Black Earth by Timothy Snyder review – a new lesson to be learned from the Holocaust

[from The Guardian]

The Nazi genocide serves as a warning we should heed in facing today’s crises, Snyder claims. But was Hitler’s targeting of Jews really an act of ‘ecological panic’?

We have got the Holocaust all wrong, says Timothy Snyder in his new book, and so we have failed to learn the lessons we should have drawn from it. When people talk of learning from the Nazi genocide of some six million European Jews during the second world war, they normally mean that we should mobilise to stop similar genocides happening in future. But Snyder means something quite different, and in order to lay out his case, he provides an engrossing and often thought-provoking analysis of Hitler’s antisemitic ideology and an intelligently argued country-by-country survey of its implementation between 1939 and 1945.

Hitler, Snyder correctly observes, was a believer in race as the fundamental feature of life on Earth. History was a perpetual struggle for the survival of the fittest race, in which religion, morality and secular ethics all stood in the way of the drive for supremacy. His political beliefs reduced humankind to a state of nature, sweeping aside the claims of modern science to improve the natural world. Interfering in nature, for example by improving crop yields in order to overcome the food supply deficit in Germany that had led to the deaths of half a million people during the allied blockade in the first world war, was wrong: the way to achieve this aim was to conquer the vast arable lands of eastern Europe in a parallel action to the American colonisation of the west. Both in his view were populated by inferior subhumans who should be eliminated.

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