Review of "Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning", by Timothy Snyder. 2015. Tim Duggan Books, New York.
Reviewer: Jan Peczkis [© Jan Peczkis 2015]
Some Novel Ideas. Much Old Information. Distortions and Omissions of Important Facts (Elaborated)
The informed reader, familiar with Holocaust-related works, will quickly notice that much of what Snyder discusses has already been said before by other authors, and even by Snyder in his earlier books. I generally focus on the new content. There are also many flaws in this book (whence my three-star rating), and I later discuss a few of them.
Towards the end of his book, Snyder goes on a rather imaginative excursion, attempting to relate Nazi-style thinking to modern events. His ideas come across as a thinly-veiled attempt to promote an agenda—including his understanding of global warming and gay rights.
Snyder’s views can be summarized as follows, “To characterize Hitler as an anti-Semite or an anti-Slavic racist underestimates the potential of Nazi ideas. His 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.” (p. 321).
To his credit, Snyder realizes that Polish ambassador Lipski’s pre-WWII admiration of Hitler was in no sense an endorsement of the Holocaust. (p. 356). Hitler was envisioning some form of extra-European re-settlement of Jews—something which (not mentioned by Snyder) Zionist Jews also contemplated. The physical extermination of the Jews was not even imagined then!
In fact, Snyder adheres to a strongly functionalist interpretation of Holocaust origins. He furthermore contends that the decision to remove Europe’s Jews, with or without their physical extermination, was governed by prevailing events, and that the decision itself was not made until December 1941 or even later. (p. 370).
The author repeats the standard premise about Hitler’s Manichean opinion of Jews, in which the Nazi goal was nothing less than the death of every single Jewish man, woman, and child. (p. 327). (This is supposed to elevate the memory of the Holocaust above that of the genocides of all other peoples.) While there is no rational doubt that the Nazis murdered 5-6 million Jews, the premise of the absoluteness of Nazi enmity towards Jewish existence is incorrect. Even at the height of the Shoah, the Nazi leadership, including Hitler himself, deliberately spared thousands of German Jews, re-labeling them Aryans. See the book, HITLER’S JEWISH SOLDIERS, by Bryan Mark Rigg, and read my review.
To his credit, Snyder does not overlook the Nazi genocidal policies against Slavs, notably Polish intellectuals. He discusses the Hunger Plan—the planned Nazi German genocide by starvation of tens of millions of Slavs. (p. 21, 194). Only the failure of the Soviet Union to collapse in 1941, as had been expected, ameliorated this genocide to only single-digit millions of Slavs.
WHY MANY, OR FEW, LOCAL JEWS SURVIVED
Snyder parts ways with the common belief that the degree of the locals’ anti-Semitism determined the fraction of the Jewish population that would survive the Shoah. In fact, the correlation between the two was weak at best. (p. 242).
By far the most decisive predictor of Jewish survivorship was the kind of Nazi German rule over the European nation. Where the Nazis left the local state apparatus intact, Jewish survivorship averaged 50%. Where the Germans abolished the state apparatus, and ruled directly (as over Poland), Jewish survivorship averaged only about 5%. (pp. 219-220).
POLISH GUILT, PROPERTY RESTITUTION: A RERUN OF JAN T. GROSS
Without mentioning him, the author repeats and embellishes the “Poles feel guilty over acquiring post-Jewish property” delusion of neo-Stalinist Jan T. Gross. (pp. 285-286). [This has the Holocaust Industry written all over it. It is part of the “politics of shame”. The only way that Poles can assuage the guilt that they are supposedly repressing, and to “come to terms with the past”, is to pay off those who keep trying to extort “reparations” (actually, tribute) money from Poland.]
Let us now address some elementary facts. It is standard practice for the living to acquire the property of the dead, and for much property to change hands as an outcome of a major war, moreover regardless of nationality. This was particularly true of WWII. There was and is nothing remarkable, much less guilt-producing, about this process.
