Timothy Snyder (2015) Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.

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We think we know the bare bones of the history of the holocaust. Hitler as bogey man and the German nation following him to the abyss, where around six million Jews perished and many more minorities. That was my take on it. Not bad, around a D grade. But Snyder does more than root in the history of the past. He drags us into the present and the lessons are illuminating.

For the German nation the war was portrayed as necessary, a colonial war to maintain food supplies, a war against the inferior Slavic nations, or ‘shitty countries’ are our friend President Trump termed them.  But when Lebensraum came unstuck at Leningrad and the Red Army began to roll back German colonial gains the genocidal war against Jews continued and grew even more intense.

‘The Auschwitz Paradox’ the complex of Treblinka, Belzac, Sobibor and Chelmno was a factory in which people were murdered for being the wrong type of people. The gas chambers also stood as a metonym for the evil of a racial policy of mass murder and genocide, but most of the killing had already taken place further East,

‘where tens of thousands of Germans shot millions of Jews over hundreds of death pits over the course of three years, most people knew what was happening. Hundreds of thousands of Germans witnessed the killings, and millions of Germans on the eastern front knew about them…German homes were enriched, millions of times over, by plunder from the murdered Jews, sent by post or brought back by soldiers and policemen on leave’.

Auschwitz processed a lie of left and right, separating the living and dead effectively, and more importantly it allowed a generation of Germans to say they didn’t know. It also allowed the Russians to act as liberators when earlier they had played a large part in the murder of Jews and other Slavic nationals.

The key to survival, then as now was citizenship. Jews in Denmark, for example, retained their citizenship and almost all survived.  In contrast, all 963 Jew in Estonia were murdered, not by the Germans, but Estonian citizens. And from the Baltic to the Black Sea people who killed Jews killed others such as psychiatric patients and gypsies. Lithuanian policemen who took part in the killing of 150 000 Jews in 1941, also starved to death the same number of Soviet prisoners.

Similar elements are at work in the Syrian conflict. Putin’s genocidal onslaught in the second Chechnya war helped set the template for what was to follow.  Russian troops that committed atrocities were fighting terrorism.

When Russian invaded Ukraine its citizens were deemed to be terrorists. Snyder draws explicit parallels with Hitler’s ideology:

In 2013 Russian leaders and propagandists imagined neighbouring Ukraine out of existence, or presented them as sub-Russians…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, the first gains were the natural gas fields in the Black Sea…annexed in 2014…The fertile soil of mainland Ukraine, its black earth, makes it a very important exporter of food, which Russia is not.

Bashar al-Assad, Syrian’s dictator, whom Putin brought back from the brink of military defeat, using high-tech Russian jets, chemical weapons that put them outside the Geneva Convention, old-fashioned barrel bombs, artillery strikes on hospitals and schools while classifying these murders as fighting against terrorists. There is no such thing as non-combatants.  Women and children are also terrorists.

Three million people in Idib. Three million non-citizens and terrorists. On the Turkish border civilian forces offer a sense of humanity and prepare for a million refugees. Perhaps an overestimate when the Russian fleet offshore are engaged in ‘exercises’. Non-citizens can expect no mercy in a kill-box that would have been all too familiar to Eastern European Jews. Ironically, those fleeing towards Israel in the hope that proximity to another nation state will provide a safe haven of sorts are simply classified as terrorist by another nation state.

Snyder’s template of taking away citizenship as the first step in genocidal murder applies equally to Myanmar’s Rakhine state. In scenes reminiscent of Nazi occupied Poland, on 27th August 2017 Myanmar’s army attacked unarmed civilians and forced more than 700 000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Ian Figel and Benedict Rogers in The Observer report thousands were killed, thousands of women raped. Children were snatched from their parents’ arms and thrown into their burning homes or drowned. Villagers lined up and shot.

Britain’s response to refugees mirrors that of the Americans during the Holocaust – no entry. The United States and richest nation in the world patted itself on the back for allowing around 5000 Jewish refugees, around the same number that were gassed in Treblinka in a morning’s work. Remember David Cameron talking about ‘swarms’ of them waiting to cross the English Channel. Swarms of children, who we agreed to take, then reneged on the deal. Without the sovereign protection of citizenship those without passports have no rights and can be disposed of.

