Dr Jan Randa Aftermath Workshop, The Holocaust & the Soviet Union

The Dr Jan Randa Aftermath Workshop in Holocaust and Genocide Studies on the theme of ‘The Holocaust and the Soviet Union’.

Dates: 

  1. Workshop: a two-day workshop for invited participants from Australia and overseas will take place at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne on May 27th and May 28th, 2015. Here participants will be presenting and discussing their current research on a range of topics related to the general workshop theme.
  2. Public event: The workshop will conclude with a public event at the Monash University Caulfield campus on the evening of May 28th, 2015, 7.30 pm–9.30 pm. 

About 1.2 million Soviet Jews and probably as many as 250,000 Polish Jews survived the Second World War in the eastern parts of the Soviet Union. Some, following the German invasion of 1941, were evacuees, transferred to the relative safety of the rear as part of an organized effort by the Soviet state; others were refugees fleeing Nazi persecution deported eastwards by the Soviets, and still others occupied a gray area between evacuee and refugee status. A considerable number of both Soviet and refugee Jews later found, or were assigned, an active role in the Soviet and allied military campaigns that turned the tide of the war against Germany, and were thus able to participate directly in the liberation of Eastern Europe in 1944 and 1945. Some of the Jews who remained outside the reach of the German invaders died as a result of bombings, disease or hunger, participation in military and partisan actions and even at the hands of the Soviet authorities. But the majority managed to survive the difficult years of the war, thousands of kilometers from their former homes and living among the diverse and multinational communities of Soviet Central Asia, and Siberia.

Recent research, facilitated by the opening of Russian and international archives suggests the need to include Jewish evacuees and deportees in the Holocaust narrative and lately, an increasing number of scholars have started focusing on the Jews who survived the war in the Soviet Union.

Australia is well situated to host a workshop on these themes for a number of reasons. Firstly, Polish Jews were by far the largest group of Jewish refugees who fled into Soviet occupied areas prior to in German invasion of the USSR in June 1941. And the Jewish immigrant cohort who settled in Australia in the post-war decade included a substantial number of mostly Polish but also some other European Jews who survived only because they either moved into or were already residents of Soviet controlled areas of Eastern Europe between 1939 and 1941. Their experiences are only now being documented via memoirs and more importantly collections of Holocaust testimonies. Secondly, Australia’s Jewish population now includes a considerable number of Soviet-born Jews whose family histories are encompassed by the wartime evacuations into the ‘Asian’ regions of the USSR.

Workshop discussion themes will include:

  1. the personal experiences of Jewish evacuees and deportees (both wartime refugees and Soviet Jews) drawing out the varied interpretations and responses to their situations under the Soviet regime; Jewish religious and cultural life in wartime Central Asia and Siberia; evacuees’ and refugees’ mutual perceptions and interactions; and, their encounters with local communities.
  2. the institutional history of evacuation – involvement of Jewish aid organizations in the US and Palestine; responses of authorities, e.g. the Polish government-in-exile as well as Soviet state, security apparatus and local cadres.
  3. post-war outcomes – in the decade following the end of WW2, the impact and fall-out of the cold-war situation on the geographic, economic and psychological trajectories of the Jewish refugee populations from Poland and elsewhere under Soviet authority, and also for Soviet Jews.
  4. issues of public history and commemoration – the marginal place of these experiences in Holocaust museums and rituals; the issue of belated compensation; and, a serious reconsideration of established definitions of who is or is not a ‘survivor’.

Expected outcomes:

The two-day intensive workshop will would bring together, for the first time, scholars currently researching these themes and topics. Such an international cross-disciplinary group will stimulate and broaden research agendas, and more firmly integrate these events and experiences into the framework of Holocaust studies.

The evening public forum provides the opportunity to expand the discussion by encouraging the contributions of members of the Australian Jewish community, many of whose family histories and biographical backgrounds include these so-far considerably less well-documented wartime experiences inside the Soviet Union.

Sponsorship and funding: The Dr Jan Randa Aftermath Workshop in Holocaust and Genocide Studies on the theme of ‘The Holocaust and the Soviet Union’ and the associated public event are co-sponsored by the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation and the Jewish Holocaust Centre, Melbourne. Additional workshop funding was generously provided by a grant from The Pratt Foundation.

Workshop Participants 

Coordinator: Dr John Goldlust, Honorary Associate, Humanities and Social Sciences, La Trobe University; Adjunct, Australian Centre For Jewish Civilization, School of Philosophical Historical and International Studies, Monash University

Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick, Honorary Professor, Department of History, The University of Sydney; Emerita Professor, Department of History, The University of Chicago

Professor Atina Grossmann, Humanities and Social Sciences, The Cooper Union, NYC

Professor Mark Edele, School of Humanities, University of Western Australia

Dr. Eliyana R. Adler, Department of History, Program in Jewish Studies, Penn State University

Dr. Natalie Belsky, Lecturer in History at St Xavier University, Chicago

Dr. Maria Tumarkin, writer and cultural historian, Melbourne

Dr Jayne Persian, ARC Research Associate on the project ‘War and Displacement: From the Soviet Union to Australia in the Wake of the Second World War’ (Professors Sheila Fitzpatrick and Mark Edele)

Dr. David Slucki, Visiting Assistant Professor, Jewish Studies Program, College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina