Highlights from Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, by Timothy Snyder

References refer to the page numbers in the kindle version of the book.

In the struggle between you and the world take the side of the world. — Franz Kafka, 1917 86

Every man has a name given by the stars given by his neighbors. —Zelda Mishkovsky, 1974 100

…Without clothing, covered only in mud and in the blood of herself and others, she sought help. She visited one cottage and was turned away, and then a second, and then a third. In the fourth cottage she found help, and she survived. Who lives in the fourth cottage? Who acts without the support of norms or institutions, representing no government, no army, no church? What happens when the encounters in grey, of Jews needing help contacting people with some connection to an institution, give way to simple meetings of strangers, encounters in black? Most Jews most of the time were turned away, and died. When the outside world offered threats but no promises, the few people who acted to rescue Jews often did so because they could imagine how their own lives might be different. The risk to self was compensated by a vision of love, of marriage, of children, of enduring the war into peace and into some more tranquil future. 5278

Many Jews farmed in this part of the world. Whereas Jews in the Russian Empire had been forbidden to own land beyond the towns, Jews in the Habsburg monarchy had been allowed to farm. After the Habsburg monarchy was destroyed by the First World War and Galicia became part of Poland, thousands of Jews continued to till the soil and to raise livestock. The Machlowicz family were among these until the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland. In 1940, the NKVD deported the family as “kulaks,” people who owned too much property. 5288  They had been denounced by a neighbor, who probably got the house as a reward. 5355

1946 as a seventeen-year-old, had this to say about the woman and man who saved her and her mother: “I owe to those people everything, that today I can see the sun and look at people, that I exist and enjoy life and freedom. I don’t know if anyone from my own family would have made such a sacrifice and cared for us, the way that they cared for us and loved us.” 5367

The Great Depression had hit hard and lasted long in this part of the world, separating farmers from markets, turning them back to self-sufficiency. Economics was more about labor than about exchange—about producing enough so that humans and animals could survive the winter to produce again the next summer. There was usually enough manpower to go around; 5405

Hundreds of Jewish children, perhaps a few thousand, survived because peasant families needed labor. Most of them were orphans. 5417 In the end, then, the working farm was a sort of institution, both economic and moral, in which Jewish children could find a place. 5464 Like the bond between mothers and children, or fathers and children, or nannies and children, a farmstead provided a relationship where some Jewish children could fit. Like marriage, the prospect of marriage, or sexual desire, labor could generate an image of the present or the future where someone was missing, where someone was needed, where someone could be added. That someone, sometimes, could be a Jew. 5465

What happened when there were no states, no diplomats, no armies, no churches—and no human need for a relationship, and no way for the Jew in search of shelter to provide anything useful? What happened when there was no discernible human motivation at all, no connection between the personal act of rescue and the world in which it took place, and no vision as to how the Jew might supplement the future of others? Who rescued then? Almost no one. It seems simple: to see a person who is marked for extinction. And yet no human encounter is simple. Every meeting has a setting, partly designed by those who meet, partly designed by others, partly a matter of chance. No historical event, even the Holocaust, is of such a scale as to transcend the inherently specific character of each human interaction. No quantity of meaning, no matter how sincerely ascribed, can void the subjective quality of each meeting. The reasons why people helped or did not help often had to do with something about the first encounter with the Jew who needed their help. Since this was true, Jews sometimes survived when they were able to think, if only for a moment, beyond their own particular suffering and see the encounter from the perspective of the other. 5470

When Jews were ordered to the ghetto in July 1942, the two women decided to spare themselves the intermediate steps, and simply act in such a way that the Germans would kill them. In central Poland, in the Warsaw ghetto, Jews could still be fooled, or fool themselves, about what deportation meant. In places like Volhynia, however, where the public mass murder of Jews had been under way for a year, even false hope was close to impossible. So before the transfer to the ghetto, Cypa and Rywa found a place that was unknown to them, sat down together, cried, and waited for death. 5495 (Someone took them in, a “rebel” of sorts who had sheltered others through each historic upheaval that had come through the area) He did not really seem to see a difference between one sort of rescue and another. Irena told his story but did not betray his name. — Other rescuers, with more conventional ways of being in the world, exhibited a mysterious steadfastness, a silently understood need to remake a corner of the world, to transform the overwhelming difficulty of the task into a kind of normalcy, where the labor and its presentation become something like the preoccupation of an entire personality. A private choreography of warmth and safety defied the exterior social world of cold and doom. 5519  The Bazyli family took in a total of twenty-two Jews, all of whom survived the war. The Teitelmans supplied these facts from Haifa, but like most Jews they had little to say about the motives of those who saved them: “he who wanted to help in those terrible times did help.” From the new world of Israel the Teitelman family wished Bogdan Bazyli “a long and healthy life.” 5544

