A Speech to Europe 2019 | Timothy Snyder – Judenplatz 1010

A Speech to Europe 2019 | Timothy Snyder – Judenplatz 1010


Simon Wiesenthal, the initiator of
the Holocaust memorial on the Judenplatz writes on the occasion of the official
opening of the Judenplatz as we know
it today: May residents of Vienna, Austrians,
people from all over the world, people of different faiths and different
social classes, come to this place in the
future and become conscious of their responsi-
bility for a peaceful coexistence
with one another and accept and carry out this role. Dear Simon Wiesenthal,
we are doing this today. Ladies and Gentlemen,
on behalf of the Wiener Festwochen, the Institute for Human Sciences and the ERSTE Foundation,
I warmly welcome you to the Speech to Europe
at the Judenplatz. Ladies and Gentlemen,
on behalf of the Wiener Festwochen, the Institute for Human Sciences
and the ERSTE Foundation, I warmly welcome you at the Judenplatz on the occasion of the first edition
of a Speech to Europe. Today’s speaker is Timothy Snyder,
Professor at Yale University and Visiting Fellow at
the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. The title of his speech is:
‘Judenplatz 1010’. We, the hosts of this public lecture,
would like to express our happiness that so many of you
have followed our invitation. The speech will be held in English. Today’s speaker is Timothy Snyder,
Professor at Yale University and Visiting Fellow at
the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. The title of his speech is:
‘Judenplatz 1010’. We, the hosts of this public lecture,
would like to express our happiness that so many of you
have followed our invitation, and now please welcome Timothy Snyder. My name is Timothy Snyder, I’m an American historian, and I have been asked
to deliver a message to Europe. This is the message. You are more than your myths. For those of us on the outside,
you are also a source of hope; perhaps the only source
of hope for the future. You are more than your myths. We stand here together today
on the Judenplatz on the 9th of May 2019. The 9th of May this year is Independence
Day in Israel until the sun sets, this is Independence Day in Israel. The 9th of May in Moscow
or Kiev or Minsk is the day of victory. Today, in those European cities
and others was celebrated, commemorated and remembered
the victory over Nazi Germany and its many European allies
in the Second World War. We are gathered here,
especially on this day, the 9th of May, to remember the speech of Robert Schuman,
the declaration of Robert Schuman, on this day in 1950. When Schuman declared that
Europe was not just for Europeans, that Europe was about a peace
that could be for the whole world. How can we remember these
three things at the same time? How can we remember
them sensibly as history, as the kind of history
that would guide us into the future? How do we remember the Holocaust,
the Second World War, and the beginning of the
European project together as one history? How can we consider the making
of the European project 70 years ago while asking is it going to be remade
now or is it going to be unmade now? For me as a historian,
the answer to that question depends very much on
whether you, Europeans, choose myths or whether you,
Europeans, choose history. There are two ways to remember. There is one way to remember
which leads you back to yourself, to a story about how you were always right, to a story about how you,
or people like you were always innocent. That is myth.
That is national myth. It prevails almost everywhere
and it may well prevail here. There is another way of remembering,
which is history. History allows you to take what you remember
and add it to what others remember, add it to other sources
and other perspectives, constantly and critically so that
you see for what you are responsible. When Schuman issued
his declaration in May 1950, France was in the middle of a colonial war
in which 75,000 French soldiers would die. Of those 75,000 French soldiers, the vast majority were not actually
French at all by country of origin. France was in the middle of the
first of two colonial wars: it would fight after the Second World War
continuously for 16 years in colonial wars in Southeast Asia
and then in North Africa. In France in the 1950s and 1960s,
the word ‘l’intégration’ did not necessarily mean
European integration. ’L’intégration’ could mean
the responsibility of the French army to integrate Arabs into the French state. After 1961, ‘l’intégration’ meant
the possibility that the French would be integrated into
the new Algerian state. Why do I say this? Because the myth that you all have,
the myth that you all share, the myth of the European Union’s friends and its enemys alike is
the myth of a nation state. The Robert Schuman who made the declaration in
1950 was the foreign minister of an empire. France, whether republic or empire by name, had always been an empire throughout
the entirety of its history. You are more than your myths. But in order to be more than your myths,
in order to be the hope that the rest of us outside need,
one has to come to terms with the history. The idea that Europe is
a group of nation states that shows integration,
is a fatal, fatal myth. One could disagree and should disagree
about the future of Europe. But if the discussion about the future
of Europe is held on the basis of myths about things that never took place,
the discussion cannot be a fruitful one. History is about clearing the way
and in the next few minutes, I’d like to try to clear the way,
or clear away some of the myths so that time can flow sensibly
from the past to the present into the future that we need. So, think with me just for a moment
about the countries that founded the European Union,
