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Black Earth

The Holocaust As History and Warning

by Timothy Snyder

Hardcover, 462 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $30 |


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The Holocaust As History and Warning
Timothy Snyder

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The author of Bloodlands presents a history of the Holocaust that offers insights into Hitler's genocidal views and the partisan groups who supported Jewish targets, arguing that wrong conclusions about the Holocaust are compromising the world's future.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Black Earth

Citizenship is the name of a reciprocal relationship between an individual and a sheltering polity. When there was no state, no one was a citizen, and human life could be treated carelessly. Nowhere in occupied Europe were non-Jews treated as badly as Jews. But in places where the state was destroyed, no one was a citizen and no one enjoyed any predictable form of state protection. This meant that the other major German mass crimes, the starvation of prisoners of war and the murder of civilians—mostly Be- larusians and Poles and Gypsies—also took place almost entirely within zones of statelessness. These policies together killed about as many people as the Holocaust, and they were implemented, and could only be imple- mented, in the same places. Where the state was not destroyed such ex- tremes were impossible.

In states allied with Germany or states under more traditional occu- pation regimes, where the major political institutions remained intact, non-Jews who protected Jews were rarely punished for doing so. Non-Jews who were citizens of states could not simply be killed if they aided Jews. In the General Government and in the occupied western Soviet Union, how- ever, the punishment for aiding Jews was death. More Poles were executed for aiding Jews in individual districts of the General Government than in entire west European countries. This is not because Poles were particu- larly inclined to rescue Jews, which they were not. It is because they were, in fact, sometimes executed for doing so, which rarely happened in west- ern Europe. Indeed, in some places in German-occupied western Europe it was not even a punishable criminal offense to hide a Jew.

Compare the fates of Victor Klemperer, Anne Frank, and Emanuel Ringelblum, three famous chroniclers of these years. Klemperer was a German scholar of Jewish origin who wrote a brilliant analysis of the lan- guage of the Third Reich. Frank was a German Jewish girl in hiding in the Netherlands who kept a diary that later became the most widely read text about the Holocaust. Ringelblum was a historian of Jewish life in Po- land who, within the Warsaw ghetto, organized the assembly of an entire archive, creating one of the most important collections of sources of the Holocaust. "Collect as much as possible," said Ringelblum to a colleague in the project known as Oneg Shabbat. "They can sort it out after the war." Klemperer lived and so did the person who cared for him; Frank died but the people who tried to shelter her survived; Ringelblum was shot along with several people who had helped him. These fates reflect the different legal structures of Germany, the occupied Netherlands, and oc- cupied Poland during the war.

Because Klemperer was a German citizen with a non-Jewish wife, he was not subject to the general policy of the deportation and murder of German Jews. Since his wife did not divorce him, he, like many such German Jewish men, survived. Anne Frank was also a German Jew, but in fleeing to the Netherlands she lost even the residual state membership available to her under the Nuremberg Laws. She and her family were eventually discovered and deported to Auschwitz. She died after a transfer to Bergen-Belsen, probably of typhus. The Dutch citizens who had hid- den her family survived, since what they did was not subject to criminal prosecution in the Netherlands. Ringelblum's history was different. He was captured and rescued multiple times, aided by both Polish Jews and non-Jewish Poles. In the end, he and the Poles with whom he was hiding were all executed, probably together, in the ashes of the Warsaw ghetto. Most Poles who tried to aid Jews were not killed, but many of them were; and it was a risk that they all faced. This was the stateless predicament.

Reprinted from Black Earth. Copyright 2015 by Timothy Snyder. Published by Tim Duggan Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.