with which it was difficult to negotiate: Since Jews had been killed they must have been guilty, and since Lithuanians had killed they must have had a righteous cause. p. 164 Snyder's particular intellectual bubble shows when he warns against history repeating itself "when humans portray a looming crisis in such a way as to justify drastic measures in the present" and then does EXACTLY THAT in his discussion of global warming. All in all, this was a fascinating read - well written, well documented, and well argued. I would recommend it to everyone who believes that the Germans and antisemites were the only ones who perpetrated the holocaust. They were not. We were.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    In this epic history of extermination and survival, Timothy Snyder presents a new explanation of the great atrocity of the twentieth century, and reveals the risks that we face in the twenty-first. 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 accessi In this epic history of extermination and survival, Timothy Snyder presents a new explanation of the great atrocity of the twentieth century, and reveals the risks that we face in the twenty-first. 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 twenty-first 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. I read a lot of non-fiction books about WWII and the Holocaust; this is the first one that actually seemed to analyze some of the aspects of the Holocaust and the Nazi agenda in such detail. The book begins by giving a fairly detailed account of Hitler's rise to power and the ideology that he created by manipulating ideas of the Christian faith for his own agenda. The author also explains how Hitler began to see all humans as animals and therefore different species (taken from Darwin's works) and why some were stronger and some were weaker. This is something that I have read briefly about in the past, but most of the books I have read focus on the horrific events of the Holocaust and not on Hitler's rise to power. The author also breaks down why some countries remained intact after the war, even after invasion and why some collapsed. This book is very heavy with information and it took me a while to read as I absorbed all the information presented by the author. I am not going to break down the entire book in this review because that would take quite a while. This book presents a lot of information that I previously was not very knowledgeable about. By the end of the book, the authors attempts to interpret the Holocaust as a teaching lesson in history, a warning even, to the future of humanity and some of the problems we currently face. Thank you to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    Staggering and stunning. I want to give the conclusion alone a standing ovation. Everyone should be reading this book (and all of Timothy Snyder's essays) right now. Staggering and stunning. I want to give the conclusion alone a standing ovation. Everyone should be reading this book (and all of Timothy Snyder's essays) right now.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    Does it ever feel like the right time to read a book about the history of the Holocaust? I mean, unless you are taking a class or writing a paper, this is some pretty serious leisure reading. When it came in the mail I was like, "Yay, I won a free book from Goodreads....oh." I entered to win this? But having just finished the last page I must say it's one of the best books I've read this year, and turned out to be so much more than just gazing into an abyss of suffering and violence for the sake Does it ever feel like the right time to read a book about the history of the Holocaust? I mean, unless you are taking a class or writing a paper, this is some pretty serious leisure reading. When it came in the mail I was like, "Yay, I won a free book from Goodreads....oh." I entered to win this? But having just finished the last page I must say it's one of the best books I've read this year, and turned out to be so much more than just gazing into an abyss of suffering and violence for the sake of feeling depressed and confused. Timothy Snyder, who has a long list of academic credentials that make him more than qualified to be writing on this topic, weaves political history and personal narratives into a compelling argument for how we ought to interpret the Holocaust, and how it remains of vital importance to our future that we do so. In a nutshell, Snyder argues that through intentionally weakening and destroying state structures, the Nazis were able to create conditions under which tens of thousands of citizens participated in a mass murder of epic proportion. Men, women, soldiers, farmers, neighbors, people of every nationality: the guilty are not limited to an elite few, but to an appalling many. The evidence is hard to avoid, and the fact that so few aided those in need out of pure humanitarian kindness (though Snyder does devote attention to "the righteous few") brings us face to face with the uncomfortable reality that people very much like us participated in great evil. In the final conclusion Snyder summarizes: "Perhaps we imagine that we would be rescuers in some future catastrophe. Yet if states were destroyed, local institutions corrupted, and economic incentives directed towards