Dealing With Hitler

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning has received exceptional attention and nearly universal praise.  Prof. Timothy Snyder’s knowledge of the holocaust is almost encyclopedic.  This is his second large book devoted to the horrible history of much of Eastern Europe during World War II.  His main inquiry and subject is what happened to the Jewish population of Poland (a country whose history and language he knows well) and also that of the Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.  It ends with a survey of what happened to Jews in almost all other countries of Europe.  Above his scholarship floats a cloud of moral concern—that a satanic chapter of history be remembered, lest we forget that something like it just may happen again.

His main contribution is his corrective emphasis on how and when the holocaust took place in that portion of Eastern Europe during World War II.  Let me begin with something obvious.  Elements of antisemitism or Judeophobia existed just about everywhere in German-occupied Europe from 1938 to 1945.  But a holocaust as such, meaning the murdering of a vast majority of the existing Jewish population, is mainly applicable to Poland, the Ukraine, and the Baltic countries.  A more important distinction, customarily overlooked or insufficiently known, is that Auschwitz, with its gas ovens, was not where...

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