Conférence annuelle Pierre du Bois 2013 par Timothy Snyder Print E-mail


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21 October 2013

The Pierre du Bois Annual Lecture co-organized in partnership with the Graduate Institute was given in Geneva by

Timothy Snyder
Professor of History at Yale University

The Holocaust as a Global History

Lecture was held at 6:30 pm in the Auditorium Ivan Pictet, Graduate Institute, Maison de la paix, Chemin Eugène-Rigot 2, Genève

It was a great success

See the CV of Timothy Snyder
See the invitation.
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Watch the video of the lecture

This year’s Annual Pierre du Bois Lecture, co-organised by the Graduate Institute and the Fondation Pierre du Bois pour l’histoire du temps présent, saw more than three hundred guests eagerly awaiting as Professor Timothy Snyder, one of Yale University’s most renowned historians, took the podium. The Foundation’s President, Irina du Bois, expressed her excitement and gratitude to have the opportunity to host Professor Timothy Snyder for this year’s special lecture in the newly inaugurated Maison de la Paix.

Snyder is a world-famous historian and author of numerous award-winning books. Most recently he published Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Bloodlands, which documents the Nazi and Soviet mass killings in the territory between ‘Berlin and Moscow’, has received numerous awards, such as the Leipzig Prize for European Understanding and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award in Humanities. In 2013, this book was also awarded the Hannah Arendt Award for Political Thought.

Snyder’s present lecture, entitled The Holocaust as a Global History, offered a vivid and surprising journey through a tentative chapter in one of his upcoming book projects. Snyder argued that one could view the Holocaust as a ‘global history’ in three distinct ways. First, and most trivially, as part of the Second World War. For Snyder, this option is not worth pursuing. Second, one can conceptualize the Holocaust as an object of global history by placing it within Hitler’s thought about global politics and history, that is to say, as a matter of a coherent system of (political) thought that featured global repercussions. Third, one could narrate the Holocaust as global history by relating it, as well as Hitler’s thought, to the global concept of sovereignty. The latter two were of Snyder’s concern and led him to elaborate a greatly on what one might loosely call Hitler’s ‘political philosophy’.

Snyder reasoned that Hitler perceived the world as inherently anti-political, an ecological system in which human races struggle for survival and resources. Jews invented politics, so Snyder argued of Hitler, and it was with the invention of politics that Jews were able to "turn upside down" the world's natural power distribution. Ideas of the state of nature, the law of the jungle, a kind of biological anarchism, and the master/servant relationship--as well as the “Jew’s purported role in ‘deforming’ them”--, constitute what Snyder terms the ‘Planetary Level’ of Hitler’s political thought. Ultimately, so Snyder maintains, Hitler saw the master race’s need for Lebensraum not only as a matter of securing habitat, but also as a task to create a cultured, and beautiful ‘living room’ free of inferior races that ‘cluttered up’ the landscape. To this end, a sufficient supply of arable land was needed to feed ‘the race’ beyond mere subsistence.

Snyder also submitted that Hitler thought if Jews and ‘Jewishness’ were removed, then the universe would return to its natural state. Because of that, Hitler considered the worldwide eradication of Jews as simultaneously a ‘colonising’ and ‘decolonising’ endeavour. Colonising because the Germans would by necessity become the masters of ‘foreign lands’; decolonising because they would liberate those fruitful lands from ‘Jewish colonisation’. This ‘act of liberation’, according to Hitler, would then also ring in the age of global agricultural modernity. According to Snyder, the colonisation of the Americas, that is, the extermination of the indigenous people to win ‘room’ for the master race of Germanic Anglo-Saxons, serves as a prime example of this. It clearly demonstrated how Hitler imagined the colonial/decolonial mechanism to work out in reality. The idea of colonialism was thus of utmost importance to Hitler.

Finally, Snyder contended that Hitler was a radical global thinker, not an unfaltering nationalist. To him, the natural struggle was about the ‘stronger race’ emerging. Snyder maintained that Hitler strongly suspected Germany to be this race, but that he was not entirely certain. In fact, this is why when the Red Army closed in on Berlin, Hitler did not see this as a contradiction to his beliefs. Put simply, the Soviets proved to be the stronger race, the one that prevailed in the natural struggle. It is in this sense that Hitler was a radicalist rather than a  nationalist tout court. Having outlined the rationale, or “coherence”, of Hitler’s ideology, Snyder suggested that it is because of this very coherence that Hitlern's ideas became globally implementable.
Ultimately, Snyder’s talk made the audience feel as if it were getting a short glimpse into Hitler’s mind, accompanied by a good amount of witty and entertaining remarks by Snyder. Like with any ‘glimpse’, what one sees is part reality part imagination. In combination with Snyder’s claims, his lively presentation manner led to a very lively Question & Answer session in which both the audience as well as Professor Snyder engaged and wrestled with the intellectual consequences of potentially seeing the Holocaust as a Global History.

Written by Felix C. Ohnmacht

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 July 2015 17:14
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