Scene at Mauthausen concentration camp in May, 1945. Yale prof Timothy Snyder claims Hitler launched his Final solution to protect European ecological sustainability.
The origins of the Holocaust and global warming are complex but should not be controversial given the historical consensus for the first, and the scientific consensus for anthropogenic origin for the second. Yet time and time again controversies and even pseudo-skepticism have arisen given hard core enclaves of deniers that interject themselves in each case.
Can we not agree that any book, irrespective of its presumed academic cachet, must be considered flawed and egregious if its conclusions upset the Right as well as the Left - while steering a course into nuanced Holocaust revisionism and eliciting Godwin's Law? Such a work is Timothy Snyder’s new book—Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning— a reference to the fertile soil of Ukraine, where Adolf Hitler (in Snyder's mind) hoped to establish lebensraum, or “living space,” for the German race.
Snyder argues, however, that Hitler's yen for living space is predicated not on brute conquest for its own sake as much as the importance of planning for a future quality European ecology. Snyder claims Hitler's fretful concern over adequate space for an enhanced life quality in Europe is therefore what drove his quest for lebensraum. Snyder, for example, asserts that Hitler was inspired in part by the wide-open spaces of the American West, quoting the German leader as complaining, “Neither the current living space nor that achieved through the restoration of the borders of 1914 permits us to lead a life comparable to that of the American people.”
This is a correct paraphrasing of Hitler's words but it misconstrues Hitler's emphasis, which is clearly brought out by German journalist (and Hitler contemporary) Konrad Heiden in his remarkable book, 'Hitler- Das Leben Eines Diktators' (1936). What struck Hitler then, wasn't so much the living space available to Americans (by a fortuitous arc of history) but rather the rigorous application of eugenics in sifting a population to thereby extract the most "superior blood" - the ultimate strength of a nation. Heiden also describes Hitler's thinking in his book, The Fuehrer, p. 257:
"If Germany should get a million children each year and eliminate seven to eight hundred thousand of the weakest, in the end the result would be an increase in power."
Heiden then refers to Hitler's citation of Sparta as the "clearest racial state in history...carrying out these laws systematically"
While Snyder insists the Holocaust was a product of the Reich's need for ecological space, and Jews had to be eliminated to provide it (those in the stateless places of eastern Europe being the primary expendable ones) Heiden's point is that Hitler believed he could attain the "American" eugenic ideal by brutally murdering those he regarded as the weakest, including those seen as a human sub-species: the Jews. Hence, there was no a priori selection of one region's Jews over any others, rather the diffusion of genocide proceeded from Germany itself (beginning with Kristall Nacht) to the progressively conquered nations, starting with the Sudetenland, to Poland, to France, etc. In each newly conquered nation, then, the resident Jews were marginalized, identified and dispatched to camps - their property seized for the Reich's use.
Snyder claims that. "where states were destroyed, Jews were murdered; where the state remained intact, Jews could find some protection in bureaucracies and passports". But this inverts Hitler's actual logic and the basis of the Final Solution via the Sparta model.. In fact, it was the right of Germanic self-determination that Hitler invoked for lebensraum and this led to first identifying where Jews lived, then demolishing the states and all state supports replacing these with Reich laws. As for passports and bureaucracies - these were only feasible if Jews could foresee the Nazi expansion in advance and vacate those soon-to-be conquered states before the Reich subsumed them.
Konrad Heiden, in his book, The Fuehrer, pp. 80-81, explains:
"The idea of self-determination originated in old Austria, where Germans, Hungarians, Italians and Slavs, of different language and nationality, lived under one crown and fought one another bitterly. After the war it became a world slogan. Woodrow Wilson had taken it up, it served as a yardstick for the Peace Of Versailles. To all European nations the same right to self-determination had been granted - except to defeated Germany. Regions inhabited by Germans had been given to other countries by plebiscite, consequently without self-determination - German South Tyrol to Italy, the so-called Sudeten Germans to Czechoslovakia .....and even German-speaking parts of Austria...had been coldly rebuffed.
From the democratic right of self-determination, Hitler forged one of his sharpest and most effective weapons in a struggle for power, whose ultimate aims went for beyond any self-determination. "
Thus did Hitler demand rights of self-determination for the broad "German nation". That is, all those nations stripped of self-determination by the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler also magnified this theme by appeal to the Volkisch movement extant in Germany since the Middle Ages. It extolled a eugenic Aryanism and invested much of it in myths traced back to ancient Nordic origins. It also incorporated Christian rituals, such as the Passion Play at Oberammagau, in which the Jews were featured as "Christ killers". In other words, it was the Volkisch movement - embodied in a cultural anti-Semitism that had gone on for centuries, which Hitler then applied as justification for the Final Solution. (And which he crudely described in Mein Kampf)
Hence, Snyder's claim that the Final Solution was hatched and calibrated "in the stateless regions of Eastern Europe" is pure unadulterated revisionist bunkum. This is a point even emphasized by my late German friend Kurt Braun - also a former Hitler Youth - who had amassed a vast trove of documents on the Third Reich, including films, as well as books on the history of the Volkisch tradition. (Below - Kurt shows a documentary film on the Reichstag fire to us in his Frankfurt, Germany home, in July 1978:
One of the most revelatory parts of the book is Snyder’s diagnosis of Hitler’s warped worldview. In an op-ed for the New York Times on September 12, he writes:
The war that brought Jews under German control was fought because Hitler believed that Germany needed more land and food to survive and maintain its standard of living — and that Jews, and their ideas, posed a threat to his violent expansionist program.
