Book: Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

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Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

Timothy Snyder, the Bird White Housum Professor of History

(Tim Duggan Books)

In this history of extermination and survival, Timothy Snyder presents a new explanation of the Holocaust, and reveals the risks that we face in the current century. 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 and more comprehensible than we would like to think. 

The Holocaust began 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; Hitler’s aim, therefore, was a colonial war in Europe itself. In the “zones of statelessness,” almost all Jews died. A few people aided them, without support from institutions. Much of the new research in this book is devoted to understanding these individuals. The almost insurmountable difficulties they faced only confirm the dangers of state destruction and ecological panic.

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 20th, 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, the author contends, and saving it requires us to see the Holocaust as it was — and ourselves as we are.

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