Campus News

E/RS discusses new lessons from the Holocaust

Yale historian and author Timonthy Snyder warns about fascism and future


Newswire photo by Ryan Kambich | In an E/RS luncheon, Yale University professor Timothy Snyder spoke about the intersection of scarcity and chaos as root causes of the Holocaust.


History can show causes, and it can also show why we care. When it comes to discussions about the Holocaust, the role of history is indispensable toward both of those ends: it aids us in understanding how such inconceivable cruelty could exist, and it helps us remember why those dark years should never be forgotten.

So argued Dr. Timothy Snyder during his Ethics/Religion and Society lecture entitled “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning” on Monday in the Cintas Banquet Room.

Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University with a bibliography that includes the 2017 bestseller On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century and the monograph Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, is well-versed in the importance of history, as his work focuses on the political and social conditions that gave rise to European authoritarianism in the 20th century.

This particular talk explored the themes in his book by the same name, specifically the historical foundations of the Holocaust and the lessons we must learn for defending democracy and human rights in our own time.

Snyder proposed that the Holocaust can be explained by two ideological phenomena underlying the philosophy of the Nazi regime.

The first is the idea of ecology: that all people belong to a race and each race naturally competes for scarce resources needed to thrive.

In the minds of the Nazi high command, this meant that the German race was “superior” and naturally had to take resources away from other “inferior” races, justifying inhumane slaughter along the way.

The second is the idea of anti-politics: that mass killing occurs in places where states and institutions are falling apart and disorder reigns. Snyder explained that the Nazi war machine was adept at destabilizing and destroying other states, leaving disordered vacuums in which atrocities that never would have been conceivable before suddenly became a reality.

Snyder named Nazi death camps as places that acted as “experimental zones of statelessness,” places where law and order did not exist and humanity’s darkest evils had free reign.

Snyder concluded his talk with warnings about the future. He pointed to atrocities in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Sudan as examples of intersections in which the ecology of scarcity and the anti-politics of collapsing states opened the floodgates for genocide.

Vigilance and action to prevent these conditions from arising, he argued, are the lessons that need to be remembered from the dark days of the Third Reich. “What rescue really means politically is making sure that this (intersection) never happens, not waiting until the last minute and then acting heroically. That is the true lesson of the Holocaust,” he said.

“I enjoyed that he used history to derive lessons relevant to daily political interactions and commented at length on what interactions we have,” Jonathan Pickman, a senior Philosophy, Politics and the Public and economics double major said. “Understanding how complex the past is makes us more conscious of our daily actions.”

The next event in the E/RS series will be a lecture by writer, author and professor of journalism at Columbia University Jelani Cobb. It will be held on March 20 at 7 p.m. in the Cintas Banquet Room.


By: Ryan Kambich ~Copy Editor~

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