SNYDER’S DISTORTIONS OF NAZI COLLABORATION
Unfortunately, Snyder repeats the misconception that there was no Polish Quisling because the Germans never wanted one. (p. 198). They most certainly did, but the Poles refused to cooperate. Please read my review of (Amazon number B0007IVXV0) [Hans Frank’s Diary].
The author misrepresents the burning of the Jews in a barn, at Jedwabne, as a Polish deed. (p. 161). In actuality, and contrary to media spin, the evidence for responsibility is inconclusive. In fact, the investigative Polish commission (IPN, or INSTYTUT PAMIECI NARODOWEJ) was unable to assign an unambiguous role for either Poles or Germans in the barn-burning. [See the first Comment under this review.]
Author Timothy Snyder’s overall understanding of the collaboration of locals with the Nazis can stand considerable improvement. See the detailed, free online book, Patterns of Cooperation, Collaboration and Betrayal: Jews, Germans and Poles in Occupied Poland during World War II, by Mark Paul.
In particular, Snyder relies on the rather superficial, and arguably Polonophobic, works of Barbara Engelking-Boni, and Jan Grabowski and his JUDENJAGD, for much of his information on the denunciation of fugitive Jews in German-occupied Poland. (p. 372). For a much more comprehensive and balanced work on the fate of the Jews of Dabrowa County, please click on, and read my detailed English-language review, of (Amazon number 8385601333) [Krwawe Upiory].
TIMOTHY SNYDER’S OMISSIONS OF IMPORTANT FACTS
In his extensive bibliography, Snyder conspicuously omits every single one of the scholarly works of historian Marek Jan Chodakiewicz, many of which directly address the pertinent issues. This is an inexcusable breach of scholarly objectivity. If Snyder disagrees with Chodakiewicz, he should explain why, and not treat Chodakiewicz as an unperson after the manner of George Orwell’s 1984.
It gets worse. In what frankly seems to border on intellectual dishonesty, Snyder, over and over again, refers to what he dismisses as the myth of Judeobolshevism (Zydokomuna). He even tries a 180 degree revisionism of history, which sounds like a caricature of Talmudic casuistry. In an amazing and absurd extension of the “Jews are scapegoats” or even “Jews can do no wrong” notion, Snyder says that those Ukrainians, Balts, and Poles who turned against Jews-as-Communists did so in order to expiate their OWN earlier collaboration with the Soviets. (pp. 155-156, 161, 163). Interestingly and perhaps ironically, Snyder eventually demolishes his own argument when he admits that what he calls double collaboration is not even well studied! (p. 366).
Contrary to Snyder’s repeated statements to the contrary, Judeobolshevism was no myth. In fact, Snyder, in spite of himself, admits the massive over-involvement of Jews in the leadership of the NKVD—the raw instrument of Communist terror. (p. 119). To learn more about the crucial role of Jews in all phases of the Soviet government, read my detailed review of (Amazon number 0521389267). [The Jews of the Soviet Union]. From this work on the Jews of the USSR, it is also evident that the standard exculpations do not hold. Jewish Communists did remain Jews, and the massive and long-term overrepresentation of Jews in the Soviet apparatus dwarfed the overrepresentation of any other Soviet national minority. As for Poland, there is clear evidence of local Jewish fifth-column activities on behalf of the invading Red Army in 1939. [See the first Comment under the present review.]
What does all this mean? The events at Jedwabne, and environs, had an unambiguous provocation. During the Holocaust itself, millions of Jews, indeed most of whom had nothing to do with Communism, were being put to death. Earlier, however, millions of non-Jews, most of whom had never done anything to Jews, had been put to death, in large part thanks to the policies and acts of the Soviet Jewish Communists. Do THESE victims count at all?
Read my detailed English-language reviews, of the following, on Jewish fifth-column activity on behalf of the 1939 Soviet conquerors of eastern Poland. (Scan the number, paste it in www.amazon.com, hit enter, click on the title that appears, and then read my review of the item.)
Here is what the investigative Polish IPN commission ACTUALLY found about the Jedwabne massacre:
Review of WOKOL JEDWABNEGO, Edited by Pawel Machcewicz and Krzysztof Persak. Introduction by Leon Kieres. 2002, 2 volumes, IPN (Institut Pamieci Narowowej), Warszawa.