or founded the European project. Germany, West Germany
had just been defeated in the most decisive and most catastrophic war of colonialism
perhaps ever, certainly in Europe. The war that we remember
as the Second World War. Italy likewise had just lost a colonial war
in Africa and in the Balkans. The Netherlands lost a colonial war
that they fought from 1945 to 1949. Belgium lost the Congo in 1960. France having been defeated both
in Indochina and Algeria makes a decisive turn to Europe
in the early 1960s. It was Charles de Gaulle
who understood that not only the Republic but the entire French state
was endangered by the empire. He makes the decisive
turn to Europe in 1962. None of the European powers that founded the European project
were nation states at the time. None of them had ever been nation states. The same is true for the countries who joined
the European Union, the first joiners. The British back in the 1960s
understood perfectly well that Europe was the substitute for Empire,
for both trade and power. So much of being a historian is telling
people things that they once knew. In the 1960s the entire British civil
service, almost all the British parliament and almost all the British elite understood
that Europe was the substitute for Empire. When the Portuguese Empire comes to an end or the Spanish Empire comes to an end
in the 1970s, the process is simultaneous. The leaders of changes in Portugal and
Spain correctly unite the end of empire, the beginning of democracy
and integration with the European Union. These things take place at the same time. The European Union is the creation of
failed or failing European empires. After 1989, after the end
of the Soviet outer empire, after the end of the Soviet Union,
the European Union enlarges still. It enlarges to countries
that had been part of that empire. And remarkably,
it does something even more profound. Because if we think of the countries that
joined the European Union in 1990s and 2000s: this country Austria, Czechoslovakia,
Poland, the Baltic States, these were countries that were created
in 1918 after the First World War. All of them then ceased to exist. The history of nation states in Europe
tends to be nasty, brutish and short. When the European Union enlarges
in 1990s and 2000s, what it is doing, is providing a home for the states that
were created after the First World War. The European Union
is an assembly of two kinds of states: states that used to be at
the centre of empires, states that used to be at
the periphery of empires. But all of it has to do with ‘empire’. It is unusual on Europe Day
to mention Algeria, to mention Angola, to mention the Congo, India, Indochina,
Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Mozambique. It’s unusual but it has to be done, because that is where
Europe was in these last 70 years. It has been in retreating from these places that Europeans have created
the Europe that we understand. This is important
because your myth of Europe, your idea that ‘you as nation states
came together to create Europe’, as opposed to ‘you as failing empires
came together to create Europe’ turns your head away,
not just from responsibility for ‘empire’, but from the scale of your own achievement. The European story is nice. It’s a nice story that
there were nice innocent, small European nation states
who in their nice little way realised that economic interests united them. It’s a nice little story
but it’s not history. The history of the 20th century
is that of European powers, which for the previous 500 years
had dominated the world, found themselves forced
to pull back to Europe, and there in Europe created something new. Schuman gave his address in 1950,
in 1951 in ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’, Hannah Arendt spoke of the essence of human
freedom being the creation of new things. The European Union is a ‘new thing’. Now, what I have said about memory in myth
and history applies even more strongly to the history of the Holocaust
as we remember it or as we choose not to remember it. We are standing before
a memorial to the Holocaust, specifically a memorial
to the 65,000 citizens of Austria who were murdered as Jews:
children, women and men, after Austria was destroyed in 1938. In some sense,
the monument is familiar. Here we are in Vienna,
we can imagine others who lived in Vienna. Here we are in Austria,
we think we can perhaps imagine what a German takeover in Austria was like. But if we look carefully at the monument,
if we walk around after this lecture and look at the names that are printed
at the foot of the monument, the names ‘where’ the Jews of
Austria were actually killed, suddenly things become less familiar. Most of these cities, most of these places
are not known to most Austrians for the very good reason that Austrian Jews
were not killed in Austria, they were killed very far away. Directly behind me on
the far side of the monument is the name Maly Trostinec
which is in Belarus. More Austrian Jews,
more Jews from this city were killed in that Belarusian
locality than anywhere else. Why is that? Why were Austrian Jews killed
so far away from home? They were killed so far away from home
because of empire, because of the last European attempt
to create ‘empire’. This is what the Second World War
in Europe was. If we are going to remember today,
the Holocaust, the Second World War, and the attempt of recovery,
what we have to do is remember the Holocaust
and the war as they truly were. We must also not allow ourselves
to remember the Holocaust as it fragments into small pieces
into our national memories. The national memories
are not good enough. The Holocaust was an event on a scale
which defies national memory, it was an event in history
