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Bringing the Dark Past to Light

The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe

John-Paul Himka

Publication Year: 2013

Despite the Holocaust’s profound impact on the history of Eastern Europe, the communist regimes successfully repressed public discourse about and memory of this tragedy. Since the collapse of communism in 1989, however, this has changed. Not only has a wealth of archival sources become available, but there have also been oral history projects and interviews recording the testimonies of eyewitnesses who experienced the Holocaust as children and young adults. Recent political, social, and cultural developments have facilitated a more nuanced and complex understanding of the continuities and discontinuities in representations of the Holocaust. People are beginning to realize the significant role that memory of Holocaust plays in contemporary discussions of national identity in Eastern Europe.

This volume of original essays explores the memory of the Holocaust and the Jewish past in postcommunist Eastern Europe. Devoting space to every postcommunist country, the essays in Bringing the Dark Past to Light explore how the memory of the “dark pasts” of Eastern European nations is being recollected and reworked. In addition, it examines how this memory shapes the collective identities and the social identity of ethnic and national minorities. Memory of the Holocaust has practical implications regarding the current development of national cultures and international relationships.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright page

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p. 5-5


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. viii-9

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-13

In 1945 few grasped the extent of the destruction of Eastern Euro-pean Jews and their civilization, and the implications of this loss for the region. Among the first who mourned the loss were the Jewish survivors and eyewitnesses, as illustrated by the poem “Untitled 1” of the January ...

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pp. 1-24

In the last two decades the subject of memory has become a compelling preoccupation of sociologists, historians, public intellectuals, and artists. The French scholar Henry Rousso has pointed out that “memory has become a value reflecting the spirit of our time.”1 We live in the era of memory and delayed remembering of traumatic experiences, and it is accompanied...

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1. “Our Conscience Is Clean”: Albanian Elites and the Memory of the Holocaust in Postsocialist Albania

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pp. 25-58

Compared to the contentious postsocialist debates over the Holocaust that have occurred in the other countries of Eastern Europe, the wartime history of prewar Albania’s 156 native Jews has generated scant public attention and scholarly research both in Albania and abroad.1 Nearly all Albania’s Jews and hundreds of nonnative refugees survived the Second World War in...

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2. The Invisible Genocide: The Holocaust in Belarus

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pp. 59-82

The current borders of the Republic of Belarus are a Soviet con-struction—the result of Lenin’s and Stalin’s nationalities policies. Rather than having been established in response to the demand from a mass nationalist movement, the borders were implemented by Soviet authorities in accordance with “expert advice” from Soviet ethnog-...

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3. Contemporary Responses to the Holocaust in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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pp. 83-107

This chapter, on the contemporary responses of members of various national groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereafter Bosnia) to the Holocaust, inevitably overlaps with other chapters in this book. I say “inevitably” because throughout its history, Bosnia has been linked in one way or another to neighboring Croatia and Serbia, even while ...

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4. Debating the Fate of Bulgarian Jews during World War II

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pp. 108-130

In November 2008 a Bulgarian-Israeli couple living in the United States organized a private initiative in which volunteers in five Bulgarian cities presented passersby with a total of forty-nine thousand carnations. The act was meant to commemorate the sixty-fifth anniversary of the saving of Bulgaria’s Jewish population during the Holo-...

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5. Representations of the Holocaust and Historical Debates in Croatia since 1989

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pp. 131-165

Croatia’s postcommunist transition has been inextricably associated with Yugoslavia’s violent dissolution. The “rebirth of history” and tious ideological debates. Reinterpretations of the past, whether of the precommunist or communist periods, were accompanied by divisive debates over the meaning of the 1991–95 “Homeland War” and par-...

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6. The Sheep of Lidice: The Holocaust and the Construction of Czech National History

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pp. 166-194

During the night of 9–10 June 1942, a unit of Gestapo from the nearby town of Kladno completely destroyed the Czech village of Lidice, shot all men on the spot, and abducted all women and children into con-centration camps. The village was leveled and the bodies of murdered men buried in mass graves. In a similar act of revenge, another vil-...

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7. Victim of History: Perceptions of the Holocaust in Estonia

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pp. 195-122

This chapter examines the perceptions of the Holocaust in contemporary Estonia. To comprehend how Estonians have formed their views on the Holocaust is to understand how Estonians conceive of their history. Ultimately, whatever Estonians think of the Jews as a group translates into their perceptions...

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8. Holocaust Remembrance in the German Democratic Republic—and Beyond

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pp. 223-260

As a place of Holocaust remembrance in the communist bloc, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) was uniquely positioned. It was one of the successor states of the Third Reich, and as such it occupied territory on which the Holocaust had been planned and from which it had been launched. This historical fact inevitably distinguished the GDR from its neighbors and allies to the east, where German genocidal intent had found its most murderous...