Wanting to help was not enough. To rescue a Jew in these conditions, where no structure supported the effort and where the penalty was death, required something stronger than character, something greater than a worldview. Generous people took humane decisions, yet still failed. Probably most men and women of goodwill who were able to take the initial risk failed after a month, a week, a day. It was an era when to be good meant not only the avoidance of evil but a total determination to act on behalf of a stranger, on a planet where hell, not heaven, was the reward for goodness. Good people broke. Mina Grycak found a peasant who sheltered her family for months and then finally yielded to the pressure. He first tried to kill the family in a clownish way that was bound to fail, and then threatened to kill himself. Had the war lasted for months rather than for years, his behavior would have been exemplary. The nature of an encounter could end a rescue, just as it could begin one. Abraham Ṡniadowicz and his son stayed with a peasant for two months, and then began to share their place of shelter with two more Jews. They did not tell their host. When the peasant learned of the unannounced arrivals, he told all four Jews to leave. “I must emphasize,” said Abraham, “that this Christian was a very good person.” 5547

It is very hard to speak of the motivations of the men and women who risked their lives to rescue Jews without any anchor in earthly politics and without any hope of a gainful future with those whom they rescued. To be motivated means to be moved by something. To explain a motivation usually means the delineation of a connection between a person and something beyond that person—something that beckons from the world of today, or at least from an imagined future. None of that seems pertinent here. Accounts of rescue recorded by Jews rarely include evaluations of their rescuers’ motivations. What Jewish survivors tend to provide is a description of disinterested virtue. They tend to say, in one way or another, that their rescuers were guided by a sense of humanity that transcended or defied the circumstances. 5558

Agnieszka Wróbel, who herself survived a German concentration camp, rescued several Jews from the Warsaw ghetto, at great risk to herself. Two of the Jews who lived with her wrote long and detailed accounts of her actions, but neither tried to explain how she was capable of such choices and actions. Instead, Bronisława Znider reflected that “the role of people such as Agnieszka Wróbel was not so much that they rescued people from death, but that in the hearts of people who were chased like animals, in the spirits of Jews who were doomed to die, she aroused a bit of hope that not everything good was lost, that there were still a handful of human beings worthy of the name.” 5569

Jews themselves had to take the most exceptional actions if they were to survive, and those who helped them were almost always a large group of people. 5578  Olha’s friends reply in the same conversation: “There were a number of people who helped Jews, and don’t always speak of it.” And this was also true. People who did not rescue Jews claim to have done so, and people who did rescue Jews often keep their peace. There is an unmistakable tendency of rescuers, when they speak at all, towards a certain specific modesty, a diffidence that verges on a general attempt not to answer questions about motivation. When rescuers do say anything at all it is almost always uninteresting: a banality of good that is so consistent across gender, class, language, nation, and generation as to give pause. 5579

…he did not provide grand explanations for what he had done; he said he had simply “acted as a human being 5589

Feliks Cywiński, who helped twenty-six Jews, spoke of a sense of “obligation.” Kazimiera Żuławska recalled a “purely human sense of outrage.” Adam Zboromiski said that he needed to “feel like a human being.” Karolina Kobylec: “That is just the way I am.” 5590

…himself said that his chosen course was nothing at all extraordinary, that it was “normal.” Throughout Europe, this is what rescuers said again and again: that they were behaving normally. “We regarded it as the most normal thing to help those who needed help”—thus the verdict of a Polish family who sheltered two Jews for much of the war. They were not describing the normality that they saw around them, of course. They were not acting as others acted, or following the explicit or implicit prescriptions of those in power. Their sense of normality must have come from within, or from something learned and internalized before the war, since there were few or no external sources of the norms they exemplified. 5597

Miron Lisikiewicz, who rescued Jews, asked: “What is money compared to the life of a human being?” 5614

Emanuel Ringelblum, the chronicler of the Warsaw ghetto, believed that “there is not enough money in the world to make up for the constant fear of exposure.” 5621