and it had three basic causes which are essential for both the history
but also the future possibility of the European Union. One of these is ecological panic.
Ecological panic. Hitler’s argument for why Germany had to
become an empire was that time was short, land was limited and that the Germans had to
seize what they needed before others could. Hitler said specifically that science
and technology will not rescue us, we must take from others. Ecological panic. The second overall source or cause
of the Holocaust is dehumanization. The idea that since
we must take from others, others are only valuable in so far
as they can serve us. The idea that people can
quite literally be quantified. After the Jews,
the largest victim group in the Second World War of non-combatants
were Soviet prisoners of war. Three million of whom were literally killed
because it was believed that it cost more to feed them than
their labour might be worth. The third fundamental cause
of this very special, atrocious empire, the German Empire,
the Empire of Germany and its allies, Austria and others,
is state destruction. By destroying Austria,
by destroying Czechoslovakia, by destroying Poland, the Baltic states,
by trying to destroy the Soviet Union, the Germans and their allies created
a zone in Europe were there were no states, and no laws, and where things were possible
which would not have been possible otherwise. This is what empires do. They don’t recognise others as citizens,
they do not recognise other states, they create zones where horror is possible. Now, the Jews are at
the centre of all of this. The Jews are blamed
by Hitler for believing that science might provide us all with answers
for the ecological crisis. The Jews are blamed by Hitler
for claiming that humans should recognise other humans according
to a principle of solidarity. Christian mercy, socialism, the rule of
law, for Hitler it was all the same. Jews were to blame if humans recognised
humans as other humans, as opposed to members of a race. And of course,
in this country and everywhere else, when the state was destroyed
it was the Jews who suffered most and it was the Jews who suffered first. When I say you are more than your myth,
you’ll have gathered this, I mean that you are more terrible
than your myth. I mean that you are more powerful
than your myth. I mean that the myth that you have,
diverts you not only from seeing the scale of European
responsibility for the past but it also diverts you from the scale
of European responsibility for the future. It is very easy to say,
though it is important to say, that Europeans have
not fully understood the scale of the Holocaust
and associated crimes. It is very easy to say,
and others have said it before me like Frantz Fanon,
Aimé Césaire or Hannah Arendt that the Holocaust is part of
a larger history of European ‘empire’. It’s important to say that. What’s harder to see is that this is not just about ethics,
it’s also about power. Europeans have
disempowered themselves, you have disempowered yourselves
by getting your past wrong. If you want to know
how this looks in another place, look at the United States of America. The current predicament
of the United States is a direct result of our getting
our imperial past wrong. You are not far away from us,
but you still have a chance to do better. The reason why getting the past right it is so important is not just ethical,
it is also a matter of power. Your little implausible national myths allow
you not to see that you once ruled the world. And your little implausible national myths
allow you not to see that the European Union is the one successful answer
to the most important question in the history of the modern world,
indeed the one central question, which is: what to do after ‘empire’.
What to do with ‘empire’? There are two bad answers
or two answers with limitations – make nation states
or have some more ‘empire’. The European Union is the only new fruitful,
productive answer to that question. And that is why my message is that
you are more than your myths, you are also a source of hope to us,
to us who are on the outside. Because if you are on the outside,
and of course I speak from a relatively privileged position as an American,
if you are on the outside, there is one thing that is clear about the
world that is not clear here on the inside. Which is that it is still
an imperial world. You have created a huge zone
of exception in a very positive sense. You have created the largest economy
in the history of the world, you have created the series of contiguous
functioning welfare state and democracies. There is nothing like this
anywhere else in the world. Outside of here,
there is still ‘empire’. And outside of here,
the three motives that I mentioned, the fundamental motives of ‘empire’
and of especially atrocious empire that was the Holocaust are still present. Please consider them with me:
ecological panic, dehumanization
and state destruction. Ecological panic is all around us. We are facing a situation of very real
and pressing ecological distress, most obviously in the form
of global warming. And we are also facing
political parties and leaders who tell us that the science of this is not true
or doubtful or that we should wait. And strikingly, strikingly,
the very same people who tell us that global warming is not a problem,
or that we can wait, or that the science is not true,
are the same people who tell us that the refugees are our enemies,
and that migrants are our enemies, and that same races
are different than others. I would not dream
of telling you as Europeans who to vote for in
the coming European elections. But I will say this as an American: do not vote for the party
that denies global warming, because the party that denies global warming