Reviewer: Mr. Jan Peczkis
Review Title: Contrary to Media Spin, This IPN Investigation Did Not "Prove Jan T. Gross Right" On Unilateral Polish Guilt at Jedwabne
IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF JEDWABNE is the English-language translation of WOKOL JEDWABNEGO.
I review these two volumes because the results of Poland's IPN (Institute of National Remembrance) investigation have been widely misrepresented and iconized by the media.
Owing to the breadth of the content of these volumes, I focus specifically on the barn burning of Jews, and on questions regarding the credibility of the outcomes of court cases early in Communist rule over Poland. Because so much has already been written about Jedwabne, I strive to draw my own conclusions instead of repeating those of others.
WHAT JAN T. GROSS CLAIMED
In his NEIGHBORS, neo-Stalinist Jan T. Gross had asserted that Poles, acting freely and alone, and with the Germans present only as spectators and photographers, herded the Jews of Jedwabne into a barn and burned them alive. (This is crucial. Gross has tried to backpedal a bit from his original statements.)
WHAT THE IPN INVESTIGATION ACTUALLY FOUND
The fact that the IPN did NOT "prove Gross correct" is evident from the following English-language summary statement by investigator Pawel Machcewicz, (quote) Another controversy surrounds the role of the Germans who were present at Jedwabne on July 10, 1941. The available sources show that there was a total of between ten and twenty German (gendarmes and Gestapo) functionaries. Violence may have been used against the Polish residents, but at the same time, many of the sources suggest it was relatively easy to avoid the role that was being forced on them. The testimonies varied and none of the participants or witnesses could have included all of what had occurred. AS A RESULT, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DETERMINE CONCLUSIVELY JUST WHAT THE GERMAN ROLE ACTUALLY WAS IN THAT LAST, MOST TRAGIC PHASE--THE BURNING ALIVE OF JEDWABNE'S JEWISH RESIDENTS IN THE BARN. The sources present contradictory and imprecise descriptions of the Germans' behavior, and historians' assessments also vary greatly. (unquote). (Volume 1, p. 491; emphasis added. For elaboration, see also Vol. 1, pp. 48-49).
Let us analyze the quoted statement just as it stands. The fact that the German role during the burning of the Jews in the barn "is impossible to determine conclusively" should alone suffice as an acquittal of the Poles. In addition, the fact that German gendarmes and Gestapo "may have used violence" against the Poles, who, in any case, were in a role that was "being forced upon them", alone is conclusive. It soundly refutes Jan T. Gross' contention that the Germans at Jedwabne were there merely as observers and photographers. In addition, the fact that the Poles' role admittedly was "being forced upon them" (easy to escape or not), refutes Gross' accusation that Poles were acting on their own, much less voluntarily!
IS POLAND GUILTY UNLESS PROVEN INNOCENT?
Now consider the fact, acknowledged by Machcewicz (Volume 1, p. 489), that historians have much more freedom to draw conclusions on events than do prosecutors in criminal proceedings. However, we are not here dealing with a matter of abstract academic discourse. Owing to the fact that Poland has been savaged in the media, and Jedwabne is being used against Poland, she is, for all practical purposes, essentially a criminal defendant. According to American law, the defendant does not have to prove innocence: The prosecutor has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Very clearly then, based on the inconclusive responsibility for the barn-burning of Jews, which is obvious from the Machcewicz quote above--and furthermore all based on this IPN study which the media has elevated to EX CATHEDRA--Poland's critics have most certainly NOT proved her guilt anywhere nearly beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, Poland is NOT GUILTY.
WHO LIED? PROVE IT!
In attempting to assess the degree of German coercion of Poles, Machcewicz (Vol. 1, p. 50) contends that the Polish defendants may have lied about German threats in order to reduce their culpability. How are we supposed to determine this? To begin with, the fact that none of the Polish defendants mentions any Germans taking part in the torching of the barn (Vol. 1, p. 50) argues against the Polish defendants inventing German involvement as a means of escaping guilt. On the other hand, if those Poles saying that the Germans threatened them are lying, then why should the investigator believe anything else they say? In any case, insinuations about the defendants lying about German threats cannot merely be stated. They must be proved, and they have not been. Therefore, the statements about German threats stand, and add to the reasonable doubt about Polish guilt.
