The Phantom Holocaust
Soviet Cinema and Jewish Catastrophe
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Rutgers University Press
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Luckily, there are many people to thank. This project germinated in 2008, during the NEH Summer Institute on Russian and Soviet Visual Cultures, when I started thinking seriously about the representation of Jews in Soviet cinema. By 2009, I was en route to Russia, to work in the archives and interview the fi lmmakers...
1: Screening the Holocaust in the Soviet Union
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This book began with a paradox. Half of all Holocaust victims—nearly three million people—were killed on Soviet soil, mostly in swift machine-gun execu-tions.1 And yet, watching popular Holocaust movies, whether European or American, the impression is that Holocaust victims were mainly Polish and German Jews killed in concentration camps.2 Two questions arise: Why is the ...
2: Soviet Antifascist Films of the 1930s
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Following the Kristallnacht pogroms in Germany in November 1938, a wave of anti-Nazi protests swept over the Soviet Union. The protests were government sanctioned, highly orchestrated, and featured celebrity writers, actors, intellec-tuals, scientists, and other public fi gures, Jews and non-Jews. A thousand people showed up for a protest in Leningrad, over fi fteen hundred in Baku, over a thou-...
3: The First Phantom
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A few weeks after the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, several prominent Soviet Jewish cultural fi gures initiated a rally intended to rouse Jewish international support for the Soviet war against fascism. The rally, which took place on August 24, was attended by thousands, broadcast on radio nationally and internationally, reported in major Soviet newspapers, and widely circulated ...
4: How a Soviet Novel Turned into a Jewish Film
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In October 1945, The Unvanquished (Nepokorennye) premiered in Moscow theaters. This was a noteworthy event for several reasons. Nazi crimes against Jews were at the core of the fi lm. One of the central characters was a Jewish doctor played by the great Yiddish actor Veniamin Zuskin. A key scene in the fi lm was mass execution of Jews by a German fi ring squad (this scene was fi lmed on location, ...
5: The Holocaust on the Thawing Screens
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In 1953, Stalin died. Two years later, Khrushchev’s speech at the Twentieth Party Congress heralded the so-called Thaw, often understood as a period of relative liberalization in both politics and culture. But a closer look reveals that the process of liberalization was actually rather tentative, and that new signs of thaw were interspersed with plenty of familiar freezing. In that schizophrenic ...
6: The Holocaust at the Lithuanian Film Studio
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...“Manuscripts don’t burn,” wrote the Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov. This phrase proved to be prophetic many times in Soviet history, when books, fi lms, and other works of art that were seized, banned, rejected, or simply lost in archives came back to life in more liberal times. This chapter tells one of those stories—a banned screenplay that came back from the dead of the archives....
7: The Holocaust without the Jews
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The rejection of Gott mit Uns had profound consequences for Lithuanian fi lm-makers. Film tsars in Moscow not only rejected it but also made it clear that even considering such submissions was completely out of line. This frightened Julius Lozoraitis, a head of the Lithuanian Film Studio.1 The result was increased self-censorship in Lithuania, so that some screenplays never even reached the level ...
8: Kalik versus Goskino
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The biography of fi lm director Mikhail Kalik seems to encompass the entire Soviet Jewish experience of the twentieth century—hopes for communism, World War II, Stalin’s purges, the gulag, opposition to the regime, and fi nally emigration to Israel. Today, Kalik is in his eighties; he lives in Jerusalem, seem-ingly out of sync with his present environment. His apartment, full of memen-...
9: Stalemate (1965) between the Filmmaker and the Censors
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Mikhail Kalik’s fi lm Goodbye, Boys! was reluctantly released after a prolonged delay, but his next project, a screenplay set in a Vilnius ghetto, was never even given a chance to become a fi lm. The screenplay was based on a novel entitled Stalemate (Vechnyi Shakh) by Icchokas Meras, which was itself such an extraordi-The novel was fi rst published in 1965, in a popular Soviet literary magazine ...
10: Kalik's Last Phantom
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In the mid-1960s, around the time of his ordeals with Goodbye, Boys! and Stale-mate, Mikhail Kalik, along with many other fi lmmakers and writers, moved to the “Metro Aeroport” area of Moscow. It was a new neighborhood, made up of tall Soviet-style block buildings of a ghastly pinkish hue. New residents aptly named it “a pink ghetto” because so many of its residents were Jews, ...
11: The Film That Cost a Career
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Wartime Belarus was a site of the most horrifi c, unprecedented violence. Not only soldiers were killed in military combat between the German and Soviet armies but also civilians, Jews, and partisans—or people loosely affi liated with them. Killing of Jews, and retaliation against the partisans, took genocidal pro-portions: the population of whole villages was burned alive. Entire communities ...
12: Muslims Instead of Musslmans
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Simultaneously with the release of Eastern Corridor, another fi lm was in the works in the distant land of Uzbekistan. This was Sons of the Fatherland (Syny Otechestva, 1968), directed by Latif Faiziev. Although it might not be immediately apparent, this fi lm has much in common with Eastern Corridor. Both deal with the theme of the Holocaust, both are fi lmed in the tradition of the 1960s poetic ...
13: Commissar (1967/1988)
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In 1937, Sasha Askoldov was fi ve. He was growing up a happy child until the day his father was arrested. One night soon after, the secret police also came for his beautiful mother. Little Sasha overheard that in a couple of hours they would return for him. He pulled himself together, fi gured out how to unlock the door, and escaped. He walked for hours in the streets of nighttime Kiev. It was ...
14: An Alternative Track
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In 1941, the famous author and journalist Ilya Ehrenburg wrote, “I grew up in a Russian city. My native language is Russian. I am a Russian writer. Now, like all Russians, I am defending my homeland. But the Nazis have reminded me of something else: my mother’s name was Hannah. I am a Jew. I say this with pride. Hitler hates us more than anyone else.”1 Soviet Jews had a personal score to ...
15: The Last Phantom - the First Film
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By all accounts, Boris Ermolaev was an unusual person. After being trained as a medical doctor, he developed an interest in supernatural powers and practiced hypnosis and teleportation. Perfectly reasonable and sane people in Moscow recall that he was able to keep a handkerchief fl oating in the air. One day, how-ever, Ermolaev got tired of his psychic career and decided to study fi lmmaking. ...
16: Perestroika and Beyond
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The year 1986 was a game-changing one for Soviet cinema. The Filmmakers’ Union Congress demoted the old leadership, and Goskino lost its tight grip on the fi lm industry.1 Soon small production companies, called kooperativ, sprouted like mushrooms. By 1988, Soviet censorship ended, and fi lms on previously untouchable subjects, many of them made by kooperativs, fl ooded ...
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The received wisdom today is that the Holocaust simply was not represented on Soviet screens—the assumption is that fi lms about Jewish suff ering during World War II would have been banned just like The Black Book. However, the fi lms ana-lyzed in this book are evidence to the contrary: the Holocaust was represented on Soviet screens. Not only that, but paradoxically, the Soviets were actually ...
Abbreviations and Acronyms
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Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 20 illustrations
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Jewish Cultures of the World
Series Editor Byline: Matti Bunzl, Jeffrey Shandler