With global warming the numbers of refugees Snyder argues is bound to increase exponentially and the poorest nations in the world will be hit first and hit hardest. Already we are preparing our defences. The first defence being rhetoric, them-or-us fundamentalism. The warning from history is a lesson we have learned too well. Enough talk produces hate and murder, but no real people die. Only terrorists.  Believe that and you’ll believe anything. We often do and justify it to ourselves by saying we didn’t know. Read this book.

 

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Timothy Snyder (2017) On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century.

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On the eve of President Trump’s ‘working visit’ to the United Kingdom this is a handy book to read. President Trump features more than Putin, or other twenty-first century despots. I guess this short book is a riposte to that shock election result, which wasn’t a shock to Snyder. Depots don’t read books. And Trump doesn’t read. His library consists of stored Tweets.  Snyder’s lessons  On Tyranny shifted through the sands of the mass killings of the Holocaust and Stalinist purges looks at then and now. It’s a call for vigilance, but more than that it’s a call for democracy to be transparent and for that to happen we need a more equitable and just society in which each citizen can be held equally accountable for his or her actions.

Our own traditions demands that we examine history to understand the deep sources of tyranny, and to consider the proper responses to it. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communisim…

1 Do not obey in advance.

A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do. #MeToo

First they came for the Socialists

I did not speak out.

I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Windrush generation

I did not speak out.

I was not black.

Then they came for the homeless and unemployed.

I did not speak out.

I was not homeless or unemployed.

2 Defend Institutions

We do not subscribe to the view that Mr Hitler…will suddenly deprive German Jews of their constitutional rights.

We do not subscribe to the view that Mrs May…will suddenly deprive us of the NHS and we will need to pay for health treatment.

We do not subscribe to the view that…some people do not deserve housing, or food, or their children should be educated.

We do not subscribe to the view that 1 in 4 children live in poverty.

3 Beware the one-party state.

‘eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’.

‘The hero of a David Lodge novel says that you don’t know when you make love for the last time that you are making love for the last time’.

We don’t know that when we see a Tory gerrymandered system based on patriotism and lies that we’d see such atrocities such as foodbanks on our streets and some children labelled at birth as being the wrong kind of children. Rejected.  Shame on us.

4 Take responsibility for the face of the world.

The symbols of today are the reality of tomorrow.

In the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin prosperous farmers were portrayed on propaganda posters as pigs.

Under the Cameron and Osborne era anyone on benefits were portrayed as the worst kind of scum. Channels 4 and 5 tried to outdo each other featuring characters, that happened to be –stereotyped- real people, with programmes ending in the tagline Benefits.

‘A neighbour portrayed a pig is someone whose land you can take.’

‘Thus the German who marked shops as ‘Jewish’ participated in the process by which Jews really did disappear.’

Amber Rudd’s migrant memo and ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants in which she did not/ did have targets really did make immigrants disappear.

5 Remember professional ethics

Before the Second World War, a man named Hans Frank was Hitler’s personal lawyer. Later, governor general of Poland where millions of Jews and other Poles were murdered.

I G Farben and other German firms exploited the labour of concentration camp inmates.

Poundstretchers take on staff from benefit office to ‘train’.

‘Just following orders’ doctors and nurses in the health assessment centre in Cadogan Street.

‘Just following orders’ the benefit clerk who sanctions the unemployed.

‘Just following orders’ care staff who puts your mother to bed at six o’clock

6 Be wary of paramilitaries.

‘American state government pay corporations to run prisons, the use of violence in the United States is already highly privatised.’

‘As a candidate, the president ordered a private security detail to clear opponents from rallies.’

Mob violence and the ideology of exclusion.

The British government pay corporations to run prisons…and schools and railways and the NHS.

7 Be reflective if you must be armed.

The evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers doing irregular things. Be ready to say no.

In the Great Terror of the Soviet Union, NKVD officers recorded 628 691 executions of supposed enemies of the state.

The Holocaust began not in the death facilities, but over the shooting pits in eastern Europe.

Black Lives Matter# because time and again it’s proven they don’t really.

8 Stand out.

Remember Rosa Parks.

Remember Hillsborough.

Remember Grenfell Towers.

9 Be Kind to Our Language

Read books.

