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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Black Earth The Holocaust as History and Warning


It seems as each day passes the  news is bleaker and bleaker. Many avoid the subject entirely through the escapism of unreality TV and many other media. History is full of the stories of the great accomplishments of mankind and also its utter depravities. With millions of people around the world now fleeing for their lives and the survival of their families in the midst of wars and terrorism, a look to the past might teach us something…

Timothy Snyder’s new book Black Earth the Holocaust as History and Warning might be a good start. The facts, analysis and conclusions about the Holocaust are generally well known through the myriad of history books and memoirs on the subject.  Snyder brings an interesting, provocative and I must say unorthodox account to this subject. He identifies the conditions that made the mass murder of millions of people possible and then points out how many of those conditions exist today. That got my attention.

Connecting the absolute horrors of the past to today is an important lesson and challenge to all of us individually and collectively as Americans. We hear much fear mongering among current Presidential candidates almost daily. This  means we must apply ourselves to our own best  mental and moral resources to  judge our potential leaders. It comes down to one crucial question which is how can Americans help build a future based on law, human rights and citizenship.

Evil is now rampant in the parts of the world as it was when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union ran murderously amok over Eastern Europe in 1940.  Black Earth provides a thoughtfully new perspective on this now seemingly ancient evil. It demonstrates the destruction of the Jews was premised on the destruction of states and the institutions of politics. Politics, by the way, in its best form is not a dirty word.

 Snyder's  new approach to the Holocaust is that the destruction of state machinery, he says, first by the Soviets and then by the Germans, stimulated a frenzy of lawlessness and murder, facilitating, in case of the Nazis, genocidal campaigns against imagined enemies. As nation states like Iraq and Syria disintegrate into component religious and ethnic parts with ensuing chaos and mayhem and the United States looks on befuddled on what it can or can’t do about it. The “Caliphate” could spread throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa” some shout. While many want us to bomb more and more.  The borders must be closed against Muslin refugees to keep the terrorists out, they say. Of course, they said the same thing about the Jews who tried to flee Europe from the Nazi terror… And on and on.
I can only think to recommend the book Black Earth. I can’t say I agreed with all of the author's interpretations and conclusions and yes its not an easy read but it can’t help but make you think.  Certainly the way things are going these days….. that’s got to be a good thing.
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@Barrie Summy









18 comments:

Carla from The River said...

I always appreciate your reviews.
Carla

Linda said...

Good review. Yes, current events remind us of events during World War II. Now I can understand how ordinary Germans allowed the Holocaust to happen. It doesn't excuse it, of course, but listen to what people say now about immigrants who are of a different religion! It's horrifying really, as though the teachings of their spiritual leader mean nothing to them! Love thy neighbor is quite the opposite of what people do when they feel fear.

Lin said...

Oh, it's a very complicated issue, isn't it? I'm not sure I'm up for the read--I sort of need something a little "light" these days...but it does sound like it is interesting.

Love the reviews.

Anvilcloud said...

I'll skip the book but appreciate your review. It's getting a little scary for sure, but it is important to be rational and not frightened.

Should Fish More said...

The history of Nazi Germany has been covered and re-covered, interpreted and re-interpreted. In one analysis what happened in Germany 1933-45 could happen anywhere, given the same conditions that were present in the Wiemar. In another, Germany at that period was the only place it could have occurred, a peculiarity of the German people.

The conditions then and now are so similar, except that communication is so instantaneous something that happens in the middle east is known seconds later in the US. I don't know exactly what effect that has, but it removes the long incubation time that Hitler had to infect the people.
Good review, TB

Stacy said...

Sounds like an important read. I think my husband would really like this one.

Vicki said...

Definitely will add to my reading list.

Barrie said...

Ray, I love your intro....about looking to the past for lessons about our current times. Oh, this sounds like a solid, thought-provoking book. I will add it to my list. One of my sisters reads a lot about the holocaust. I will mention this book to her. Thanks for reviewing!

Linda McLaughlin said...

Thanks for the thoughtful review. I, too, view current world events with alarm, and I see parallels to both world wars. I'm concerned that the tangling alliances may allow us to stumble into another global conflict. (Turkey shooting down a Russian jet. Really?) And the xenophobia here at home is extremely troubling. I fear that at least one of the presidential candidates doesn't really want to be president; I think he wants to be dictator. It is vitally important that we understand the past if we are not to make the same mistakes in the present. Like refusing to accept refugees because they are of a different religion.

Argh, don't get me started. Thanks again for the review.

Out on the prairie said...

As a kid I had a neighbor who escaped Auchwitz, with a bullet wound in her leg. I always liked to take friends over to meet her ,and have her show the scar. I didn't know what she had really been through and it was in later years I visited the camp. It made me wish she was still around to apologize for my behavior. I have a son in law from Serbia and have a hard time being around his family.

pattinase (abbott) said...

We have a trip planned for Germany and Poland in the spring. This would be a good background.

Sue said...

Great review. And so telling of what is going on now.
Scary and hopefully NOT prophetic, though I'm afraid it is..........
Have a good weekend

Valerie said...

Good review but I'm not sure I could actually read the book. I need lighter stuff these days.

Sarah Laurence said...

Sounds fascinating and topical, excellent review! My husband and I were just chatting about the difference between the occupation of Japan, which turned an enemy into an ally, and that of Iraq, which left so much instability and poverty that ISIS was born. He's teaching Comparative Politics next term. I'll mention this book to him. Thanks!

Far Side of Fifty said...

Extremists...and now California...uffda that couple could have really killed many hundreds of people. Makes you wonder how many more whackos there are out there. I know who my neighbors are...I wonder how many people do these days. I hope you are doing well and give my best to Mrs T:)

Cloudbuster said...

This sounds like a thought-provoking read. I wonder how many of the pre-existing conditions for this kind of horror exist in our own society right now... Not sure we need only worry about the Middle East.

NCmountainwoman said...

I'm not sure I can read this one but I do appreciate your review.

Bubba Muntzer said...

This is an excellent, excellent review, tb, followed by many thoughtful comments that heartened me. I'm not usually left with that feeling after spending time on social media or following the general news, whereupon I'm often left feeling that we're hopelessly divided at best and at worst headed down a path something like Nazi Germany's.

You of course have a lot of sensible readers but the way you frame the question in your review has a lot to do with the way this discussion ensues, I'd venture. The news media, with its agenda of trying to survive and profit in a changing market, and political leaders with their agendas of gaining or maintaining power, perks and privileges, are doing a piss poor framing job, in my view.

You write that Snyder ties the destruction of the institutions of the state to an increase in lawless behavior, and remind us of the failed states in the Middle East. Don't forget the constant attacks on the state (i.e. government) in the US by political conservatism, which are also attempts to discredit the idea that we can accomplish things collectively through the state. As that idea wanes so do the ties that bind us and that create conditions for law and order.

Germany wasn't a monolithic society, ever, as I think we tend to think of it. It contained all the different veins of political opinion and types of people that we have in our society, that any society has. It was made up of people who, like us, can be fearful and uncaring or caring and generous, depending, and it was a range of those kinds of personalities, with some apt to travel all night to attend rallies with tea bags fastened to their heads, or, to give the zeig heil salute, but most more apt to sit at home and let others exercise their power for them.

We always have the potential to be Nazi Germany, or something better than we are. What we do will depend on how many sensible people say enough sensible things enough of the time. Thanks for weighing in on the good side, again.