Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

by Timothy Snyder

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Overview

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101903452
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/08/2015
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 515,433
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Timothy Snyder is the Housum Professor of History at Yale University and a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is the author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century and Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, which received the literature award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Hannah Arendt Prize, and the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding. Snyder is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement and a former contributing editor at The New Republic. He is a permanent fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences, serves as the faculty advisor for the Fortunoff Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, and sits on the advisory council of the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

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Excerpted from "Black Earth"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Timothy Snyder.
Excerpted by permission of Crown/Archetype.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue xiii

Introduction: Hitler's World 1

1 Living Space 11

2 Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow 29

3 The Promise of Palestine 58

4 The State Destroyers 77

5 Double Occupation 117

6 The Greater Evil 144

7 Germans, Poles, Soviets, Jews 178

8 The Auschwitz Paradox 207

9 Sovereignty and Survival 226

10 The Grey Saviors 250

11 Partisans of God and Man 272

12 The Righteous Few 298

Conclusion: Our World 319

Acknowledgments 345

Notes 350

A Note on Usages 394

Archives and Abbreviations 396

Published Sources 397

Index 435

Reading Group Guide

1. Before reading Black Earth, were you aware that Jews in Germany during World War II may have been safer than Jews in Poland, the Ukraine, and other neighboring eastern European countries? What was Snyder’s most startling revelation?
2. What is your take on Snyder’s assertion that Hitler was attempting to “colonize” eastern Europe just as England, France, and Belgium had earlier colonized the African continent?
3. Discuss Snyder’s idea of “statelessness.” Is there anything the citizens of these “colonized” nations could have done to stop Hitler from dismantling their political states?
4. How old were you when you first learned about the Holocaust? At what age should our children be taught about the atrocities that happened? Before reading Black Earth, did you consider the possibility that something similar might happen again?
5. “Every Jew who survived the Holocaust had to fight collective inertia, abandon the familiar and the beloved, and confront the unfathomable” (p. 250). If you were part of a persecuted minority—even with the lessons of history—how prepared would you be to leave behind everything you have and know in order to save yourself and your family?
6. Snyder writes, [PE21] “Just as people who resist one form of tyranny will tend to resist another, people who have collaborated with one form of tyranny will tend to come to terms with the next” (p. 285). Do you agree with Snyder’s assessment, or do you feel that most individuals judge each regime on its own flaws and merits?
7. “Hundreds of Jewish children, perhaps a few thousand, survived because peasant families needed labor” (p. 306). After the end of the war, did these children owe a debt to the families who saved them? Or did the circumstances absolve them of any obligation?
8. “Hitler was right to believe that, in an age of global communication, notions of prosperity had become relative and fluid” (p. 324). Is it fair for citizens of first-world countries to expect citizens of developing countries to content themselves with a lower standard of living?
9. Recently, Oskar Gröning, a ninety-three-year-old former SS soldier, made headlines when he was put on trial for the crimes he committed while working at Auschwitz. He has pled guilty to “moral complicity,” but claims he is free from “criminal responsibility” for his acts. After reading Black Earth, how do you view his plea for lenience?
10. Despite the results of sociological studies such as the Stanford prison experiment and the Milgram electric-shock experiment, most of us believe that we wouldn’t harm an innocent human being. Reflecting upon the Holocaust, Snyder writes: “the notion that local east European antisemitism killed the Jews of eastern Europe confers upon others the same sense of superiority akin to that the Nazis once felt. These people are quite primitive, we can allow ourselves to think” (p. 150). Do you believe that you and the people you know are incapable of committing the same kind of atrocities? Can you imagine circumstances in which you might change your mind?
11. Religious and/or ethnic minorities often take to the sea to escape persecution in their homelands. Recently, groups fleeing Libya, Syria, Myanmar, and Bangladesh by boat have been refused amnesty, sent back to their homelands, and sometimes simply denied entry to their destination country and forced back out to sea. How is their plight different from that of the Jews who attempted to flee Nazi rule?
12. “The history of the Holocaust is not over. Its precedent is eternal, and its lessons have not yet been learned” (Black Earth, p. xii). Do you agree with Snyder’s assertion that we are again approaching an era with economic and climatic conditions similar to those that spurred Hitler to launch his campaign against the Jews?
13. In your opinion, what is Snyder’s most urgent message, and what can we—as ordinary citizens—do to prevent a future Holocaust?

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