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LONGLISTED FOR THE 2015 SAMUEL JOHNSON PRIZE
We have come to see the Holocaust as a factory of death, organised by bureaucrats. Yet by the time the gas chambers became operation more than a million European Jews were already dead: shot at close range over pits and ravines. They had been murdered in the lawless killing zones created by the German colonial war in the East, many on the fertile black earth that the Nazis believed would feed the German people.
It comforts us to believe that the Holocaust was a unique event. But as Timothy Snyder shows, we have missed basic lessons of the history of the Holocaust, and some of our beliefs are frighteningly close to the ecological panic that Hitler expressed in the 1920s. As ideological and environmental challenges to the world order mount, our societies might be more vulnerable than we would like to think.
Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands was an acclaimed exploration of what happened in eastern Europe between 1933 and 1945, when Nazi and Soviet policy brought death to some 14 million people. Black Earth is a deep exploration of the ideas and politics that enabled the worst of these policies, the Nazi extermination of the Jews. Its pioneering treatment of this unprecedented crime makes the Holocaust intelligible, and thus all the more terrifying.
This brilliant book effectively a companion volume to Snyder's critically acclaimed 2010 work, Bloodlands focuses on the Jewish victims of the grotesque policies of the Nazis and their shifting allies in the lands contested by Germans, Soviets, Poles, and others in the years of the Holocaust. Snyder brings two fresh elements to his dizzying, harrowing tale. The first is his extraordinarily wide and deep research into the remarkable stories, many unknown, of individual Holocaust survivors, the subject of the last half of his book. The second element, likely to be controversial, is his argument, asserted and reasserted, that, at its roots, the Holocaust was made possible by the failure of national states by the Soviets and the Nazis stripping public, legal protections from millions of people, who were thus left exposed to removal and death. Hence the "warning" of the book's subtitle: the weakening of strong national states threatens human survival wherever it occurs, as it did in the case of the Anschluss, in which Germany absorbed Austria, and as it did in the case of the destruction of the Polish state. It's a plausible, strong argument aimed sharply at Americans who believe that "freedom is the absence of state authority." Maps.