(It) would be comforting to believe that people who brought about the death of Jews were behaving irrationally, but in fact they were often following standard economic rationality. The righteous few were behaving in a way that a norm based upon economic calculations of personal welfare would regard as irrational. 5640

If these rescuers had anything in common beyond that, it was self-knowledge. When you know yourself there is little to say. 5646

the “faultless moral instinct and basic human goodness” of the people who chose to help Jews. 5655

The Holocaust began with the idea that no human instinct was moral. Hitler described humans as members of races doomed to eternal and bloody struggle among themselves for finite resources. Hitler denied that any idea, be it religious, philosophical, or political, justified seeing the other (or loving the other) as oneself. He claimed that conventional forms of ethics were Jewish inventions, and that conventional states would collapse during the racial struggle. Throughout Europe, but to different degrees in different places, German occupation destroyed the institutions that made ideas of reciprocity seem plausible. Where Germans obliterated conventional states, or annihilated Soviet institutions that had just destroyed conventional states, they created the abyss where racism and politics pulled together towards nothingness. In this black hole, Jews were murdered. When Jews were saved, it was often thanks to people who could act on behalf of a state or by institutions that could function like a state. When none of the moral illumination of institutions was present, kindness was all that remained, and the pale light of the individual rescuers shone. 5659

If states were destroyed, local institutions corrupted, and economic incentives directed towards murder, few of us would behave well. There is little reason to think that we are ethically superior to the Europeans of the 1930s and 1940s, or for that matter less vulnerable to the kind of ideas that Hitler so successfully promulgated and realized. 5678

A historian must be grateful to Wanda J. for her courage and for the trace of herself that she left behind. But a historian must also consider why rescuers were so few. It is all too easy to fantasize that we, too, would have aided Wanda J. If we are serious about emulating rescuers, we should build in advance the structures that make it more likely that we would do so. Rescue, in this broad sense, thus requires a firm grasp of the ideas that challenged conventional politics and opened the way to an unprecedented crime. 5680

(Hitler’s) ideas about Jews and Slavs were not prejudices that happened to be extreme, but rather emanations of a coherent worldview that contained the potential to change the world. His conflation of politics and science allowed him to pose political problems as scientific ones and scientific problems as political ones. He thereby placed himself at the center of the circle, interpreting all data according to a scheme of a perfect world of racial bloodshed corrupted only by the humanizing influence of Jews. By presenting Jews as an ecological flaw responsible for the disharmony of the planet, Hitler channeled and personalized the inevitable tensions of globalization. The only sound ecology was to eliminate a political enemy; the only sound politics was to purify the earth. Hitler’s merger of science and politics took the name Lebensraum: “habitat” or “ecological niche.” Races needed ever more Lebensraum, “room to live,” in order to feed themselves and propagate their kind. Nature demanded that the higher races overmaster and starve the lower. 5687

At the same time, Lebensraum also meant “living room,” with the connotations of comfort and plenty in family life. The desire for pleasure and security could never be satisfied, thought Hitler, since Germans based their consumer desires upon their perceptions of the American way of life. Because standards of living were always subjective and relative, the demand for pleasure was insatiable. Lebensraum thus brought together two claims: that human beings were mindless animals who always needed more, and jealous tribes who always wanted more. It confused lifestyle with life itself, generating survivalist emotions in the name of personal comfort. 5696

The invisible forces of the world are not conspiring (against) Jews, but physical, chemical, and biological regularities that we are ever more capable of describing. 5702

This worldview also compressed time. There was no history for Hitler: only a timeless pattern of Jewish deception and the useful models of British and American imperialism. There was also no future as such: just the unending prospect of the double insatiability of need and want. By combining what seemed like the pattern of the past (racial empire) with what seemed like an urgent summons from the future (ecological panic), Nazi thinking closed the safety valves of contemplation and foresight. If past and future contained nothing but struggle and scarcity, all attention fell upon the present. A psychic resolve for relief from a sense of crisis overwhelmed the practical resolve to think about the future. Rather than seeing the ecosystem as open to research and rescue, Hitler imagined that a supernatural factor—the Jews—had perverted it. Once defined as an eternal and immutable threat to the human species and the whole natural order, Jews could be targeted for urgent and extraordinary measures. 5721

The 1941 invasion of the USSR threw millions of Germans into a war of extermination on lands inhabited by millions of Jews. This was the war that Hitler wanted; the actions of 1938, 1939, and 1940 were preparation and improvisation, generating experience in the destruction of states. The course of the war on the eastern front created two fundamental political opportunities. At first, the zoological portrayal of Slavs justified the elimination of their polities, creating the zones where the Holocaust could become possible. 5729

