- Probing the Limits of Documentation
On 5 October 2007, the New York Times profiled a French priest named Father Patrick Debois, who has spent the last ten years of his life searching the countryside of Ukraine for the burial sites of Jews murdered by Nazis and their collaborators during World War II.1 The story was noteworthy not because it was about the Holocaust, since the Holocaust routinely makes it onto the pages of this august newspaper. Rarely, however, has the newspaper's coverage of the Holocaust touched on the former Soviet Union. It seems that it took more than a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and the opening of archives in the former Soviet Union for public discussion about the Holocaust in the East to become mainstream.
Scholars from around the world have been studying how the Holocaust unfolded in the Soviet Union since the late 1990s, including the Russian Holocaust historian Il´ia Al´tman, the German historian Andrej Angrick, the American Israeli historian Amir Weiner, and the American political scientist Zvi Gitelman. Kritika has also devoted considerable attention to the Holocaust in the Soviet Union in the past five years.2 Finally, the steward of Holocaust Studies in the United States, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), has put the Holocaust in the Soviet Union to the front of its research agenda with two symposia dedicated to the subject in the past four years.3 Simultaneously, in Moscow, Al´tman's Holocaust Center, founded in 1992 as a center for education and research about the Holocaust in general and the Holocaust in the Soviet Union in particular, grows each year with training seminars for teachers, new publications, and conferences to bring together teachers and scholars from throughout the former Soviet Union.4 Gennadii Kostyrchenko continues to scour the archives for his important works on Stalin-era antisemitism, some of which relate to the Holocaust.5 [End Page 122]
Why the new interest in the Holocaust in the Soviet Union? The simple and not completely satisfying answer is that the archives are open and the Soviet Union has fallen. The opening of archives has allowed people to research the subject in more depth; the end of communism means that Russian scholars can now put the Holocaust on their research agendas. A secondary effect of the fall of the Soviet Union was the migration of dozens of talented Russian, and often Jewish, scholars, who now make their homes in universities across the world and are bringing their research agendas and methodologies with them. First, they put Russia at the center of their research on Jewish history, not at the margins. Second, when it comes to World War II, they bring their post-Soviet understanding of the war and the Holocaust to their scholarship. They...