Dr Jan Randa Workshop in Holocaust and Genocide Studies: The Holocaust and the Soviet Union


Melbourne, May 27 and May 28, 2015

Polish Jews in exile in village of Zhuravlovka, Kazakhstan during WW2 (Photo from archives of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
Polish Jews in exile in village of Zhuravlovka, Kazakhstan during WW2 (Photo from archives of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)
  1. Workshop: Presentations of recent research and work in progress:

 This workshop is by invitation only to academics presenting papers – it is not a public event

  1. Public Forum on ‘The Holocaust and the Soviet Union’:

Monash University, Caulfield campus. Building H, Room 116

Thursday May 28: 7:30 – 9pm.


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 Forum are co-sponsored by the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilization and the Jewish Holocaust Centre, Melbourne. Additional funding was generously provided by a grant from The Pratt Foundation.

  1. Dr. Maria Tumarkin, writer and cultural historian, Melbourne

‘They didn’t know who Jews were and they didn’t care’ –
Soviet Jews in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan during the Second World War
(a non-scholarly monologue)

My presentation is a creative exploration of the experiences of Soviet Jews who survived the war by virtue of being evacuated to the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Drawing on first-hand accounts of such evacuees, including members of my own family, as well as on a range of literary and testimonial sources not available in English translation, I intend to piece together an evocative and historically precise group portrait of the evacuees’ experiences. I will also explore the ways these experiences have been remembered and narrated in families and communities over the course of more than half a century. My presentation will take the form of a monologue, not of a scholarly paper.


  1. Prof. Mark Edele, School of Humanities, University of Western Australia

Trajectories of Polish-Origin Jews in the Soviet Second World War: Implications for Historiographies (Mark Edele and Wanda Warlik)

This paper sketched the major trajectories of Jews from Poland in the Soviet Union’s Second World War. One group traveled, equipped with Japanese exit visas, through the entire Union to Vladivostok and on to Japan. If they did not immediately emigrate elsewhere, they usually ended in the Shanghai ghetto for the rest of the war. A second group was either deported or travelled voluntarily to the Soviet hinterland, later joined the nominally Polish Berling Army and returned with it to Poland at war’s end. A third group instead exited the Soviet Union with the Anders Army via Iran in 1942. A fourth group left only after the war during “repatriation” to Poland, and a fifth group remained in the Soviet Union for good.

In the second part of the paper, we will then outline the implications of integrating these trajectories into histories of the Second World War. We will consider four broad literatures: the history of the Holocaust, the history of the Soviet Union at war, the history of Soviet population displacements, and Polish histories of deportation and exile.


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

Encounters and New Discoveries: Jewish Evacuees and Refugees in the Wartime Soviet Union

My talk will address the nature of encounters and interactions among Soviet Jewish evacuees, Soviet authorities, non-Jewish evacuees and Polish Jewish refugees at sites of resettlement in the unoccupied areas of the Soviet Union during the war. During the war, Central Asian cities like Tashkent and Alma-Ata became important hubs where individuals of distinct ethnicities, cultures and background came into contact with one another.

I consider the way in which people perceived one another, how displaced populations adapted to changed living conditions and how different groups came to rely on one another. One of the main areas of focus will be the rise of anti-Semitism on the home front and how Jewish evacuees and refugees coped with the hostility they encountered. Moreover, I will consider how individuals’ conceptions of Jewish culture, identity and practice were affected by their wartime experience and, especially, the encounters between Polish Jews and Soviet Jews.


  1. Dr John Goldlust, Australian Centre For Jewish Civilization, Monash University, Melbourne

Identity Profusions: bio-historical journeys from ‘Polish Jew’/‘Jewish Pole’ through ‘Soviet Citizen’ to ‘Holocaust Survivor’

Seeking to complement historical and documentary sources with personal memoirs and testimonies, I am currently exploring written and oral accounts illustrative of the various pathways taken by Jews born in Poland who spent the war years under Soviet authority, and who later settled in Australia. Over the course of the war and through the following post-war decade, most were subject to a series of often less than voluntary geographical relocations. As well as having to readjust to new places, people, and surroundings they were also continuously required to negotiate a shifting, often bewildering and frequently contradictory mélange of structural and political forces impinging not only upon their family loyalties, communal connections and personal liberties, but in some instances challenging the very core of their personal understandings, beliefs and values. I suggest that taken together, such potentially destabilizing encounters required of this disparate group of serially displaced Jews continuous readjustments to, and reevaluations of, their subjective attachments to both previous and more recently ‘acquired’ social, religious, political and ethno-national identity(ies).


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

Crossing Over: Exploring the Borders of Holocaust Testimony

This paper will explore varied ways in which Polish Jewish survivors of the Second World War in the Soviet Union talk about their experiences and identity vis-à-vis the Holocaust in their oral testimonies. It will argue that by choosing, on a given day, to flee from Nazi occupation to the Soviet zone, they not only evaded the Holocaust, but have since evaded clear classification. With a focus on interviews conducted by the Visual History Archives of the Shoah Foundation, the paper will examine how some of the flight survivors struggle to articulate their status as survivors, while others are confident either that they did survive the Holocaust, or that they did not. It is hoped that this exploration of the borders of Holocaust testimony will shed light on a less prominent survival experience while also problematizing both Holocaust testimony and the borders of survival.


