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Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

jan peczkis|Friday, September 11, 2015

improved revue
The informed reader, familiar with Holocaust-related works, will quickly notice that much of what Snyder discusses has already been said before by other authors, and even by Snyder in his earlier books. I generally focus on the new content. Unfortunately, there are many flaws in this book (whence my two-star rating), and I later discuss a few of them

The informed reader, familiar with Holocaust-related works, will quickly notice that much of what Snyder discusses has already been said before by other authors, and even by Snyder in his earlier books. I generally focus on the new content. Unfortunately, there are many flaws in this book (whence my two-star rating), and I later discuss a few of them

Toward the end of his book, Snyder goes on a rather imaginative excursion, attempting to relate Nazi-style thinking to modern events. His ideas come across as a thinly-veiled attempt to promote an agenda—including his understanding of global warming and gay rights.


Snyder’s views can be summarized as follows, “To characterize Hitler as an anti-Semite or an anti-Slavic racist underestimates the potential of Nazi ideas. His ideas about Jews and Slavs were not prejudices that happened to be extreme, but rather emanations of a coherent worldview that contained the potential to change the world. His conflation of politics and science allowed him to pose political problems as scientific ones and scientific problems as political ones.” (p. 321).


To his credit, Snyder realizes that Polish ambassador Lipski’s pre-WWII admiration of Hitler was in no sense an endorsement of the Holocaust. (p. 356). Hitler was then only envisioning some form of extra-European re-settlement of Jews—something which (not mentioned by Snyder) leading Zionist Jews also contemplated. The physical extermination of the Jews was not even imagined then!

In fact, Snyder adheres to a strongly functionalist interpretation of Holocaust origins. He furthermore contends that the decision to remove Europe’s Jews, with or without their physical extermination, was governed by prevailing events, and that the decision itself was not made until December 1941 or even later. (p. 370).

The author repeats the standard premise about Hitler’s Manichean opinion of Jews, in which the Nazi goal was nothing less than the death of every single Jewish man, woman, and child. (p. 327). (This is a common argument for the elevation of the memory of the Holocaust above that of the genocides of all other peoples.) While there is no rational doubt that the Nazis murdered 5-6 million Jews, the premise of the absoluteness of Nazi enmity towards Jewish existence is incorrect. Even at the height of the Shoah, the Nazi leadership, including Hitler himself, deliberately spared thousands of German Jews, re-labeling them Aryans. Please click on, and read my detailed review, of Hitler's Jewish Soldiers.

To his credit, Snyder does not overlook the Nazi genocidal policies against Slavs, including the systematic murder of a large fraction of Polish intellectuals. He also discusses the Hunger Plan—the planned Nazi German genocide by starvation of tens of millions of Slavs. (p. 21, 194). Only the failure of the Soviet Union to collapse in 1941, as had been expected, ameliorated this genocide to only single-digit millions of Slavs.


Snyder parts ways with the common belief that the degree of the locals’ anti-Semitism is what determined the fraction of the Jewish population that would survive the Shoah. In fact, the correlation between the two was weak at best. (p. 242).

By far the most decisive predictor of Jewish survivorship was the MANNER of Nazi German rule over the European nation. Where the Nazis left the local state apparatus intact, Jewish survivorship averaged 50%. But where the Germans abolished the state apparatus, and ruled directly (as over Poland), Jewish survivorship averaged only about 5%. (pp. 219-220).


Unfortunately, Snyder repeats the oft-repeated misconception that there was no Polish Quisling because the Germans never wanted one. (p. 198). They most certainly did, but the Poles refused to cooperate. Please read my review of Hans Frank's Diary. The author misrepresents the burning of the Jews in a barn, at Jedwabne, as a Polish deed. (p. 161). In actuality, and contrary to media spin, the evidence for responsibility is inconclusive. Pointedly, the investigative Polish commission (IPN, or INSTYTUT PAMIECI NARODOWEJ) was unable to assign an unambiguous role for either Poles or Germans in the barn-burning. [See the latter part of the first Comment under this review.]

Author Timothy Snyder’s overall understanding of the collaboration of locals with the Nazis can benefit from considerable improvement. See the detailed, free online book, PATTERNS OF COOPERATION, COLLABORATION AND BETRAYAL: JEWS, GERMANS AND POLES IN OCCUPIED POLAND DURING WORLD WAR II, by Mark Paul.

In particular, Snyder relies on the rather superficial, and arguably Polonophobic, works of Barbara Engelking-Boni, and Jan Grabowski and his JUDENJAGD, for much of his information on the denunciation of fugitive Jews in German-occupied Poland. (p. 372). For a much more comprehensive and balanced work on the fate of the Jews of Dabrowa County, please click on, and read my detailed English-language review, of Krwawe Upiory (Polish Edition).


