Also by this author: Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning
Published by Tim Duggan Books on September 8, 2015
Genres/Lists: Non-Fiction, Political
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
Snyder doesn’t explicitly point out this last part, but his call to heed the warning signs and the fact that this was written before we had a President Trump gave me chills. You see, if you were to ask most people in the years before the Holocaust whether they would turn a blind eye and be complicit, they would have said absolutely not. But fear and the psychological stresses of living under an authoritarian ruler can do strange things, and many chose to stay silent. Interestingly, the majority of people who did help the Jews were those who had been persecuted themselves, for they understood what the repercussions of doing nothing were.
I’m reminded of the following quote by Martin Niemöller
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
This was, in fact, the case and it is happening today. Hitler’s theory, which was, in part, inspired by America’s own Manifest Destiny, required the following (not all-inclusive) components:
Without citizenship and the protections government offers, life becomes a free-for-all. Combined with authoritarian rule, those who are “worthy” are given preference and the desire to remove the “others” leads to unrestrained actions. This was seen not so much in Germany, but more so in the double occupation of Poland.
Someone to Blame
While statelessness drives the actions, the key to fostering discord amongst its “former” citizens requires choosing someone to blame. In Hitler’s time, people envied the American life, where seemingly everyone had cars and houses. So, they were repeatedly told that the reason for this was the Jewish community, who were characterized as corrupt businessmen and so forth. Today, it is immigrants and Muslims who are blamed for our lack of material comforts. We are told that if immigrants stopped taking our jobs and Muslims stopped trying to attack us, we would all be better off. This is, of course, categorically untrue.#BlackEarth reminds us that the Holocaust didn't happen in a vacuum and we must stay vigilant. Click To Tweet
Fear is what takes these two previous concepts and turn them into action. Fear of retaliation is why many chose not to show themselves as helpers. Fear of being murdered or deported is why neighbors turned on neighbors. Fear, and with it self-preservation, helped the Holocaust happen.
Together, these three things gave me a lot to ponder. First, it made me question Trump voters. We hear over and over from many Trump voters that they don’t support racism. This is often countered with the accusation that they condone it with with their vote. I won’t get into whether or not I agree with this assertion, but I will ask this: What if their vote really did have more to do with self-preservation? After all, if your town has deplorable graduation rates, then student loans probably aren’t your issue. If you come from a manufacturing town, then investing in tech is a probably a frightening prospect. If no one in your community has come out as transgendered, then it’s not something that affects you. This NIMBY concept (Not In My Back Yard) isn’t unique to this election, either. We see it all levels of government – everything’s a great idea until it’s happening in your own back yard. All of us strive to self-preserve, but each of us has a different idea of what that means.
That said, many Trump voters do actively hate “others” and see them as the reason for their declining (or lack of) prosperity. This is something else we are being told over and over – immigrants and Muslims are ruining America. Given the events that unfolded prior to the Holocaust, the combination of fear and blaming others is a terrifyingly reality right now. We see it in the violence against synagogues and mosques. We see it in the rhetoric online and on certain partisan news sites. We hear it from the mouths of some of our elected officials. And we hear it in the racist jokes told at the local bar. It is everywhere, but to varying degrees.
Black Earth touches on all of this and more, and this is only a snippet of what can be found in this book. It is a dense read, with a lot of military history and military occupation strategies, but it is an important one for anyone who is worried about our future. The Holocaust did not happen in a vacuum and it is imperative that we remember that.
Recommended for: History fans that fear where we are headed.