Citizenship determined fate of Jews during Holocaust - US expert



2017-10-23 01:10 aktualizacja: 2018-09-30, 15:12
 Fot. Tomasz Gzell
Fot. Tomasz Gzell
Professor Timothy Snyder, an American historian from Yale University, said that the fate of Jews during World War II was largely determined by their citizenship, with those coming from countries allied with the Nazi Germans much more likely to survive.

In a lecture at a recent conference in Warsaw's POLIN - Museum of the History of Polish Jews - the American historian pointed out the Nazi German ideology, as laid out in Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf, "sought to eliminate history".


In other words, it portrayed all epochs as dominated by the "struggle for existence", with no "continuity of eras" nor 'accumulation of years" and no progress.


Moreover, Snyder pointed out that Hitler blamed Jews for the concept of human solidarity in all its forms, be it Christian, socialist or in terms of the rule of law.


The Yale historian noted that according to the Nazi German leader, "any idea which allowed us to perceive a fellow human being as a human being, not a specimen of a race, was Jewish in origin, an illusion, precisely because, in fact, there is no history".


Hitler saw Jews as possessing an extraordinary, "magical" power of convincing people to their ideas and that's why, according to him, they had to be destroyed.


Turning to the Holocaust itself, Snyder observed, somewhat pessimistically, that everybody was interpreting it in the light of their own worldview, seeing it as a vindication, a proof, for example, of the fact that "we are the victim".


Quoting the main character in his book "Black Earth", the American historian also emphasised the role of "simple human goodness" in helping Jews survive. As the Treblinka survivor, writer Vasily Grossman said, "it is precisely this stupid goodness that shows a human being's humanity".


It was especially important as the Nazi Germans had "destroyed the conventional states" or, in some places, "the Soviet institutions which had earlier detroyed those states", creating an abyss dominated by racism and politics.


"In this black hole, Jews were being killed and when help came, it was often from people who could act on behalf of a state or from institutions with an ability to act as a state", Snyder explained, citing the example of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, said to have saved up to 100,000 Jews in Hungary in 1944.


Drawing on the writing of Hannah Arendt, the historian said in order to kill a Jew, it was necessary to separate them from their state, and more concretely from their citizenship, because "as she noted, a person stripped of citizenship is a naked human being who can be killed".


Thus, Snyder underlined Jews had the biggest chances of survival "where they had the citizenship", such as American, British or even Romanian and Bulgarian citizenship, in contrast to countries like Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Czechoslovakia and Austria.


"Passport, state allegiance was decisive, that is, Jews from the countries allied with the Germans, such as Bulgaria, had much bigger chances of survival than Jews who had been citizens of the destroyed states", the American historian explained.


To illustrate this point, Snyder asked the audience a question: "Why were there more casualties among Polish Jews in France than among French Jews in France?".


"Because of citizenship", was his answer. "Many French Jews were killed but undoubtedly there were more casualties among Polish Jews".


The Yale historian's appearance in POLIN also had much to do with the promotion of his recent book, "On tyranny: twenty lessons from the twentieth century", addressed to the American audience but, according to the author, containing a universal message.


Snyder underscored that when democracy and the rule of law are in danger, history should be searched for solutions.


"In fact, the precedent set by the Founders demands that we examine history to understand the deep sources of tyranny, and to consider the proper responses to it. Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism or communism in the twentieth century", the American scholar wrote in "On Tyranny".


Snyder pointed out both fascism and communism had sprung up in response to inequality and democracy's failure to address it.


His latest book comprises 20 lessons from the past, summed up in the titles of the successive chapters, such as "Do not obey in advance", "Defend institutions", "Beware the one-party state", "Remember professional ethics", "Be kind to our language", "Learn from peers in other countries", "Be a patriot".


Here is one of the American historian's practical tips, taken from chapter one, "Do not obey in advance": "Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do".


The Polish edition of "On Tyranny" has been published by Znak Horyzont.


Professor Snyder, the author of several books including the best-selling "Bloodlands. Europe between Hitler and Stalin", fluently speaks 5 European languages, including Polish. (PAP)