Remembering what has been forgotten in the Holocaustby Jonathan Derbyshire / September 22, 2015 / Leave a comment
In his 2010 book “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,” the American historian Timothy Snyder identified an area stretching from central Poland, through Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States to western Russia in which some 14 million people were murdered by the Nazi and Soviet regimes between 1933 and 1945. Most of the victims were Jews, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, Russians and Balts. This is the territory that Snyder calls the “bloodlands.”
“Auschwitz,” Snyder wrote in the introduction to that book, “is the most familiar killing site of the bloodlands.” Today, he said, “it stands for the Holocaust.” Yet most of the killing of Jews happened elsewhere—at the death factories of Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibór and Belzec in Poland, and in the pits and ravines of Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia in which Jews were massacred tens of thousands at a time. In his new book, “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning,” Snyder returns to this theme. In a chapter entitled “The Auschwitz Paradox,” he writes: “While Auschwitz has been remembered, most of the Holocaust has been largely forgotten.” “Black Earth” is an attempt to remember what, in Snyder’s view at any rate, the mythography of the Holocaust leaves out.
To his recalibration of the conventional topography and chronology of the Holocaust, Snyder adds a novel interpretation of Hitler’s worldview and of the place of Jews in it. For Hitler, Snyder argues, “the struggle against the Jews was ecological.” Germans, Hitler thought, would never be able to feed themselves from their own land and territory. Fertile territory to the east had to be conquered, therefore. But the Jews encouraged the belief that scientific methods of land management would one day make Germany more fertile. “The world’s problem, as Hitler saw it,” Snyder writes, “was that Jews falsely separated science and politics and made delusive promises for progress and humanity. The solution he proposed was to expose Jews to the brutal reality that nature and society were one and the same.” In the bloodlands, Hitler sought to create a state of nature. And so, in August 1941, the “Einsatzgruppen,” mobile killing units that followed the conquering German armies into the Soviet Union, began to massacre Jews “in a setting they had themselves made anarchic.”