President Michael Roth reviewed Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder in The Washington Post. While many other historians have emphasized structural elements that made the Holocaust possible, Snyder focuses on Hitler’s personal ideology “as essential for grasping the history of Nazi efforts to eliminate Jews from the planet.”
In “Black Earth,” we are reminded that for Hitler, Jews were the explanation for everything that went wrong. The health of the human race was dependent, he shrieked, on protecting it from Jewish pollution. There was talk among Nazis and others of isolating the malignancy — maybe shipping Jews to Madagascar would work. But Hitler decided that there was a greater purpose to the military conflict he had launched initially just for “room to live.” And that was the ultimate extermination of the Jews. His Final Solution.
The Führer’s worldview inspired Germans to become “entrepreneurs of violence”; he needed innovative techniques for mass murder to kill not only Jews but also the many other enemies blocking Germany’s historical destiny. By destroying a variety of European states, Germany created conditions of lawlessness that legitimized unthinkable atrocities. Ordinary men (mostly men) killed people — even little children — at close range and then returned to their regular routines. Some needed more alcohol to get by, but get by they did. They rounded up men, women and children, shot them in the head or the neck, piled up the corpses, covered them with dirt and then went home to their families.
“Black Earth” explains how this became possible — and it took much more than ideological fury. Destruction of political structures and social norms was necessary.