- The Holocaust in the Soviet Union
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, scholars have been better able to access the people and archives of former Soviet regions. For Holocaust historians, this has added an important and overdue corrective to a focus on the death camps in Poland and Nazi policy in the West. The actions of Nazi civilians and military personnel in the occupied Soviet territories resulted in the deaths of more than two million Jews, a large percentage of whom were killed long before the Operation Reinhard camps began to operate. In addition, study of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union offers the opportunity to investigate a different kind of killing—violence that was decentralized, personal, and required thousands of active participants. It also provides important insights into the often uneven implementation of Nazi policy across regions and the interactions between various levels and organizations of the Nazi state. A number of scholarly works on these issues have appeared, but the myriads of regions and crosscutting topics involved have discouraged many from attempting a study of the event as a whole.
Yad Vashem former director Yitzhak Arad attempts just such a synthesis in his substantial book, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union. It is to his credit that he has assembled such a comprehensive treatment of a subject so varied and multifaceted. Arad begins with a short discussion of the history of Soviet Jewry, focusing on traditions of antisemitism, pogroms, and persecution within Tsarist and Soviet Russia. This introduction undergirds his use of antisemitism as a nearly monocausal explanation for the Holocaust and for the participation of individuals in it. He adds to these introductory pieces relevant chapters on German-Soviet relations, the experience of Jews in the newly occupied Soviet territories, German preparations for murder in the Soviet Union, and Soviet deportations.
Roughly following Hilberg's analysis of the successive waves of killing, Arad organizes the core of the book into sections around the three phases of the mass murder. The first begins with the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 and ends in the winter of 1941–42. The second phase takes place between spring 1942 and the German defeat at Stalingrad, which the author dates as "late 1942"—that is, the Soviet counter-offensive and encirclement rather than the official [End Page 307] surrender in February 1943. The final stage runs from early 1943 until the German retreat in 1944. These are useful conceptual timeframes as they correspond roughly to the initial period of Einsatzgruppen killings and ghettoization, a second sweep of mass executions, and the final labor camp and ghetto liquidations.
Within these sections, Arad organizes the book largely geographically. In this framework he treats the Reichskommissariats Ostland and Ukraine, the so-called "old" territory of the Soviet Union, areas under military administration, the Crimea, and the complex region of Transnistria. This geographic grounding serves as a useful framework for the mass of data that Arad provides. One of the most valuable contributions of this work is the richness of the data that the author painstakingly has compiled: dates, locations, actors, and numbers of victims. Holocaust scholars will benefit greatly from the opportunity to access all this information in one volume.
This lengthy work continues with four thematic sections. Interestingly, Arad devotes one section to "The Murder of Specific Jewish Groups," including those in mixed marriages, Jews living in orphanages, Jewish prisoners of war, and Reich Jews relocated to the East. The remaining three sections treat the expropriation of Jewish property, non-Jewish reaction to the Holocaust in the Soviet Union, and various forms of Jewish resistance, including individual and collective resistance, revolts, and Jewish participation in partisan movements.
Two final chapters merit special recognition. Despite the Nazis' seemingly obsessive documentation, it is often difficult to establish numbers of victims—doubly so for the Holocaust in the Soviet Union, given its changing geographic boundaries, decentralized nature, and less thorough documentation. In his final chapter, Arad provides statistics regarding...