Lebensraum unified need with want, murder with convenience. It implied a plan to restore the planet by mass murder and a promise of a better life for German families. Since 1945, one of the two senses of Lebensraum has spread across most of the world: a living room, the dream of household comfort in consumer society. The other sense of Lebensraum is habitat, the realm that must be controlled for physical survival, inhabited perhaps temporarily by people characterized as not quite fully human. In uniting these two passions in one word, Hitler conflated lifestyle with life. For the vision of a well-stocked cupboard people should endorse the bloody struggle for other people’s land. Once standard of living is confused with living, a rich society can make war upon those who are poorer in the name of survival. Tens of millions of people died in Hitler’s war not so that Germans could live, but so that Germans could pursue the American dream in a globalized world. 5752

World grain production per capita peaked in the 1980s. In 2003, China, the world’s most populous country, became a net importer of grain. In the twenty-first century, world grain stocks have never exceeded more than a few months’ supply. During the hot summer and droughts of 2008, fires in fields led major food suppliers to cease exports altogether, and food riots broke out in Bolivia, Cameroon, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, the Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Mozambique, Senegal, Uzbekistan, and Yemen. In 2010, the prices of agricultural commodities spiked again, leading to protests, revolution, and ethnic cleansing in the Middle East. The civil war in Syria began after four consecutive years of drought drove farmers to overcrowded cities. Indirectly, and alongside other causes, climate change brings violence and south-to-north migration, which strengthens the European far right, and challenges European integration. 5767

Richer societies may again become concerned about future supplies. Their elites could find themselves once again facing choices about how to define the relationship between politics and science. As Hitler demonstrated, merging the two opens the way to ideology that can seem to both explain and resolve the sense of panic. In a scenario of mass killing that resembled the Holocaust, leaders of a developed country might follow or induce panic about future shortages and act preemptively, specifying a human group as the source of an ecological problem, destroying other states by design or by accident. There need not be any compelling reason for concern about life and death, as the Nazi example shows, only a momentary conviction that dramatic action is needed to preserve a way of life. 5774

It seems reasonable to worry that the second sense of the term Lebensraum, seeing other people’s land as habitat, is latent. In much of the world, the dominant sense of time is coming to resemble, in some respects, the catastrophism of Hitler’s era. 5780

In vernacular media—films, video games, and graphic novels—the future is presented as post-catastrophic. Nature has taken some revenge that makes conventional politics seem irrelevant, reducing society to struggle and rescue. The earth’s surface grows wild, humans go feral, and anything is possible. 5786

Hitler the thinker was wrong that politics and science are the same thing. Hitler the politician was right that conflating them creates a rapturous sense of catastrophic time and thus the potential for radical action. When an apocalypse is on the horizon, waiting for scientific solutions seems senseless, struggle seems natural, and demagogues of blood and soil come to the fore. A sound policy for our world, then, would be one that keeps the fear of planetary catastrophe as far away as possible. This means accepting the autonomy of science from politics, and making the political choice to support the pertinent kinds of science that will allow conventional politics to proceed. 5788

Rwanda is an artifact of Europe’s scramble for Africa in general and of German East Africa in particular. The division of its population into Hutu and Tutsi clans was the typical European method of rule: to favor one group in order to govern another. 5828

Mass killing in Rwanda provides an example of a political response to ecological crisis on a national scale. The exhaustion of the country’s arable land in the late 1980s was followed by an absolute decline in crop yields in 1993. The government recognized overpopulation as a problem and was accordingly seeking ways to export its own people to neighboring countries. It faced a political rival associated with the Tutsis whose invasion plans involved the redistribution of precious farms. 5833

The government’s policy of encouraging Hutus to kill Tutsis in spring 1994 was most successful where there were land shortages. People who wanted land denounced their neighbors. Perpetrators said that they were motivated by the desire to seize land and by the fear that others would do so before them. During the campaign of killing, Hutus did indeed kill Tutsis, but when no Tutsis were available Hutus also killed other Hutus—and took their land. Because Tutsis had been favored by the colonial powers, Hutus who killed them could cloak themselves in a myth of colonial liberation. Between April and July 1994, at least half a million people were murdered. 5837

