Timothy Snyder takes a fresh historical look at the Holocaust and not only ties together the events and logistics of the time, but also approaches the information with a view on modern day events and ethics. Snyder is an intelligent and careful writer, detailed and fills the book with maps, personal narratives pulled from survivors, participants, documentation and beyond. Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning highlights the Holocaust, obviously a much studied and often discussed event and churns up new information along with a message of caution and raised awareness for citizens of today and the future. The terrible actions as well as the humanitarian acts that were also transpiring during this time in history each carry important lessons on humanity, civility, good and evil. While circumstances and groups have changed, Snyder makes it very apparent that the politics involved in the Holocaust still have undertones in society today and reach far beyond borders and religious and ethnic groups. It is the duty of today’s civilization to ensure that this level of evil never takes place again and it is also a duty to share in humanity and recognize basic human rights that are often overlooked or trampled upon today.
The book is styled in a different manner than many other books about the Holocaust. Hitler is obviously mentioned, but Black Earth does not rehash the often discussed details of his plan or the inner workings of his brain or his circle as the focus. Yes, this information is included, but it seems that Snyder wanted the inclusion merely as a backdrop to explain the politics and show where the direction to commit these terrible deeds came from and why they were completed. Black Earth also shares information from behind Soviet lines, across the European countryside and far beyond. The terrible ramifications of persecution of the Jews and anyone that helped them resonated loudly across the land, yet there were still those that dared to help, ultimately providing the only possible chance at survival. Black Earth delves into the evil of the other side, the participants, many willing and careful in being certain that orders were being followed. It shows how easily humanity can become blind to orders, a secular set of beliefs seen as all powerful, the establishment or prejudice. This evil, as the Holocaust reflects, overpowers the basic innate goodness of humans and raises the question of free will and more. As countryside and states were being ripped apart, so too was any sense of lawfulness or structure as it pertained to the treatment of the Jews.
Timothy Snyder fills the book with a new explanation and vivid historical details, many that the reader may find to be new or undiscovered. Snyder writes a brilliant political book that captures the heart of survivors; these stories of survival show how compassionate members of this torn apart society remained “the righteous few” and were able to help. Snyder’s warning comes for today’s world simply: we must remember the acts of the Holocaust and never think that another event of such magnitude cannot happen. It is up to us to ensure it does not and that society does not repeat the patterns that ultimately led to the Holocaust.
Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.wordpress.com.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Tim Duggan Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.