A prominent historian brings the Holocaust under new scrutiny and wonders if the right confluence of modern forces could bring genocide back.
Snyder (History/Yale Univ.) polarized academics and other experts on the Holocaust with his study Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (2010), and he largely continues that line of thinking here as he attempts to contextualize the events that led up to the systematic extermination of 6 million Jews. The author argues that Hitler saw the world in terms of a twisted kind of ecology, one in which he saw Jews as a mistake to be removed. He also glances off the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism, the mistaken concept that Jews were behind the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, but he admits that there's no excuse for claims of ignorance of these graphic events. “What happened in the second half of 1941 was an accelerating campaign of murder that took a million Jewish lives and apparently convinced the German leadership that all Jews under their control could be eliminated,” Snyder writes. “This calamity cannot be explained by stereotypes of passive or community Jews, of orderly or preprogrammed Germans, of beastly or antisemitic locals, or indeed by any other cliché, no matter how powerful at the time, or how convenient today. It would have been impossible without a special kind of politics.” In addition to probing the intellectual origins of the Final Solution, the author also offers thoughtful portrayals of Jews who survived execution and how institutions and states, as well as specific individuals, were crucial in these rescues. Snyder argues that the Holocaust should stand as a warning for our own future, but his conclusion is rather tepid in its analysis, with simplistic pronouncements that “our forgetfulness convinces us that we are different from Nazis by shrouding the ways that we are the same.”
A scholarly examination that poses important questions but ultimately offers less in the way of original reportage than Nikolaus Wachsmann’s KL (2015).