WHAT POLISH CONSENT?
Incredibly, Machcewicz (Volume 1, p. 50) actually argues that the defendant's statements about successfully fleeing and hiding from the Germans proved the ease of avoiding the killing of Jews. This is an egregious non sequitur. Common sense tells us that, if one is free to act, or at least perceives oneself to be free to act, then one does not run away! If one senses no adverse consequences from one's actions, one does not hide!
Escape is not synonymous with consent! The mere fact that a girl or woman escapes or fights off an attempted sexual assault does not prove that she was in a position to give consent. The whole notion that Poles were in a position of choice regarding the killing of Jews is dubious, even in the event of complete absence of force, or threat of force, by the Germans. The German-Polish relationship was anything but that of colleagues or equals. The German-Polish relationship was unmistakably that of conqueror and conquered, powerful and powerless, UBERMENSCHEN and UNTERMENSCHEN, order-giver and order-fulfiller, etc.
THE GERMAN--NOT POLISH--LEADERSHIP
Machcewicz cites certain defendants who attribute their role in the barn burning to direct orders from Karol Bardon. (Vol. 1, p. 50-51). He was a Volksdeutsche (Polish-speaking German), not native to Jedwabne, who had been appointed town mayor by the Germans. An updated, and English-language, account of the Jedwabne Polish defendants can be found by going to, and reading, the detailed Peczkis review of [[ASIN:1845208250 Facing the Catastrophe: Jews and Non-Jews in Europe during World War II (Occupation in Europe)]].
What about the German-eye view of events? Nothing has been found in the archives that has direct bearing on the murderous events at Jedwabne. (Edmund Dmitrow, Vol. 2, p. 987). Jan T. Gross has argued that this points to solitary Polish guilt. It does no such thing. Gross is engaging in an argument from silence with a vengeance!
OVERLOOKED JEWISH SOURCES
A number of the authors of this investigation elaborate on Jewish sources. It is difficult to disentangle eyewitness accounts from hearsay. There are additional Jewish sources--ones which point to the Germans, and not the Poles, as the main killers of Jedwabne's Jews. Go to [[ASIN:081560839X The Warriors: My Life as a Jewish Soviet Partisan (Religion, Theology, and the Holocaust)]], read the detailed Peczkis review therein, and then click on the link within this review to another such Jewish source and its detailed Peczkis review. These testimonies, especially coming as they are from non-friendly witnesses, further add to the reasonable doubt about Polish guilt.
STALINIST TERROR: HOW COULD THE 1949 TRIALS HAVE BEEN FAIR?
Andrzej Rzeplinski attempts to assess the degree of Communist coercion in the 1949 Jedwabne trial. He notes that defendants claimed to be beaten--a claim he considers unproved, but well within the character of common U. B. (Bezpieka) conduct. (Vol. 1, p. 405). Andrzej Zbikowski (Vol. 1, p. 163) also recognizes the fact that the defendants were coerced and beaten, but would have us believe that this does not matter. Rzeplinski cites several technicalities by which the Jedwabne trials do not constitute Stalinist show trials. However, he admits that the political climate did influence the trial. (Vol. 1, p. 457, 499). What an understatement! How could there have been a semblance of a fair trial in the light of the following: The faked elections that had officially brought the Communists to power, the frequent "disappearances", arbitrary murders, and very frequent arrests and imprisonments?
SCOPE OF THE 1941 "POGROMS" UNDER GERMAN OCCUPATION
How many Poles were actively involved, consensually or non-consensually, in the killing of Jews at Jedwabne? Jan T. Gross claimed "half the town". Prosecutor Radoslaw Ignatiew suggested "at least 40." Based on an analysis of the prosecution, historian Tomasz Strzembosz cited 23. (Machcewicz, Vol. 1, p. 56).