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9. The Memory of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Hungary

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pp. 261-299

In 2004 the Budapest city council debated whether or not there should be a statue of former prime minister Pál Teleki erected in Hungary’s capital city. Born in 1871, Teleki was the scion of an ancient Transylvanian noble family. During the years between the two world wars, he used his training as a geographer to amass social and geographic data that supported arguments....

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10. The Transformation of Holocaust Memory in Post-Soviet Latvia

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pp. 300-318

The Latvian Republic was annexed to the USSR on 17 June 1940. The period between summer 1940 and summer 1941 witnessed accelerated sovietization, manifested in the nationalization of all private businesses, russification of the population, and prohibition of religious practices. The ethnic Latvian...

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11. Conflicting Memories: The Reception of the Holocaust in Lithuania

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pp. 319-351

The Shoah represents the bloodiest page in the history of modern Lithuania. The genocide of the Jews should thus logically occupy a central place in the memory of the nation’s twentieth-century experience of wars and foreign occupations. Although perceptions of the Holocaust have changed considerably since the 1990s, the establishment of the Holocaust...

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12. The Combined Legacies of the “Jewish Question” and the “Macedonian Question”

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pp. 352-376

The territory of Macedonia is contested and has a history of division. That history has colored the legacy of the Holocaust in the region, especially as it relates to state-building projects of the war itself, but also to those of the postwar and postcommunist periods. The events of the Holocaust in this region...

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13. Public Discourses on the Holocaust in Moldova: Justification, Instrumentalization, and Mourning

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pp. 377-402

The territory of today’s Republic of Moldova consists of two main parts: the bulk of it lies between the Dniester and Prut Rivers (Prut being the easternmost affluent of the Danube) in the historical prov-ince of Bessarabia, while on the eastern, or left, bank of the Dniester River there lies a narrow strip of land that is sometimes called Trans-...

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14. The Memory of the Holocaust in Post-1989 Poland: Renewal—Its Accomplishments and Its Powerlessness

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pp. 403-450

On 18 May 2009 the German weekly Der Spiegel published an article, “Hitlers europäische Helfer beim Judenmord,” which astutely discusses various official and nonofficial collaborators and voluntary perpetrators in the murder of six million Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.1 The authors highlight...

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15. Public Perceptions of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Romania

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pp. 451-486

During the Second World War, between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews, 12,500 Roma, and thousands of Ukrainian and Russian civilians died at the hands of the Romanian authorities.1 Most of them perished due to starvation, disease, death marches, death trains, and mass killing operations.2 The toll...

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16. The Reception of the Holocaust in Russia: Silence, Conspiracy, and Glimpses of Light

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pp. 487-515

On 27 January 2005 Russian president Vladimir Putin stood in the circle of European and Western political leaders who had gathered at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the camp. Like his colleagues, Putin emphasized that the inhuman “fascist” ideas that ultimately had led to the Holocaust were in total...

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17. Between Marginalization and Instrumentalization: Holocaust Memory in Serbia since the Late 1980s

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pp. 516-548

Comparative studies of the treatment of the Holocaust in postcom-munist Eastern Europe, published over the past two decades, have paid little attention to the countries of the former Yugoslavia, especially in comparison to the interest shown for developments in, for instance, Hungary, Poland, or Romania. With the exception of the ...

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18. The “Unmasterable Past”? The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Slovakia

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pp. 549-590

European identity, based on the principle of “unity in difference,” represents a contested terrain of multiple discourses. The historical theme of the Holocaust stands out among these discourses as a common moral denominator that unifies Europeans concurrently on mental, emotional, and...

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19. On the Periphery: Jews, Slovenes, and the Memory of the Holocaust

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pp. 591-625

For some time now, the Holocaust has been widely understood as something that did not really occur in Slovenia, a region with very few Jews. This notion of Slovene “exceptionalism,” in which the trends of East-Central European history tend to somehow pass Slovenia by, remains strong in Slovene popular consciousness. Slovenia’s recent escape from the worst of...

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20. The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Ukraine

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pp. 626-662

On the eve of World War II the bulk of what is today Ukraine constituted the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. This was a polity with little control over its own affairs, especially after the intensification of centralization under Stalin. Although the Bolsheviks promoted Ukrainian language and culture in the republic in the 1920s, the 1930s saw a retreat from...

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pp. 663-694

This extraordinary new volume constitutes the first comprehensive and systematic examination of Eastern Europe’s attempts to grapple with its past following the fall of communism. The great advantage of such a survey of each political entity in this part of the continent is that it allows readers to grasp the range and nuances of responses in a wide geographical, cultural...


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pp. 695-704


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pp. 705-778

E-ISBN-13: 9780803246478
E-ISBN-10: 0803246471
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803225442

Page Count: 736
Illustrations: 6 photographs
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Historiography.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Europe, Eastern -- Influence.
  • Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Public opinion.
  • Public opinion -- Europe, Eastern.
  • Antisemitism -- Europe, Eastern.
  • Europe, Eastern -- History -- 1989-.
  • Europe, Eastern -- Ethnic relations.
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