The starvation in Somalia and the mass killing in Rwanda are dreadful suggestions of what climate change might bring to Africa. The first exemplifies death brought directly by climate, and the second, racial conflict brought by the interaction of climate and political creativity. The future might hold the third and most fearsome possibility: an interaction between local scarcity and a colonial power capable of extracting food while exporting global ideology. Even as Africans themselves struggle for access to arable soil and potable water, their continent presents itself as the solution to the food security problems of Asians. The combination of weak property rights, corrupt regimes, and one half of the world’s untilled soil has placed Africa at the center of Asian food security planning. The United Arab Emirates and South Korea have tried to control large swathes of Sudan. They have been joined by Japan, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia in consistent efforts to buy or lease agrarian terrain in Africa. A South Korean company has tried to lease half of Madagascar. 5842

In some respects, China might be in a worse position now than Germany was in the 1930s. Its supply of arable soil per person is about forty percent of the world average, and is diminishing at a rate of about a million hectares per year. The Chinese people have experienced mass hunger. The Second World War and the succeeding civil war in China brought starvation to millions of people. A decade after the victory of the communists, the famine caused by Mao’s Great Leap Forward of 1958–1962 killed tens of millions of people. 5853

The same Chinese communist party that starved its own people during its revolutionary phase still rules the country. Since it is responsible both for past famine and for future plenty, it is hugely sensitive to food supplies. This can be seen in the market-distorting purchases of agricultural commodities whenever global supply seems threatened. It is improbable that China, given its growing wealth, will actually run out of food. Much more likely are overreactions to momentary anxieties that punish peoples beyond China. Regardless of whether large numbers of Chinese are actually threatened with physical hunger, the politics of national prosperity will tend towards decisive international action when a sense of threat emerges. 5860

The Chinese leadership has described Africa as a source of needed resources, including food. Chinese authorities demonstrated during the climate-related civil war that began in Sudan in 2003 that they would support mass murderers when doing so seemed to serve their investments. In Sudan, drought drove Arabs southward into the lands of African pastoralists. The Sudanese government sided with the Arabs and designed a policy to eliminate the Zaghawa, Masseleit, and Fur peoples as such. This Sudanese government was armed by China and Russia. China also faces a shortage that was unheard of in the 1930s: potable water. Climate change seems to intensify the water cycle, bringing more droughts as well as more floods. 5868

Close to a billion people worldwide lack the half gallon a day needed for drinking, and more than two billion lack the five gallons a day needed for hygiene. In the twenty-first century, people have rioted for water not only in China but in Bolivia, India, Kenya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan. China disposes of only about a third as much freshwater per person as the global average, and much of it comes from glaciers that are melting away in the warming air. Half of Chinese freshwater and about twenty percent of Chinese groundwater are already polluted beyond potability. By 2030, Chinese demand for water will likely be close to twice the current supply. It is quite possible, of course, that China, or at least its more prosperous citizens, will be able to afford desalination of seawater in the future as technology improves. Less peaceful approaches 5873

As time passes, Beijing might look to Siberian water, just as it now looks to Siberian natural gas and oil. Beijing’s preferred method of control, in Russia as in Africa, has been legal contracts on terms advantageous to itself. Russian leaders, like African ones, have been amenable to this form of submission. 5883

None of these Chinese scenarios is inevitable. China’s preoccupations resemble those of interwar Germany, but Chinese leaders do not exhibit Hitler’s unusual opposition to scientific solutions. Whereas Hitler opposed the agricultural science that eventually resolved any sense of ecological panic in Germany, Chinese authorities fund the energy research that could slow climate change and thus lessen concern about food and water. Beijing has invested in solar, wind, fission, and fusion energy, and has committed itself to reaching voluntary targets for greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Because it imports rather than exports natural gas and oil, China has no powerful domestic constituencies that oppose alternative forms of energy. 5889 At the same time, Chinese engineers are also developing and implementing technical solutions that slow climate change, thereby reducing the risk of these and other possible future conflicts. 5895

Gifted Russian thinkers, novelists, artists, and filmmakers have presented diverse and arresting images of human decadence and downfall. Like a century ago, when Russia was riven by revolution and counterrevolution, the Russian political class surpasses any of its neighbors in formulating and transmitting catastrophist ideology. In a new Russian colonialism that began in 2013, Russian leaders and propagandists imagined neighboring Ukrainians out of existence or presented them as sub-Russians. In characterizations that recall what Hitler said about Ukrainians (and Russians), Russian leaders described Ukraine as an artificial entity with no history, culture, and language, backed by some global agglomeration of Jews, gays, Europeans, and Americans. In the Russian war against Ukraine that this rhetoric was meant to justify, the first gains were the natural gas fields in the Black Sea near the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. The fertile soil of mainland Ukraine, its black earth, makes it a very important exporter of food, which Russia is not. 5901