What about other pogroms in the Lomza District? The media-promoted notion that this IPN investigation has demonstrated Polish pogrom conduct at "many places" is shattered by Machcewicz, who comments, "The events in Jedwabne and Radzilow are unusual in the context of other anti-Jewish excesses in the region--not only because of their scale and methods, but also because Poles played an active role there. In most places where such events took place, the Germans' participation is indisputable, and clearly more important than their role in both those towns." (Volume 1, p. 491). [Were Jedwabne and Radzilow unusual because the German role was small, or were they unusual because, of those two locations out of many, the Poles were successfully framed and the Germans happened to be successful in escaping much of the blame?]
"Zegota": Saving the Europe's Jews
ZEGOTA-Council for Aid to Jews in Occupied Poland(1939-1945). ZEGOTA was the only government-sponsored (London-based Polish Government-in-Exile) social welfare agency established to rescue Jews in German-occupied EUROPE.
The Man Who Volunteered for Auschwitz: Captain Witold Pilecki', report provided Allies with detailed information about German atrocities being carried out in Auschwitz Concentration camp.
NSA (National Security Agency): Eavesdropping on Hell: Historical Guide to Western Communications Intelligence and the Holocaust, 1939-1945
The petition by the Polish League Against Defamation:
Ms Agnieszka ODOROWICZ
Director of the Polish Film Institute
Ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 21/23
Warsaw, 18 January 2015
I am writing to you in the name of thousands of Poles, concerned about the impact of the message being delivered by the film “Ida”, the production of which the Institute that you head up has been co-funding.
Recent Oscar-nomination of the film and earlier rave reviews have marked the presence of the film which shall be viewed the world over, often by people that have a faint idea about Poland, a country they may be hearing about for the first time.
Not going in too deeply into the film and its artistic merits (here any opinion would be viewed as subjective) what needs to be said here is that there are two important understatements, which cannot in anyway be justified for any artistic-related reason:
First of all – there is no mention in the film that the parents of the heroine were murdered during the German occupation of Poland, in fact there is no mention at all of Germany in the film !
A viewer who does not know history goes away with the impression, that the murder of Jews in Poland are commonplace and that the historic event referred to as the Holocaust was caused by the Poles.
Secondly – the story portrayed in this film might have occurred, but the authors of the film present the motivation of the murderers of the parents of the heroine in a manner in which foreign viewers might believe a version not in sync with historic fact, i.e., that the murderers motive was to gain profit, while from a Polish perspective the historical context is obvious, i.e., the fear of being discovered for hiding Jews from the Germans.
In summary - from a historical point of view the film is faulted. And again, not going into much detail as to the artistic intent of the film’s authors – its final form of expression is outright anti-Polish. A viewer, not knowing European history, comes away from the film convinced that it was the Poles who murdered |Europe’s Jewish population and stole its property.
This film showing a unique story leads its viewers to a false conclusion and untrue picture of Poland and events around it, during World War 2.
This is why we demand from you to cause the authors of the film to have a frame inserted at the beginning of its screening, showing clearly the following information, that:
1. Poland was under German occupation during the years 1939-1945
2. The German occupying forces pursued a policy of extermination of the Jews.
3. In German Nazi-occupied Poland, the death penalty was in-force against Poles hiding Jews, not only directed at those responsible, but also their families. Despite this penalty threat, many Poles harbored Jews.
4. In this manner, many thousands of Poles were killed sacrificing their lives for their neighbors and fellow citizens of the Republic of Poland – the Jews persecuted by the Nazis.
5. The legal authorities of the Polish Underground State, recognized by the Allies, punished cases of Jewish persecution by Poles that were demoralized by the cruel and ruthless German occupation to the fullest extent possible.
6. The highest Numbers of Righteous Among the Nations, as recognized by Yad Vashem, has been attributed to the Poles.
Since you head up a POLISH cultural institution, I consider it obvious, that this postulate be realized by you.
With kind regards,
President of the Board
The Polish Anti-Defamation League
Tel. 502 733 189