  1. Prof. Atina Grossmann, Humanities and Social Sciences, The Cooper Union, NYC

Remapping Survival: Jewish Refugees and Lost Memories of Displacement, Trauma, and Rescue in the Soviet Union, Iran, and India

The paper addresses a transnational Holocaust story that remarkably – despite several decades of intensive scholarly and public attention to the history and memory of the Shoah – has remained essentially untold, marginalized in both historiography and commemoration. The majority of the c. 250,000 Jews who constituted the “saved remnant” (She’erit Hapleta) of East European Jewry gathered in Allied Displaced Persons camps survived because they had been “deported to life” in the Soviet Union. Moreover, Iran became a central site for Jewish relief efforts as well as a crucial transit stop for the Polish Army in Exile and the “Teheran Children” on their way to Palestine; Jewish refugees, both allied and “enemy alien,” were also a significant presence in British India, in internment camps, orphanages, and the Jewish Relief Association of Bombay. The paper seeks to integrate these largely unexamined experiences and lost memories of displacement and trauma into our understanding of the Shoah, and to remap the landscape of persecution, survival, relief and rescue during and after World War II. It asks how this “Asiatic” experience shaped definitions (and self-definitions) as “survivors,” in the immediate postwar context of displacement and up to the present globalization of Holocaust and post-colonial memory, including a very recent “boomlet” of narratives (electronic and hard-copy publications, re-publications, and translations into English) about “surviving the Holocaust” in the Soviet Union.


  1. Dr. David Slucki, Jewish Studies Program, College of Charleston, South Carolina

How survivors became Survivors: the Katsetler Farband and the beginnings of survivor consciousness in the United States

In 1946, the United Jewish Survivors of Nazi Persecution, the Katsetler Farband, was established in New York City. Founded by and for survivors, the Katsetler Farband was originally founded in order to provide for the needs of newly-arrived European Holocaust survivors. Although only a small organization, it provides a window into the institutional delineation of what was a survivor and how the Holocaust came to be understood and remembered by survivors, which in turn impacted its place in the American, and global, Jewish imagination. Drawing on archival materials located at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, this micro-historical study looks at the emergence and development of the Katsetler Farband. By examining this organization, I ask broader questions about the process of defining a survivor, and how survivors themselves negotiated the boundaries of what was the Holocaust, and what was considered a Holocaust experience.

Within only a few years of its founding, the Katsetler Farband became an organisation that intended not only to ease the integration process for the refugees, but also to provide a social and cultural milieu for survivors who felt alienated from the broader American Jewish world. In addition to helping survivors with the day-to-day process of resettlement, the Katsetler Farband played an important role in creating a sense of communal cohesion among survivors. It organized musical, literary, and theatrical evenings and Holocaust commemorations. It collaborated with branches of the Workmen’s Circle, establishing its own kindergarten in the Bronx. It organized summer retreats to the Catskills. Further, although it declared itself to be a non-political organization, the Katsetler Farband would eventually, join the Civil Rights struggle alongside other Jewish organisations.

The aims of this paper are twofold: first, it shows an instance in which survivors formed their own communities, distinct from their local Jewish communities. Second, it gives a window into how the members of such communities of suffering determined who would be included and excluded, and thereby, whose experiences of survival would be legitimated. This is part of my broader project in which I examine the emergence of Holocaust survivor networks in the United States, and the ways in which they formulated a distinct idea of the boundaries of the Holocaust, and how these ideas permeated into American society at large.


  1. Dr. Ruth Balint, School of Humanities and Languages, University of New South Wales

In this paper I discuss my research findings in the recently opened International Tracing Service (ITS) archives, in particular the documents relating to the postwar practices of refugee screening by the International Refugee Organisation, the IRO. The IRO defined DPs and refugees as those whose displacement resulted from the actions of, or persecution by the National Socialist, Fascist, or “quisling” collaborator regimes and questionnaires were designed to screen out war criminals, collaborators and ethnic Germans. Jewish survivors were usually automatically exempt from the screening process. Those the IRO found unworthy of DP status had the right of appeal, and these appeals were often in the form of lengthy petitions arguing an individual’s case for eligibility. These records are often a goldmine for the historian. They document the micro-histories of many thousands of individuals who survived both Nazi and Soviet persecution. At the same time, they reveal the ways in which ideas of victimhood, guilt and persecution were interpreted, narrativised and negotiated by the mainly non-Jewish DPs and the Allies in the immediate aftermath of war. These records can also offer insight into how the various actors in Occupied Europe faced the fraught questions of national identity, national belonging and the recent Jewish past. Given the focus of the symposium, I have chosen to examine the screening and appeal files of individuals who fled the Soviet Union and/or refused to return.


  1. Prof. Sheila Fitzpatrick, Department of History, The University of Sydney

The Zhemchuzhina case: newly released materials in Soviet archives on the “Jewish question” in the high politics of the late Stalin period:

The highlight of the Politburo’s “Jewish question” files, recently partially declassified in RGANI (Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, i.e. Communist Party archive from 1953) are materials relating to the case of Polina Zhemchuzhina, the high-profile Jewish Old Bolshevik who had single-handedly created the Soviet cosmetics industry and later headed the Ministry of Fisheries in the 1930s, arrested on charges of Zionism in 1949. Zhemchuzhina was a friend of Solomon Mikhoels (killed on Stalin’s orders in 1948) and close to other members of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, whose members were shot after being convicted of treason in a closed military trial in 1952. She was also the wife of Politburo member and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, long Stalin’s No. 2 and closest associate. Zhemchuzhina was never put on trial. But the archival materials give a detailed picture of the process of interrogation of her associates and relatives whereby the security agencies developed first one scenario against her (Zionism) and then another (sexual promiscuity). Finally the case – the most important of several “Jewish” cases in the development stage in the late 1940s – was dropped, and Zhemchuzhina was sent into exile in Kazakhstan (her husband remaining a Politburo/Presidium member), where she remained until her release immediately following Stalin’s death.