murder, few of us would behave well (p. 320)." But alongside this rather bleak picture of human nature, Snyder is able to make the case for why the state is such a foundational institution. While conditions of statelessness created the most dangerous and murderous zones of the Holocaust, places where the state retained functionality allowed millions to survive where Hitler's dystopian policies could not reach them. And individuals responsible for savings the most Jewish lives were overwhelmingly the ones in positions allowing them to extend state protection- bureaucrats who could give the gift of life in the form of travel documentation and passports. Snyder crafts a very compelling case for the modern state to be seen as the very structure that allows humanity to be human. "States are not structures to be taken for granted, exploited, or discarded, but are fruits of long and quiet effort (p. 340)." Alongside a concise and comprehensive history of such a complex event as the Holocaust, Snyder gives great food for thought, and his argument deserves attention and consideration not just by academics, but normal laypeople who are in so many ways just like the citizenry of World War II Europe. *Quick note, I am also required to disclose that I received a free advance copy of this book through Goodreads Giveaways.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Edwin Stratton-Mackay

    Snyder is at the cutting edge of Holocaust historiography today for good reason. Snyder has presented possibly the first coherent causal explanation of the Holocaust. Laurence Rees told us the Holocaust can only be a warning from history, and not a lesson about how to prevent it. But Snyder is extracting the lessons with a powerful new analysis of how the Holocaust was implemented as a process of innovation, stage by stage, contingency by contingency. Most importantly Snyder teaches us an entire Snyder is at the cutting edge of Holocaust historiography today for good reason. Snyder has presented possibly the first coherent causal explanation of the Holocaust. Laurence Rees told us the Holocaust can only be a warning from history, and not a lesson about how to prevent it. But Snyder is extracting the lessons with a powerful new analysis of how the Holocaust was implemented as a process of innovation, stage by stage, contingency by contingency. Most importantly Snyder teaches us an entirely applicable lesson: the bureaucratic truth that passports stop bullets. Having a nationality is the difference between life and death - and in the Holocaust, even having a German nationality could provide that difference. A nationality was the key to life. The Holocaust could only be conducted in the absence of the state, to stateless people. A person who is stateless doesn't legally exist. They can therefore be killed because there's no legal entity to kill. Only once the state was obliterated was there a vacuum of bureaucracy which made genocide possible, and even inevitable. Hence the Nazis could kill all the Jews in the totally destroyed areas of Ukraine, Belarus and Poland, because Ukraine, Belarus and Poland had ceased to exist as entities, and there were no such nationalities in the minds of the occupiers. Almost all the Jews in those countries were murdered. The Nazis were obstructed from doing the same to the Jews in Germany because it is legally more difficult to kill a person who has a nationality. Compared to the destruction of nearly all the Jews in the east, about half of the Jews of Germany were murdered. An enormous amount, certainly, but where the state was destroyed, there was no obstacle and so more or less all were doomed. State destruction enabled the decimation of the non Jewish population in addition to facilitating targeted genocide. In addition to their mass murder of the vast majority of Europe's Jews, the Nazis also killed a third of the Poles, a quarter of the Ukrainians and a fifth of the Belarussians because there was no state, no civil institutions, no institutions of law or religion. Just the occupiers, the underground, and massive terror. As a former 'smash the state' anarchist, this is a difficult lesson for me to learn...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    A Noteworthy View of the Political and Social Background of the Holocaust Many books have been written about the political factors leading up to WWII and the Holocaust, but The Black Earth is remarkable in the way it pulls history, social conditions, and political theory together to create a picture of the factors allowing the Holocaust to happen. One factor was Hitler's severe racial hatred. His plan was always to exterminate the Jews. Another was the destruction of the identity of the state in A Noteworthy View of the Political and Social Background of the Holocaust Many books have been written about the political factors leading up to WWII and the Holocaust, but The Black Earth is remarkable in the way it pulls history, social conditions, and political theory together to create a picture of the factors allowing the Holocaust to happen. One factor was Hitler's severe racial hatred. His plan was always to exterminate the Jews. Another was the destruction of the identity of the state in areas like Poland and Eastern Europe. When the state was dissolved, citizens lost their