Inside the head of Hitler it is very dark and eerie, and no one should want to go there. Timothy Snyder, in a very large format, brings the reader face-to-face with the very twisted and corrupt (as well as mad) mind of Hitler whose name alone carries with it connotations of hell itself. But Snyder also reminds us of an important fact; that Hitler and the Nazis are not the only contributors to the holocaust, the air having been so permeated with anti-Semitism to begin with (and certainly not only in Germany). The silence of many religious institutions contributed to this horror as Christians, politically-powerful and influential (and great in numbers) stood idle and watched, some even cheering, the destruction of the innocent. As Snyder writes, “Much of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church , in Poland as elsewhere in Europe, continued to explain that Jews were responsible for the evils of modernity in general and communism in particular” (p. 70). The holocaust to some, then, was not a horror but a relief.
Snyder writes very matter-of-factly and in a “textbook” format, Black Earth leaning towards being a heavier read. Noting that though the Jews were definitely seen by Hitler as the lowest of the low, they were certainly not the only ones to suffer. He writes of one “Erich Koch, chosen by Hitler to rule Ukraine, [who] made the point about the inferiority of Ukrainians with a certain simplicity: “If I find a Ukrainian who is worthy to sit with me at table, I must have him shot”” (p. 18).
The author makes the argument that Hitler was not in fact a nationalist but simply played on the high nationalism of his day in Germany, “his fellow Germans [being] of interest [to him] only insofar as they could be rallied to join a mindless war for future racial prosperity” (p. 33). Hitler viewed the Jew as the root of all evil, a view that was popular in that day, although Hitler added his own unique twist to such a notion (see p. 5, Introduction). Snyder informs us that to Hitler the Jew could be likened to the deceptive and cunning serpent in Eden who ruined it for humanity, Jews themselves not having a part in humanity since they were a “nonrace” (p. 4) or a “counterace” (p. 5). Hitler’s tendency towards paranoia is made evident throughout the many pages of Black Earth as is his sole reason for living and breathing which is to destroy the Jew.
Who is this for?
As someone who has not studied the Holocaust in depth I found Snyder’s book very informative. I believe it’s a great resource to have at at hand to simply reference to. It could serve as an introduction to the Holocaust for some though the reader should take into consideration that the book is both extremely long as well as a heavy read. But, if you enjoy reading historical books that are more dense as well as matter-of-factly, this may be one you’ll enjoy.
*I received my copy of Black Earth from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest assessment.