is telling you three things about itself. It is telling you that
it will lie about everything, it is telling you that it does not care about
the fate of your children and grandchildren and it is telling you that it is the
creature of hydrocarbon oligarchs. And if you are in Europe, they are
not even your hydrocarbon oligarchs. And of course, the deeper irony is that the same parties who tell you Europeans
that global warming is not a problem, are the ones that tell you
that migrants are a problem. If you don’t do anything
about global warming, there will be uncontrolled migration
because global warming affects the global South
much more than the global North. That’s ecological panic. And the European Union
is one of the few entities in the world that is
doing something about it. State destruction today. Some of the states
that have fallen apart, have fallen apart because of
ecological problems, at least in part. The things that look like uncontrolled
flows of refugees or migrants from Europe have to do with the weakness
of states in places like Rwanda, or the Sudan,
or more recently in Syria. States are also destroyed
because great powers decide, mindlessly or otherwise, to destroy them,
as with the American invasion of Iraq, or as with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. What is not visible inside the European
Union but is so clear from the outside is that the European Union
strengthens the European state. This entire debate that you have
inside the European Union about sovereignty makes no sense. There have never been
so many European states lined up next to each other, ever. The reason why they are so strong internally
and externally is the European Union. The European Union makes
the states stronger internally by making the welfare state
more easy here than elsewhere. And again, as an American this is
something I would like to report, one does notice the difference. The European Union also
protects the state externally because the European Union
is the most powerful buffer against the forces of globalisation
that exists in the world. If you want to feel the difference
leave the European Union. That is a rhetorical statement.
Do not leave the European Union! Where I want to close and where I want to
leave you, is with the third motive. Ecological collapse, state destruction,
and the third motive is dehumanization. And here I need you
to think with me a bit. We named this lecture, we named this event
‘Judenplatz 1010’ for a reason. For three reasons. We want you to think with these numbers,
1010, about the Holocaust itself. To my left is the name: Treblinka. Jews were sent from
the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka because they were judged
to be less productive workers. It was judged that the calories they consumed
were worth more than the work they produced. This is an artefact of the industrial
world, judging us just as labour, judging us just as objects
who carry out physical work. The human rights tradition has
an answer to that, it says: at Treblinka, 780,863 human beings,
individual human beings were murdered. And that we must recall each of them
not as quantity but as quality. That we can start from the end,
those three people at the end, a family of three, three friends. And imagine the victims
not as part of a large group, a faceless group,
but as individual human beings. That the difference between
1 and 0 is not a quantity, the difference between
1 and 0 is a difference of quality. That each victim, like each of us is an
irreducibly different human being. But now we find ourselves
in a different place were human rights
are challenged in a different way. We find ourselves in conditions
of hard to perceive but nevertheless very real ‘digital empire’,
where there are powers we don’t see, using techniques that
we don’t quite understand, following laws that are not human laws,
laws which are not made by states. We can see this faintly
from the examples, from the way that China evaluates
its citizens according to a point system, from the way that Silicon Valley makes
available to people around the world tools of manipulation,
from the way that the Russian Federation intervenes in other people’s elections. You in Europe have the tools,
the intellectual tools to handle this. Franz Fernand criticizing imperialism
in Algeria makes the point that we are not about ‘how’
but about ‘why’. He is also making a point
for us in the 21st century. What the digital world does is it reduces
us to our most predictable and simplest responses,
it turns us to caricatures of ourselves, turns us into instruments
of faraway commercial and political entities
that we can’t even see. It turns us into ‘how’ creatures
instead of ‘why’ creatures. Or consider the Polish philosopher
Leszek Kołakowski who said: remember, humanity itself
is a human category. If the decisions are not being
made by humans, we can’t expect that the category
of humanity will be with us. Or consider the Russian philosopher
Mikhail Bakhtin who said that when you believe a lie
you are turned into an object. But what if the lie that you
believe in is told to you by an object? Can we expect the object
to feel morally responsible? You have the tools,
you need the time. Simone Weil said:
What we need is warm silence, and what we get is icy tumult. You can have the warm silence
if you choose, the European Union,
unlike any other entity in the world, has made positive progress
towards digital human rights. What I’d like to point out is that only the
European Union can do it, for this reason: if you happen to live in a country, even a big, important country like
the United States, where an important decision,
let’s say a referendum or presidential election is decided by, or
