- Bringing the Dark Past to Light: The Reception of the Holocaust in Postcommunist Europe edited by John-Paul Himka and Joanna Beata Michlic
This study opens a number of new interdisciplinary pathways to the field of Holocaust studies in the postcommunist worlds of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Despite a modest selection of studies about the Holocaust in some of these countries during the past two decades—such as Michael Bar-Zohar’s Beyond Hitler’s Grasp: The Heroic Rescue of Bulgaria’s Jews (Holbrook, Mass., 1998) and Christian Gerlach and Götz Aly’s Das letzte Kapitel, Der Mord an den ungarishcen Jude, 1944– 1945 (Stuttgart, 2002)—we know little about the “carnival of revolution” regarding the Holocaust, that swept the region in the aftermath of communism’s collapse from 1989 to 1991. David S. Wyman gave us a hint about the fate of Holocaust memory and studies during the communist era in his The World Reacts to the Holocaust (Baltimore, 1996), which is a useful primer to Himka and Michlic’s interdisciplinary study.
To some extent, the question of how various countries have dealt with Holocaust memory and study can be ascertained by their communist and postcommunist histories. Soviet Belarus, for example, paid little [End Page 71] attention to the fate of the Jews during the Shoah; even in the post-Soviet era, Belarus continues to view the death of Jews in the broader context of the Soviet citizens who lost their lives during the war. The fact that as many as 800,000 Jews died in the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic during the Holocaust was not given special treatment outside a broader national theme.
In Russia, the question of the Holocaust is much more fraught, linked intellectually and socially to the long traditions of antisemitism that have haunted the face of that nation since the eighteenth century. On one level, Russian academics have readily adopted a more traditional Western understanding of this topic, but socially and politically, antisemitism remains a vibrant force in certain elements of Russian society.
This rich collection of chapters on each country in the region provides a complex and nuanced look at this issue from a variety of disciplinary approaches. More importantly, many of these chapters embrace a new approach to Holocaust studies by discussing the multi-ethnic nature of the Shoah throughout Eastern Europe and Russia, often, for example, tracing the fate of the Roma beyond the token statements about their victimization in many contemporary studies on the Holocaust. A number of the chapters also share such topics as Jasenovac, the deadly Ustaša concentration camp in Croatian Slavonia, and the question of genocide.
In addition to the fascinating discussions of national memory in postcommunist Eastern Europe and Russia, this well-edited collection also contributes significantly to the bibliography of this new, important field of study. Unfortunately, the only reference tools available for scholars are in the endnotes. The publisher might have at least consented to make a bibliography available online. Nonetheless, this pioneering work in the field of Holocaust studies should be a part of any library with even the most modest of holdings about the Shoah.