Victor Klempner noticed how Hitler’s language rejected legitimate opposition. The people always meant some people and not others (the president [Donald Trump] uses the word in the same way) encounters were always struggles ( the president says winning), and any attempt by free people to understand the word in a different way was defamation of the leader (or, as the president puts it, libel).

George Osborne used the word welfare to legitimise the use of taking money from the poorest members of society and give it to the richest. This wasn’t called theft but wiping out the deficit and balancing the economy.

10 Believe in truth.

The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

Victor Klempner – truth dies in four modes.

  1. Open hostility to verifiable reality. e.g. One attempt during the 2016 presidential campaign found that 78 percent of his factual claims were false. e.g. the cladding on Grenfell towers was fireproof.
  2. Shamanistic incantation and endless repetition. e.g. Build the wall. Lock her up. e.g. the NHS is safe in our hands
  • Magical thinking, or the open embrace of contradictions. e.g. president’s campaign involved cutting taxes for everyone, eliminating the national debt, and increasing spending on both social policy and national defence. e.g. George Osborne and the Conservative Party promised to eliminate the national debt and maintain the same levels of services. e.g. The NHS is asked to find savings from its savings and decrease bureaucracy by appointing more managers to manage change.

A blatant abandonment of reason. Amber Rudd’s I did not set targets for deportations of immigrants from the UK. These were set at a local level and they weren’t really targets.

  1. Misplaced faith. e.g. the Fuhrer’s all-knowing greatness. Trump’s ‘I alone can solve it’ from local crime to the problem with Russia or North Korea, but not Israel. He’s already solved that. e.g. the doublethink of Osborne cutting money to the poorest in our society and telling them he was helping them.

11 Investigate.

Like Hitler, the president [Trump] used the word lies to mean statements of facts not to his liking, and presented journalism as a campaign against himself.

We will be better off after Brexit. Lies.

The NHS will gain an extra £150 million a week. Lies.

There will be no hard border in Ireland? Really? How?

12 Make eye contact and small talk.

It was no great surprise that Teresa May fled from victims of the Grenfell fire. Like Trump she doesn’t like dealing with minions. They leave that kind of things to their servants.

13 Practice corporeal politics.

Power wants your body softening in a chair.

Solidarity in Poland began small. #MeToo. #Black Lives Matter.

14 Establish a Private Life.

Scrub your computer. Tyrants seek the hooks on which to hang you. Try not to have hooks.

Facebook theft and manipulation put Trump in the White House. Few journalists talked of Russian involvement and the trashing of privacy codes.

Hannah Arendt suggests totalitarian regimes seek to remove the idea of privacy, everything is public, unless you’ve got something to hide (tagline). Society becomes a mob seeking sanctioned scapegoats.

15 Contribute to good causes.

Support civil society and help others to do good.

16 Learn from peers in other countries.

Russia used many of the cyberwar techniques against the Ukraine that is deployed against the United States.

Most Americans do not have passports. Most claim they would die defending America, but against what?

17 Listen for dangerous words.

Extreminsm. Terrorism.

Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotism. We surrender freedom for safety against the other. Immigrants. Asylum Seekers.  Health tourists. Families on welfare. Feral children.

Extremism, those not in the mainstream. The poor and disadvantaged who need to be controlled. Locked up.

18 Be calm when the unthinkable arrives.

The oldest trick in the book, burn the Reichstag, blame the Jews, suspend freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial, the only way to deal with terrorists is to torture and terrorise.

Create a hostile environment in which asylum seekers do not have legal aid, do not have the right of appeal, do not have any rights. Send them home. Don’t worry where home is. We will define it for you.

19 Be a patriot.

Mr President. What is patriotism?

It is not patriotic to dodge the draft

It is not patriotic to mock war heroes.

It is not patriotic to discriminate against active-duty members of the armed forced (i) in one’s companies, or (ii) to campaign to keep disabled veterans from one’s property.

It is not patriotic to compare one’s search for sexual partners in New York with military service in Vietnam that one has paid to dodge.

It is not patriotic to avoid paying taxes, especially when American working families do pay.

It is not patriotic to expect American taxpayers to finance one’s own presidential

campaign and then to spend their contributions on one’s own companies.

It is not patriotic to admire foreign dictators

It is not patriotic to share an adviser with Russian oligarchs.

20 Be as courageous as you can.

Be an enemy of the people, if that what it takes.