visible influenced by a digital campaign, the people who win
are never going to investigate. This is already the world
that we are living in, where political systems
that you know and respect, like the British or the American
cannot investigate themselves, because it has already happened to them. Only the European Union can do it, because
it’s not a national political system. What can it do?
Four things. There are at least four ways that
the European Union can protect – I’ll call it: – humanity. Because there is only really one
us and them: humanity is the us. The first is, anti-monopoly. The American companies
are too big and the American state
hasn’t been able to handle it. The second is, education. The German philosopher, Edith Stein
– who taught philosophy in Germany for just as long as she could
until that became impossible –, the German philosopher Edith Stein
who was killed at Auschwitz, which is here to my right, said that there is an objective connection
between education and humanity. Should we really, in Germany,
or Austria, or Poland, or elsewhere were
this is being contemplated, should we really entrust the education of
our children to things that are not human? Should that happen?
Perhaps we should wait in Europe. Perhaps we shouldn’t do exactly
what the Americans do, perhaps we should just not put
the tablets in the classroom, at all, ever. Third, factuality. The way the digital world works
is that it spins ever fewer facts ever thinner into
ever broader phantasies. The best way to react to this
is to produce more facts. Facts don’t come out of the air,
out of the ground, they are created by journalists
who are the heroes of our time. A European Union which cares
about the future will be a European Union which makes it
easier to become a journalist. The fourth is sovereignty. The big question is always:
where do the populists come from? It’s easier to answer that question if you realize that populists
are in fact the digitalists. Populism assumes that there
are people somewhere behind it. But isn’t it strange
or interesting that all of these new populist parties are the same ones who have been so effective
in using digital techniques? And isn’t it interesting that
they are the same ones that attack the European Union
using digital techniques? And isn’t it interesting that
there is always an overlap between these populists
and the denial of global warming, and some questionable attitudes
about the state? Isn’t it interesting
how this all hangs together? Isn’t it interesting
that you have enemies? And isn’t it interesting
that your enemies are always the defenders of
a completely untenable status quo? Isn’t it interesting
that your enemies are the imperialists of
an already exhausted Earth? Isn’t it interesting that you have enemies?
Why do you have enemies? You have enemies
because you have a future. And have you noticed that what your
enemies do is take that future away? Have you noticed how the future has almost
disappeared from the horizon of politics? This is not an accident. And have you noticed that your enemies
– all of them, the Russian ones, the American ones, the Chinese ones, the
ones whose sponsorship we don’t yet know – have you noticed that they always attack you
at your weakest point, which is your myth? They always attack you
at your weakest point which is your idea that you have
nation states and can go back to them. That is always what they go for. They see your weakness
even if you don’t see it yourself. That is where they always go. And so,
this is where I’m going to conclude. You are responsible,
you Europeans for where memory goes. Memory can go into reassuring myth,
in which you are small, in which you are innocent
and in which you don’t have very little responsibility for the past
or for the future. Or memory can go into history in which
you ran the world for half a millennium, created something new
in the second half of the 20th century and now bare particular responsibility
for how things turn out in the 21st. In the three critical questions,
of ecological panic, state destruction, and humanization the European Union
has more power than any other entity at this particular moment in time. So, you can follow the myth if you like,
or you can follow the history which leads into a future which is
not certain but which at least is real. The myth will lead you into comfort,
and fragmentation, and humiliation. The history will lead to pain,
but it will also lead to power. We are standing on
what is today called the Judenplatz. Hundreds of years ago the Jews
themselves called it the ‘Schulhof’. And indeed, there is a school here,
just to my right and just to your left. In that school,
there are children who are related to the people who were killed in the places
that are named on this monument. And in that school, there are children
who come from the places that are named in this monument. Schuman spoke of a living Europe:
‘Une Europe organisée et vivante.’ He spoke of a living Europe. He spoke of a Europe that would create,
‘Une Europe créateur’. What I hope and what I ask is that
when we think of these last 70 years, we only think of them
as flowing into the next 70 years. That if we remember this, we must remember
this in a way which leads to that, in a way which leads to school
and children and the generations to come. Schuman spoke of Europe providing peace not
for itself but for the rest of the world. And for a non-European,
such as myself, to be asked to speak to Europeans,
this seems to be especially significant. You are more than your myths. For those of us on the outside,
you are also a source of hope about the future. Thank you for joining me
on ‘Judenplatz 1010’. [Subtitles realised with the help of Eurozine] I can only talk,
you have to do it.