President Vladimir Putin of Russia developed a foreign policy doctrine of ethnic war. This argument from language to invasion, whether pressed in Czechoslovakia by Hitler or in Ukraine by Putin, undoes the logics of sovereignty and rights and prepares the ground for the destruction of states. It transforms recognized polities into targets of willful aggression, and individuals into ethnic objects whose putative interests are determined from abroad. Putin also placed himself at the head of populist, fascist, and neo-Nazi forces in Europe. 5910

The EU not only embodies a tradition of learning from the Second World War, it also supports sensible climate policies and bolsters the sovereignty of small states. Its collapse would thus weaken the structures that separate the Europeans of today from a history of mass killing. While supporting politicians who blame global Jews for planetary problems and applying techniques of state destruction, Moscow generated a new global scapegoat—the homosexuals. The new Russian idea of a “gay lobby” responsible for the decadence of the world makes no more sense than the old Nazi idea of a “Jewish lobby” responsible for the same, but such an ideology is now at large in the world. 5916

Just as the purpose of alliance with Hitler in 1939 was supposed to turn the most radical force in Europe against Europe itself, so Russian support of the European Far Right is meant to disrupt and disintegrate the most peaceful and prosperous order of the early twenty-first century—the European Union. In 2014 and 2015, Putin rehabilitated the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that began the Second World War and created some of the preconditions for the Holocaust. 5925

Thanks in large measure to Moscow, state destruction and the construction of planetary enemies have returned to vogue in Europe. In the Middle East, states tend to be weak, and Islamic fundamentalists have long presented Jews, Americans, and Europeans as planetary enemies. 5930

The Russian anti-gay campaign, which associates European and American power with the hidden hand of the gay international, was targeted to the Muslim world as well as to domestic constituencies. These forms of counterglobal thinking increase the possibility that particular groups can be blamed for planetary phenomena. In large parts of the world, hundreds of millions of Muslims are likely to face, as a result of climate change, a collapse of possibilities for life that will have no local explanation. Places that contribute almost nothing to climate change are battered by its consequences. Bangladesh, a Muslim country with half the population of the United States, is wracked by storms and floods exacerbated by the rising seas. In Libya, by contrast, the annual drought is expected to lengthen from one hundred to two hundred days. The people of Egypt depend upon the Nile, which runs four thousand miles through desert before it reaches Cairo. Forces beyond the control of Egyptians have made ours a planet where the Nile can run dry. 5932

Israelis drink from aquifers under the occupied territories. Although Israel has the military and technological capacity to protect its population from the consequences of climate change, the continuing desertification of the Middle East might generate both regional conflict and the demand for scapegoats. In a Middle Eastern war for resources, Muslims might blame Jews for both local problems and the general ecological crisis; that was, after all, Hitler’s approach. 5944

The destruction of European states in the 1930s was a precondition to all of the major Nazi crimes, including the Holocaust itself. 5950

Franklin D. Roosevelt sent racially segregated armed forces to liberate Europe. Antisemitism was prominent in the United States at the time. The Holocaust was largely over by the time American soldiers landed in Normandy. Although they liberated some concentration camps, American troops reached none of the major killing sites of the Holocaust and saw none of the hundreds of death pits of the East. The American trial of guards at the Mauthausen concentration camp, like the British trial at Bergen-Belsen, reattributed prewar citizenship to the Jewish victims. This helped later generations to overlook the basic fact that denial of citizenship, usually by the destruction of states, was what permitted the mass murder of Jews. (kindle p. 5983) Mass killings generally take place during civil wars or regime changes. It was the deliberate policy of Nazi Germany to artificially create conditions of state destruction and then steer the consequences towards Jews. Destroying states without such malign intentions produces more conventional disasters. A misunderstanding about the relationship between state authority and mass killing underlay an American myth of the Holocaust that prevailed in the early twenty-first century: that the United States was a country that intentionally rescued people from the genocides caused by overweening states. Following this reasoning, the destruction of a state could be associated with rescue rather than risk. To be sure, the United States contributed to the destruction of regimes in Germany and Japan in 1945. But it also undertook to rebuild state structures. 5987

