25.5.16

WHO WAS THE FOURTH MAN?

Timothy Snyder's histories of politically motivated genocides in the steppes attempt to tell the stories of the people whose lives were disrupted or ended in the service of some Greater Good, at the same time that he attempts to provide an intellectual framework for what happened, and why there?  The title refers to a question he asks toward the end of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning, the subject of Book Review No. 10.  The fourth man in question is the individual who, after the Second World War ends, assists a refugee Jew.  Three previous Gentiles had turned the refugee away.


We've previously considered Professor Snyder's thoughts on the absence of the mediating institutions.  That's one of the components of the intellectual framework he develops.  Specifically, and extending his prior work in Bloodlands, it was in those parts of Eastern Europe where the mediating institutions had already been destroyed, by Stalin's purges and famines in Ukraine, by Hitler's occupation first of parts of Poland, then by the invasion of Stalin's part of Poland plus Ukraine and the rest of the Soviet Union west of the Volga.  There weren't enough defenders of functioning civil society to suggest to the commissars and then the SS that what they were doing was wrong.  (It was the conscience of Germans in the SS that turned the Holocaust into an industrial process at the extermination camps, but that's a different book.)

That's the simplest part, however, of the intellectual framework.  I'm not sure what his analysis of the Nazi notion of Lebensraum will do to the Godwinization of academic discourse, or to post-colonial multiculturalist notions of intersectionality.  That's because Hitler's excuse for the Germans needing Lebensraum is potted post-colonialism. sixty years before it caught on in trendy academia.

Why are the Americans rich?  Because they have a continent, and the settlers tossed out the Indians.

Why are the British rich?  Because they have lots of colonies, and they lord it over the people of color.

So far, so normal.  Here's where the post-colonialism gets potted.

Why aren't the Russians rich?  Because although they have a continent rich in all the elements of the periodic table of Mendeleyev, they're inferior Slavs.

What's the simplest way to make the Germans rich?  Change the ownership of the lands already being worked by Germans.

Yes, that involves going through a lot of Slavs and more than a few Jews to do so.

But there comes the other part of the intellectual framework: before Germany coveted Poland, the correlation of forces in Germany and Poland favored working together and against the Jews.  Hitler, until his lack of command of the seas prevented him, would have been content to deport Jews to Madagascar.  In Poland, the sentiment was to deport Jews to Palestine, which the British also weren't having.  Stalin had his own ideas of a promised land, Birobidzhan in the Jewish Autonomous Region somewhere the other side of Irkutsk, but that doesn't figure in the quest for a German Empire providing the same material conditions the British Empire or the United States did to its citizens.

Put it together, and you get the conditions under which, even after the war, Slavs and Germans continue to be inhospitable to the surviving refugee Jews.

The warning, from page 342.  "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."

(Cross-posted to Fifty Book Challenge.)

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