identity as members of the larger group, and there was no organization to protect them. Snyder recounts the history of how this came about as part of Hitler's plan and the devastating consequences. However, the book also has a hopeful section. The author recounts numerous stories of non-Jews hiding Jews, or helping them escape. It reinforces the idea that people to people contact is important in enabling people of all political and religious groups to show compassion to those in need. The final chapter is something I believe everyone should read. We like to think we have put the Holocaust behind us, but there are factors in the world today which could tip the balance and return the world to something resembling that terrible time. When people fear global catastrophe, they can become rapacious trying to secure their own survival with radical action and become less amenable to political solutions. It's something for all of us to think about. I highly recommend this book. It puts into perspective much of what led to the Holocaust and cautions us against complacency. I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    Seems like a good time to learn more about the European far right and its roots. I learned from this book that Hitler saw the world in zero-sum terms. In the world before agricultural productivity exploded, Aryan Germans needed and deserved enough land, lebensraum, to grow enough food for the good life. They needed to take it from their neighbors. For them to win, others had to lose. Any win-win thinking, including Communism, was overly-intellectual Jewish nonsense that had to be defeated. Readi Seems like a good time to learn more about the European far right and its roots. I learned from this book that Hitler saw the world in zero-sum terms. In the world before agricultural productivity exploded, Aryan Germans needed and deserved enough land, lebensraum, to grow enough food for the good life. They needed to take it from their neighbors. For them to win, others had to lose. Any win-win thinking, including Communism, was overly-intellectual Jewish nonsense that had to be defeated. Reading about Hitler and the Nazis gives me a vertiginous feeling. I expect the pit to be deep and dark, and then, Good God...

  25. 5 out of 5

    Philipp

    A history, and the psychology, and what we should learn from the Holocaust. The central thesis is that statelessness is a prerequisite for murder on such a scale, evidenced by the fact that Jews as citizens of functioning states (even of Germany) survived in greater numbers than Jews of destroyed states, such as Poland. If Jews were to be removed from the planet, they first had to be separated from the state. As she [Hannah Arendt] wrote later, “one could do as one pleased only with stateless peo A history, and the psychology, and what we should learn from the Holocaust. The central thesis is that statelessness is a prerequisite for murder on such a scale, evidenced by the fact that Jews as citizens of functioning states (even of Germany) survived in greater numbers than Jews of destroyed states, such as Poland. If Jews were to be removed from the planet, they first had to be separated from the state. As she [Hannah Arendt] wrote later, “one could do as one pleased only with stateless people.” On the way Snyder tries to right some myths - like the one that only Nazis killed in large numbers yet the Nazis managed to usually recruit the local population, or that the United States intentionally rescued Jews from genocide (the US gave 4,705 visas to Jews from July 42 to June 43, less than were murdered per day in 1942 in Treblinka). Age-old antisemitism cannot explain why pogroms began precisely in summer 1941. Such an explanation ignores the suggestive fact that pogroms were most numerous where Germans drove out Soviet power, and the obviously material fact that the instigation of pogroms in such places was explicit German policy. The latter is explained with psychology - citizens who used to collaborate with the Soviets could "clean themselves" in the eyes of the Germans by participating in Pogroms - "The Judeobolshevik myth, spread locally by militias, provided the perfect escape route for most Soviet collaborators", a collective rewriting of history, it wasn't the Soviets, it was the Jews, with the added bonus of being able to take the houses and belongings of the murdered Jews. Psychology plays a large part in the last third, which is more positive - why did various people and groups save Jews? It's almost as if the author included these parts to save his own belief in humanity. The last chapter "Conclusion" is all about what we can learn from this - part of the panic that gave rise to Hitler was rising prices for food, which was much more expensive than nowadays thanks to the Green Revolution (Norman Borlaug is severely under-appreciated). We face similar problems with climate change, and if we don't change, we may fall into the same trap. We can't afford to chip away at the states, either in the name of neoliberalism, or in the name of the Left. We need states and their institutions: When states are absent, rights—by any definition—are impossible to sustain. States are not structures to be taken for granted, exploited, or discarded, but are fruits of long and quiet effort. It is tempting but dangerous to gleefully fragment the state from the Right or knowingly gaze at the shards from the Left. I could pull out quotes all day. P.S.: Bonus-quip: The righteous few were behaving in a way that a norm based upon economic calculations of personal welfare would regard as irrational. P.P.S.: Did you know that Poland funded many early Zionist (and militant Zionist) organizations? I didn't! The history of these small paramilitary organizations like Betar forms a small, but very interesting part.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Neil Fox