17 comments on “A Speech to Europe 2019 | Timothy Snyder – Judenplatz 1010

  1. One of the few intellectuals who is keeping me sane in this time of political deterioration. Thank you Prof. Snyder!

  2. This is introduced in German but the speech itself is in English. American Historian Timothy Snyder reminds Europeans of what Europe means, where it is at in its history and why it is so important. His outsider point of view really brings perspective. This is an intelligent and accessible explanation of the nature and importance of Europe by an American Historian who reminds Europeans of their impact upon the World, past, present and future.

  3. Imagine if non-US historians delivered this speech. For example, I want to see a speech to Europe delivered by a Southeast Asian historian next time.

  4. Eine großartige, bewegende Rede. Timothy Snyder entwickelt sich zum wichtigsten "public intellectual" der (westlichen) Welt in unserer Zeit.

  5. Mr. Snyder is a great spokesman for humanity He understands the need and also has very sound advice for us to move from the lesser peace that we are living in here on the earth to the most great peace for humanity to embrace.

  6. So those who would undermine the EU are looking to build world empires again — and perhaps the old fashioned way.

  7. Dear Mr. Snyder, thank's for your excellent speech to us Europeans. You are a translater from the past to the future with the right tools through the eyes of history.

  8. I was with him until he said to remove technology from the classroom. Regardless, he's right, we do confuse facts with the mythology we create. The challenge is that our brains have evolved to see the world through our mythological lens. Whether our mythical belief systems are religious, political or economic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *