- The Holocaust in the East: Local Perpetrators and Soviet Responses ed. by Michael David-Fox, Peter Holquist, and Alexander M. Martin
Central Europe, Germany in particular, has been the regional focus of Holocaust history for decades, for obvious reasons. The opening of the archives in eastern Europe and the territories of the former Soviet Union since the 1990s has facilitated a dramatic shift of this focus. It allowed for an impressive range of regional in-depth studies that render account to the fact that the murder of the European Jews and most parts of the Nazi genocidal project were carried out actually not in but east of Germany. This volume consists mostly of revised versions of articles published before in the journal Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, itself a driving force of that change. They refrain from engaging in the conceptual debates on macro explanations such as the colonial and/or imperial features of Nazi terror, conquest, [End Page 194] and genocide. Instead, the book deals with two themes: first, microhistories of local collaboration and complicity into the ferocious violence against Jews and other civilians; and second, inquiries into the inconsistent ways that the Soviet media and state agencies perceived and responded to Nazi crimes. The specific value of the various chapters derives from their careful examination of methodological issues, especially the problem of how to deal with the often contradictory and tainted, yet indispensable and illuminating sources—such as trial testimonies given in the immediate aftermath of the war—that are now available for studying the stunning dynamic of the violence that unfolded in eastern Europe under the influence of the Third Reich.
An outstanding example of the first group, the microhistories, is Vladimir Solonari’s elaboration on “Patterns of Violence” against the Jews in Bessarabia and northern Bukovina in the summer of 1941. It is based on a careful reading of records of Soviet postwar trials against local residents in these areas and of the reports of the Extraordinary State Commission the Soviet Union installed already in 1943 to examine the crimes of the Germans and their accomplices. Solonari distinguishes two different local patterns of violence. In some places the population concentrated on beatings, plunder, and personal enrichment but refrained from systematic murder. In other areas, antisemitic violence aimed at exactly this—the systematic and purposeful killing of Jews. As Solonari shows, it was the chain of hierarchies and the impact of the leaders in charge that determined which of these two alternatives took shape in each situation. Bessarabia is the regional focus of a second excellent contribution. Diana Dumitrus demonstrates how nuanced insights into motivations and the social background of local collaborators in what became Soviet Moldova can be gained by comparing two different types of sources: the postwar trial files of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) on the one hand, and on the other, interviews with former residents of Moldova conducted by the USHMM between 2004 and 2010 as part of its Oral History Documentation Project. Dumitrus warns of overrating the gentiles’ “resentment at Jews’ perceived participation in government during the brief Soviet takeover after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact” (155). Both types of sources indicate that mere greed and corruption played a bigger role in stimulating antisemitic violence than ideologically based motivations.
The second group of essays begins with a sympathetic assessment by Marci Shore of Jan Gross’s work on Poland under the Nazi regime. Gross’s famous Neighbors (published in 2000 in Polish and 2001 in English and German) was one of the key texts that propelled the shift of Holocaust history to eastern Europe. Shore places it in Gross’s lifelong interest in the workings of totalitarianism, especially its subjective dimension. Only by doing so, Shore argues, can one appreciate Gross’s often criticized reliance overall on relatively few and problematic testimonies. Four chapters provide subtle case studies of the Soviet responses to what is today called...