    The holocaust, as well as being one of the most evil crimes in history committed by Mankind against its fellow human beings, is also the most unfathomable. The sheer scale of the slaughter and frenzied killing is hard to conceptualize today. In a World of the 24 hour news cycle where a train crash or motorway pile-up involving the loss of a few lives can make news on the far side of the Globe, it is impossible for the contemporary mind to process how tens of thousands of men, women and children The holocaust, as well as being one of the most evil crimes in history committed by Mankind against its fellow human beings, is also the most unfathomable. The sheer scale of the slaughter and frenzied killing is hard to conceptualize today. In a World of the 24 hour news cycle where a train crash or motorway pile-up involving the loss of a few lives can make news on the far side of the Globe, it is impossible for the contemporary mind to process how tens of thousands of men, women and children could be shot over pits, asphyxiated in vans, gassed in chambers and burnt in crematoria in a single day; hundreds of thousands in some months, and millions in a matter of years. And all this a mere 70 years ago. Timothy Synder's Black Earth purports to be a history of the holocaust; while it explores the How's, What's and where's of the holocaust in bold new light, it is sadly lacking in the "Why's", and this absence is the central problem with the book. There is very little comprehensible exploration or analysis offered on the murderous anti-sematic motives of Hitler, his henchmen such as Himmler & Goebbels and executioners Heydrich and Eichmann; the infamous Wannsee conference, a crucial and pivotal event at the center of the holocaust, is barely mentioned. Instead Snyder attributes high-flung theories of race, politics and science to Hitler which bestow too high a level of philosophy and intellect to the man and his followers whose motives were likely to be far more base than the author gives them credit for. The Central thesis of the book is that the elimination of Statehood and the destruction of Nation-states gave rise to zones of lawlessness where campaigns of annihilation and murder could be carried out at will without the protection bestowed by citizenship; he rests his case for this by showing how the Jewish populations of those states that were destroyed by the Nazis or by Nazi-Soviet collusion and conflict - Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine - were decimated, contrasting this with the relatively better fates of Jewish citizens of occupied states where sovereignty remained intact - Denmark, Netherlands, Hungary and France for example - where survival rates were much higher. Snyder's work uncovers the multidimensional complexity of the holocaust by bringing to the fore the role of the Soviets and the non- Jewish populations of occupied Eastern Europe in the atrocities. His back-and-Forth on this, together with the espousing of his central theory on the consequences of the elimination of Statehood make though for a repetition of the content of his earlier book, " Bloodlands". A weak and rather lame closing chapter asking whether the lessons of the holocaust have been learned and whether this could all happen again falls flat in the absence of a convincing exploration of the " Why's" of the holocaust. The holocaust remains as a grim warning from history, but our understanding of what caused it to come about is offered precious little new insights from this book.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Hopkins

    I really hate to say that this dragged but it took me a hundred years to get through the first half. Just facts on facts on facts, names and numbers, nothing that made this anything more than a textbook. But then when it became more anecdotal and the author's theories were made clear, it was incredibly interesting and actually a pretty vital read. If you know everything about WWII and the Holocaust, you're probably not going to learn anything new factually, but what Snyder does differently is th I really hate to say that this dragged but it took me a hundred years to get through the first half. Just facts on facts on facts, names and numbers, nothing that made this anything more than a textbook. But then when it became more anecdotal and the author's theories were made clear, it was incredibly interesting and actually a pretty vital read. If you know everything about WWII and the Holocaust, you're probably not going to learn anything new factually, but what Snyder does differently is that he uses all empirical evidence to explain why and how it happened to say that it could definitely 100% happen again, and here's why. His reasoning as to why has nothing to do