Politics of Memory of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union

JVF Conference Papers

The paper investigates how the issue of the Holocaust was presented in Soviet historiography in post-war period.

Despite the fact that the Holocaust is an integral part of the history of WWII, and that about one third of all killed Jews were Soviet citizens who often met their death in numerous killing sites on the occupied territories of the Soviet Union, the Jewish tragedy was largely ignored by Soviet historians. Western scholars argued that, due to Stalinist anti-Semitism and its legacy, Soviet authorities deliberately suppressed any public discussion of the Holocaust. They referred to the notorious example of the Soviet treatment of the Black Book of Soviet Jewry prepared by Ilya Ehrenburg and Vasilij Grossman. The book, which contained important material on the fate of Soviet Jews during WWII was banned in 1948. The paper acknowledges that Soviet accounts in general downplayed or universalized the tragedy of the Jews and that Soviet scholars often preferred to refrain from mentioning the Jewish origin of many Nazi victims and Soviet resistance fighters. However, it demonstrates that the Holocaust was not completely erased from Soviet history books, but was adapted and rewritten within the confines of a conforming ideological narrative. It also argues that, despite centralized censorship, there were some variations in historiographies of national republics.

This paper does not disregard Stalinist anti-Semitism, but it also provides a more nuanced understanding of the whole spectrum of ideological reasons why the tragedy of the Jews was downplayed in many works of the Soviet period.

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