Tom Snyder’s historical treatment of the Holocaust in Black Earth is haunting. It gets in your mind and comes out in your dreams. Reading the book changes you. The horrors that we want to believe never could happen did, and according to Snyder, they could happen again.
Snyder’s basic premise is that Hitler and the Nazis did not accomplish the horrific murder of millions of Jews by controlling the State and its institutions but rather through the destruction of state institutions in the countries they invaded. In a vacuum of destroyed states and powers, there could be no defense of rights and life. What’s more, Snyder warns that all of this could happen again. Snyder is particularly concerned about climate change and what it may do to world food and water supplies. He warns that such conditions could lead to leaders and peoples seeking scapegoats who could then be the object of attack.
Regarding his basic premise of how the Nazis came to power and carried out the Holocaust, Snyder proves his point. He does not oversimplify what motivated Hitler and how Hitler came to power and used that power to murder millions. It is not the purpose of this review to go into all of Snyder’s points, other than to say that he was thorough in his treatment of the subject.
Snyder taps into the human factor. Snyder does not overwhelm the reader some much with numbers as he does with names. Snyder makes the Holocaust personal. Honestly, how can we begin to understand it without feeling it and without seeing faces and knowing the names with the faces? Snyder does us a great service by making us feel it.
The details come at you like water from a hydrant. I found myself rereading sections in order to make sure I could understand the details of what was taking place. Another weakness is that Snyder does not demonstrate understanding of the dispensational wing of evangelicalism in the two short paragraphs he spent writing about them and their relationship to Israel. Dispensationalism is very complex, and its view of Israel in the End Times is much more nuanced than Snyder seems to recognize.
When Snyder came to the conclusion, I began to wonder if he really meant to write a book about the dangers of climate change. I believe that the switch to a focus on climate change weakened the point about the risk of the destruction of state structures. It is the destruction of states and stateless parts of the world where we are seeing Holocaust-like violence in the world, in places such as Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan and in areas where ISIS and its sympathizers are destroying culture and killing or enslaving innocents. Snyder is right that something like the Holocaust could happen again. However, climate change does not have to be the cause.
For those looking to understand the Holocaust in terms of stark humanity, I highly recommend Black Earth. Just don’t make the mistake I made of reading right before bed.
(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)