with the traditional "Germans just following orders" or "ordinary Germans/Poles didn't know it was happening" excuse but goes rather deeply into how easily a stateless society in a time of crisis will sacrifice a group of people as a solution. This is best illustrated by using the contrasting examples of Denmark, which was never fully taken over by the Nazis, and Estonia, which was. He compares the two countries as similarly populated Baltic sea states with vastly different outcomes - virtually all of Denmark's Jews survived the war while virtually all of Estonia's were murdered. What was the difference? It's not that Denmark's non-Jews were just better human beings. Rather it's that they still maintained their statehood and could act to save their Jewish population whereas in Estonia, they dissolved into chaos and it was every man for himself. The non-Jews' priority wasn't saving the Jews but was rather saving themselves, as they no longer had a state to protect them. In times of chaos, humanity often goes out the window, and people do what they need to survive. In his conclusion, Snyder reasons that still today, no matter how we remember the Holocaust and cry "never again," it wouldn't be beyond the scope of reason for human beings to fall into the same pattern of blame, chaos, and mass murder. For Hitler, worries about food supply and Lebensraum meant needing a scapegoat to blame and destroy so the German people could prosper. Snyder uses climate change as a modern fear, and says any marginalized group - gays, Muslims, or even Jews again - could be a new target for destruction. Did we really need ANOTHER book about the Holocaust? Not really. But we did need this particular book about the Holocaust because it goes beyond what happened. It's about what we need to learn so it doesn't happen again. Because it's not just about our own humanity. We're not "better people" today. It's not that simple. It was an especially relevant book now watching Trump with his fear-mongering surrounding Muslims and ISIS, knowing that people are already misguided enough in their fear to want to refuse entry to Syrian refugees...it's not inconceivable that something like this could very easily escalate.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    Key takeaways: - Hitler did not believe in the state, other than as a tool to promote his own political philosophy that man is broken down into races, and "like species found in nature", these races must fight for resources. The strongest and best should win unless someone unnaturally interferes by creating artificial human laws and constructs of morality. Hitler believed the Jews had been doing this to their own advantage, taking away resources and standard of living from the truly strong and no Key takeaways: - Hitler did not believe in the state, other than as a tool to promote his own political philosophy that man is broken down into races, and "like species found in nature", these races must fight for resources. The strongest and best should win unless someone unnaturally interferes by creating artificial human laws and constructs of morality. Hitler believed the Jews had been doing this to their own advantage, taking away resources and standard of living from the truly strong and noble Aryan race, and must, as a logical consequence, be removed from the equation. - pre WWII politics was quite complex. Poland wanted to reduce the number of Jews there, but could not really be considered an anti-semitic society. The Polish government actually thought it best to arm Polish Jews and train them as possible insurgents to take over Palestine in case Britain did not ease immigration restrictions there. Hitler tried to woo Poland right up until 1939, thinking he could convince them to be a common-traveller with his Nazi regime in settling Jews outside of Europe and then taking over the Lebensraum of the Soviet Union - The so-called highly efficient government bureaucracy of Germany was NOT the key factor in exterminating the Jews. In fact, it was the lack of government and judicial structures that the Nazis capitalized on when they invaded Poland and then claimed that Poland was an artificial state and had no real historical basis and then the Soviet Union, an artificial creation of so-called world Jewry. By totally dismantling existing political structures and institutions in those areas, and murdering, corrupting, or converting existing officials, no one was there to stop or judicially delay the Nazis in carrying out their extermination policies.. -Lessons for our times: Hitler took Germany on a disastrous road when he mixed politics with his own version of kooky eugenic science, to the ultimate point of breaking apart state structures that stood in his way. He found that it is much easier to get away with murder when citizenship belongs to states that no longer exist and in zones where judiciary and the rule of law has gone out the window. Is the US playing a dangerous game as it sets up bases like Guantanamo, which are "outside the law" and conveniently ignore rules of citizenship when terrorists are categorized as stateless, generic "enemy combatants". Are countries that ignore the facts of science, as many now do with climate change, because the science is inconvenient to political aims, what risks are they taking?