In his extensive bibliography, Snyder conspicuously omits every single one of the scholarly works of historian Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, many of which directly address pertinent Holocaust-related issues in considerable detail. This is an inexcusable breach of scholarly objectivity. If Snyder disagrees with Chodakiewicz, he should explain why, and not treat Chodakiewicz as some kind of Orwellian unperson.

It gets worse. In what frankly seems to border on intellectual dishonesty, Snyder, over and over again, refers to what he dismisses as the myth of Judeobolshevism (Zydokomuna). He even tries a 180 degree revisionism of history, which sounds like a caricature of Talmudic casuistry. In an amazing and absurd extension of the “Jews are scapegoats” or even “Jews can do no wrong” standard narrative, Snyder says that those Ukrainians, Balts, and Poles who turned against Jews-as-Communists did so in order to expiate their OWN earlier collaboration with the Soviets. (pp. 155-156, 161, 163). Interestingly and perhaps ironically, Snyder eventually demolishes his own argument when he admits that what he calls double collaboration is not even well studied! (p. 366).

Contrary to Snyder’s repeated statements to the contrary, Judeobolshevism was no myth! In fact, Snyder, in spite of himself, admits the massive over-involvement of Jews in the leadership of the NKVD—the raw instrument of Communist terror. (p. 119). To learn more about the crucial role of Jews in all phases of the Soviet government, and the eventual Soviet-sponsored forced Communization of Poland, all of which led directly to the murder of millions of innocent people, click on the links in the first Comment under this review, and then read my review of those items. From Pinkus’ linked work on the Jews of the USSR, it is also evident that the standard exculpations do not hold. Jewish Communists did remain Jews, and the massive and long-term overrepresentation of Jews in the Soviet apparatus dwarfed the overrepresentation of any other Soviet national minority. In addition to all this, there is now clearly-documented evidence of local Jewish fifth-column activities on behalf of the invading Red Army in 1939. [Again, see the first Comment under the present review.]

What does all this mean? The events at Jedwabne, and environs, had an unambiguous provocation. What about the innocent Jews who perished? Innocence worked both ways. During the Holocaust itself, millions of Jews, indeed most of whom had nothing to do with Communism, were being put to death. Earlier, however, millions of non-Jews, most of whom had never done anything to Jews, had been put to death, in large part thanks to the policies and deliberate acts of the Soviet Jewish Communists. Do THESE victims count at all?


Without mentioning him, the author repeats and embellishes the “Poles feel guilty over acquiring post-Jewish property” delusion of neo-Stalinist Jan T. Gross. (pp. 285-286). [This has the Holocaust Industry written all over it. It is part of the “politics of shame” or “pedagogy of shame”. The only way that Poles can assuage the guilt that they are supposedly repressing, and to “come to terms with the past”, is to pay off those who keep trying to extort “reparations” (actually, tribute) money from Poland.]

Let us now address some elementary facts. It is standard practice for the living to acquire the property of the dead, and for much property to change hands as an outcome of a major war, moreover regardless of nationality. This was particularly true of WWII. There was and is nothing remarkable, much less guilt-producing, about this process.

There is no justice whatsoever with Poland being saddled with financial responsibility for German crimes or the consequences of German crimes. In fact, all financial issues surrounding property restitution have been satisfied by decades of German reparations to Jews, and Poles owe Jews nothing in this regard. See my detailed English-language review of Nie musimy placic Zydom!.

Nor is it true that Poles owe Jews money just because of the (however tiny) Polish complicity in the Holocaust. If it were so, then it would also mean that Jews owe Poles money for all the times that they had been directly complicit in causing Polish deaths through willful Jewish collaboration with Poland’s enemies. Either that, or there exists one standard for Jews and a different standard for everyone else. Does it or doesn’t it?

The professional affiliation of Timothy Snyder is revealing. He is identified as a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. If the reader suspects an agenda, he or she should be forgiven.


The author’s discussion of the 1938 Nazi German sponsored breakup of Czechoslovakia (pp. 93-99) leaves out important information, and contributes to common misunderstandings of this event. The territory which Poland requested, and got, was a tiny border area with a large Polish population, arguably-unfairly grabbed by Czechoslovakia in 1921, and, in any case, comprising less than 1% of the territory of Czechoslovakia. Thus, Poland was not complicit in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia except in the most trivial sense of the word.

Timothy Snyder’s selectively-quoted Polish insinuations about Czechoslovakia being an “artificial creation” and “absurdity”, apart from unfairly failing to disclose the full range of Polish opinions about her southern neighbor, turned out to be prophetic. Even without the impetus of economic depression, war, revolution, or foreign intervention, Czechoslovakia, in 1992, voluntarily dissolved itself, and was replaced by two nations, the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic.
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