- The Holocaust in the East: Local Perpetrators and Soviet Responses ed. by Michael David-Fox, Peter Holquist, Alexander M. Martin
The nine essays under review cohere and productively engage one another in confronting major problems and questions in the fields of Soviet, East European, and Holocaust studies, including the collaboration of local populations and the USSR’s ambiguous attempts to document, publicize, and prosecute the crimes, and to commemorate the victims.
Five of the essays appeared previously in the journal Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, while essays by Tarik Cyril Amar, Diana Dumitru, and Zvi Gitelman, along with an introduction by John-Paul Himka, appear for the first time. Michael David-Fox’s preface explains the volume’s significance as a capstone to more than a decade of Kritika’s publication of scholarship that helped to move the study of World War II from the margins to the center of Soviet historiography—a product as much of the post-Soviet “archival revolution” as of challenges to the “structuralist” view that the war did not fundamentally transform the Stalinist USSR. The deeply researched and well-written contributions to this volume give due diligence to the war and the Holocaust as watershed events in Soviet history. [End Page 490]
Three of the essays present microhistories of local Nazi collaborators and civilian participation in the western Soviet borderlands. Marci Shore analyzes the impact of Jan Gross’s 2001 book Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, a study that launched public debate and motivated professional research about the role of local (in this case, Polish) perpetrators, as well as the lingering effects of Nazi and Soviet totalitarianism on collective memory. Vladimir Solonari credits Neighbors as the point of departure for his essay about Romanian and Ukrainian populations in Bukovina and Bessarabia. In July and August 1941, the Romanian military re-entered those territories—which had been under Soviet control for a year—murdered between 45,000 and 60,000 Jews, and deported nearly 150,000 to Transnistria in occupied Ukraine. Military orders were a determining factor in these “cleansings,” but Solonari also found evidence that in some towns killings began before the arrival of the Romanian forces and on the initiative of locals. As in Jedwabne, “Gentile locals organized themselves for the purpose of mass murder and accomplished it without assistance” (p. 61); indeed, the perpetrators “appeared to have been … determined to cleanse their village[s] of Jews,” whether motivated by antisemitism, greed and opportunism, or revenge against the canard of “Judeo-Bolshevism” (p. 62). Diana Dumitru examines collaboration in Moldova among Gentile civilians who murdered Jews after the withdrawal of the Red Army in 1941. She also explores how Soviet trials conducted by the NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) in 1944 can facilitate the study of this topic when corroborated by other sources; she found oral histories particularly valuable.
Four essays focus on Soviet responses to the Holocaust, including media reportage, postwar investigations, and war crimes trials. Karel Berkhoff complicates a longstanding consensus that the Soviet press categorically censored reports of mass murder of Jews in occupied Soviet territory, demonstrating that no evidence indicates any formal Soviet policy of concealing the fact that the Nazis were deliberately targeting Jews; through 1941 one could find press reports about massacres of Jews in various occupied Soviet regions. After early 1942, however, media reports began to strip the victims of their Jewish identities by depicting them as “peaceful Soviet citizens.” Harvey Asher’s essay likewise focuses on the Soviet media, but also includes a fascinating discussion of the military’s responses. Like Berkhoff, he suggests that Soviet authorities alternately allowed and suppressed publicity about the mass murder of Jews according to shifting war aims; Asher stresses that antisemitism was a determining factor in some, but not all, of the government’s responses. Both authors suggest that Soviet authorities may have been motivated at least in part by a desire to prevent a rise...