  29. 4 out of 5

    Darcia Helle

    History, particularly as it is taught in our public schools, comes to us filtered down through the perspectives of those involved. Nations want to see themselves in the best light, and we, as citizens, want to accept that what we're taught is the unbiased truth. The whole truth; not just the bits and pieces considered relevant by those in charge of textbooks and curriculum. Often only time and distance allows us to see clearly the entire picture, exactly as it played out, without distorting the History, particularly as it is taught in our public schools, comes to us filtered down through the perspectives of those involved. Nations want to see themselves in the best light, and we, as citizens, want to accept that what we're taught is the unbiased truth. The whole truth; not just the bits and pieces considered relevant by those in charge of textbooks and curriculum. Often only time and distance allows us to see clearly the entire picture, exactly as it played out, without distorting the view. Timothy Snyder gives us that gift here, and it's one we need to accept and acknowledge. This book is not an easy read. We can't expect it to be. The content is harsh, disturbing, and frightening. The facts are laid out for us here and we can't look away. We can't make excuses. Millions of innocent people were murdered, while nations stood by and allowed it, or even assisted. The content here is also complex. It's not a book you're likely to read quickly. This is one of those books that takes time to absorb. That being said, the author does a phenomenal job of putting it all together. The timeline is consistent and precise. We start well before WWII, back when the USSR was formed and forced starvation was taking place in the Ukraine. We see how this, along with other events, paved the way for Hitler's Holocaust. Nothing occurs in a vacuum, least of all international events of this magnitude. Hitler, as vicious as he was, did not act alone. Germany did not act alone. Somewhere, the spark turned into a flame. Along the way, others were complicit. Nowhere have I read such an intricate, detailed, terrifying account exposing the truth of WWII. This is a timely read. History does not repeat itself, exactly. We don't have a second Hitler on the rise. We aren't about to exterminate Jews. But when you read this account, the parallels between events then and events now are unmistakable. The author summarizes this in his closing, and it should scare everyone out of their stupor. Everyone needs to read this. Until we truly understand and acknowledge our past mistakes we are doomed to recreate them in countless, horrifying ways.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    Timothy Snyder's Black Earth is a follow-up to his earlier, similarly contentious Bloodlands, examining the Holocaust through a decidedly eccentric lens. Snyder makes the claim that Hitler was a "zoological anarchist," primarily motivated by a warped sense of ecology where the mere existence of Jews poisoned the world. To exterminate Jews and other undesirables, so the argument goes, would be to bring the world back into balance. It's certainly an interesting take on Nazi ideology but hard to pr Timothy Snyder's Black Earth is a follow-up to his earlier, similarly contentious Bloodlands, examining the Holocaust through a decidedly eccentric lens. Snyder makes the claim that Hitler was a "zoological anarchist," primarily motivated by a warped sense of ecology where the mere existence of Jews poisoned the world. To exterminate Jews and other undesirables, so the argument goes, would be to bring the world back into balance. It's certainly an interesting take on Nazi ideology but hard to prove or fit into demonstrable forms of analysis, beyond taking fascist metaphors and terms of literally; perhaps Snyder, whose previous work sparked significant controversy among historians, wanted to up the ante into something bordering on ludicrous. The book nonetheless has some interesting material, particularly in Snyder's comparisons of Germany's imperialist, eliminationist strain of antisemitism against its different forms in Poland, Lithuania and other countries they would occupy; how Nazi genocide varied in strictness and effectiveness from country to country (though here, too, he overstates his case; in claiming that states occupied or bordering the USSR suffered unusually high rates of loss, he ignores countries like Greece with casualties comparable to Eastern Europe); his depiction of Nazi Germany as, essentially, an old-fashioned colonial empire in the heart of Europe (though here, he owes a debt to A.J.P. Taylor and Mark Mazower). Like Bloodlands, the book inspires defenders and detractors in equal measure; like Bloodlands, however, it mostly left me frustrated and unsatisfied.

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