Many books have been written about the political factors leading up to WWII and the Holocaust, but The Black Earth is remarkable in the way it pulls history, social conditions, and political theory together to create a picture of the factors allowing the Holocaust to happen.
One factor was Hitler's severe racial hatred. His plan was always to exterminate the Jews. Another was the destruction of the identity of the state in areas like Poland and Eastern Europe. When the state was dissolved, citizens lost their identity as members of the larger group, and there was no organization to protect them. Snyder recounts the history of how this came about as part of Hitler's plan and the devastating consequences.
However, the book also has a hopeful section. The author recounts numerous stories of non-Jews hiding Jews, or helping them escape. It reinforces the idea that people to people contact is important in enabling people of all political and religious groups to show compassion to those in need.
The final chapter is something I believe everyone should read. We like to think we have put the Holocaust behind us, but there are factors in the world today which could tip the balance and return the world to something resembling that terrible time. When people fear global catastrophe, they can become rapacious trying to secure their own survival with radical action and become less amenable to political solutions. It's something for all of us to think about.
I highly recommend this book. It puts into perspective much of what led to the Holocaust and cautions us against complacency.
I reviewed this book for Net Galley.