The invasion of Iraq killed at least as many people as did the prior Iraqi regime. It exposed the members of the Iraqi ruling party to religious cleansing and prepared the way for chaos throughout the country. The American invaders eventually sided with the political clan they had initially defeated, so desperate were they to restore order. This permitted a troop withdrawal, which was then followed by Islamist uprisings. More than a million Iraqi refugees fled to Syrian cities. The destruction of the Iraqi state in 2003 and the political disturbances brought by the hot summer of 2010 created the space for the terrorists of the Islamic State in 2014. A common American error is to believe that freedom is the absence of state authority. The genealogy of this confusion leads us back to the Germany and the Austria of the 1930s. 5997

The dominant stereotype of Nazi Germany is of an all-powerful state that catalogued, repressed, and then exterminated an entire class of its own citizens. This was not how the Nazis achieved the Holocaust, nor how they even thought about it. The enormous majority of the victims of the Holocaust were not German citizens; Jews who were German citizens were much more likely to survive than Jews who were citizens of states that the Germans destroyed. The Nazis knew that they had to go abroad and lay waste to neighboring societies before they could hope to bring their revolution to their own. Had Hitler been assassinated in 1939, as he almost was, Nazi Germany would likely be remembered as one fascist state among others. Not only the Holocaust, but all major German crimes took place in areas where state institutions had been destroyed, dismantled, or seriously compromised. The German murder of five and a half million Jews, more than three million Soviet prisoners of war, and about a million civilians in so-called anti-partisan operations all took place in stateless zones. The crime of the Holocaust was unprecedented in that it was the only such attempt to remove an entire people from the planet by way of mass murder. Yet in a certain respect Nazi Germany as a regime confirms everything that we know from decades of research on mass killing. On the one hand, social scientists have shown that ethnic cleansing and genocide tend to follow state collapse, regime changes, and civil war. 6004

(People killed) on these communist regimes the populations were not citizens in the traditional sense, since the party was the politically decisive instance, and could ordain that killing was required by the logic of history. These systems killed almost entirely their own citizens, almost exclusively on their own territory. Nazi Germany united these two logics of death, synthesizing order and chaos to produce the single most murderous outburst in human history. It was party-state that artificially generated state collapse in other countries, thereby creating a zone beyond its own prewar borders where a Holocaust was possible. Since the Holocaust is an axial event of modern history, its misunderstanding turns our minds in the wrong direction. When the Holocaust is blamed on the modern state, the weakening of state authority appears salutary. 6016

In the twenty-first century, anarchical protest movements join in a friendly tussle with global oligarchy, in which neither side can be hurt since both see the real enemy as the state. Both the Left and the Right tend to fear order rather than its destruction or absence. The common ideological reflex has been postmodernity: a preference for the small over the large, the fragment over the structure, the glimpse over the view, the feeling over the fact. On both the Left and the Right, postmodern explanations of the Holocaust tend to follow German and Austrian traditions of the 1930s. As a result, they generate errors that can make future crimes more rather than less likely. 6023

(The Frankfurt School?) opposed all universalisms as façades for mastery in general. The murder of Jews, they claimed, was just one instance of the general intolerance for variety that was inherent in attempts to inform politics with reason. It is hard to overstate the depth and significance of this error. Hitler was not a supporter of the Enlightenment but its enemy. He did not champion science but conflated nature with politics. On the Right, the dominant explanation of the Holocaust can be called the Vienna School.

Followers of the Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek claim that the overweening welfare state led to National Socialism, and thus prescribe deregulation and privatization as the cure for political evil. This narrative, though convenient, is historically indefensible. There has never been a democratic state that built a social welfare system and then succumbed to fascism (or communism) as a result. What happened in central Europe was rather the opposite. Hitler came to power during a Great Depression which had spread around the world precisely because governments did not yet know how to intervene in the business cycle. Hayek’s homeland Austria practiced capitalism according to the free-market orthodoxies of the time, with the consequence that the downturn was awful and seemingly endless. The oppression of Austrian Jews began not as the state grew, but as it collapsed in 1938. 6034

In an extreme version of market utopianism, which Hayek himself opposed, the Vienna School merges with the thought of Ayn Rand. She believed that competition was the meaning of life itself; Hitler said much the same thing. Such reductionism, although temptingly elegant, is fatal. If nothing matters but competition, then it is natural to eliminate people who resist it and institutions that prevent it. For Hitler, those people were Jews and those institutions were states. 6047

If people do not take responsibility for the climate themselves, they will shift responsibility for the associated calamities to other people. Insofar as climate denial hinders technical progress, it might hasten real disasters, which in their turn can make catastrophic thinking still more credible. A vicious circle can begin in which politics collapses into ecological panic. The direct consequences of climate change will reach America long after Africa, the Near East, and China have been transformed. By then, it will be too late to act.