The quest for German domintion was premised on the denial of science. … In Hitler’s “Second Book,” which was composed in 1928 and not published until after his death, he insisted that hunger would outstrip crop improvements and that all “the scientific methods of land management” had already failed. No conceivable improvement would allow Germans to be fed “from their own land and territory,” he claimed. Hitler specifically — and wrongly — denied that irrigation, hybrids and fertilizers could change the relationship between people and land.But Konrad Heiden, also privy to this "second book" doesn't come to that conclusion at all. In fact, Hitler in his existing conquered lands (Holland, Poland, France etc. ) already had more than ample arable land and didn't need that much from the east. Indeed, at the rate he was depopulating Germany of "undesirables" he needed less than before his invasion of Poland.
Another Snyder aberration is his claim that the depiction of Hitler as a supreme German nationalist and prototypical totalitarian is "deeply flawed". Rather, Hitler was a “racial anarchist”—a man for whom states were transitory, laws meaningless, ethics a facade. As Snyder sees it, Hitler believed the only way for the world to revert to its natural order—that of brutal racial competition—was to eradicate the Jews.
Again, Snyder has it backwards. It was Hitler's brutal eugenics program (described by Heiden as modeled after Sparta) that directly led to the eradication of the Jews as UnterMenschen -in the Final Solution. This brutal eugenics based on vigorous racial competition was already regarded by Hitler as part of the Germanic natural (and national) order. Thus, the Volkisch movement was intimately bound up with German self-determination. If indeed, "laws were meaningless" as Snyder claims, Hitler would never have extolled a Spartan-model eugenics state or indeed, a democratic right to self determination or governance, as reflected in the Reich laws - nor used those laws to systematically emulate a "Sparta-type" eugenics state.
The Rightist author goes off half-cocked to bloviate:
There’s only one side of this debate which believes its cause is so just and urgent that it relieves them of the need to observe any standards of decency. There’s only one side which thinks it’s OK to: rig public inquiries, hound blameless people out of their jobs, breach Freedom of Information laws, abuse the scientific method, lie, threaten, bribe, cheat, adopt nakedly political positions in taxpayer-funded academic and advisory posts that ought to be strictly neutral, trample on property rights, destroy rainforests, drive up food prices (causing unrest in the Middle East and starvation in the Third World), raise taxes, remove personal freedoms, artificially raise energy prices, featherbed rent-seekers, blight landscapes, deceive voters, twist evidence, force everyone to use expensive, dim light bulbs, frighten schoolchildren, bully adults, increase unemployment, destroy democratic accountability, take control of global governance and impose a New World Order.Thereby using Snyder's work as a basis to hysterically extrapolate to what? Well, in the link above an analogy to "Hitler" - though this is difficult to reconcile within the context of Snyder's arguments. Thus, if one is aggressively seeking ecological sustainability he'd more be inclined to remove the impediments to it - in 'Black Earth' it's the Jews, but in the modern case it would possibly be the climate deniers. (Who are inhibiting any action on behalf of the rational protection of the planetary ecology by their propaganda and denial.) Interestingly, like many Right conspiracists, he has the "New World Order" mixed up with environmentalism when the NWO actually underscores market Neoliberalism- which is the REAL culprit destroying the planetary ecology. (Climate deniers are more passive culprits.)
My point is the very fact Right wingers can invoke Snyder's work to go ballistic on global warming and climate science itself shows that Snyder has missed the mark by a mile. Because the origin of the Holocaust should not also elicit more huff and puff about global warming! An excerpt from a letter by a Professor of Jewish studies at Marymount University perhaps provides the best insight here, responding to a Snyder WSJ piece distilling his book's content::
"Timothy Snyder's article should be placed alongside of the emerging literature on climate change migration. To conflate this topic with the Holocaust, however, distracts from the topic at hand and does a disservice not only to those who perished in the Holocaust but also to the scholarship on anti-Semitism....Concern for economic scarcity and ecological sustainability do not explain the institutional heinousness to completely eliminate the Jewish population of all of Europe by Nazi Germany."
To that comment I would only add that Snyder's book discloses the danger of selection bias, in this case his preferential eastern European emphasis reflected in his material. (As it was in his earlier work, Blood lands). There seems to be little academics can do to disinfect their treatises in advance of such selection bias, so it is left to the rest of us to call attention to it.