The popular notion that free markets are natural is also a merger of science and politics. The market is not nature; it depends upon nature. The climate is not a commodity that can be traded but rather a precondition to economic activity as such. The claim of a “right” to destroy the world in the name of profits for a few people reveals an important conceptual problem. Rights mean restraint. Each person is an end in himself or herself; the significance of a person is not exhausted by what someone else wants from him or her. Individuals have the right not to be defined as parts of a planetary conspiracy or a doomed race. They have the right not to have their homelands defined as habitat. They have the right not to have their polities destroyed. When states are absent, rights—by any definition—are impossible to sustain. States are not structures to be taken for granted, exploited, or discarded, but are fruits of long and quiet effort. It is tempting but dangerous to gleefully fragment the state from the Right or knowingly gaze at the shards from the Left. 6066

The claim that order is freedom or that freedom is order ends in tyranny. The claim that freedom is the lack of order must end in anarchy—which is nothing more than tyranny of a special kind. The point of politics is to keep multiple and irreducible goods in play, rather than yielding to some dream, Nazi or otherwise, of totality. 6081

A final plurality thus has to do with time. When we lack a sense of past and future, the present feels like a shaky platform, an uncertain basis for action. The defense of states and rights is impossible to undertake if no one learns from the past or believes in the future. Awareness of history permits recognition of ideological traps and generates skepticism about demands for immediate action because everything has suddenly changed. Confidence in the future can make the world seem like something more than, in Hitler’s words, “the surface area of a precisely measured space.” Time, the fourth dimension, can make the three dimensions of space seem less claustrophobic. 6089

Confidence in duration is the antidote to panic and the tonic of demagogy. A sense of the future has to be created in the present from what we know of the past, the fourth dimension built out from the three of daily life. In the case of climate change, we know what the state can do to tame panic and befriend time...6093

States should invest in science so that the future can be calmly contemplated. The study of the past suggests why this would be a wise course. Time supports thought, thought supports time; structure supports plurality, and plurality, structure. This line of reasoning is less glamorous than waiting for general disaster and dreaming of personal redemption. Effective prevention of mass killings is incremental and its heroes are invisible.  No conception of a durable state can compete with visions of totality. No green politics will ever be as exciting as red blood on black earth. But opposing evil requires inspiration by what is sound rather than by what is resonant. The pluralities of nature and politics, order and freedom, past and future, are not as intoxicating as the totalitarian utopias of the last century. Every unity is beautiful as image but circular as logic and tyrannical as politics. The answer to those who seek totality is not anarchy, which is not totality’s enemy but its handmaiden. The answer is thoughtful, plural institutions: an unending labor of differentiated creation. This is a matter of imagination, maturity, and survival. 6102

We share Hitler’s planet and several of his preoccupations; we have changed less than we think. We like our living space, we fantasize about destroying governments, we denigrate science, we dream of catastrophe. If we think that we are victims of some planetary conspiracy, we edge towards Hitler. If we believe that the Holocaust was a result of the inherent characteristics of Jews, Germans, Poles, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, or anyone else, then we are moving in Hitler’s world. 6110

Understanding the Holocaust is our chance, perhaps our last one, to preserve humanity. That is not enough for its victims. No accumulation of good, no matter how vast, undoes an evil; no rescue of the future, no matter how successful, undoes a murder in the past. Perhaps it is true that to save one life is to save the world. But the converse is not true: saving the world does not restore a single lost life. The family tree of that boy in Vienna, like that of all of the Jewish children born and unborn, has been sheared at the roots: “I the root was once the flower / under these dim tons my bower / comes the shearing of the thread / death saw wailing overhead.” The evil that was done to the Jews—to each Jewish child, woman, and man—cannot be undone. Yet it can be recorded, and it can be understood. Indeed, it must be understood so that its like can be prevented in the future. That must be enough for us and for those who, let us hope, shall follow. 6115