Soviet Jews in World War II: Fighting, Witnessing, Remembering

Soviet Jews in World War II: Fighting, Witnessing, Remembering

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Edited by Gennady Estraikh & Harriet Murav

Series: Borderlines: Russian and East-European Jewish Studies
ISBN: 9781618113139 (hardcover), 9781618118165 (paperback)
Pages: 270 pp.
Publication Date: April 2014

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This volume discusses the participation of Jews as soldiers, journalists, and propagandists in combating the Nazis during the Great Patriotic War, as the period between June 22, 1941, and May 9, 1945 was known in the Soviet Union. The essays included here examine both newly-discovered and previously-neglected oral testimony, poetry, cinema, diaries, memoirs, newspapers, and archives. This is one of the first books to combine the study of Russian and Yiddish materials, reflecting the nature of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, which, for the first time during the Soviet period, included both Yiddish-language and Russian-language writers. This volume will be of use to scholars, teachers, students, and researchers working in Russian and Jewish history.

Gennady Estraikh is associate professor of Yiddish studies, Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. He is the author of Yiddish in the Cold War (2008), In Harness: Yiddish Writer's Romance with Communism (2004), Soviet Yiddish: Language Planning and Linguistic Development (1999) and the co-editor of Translating Sholem Aleichem: History, Politics, and Art (2012) and 1929: Mapping the Jewish World (2013).

Harriet Murav is professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures and Comparative and World Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Hey studies of Dostoyevsky, Russian law and literature, and twentieth century Russian and Yiddish literature are complemented by her most recent monograph, Music from a Speeding Train: Jewish Literature in Post-Revolution Russia (2011). She is the co-editor of Jews in the East European Borderlands: Essays in Honor of John Klier (2012).


The perpetrator-bystander-victim model that has by and large dominated Holocaust scholarship is challenged by the appearance of Soviet Jews in World War II: Fighting, Witnessing, Remembering, a collection of essays that examines the role of Soviet Jews as heroes during what the Soviets called the Great Patriotic War. Although the essays in the book cover different types of texts, they are united by a similar set of concerns ... demonstrating that in addition to the breadth of essays present here on the subject of the Holocaust in the Soviet context, the entire Soviet epoch ... is a treasure-trove waiting to be discovered and explored.
— Naya Lekht, University of California Los Angeles, Slavic and East European Journal 60.4 (Winter 2016)
One of this volume’s most significant achievements is that it contains material that will help educators teach about the Soviet Jewish experience as part of undergraduate courses on the Holocaust. Beautiful translations of Erenburg letters, Selvinskii’s and Slutskii’s poems, and Mikhail Romm’s accounts . . . are among the most valuable key texts, which will change the way the Holocaust is taught in North America. The combination of thorough analysis of new sources with the publication of primary materials make this volume a must-have for anyone interested in Soviet Jewish history and the Holocaust.
— Anna Shternshis (University of Toronto), Slavic Review
This collection tells stories of Jews in World War II which are practically unknown in the West. These stories are not about the Warsaw Ghetto or Auschwitz, but about Soviet Jewish soldiers, partisans, intellectuals and artists, men and women who fought in the bloodiest battles that the world has known. Drawing on a wide variety of little-known sources, such as private letters, archival documents, memoirs, newspaper reports, novels, poems, photographs and film, this book paints a vivid and dramatic picture of human suffering and heroism.
— Mikhail Krutikov, University of Michigan
An impressive introduction to new sources and groundbreaking methods in the study of Soviet-Jewish experience during the Second World War. The studies combine an impressive range of critical and historical approaches with solid learning.
— Olga Litvak, Clark University
The essays range far and wide.
— Sheldon Kirshner, for and The Times of Israel

Table of Contents

Gennady Estraikh and Harriet Murav

Part 1: Histories
Chapter 1. Mordechai Altshuler, “Jewish Combatants of the Red Army Confront the Holocaust” 
Chapter 2. Joshua Rubenstein, “Ilʹia Ehrenburg and the Holocaust in the Soviet Press” 
Chapter 3. Oleg Budnitskii, “Jews at War: Diaries from the Front” 
Chapter 4. Gennady Estraikh, “Jews as Cossacks: A Symbiosis in Literature and Life” 
Chapter 5. Arkadi Zeltser, “How the Jewish Intelligentsia Created the Jewishness of the Jewish Hero: The Soviet Yiddish Press” 
Part II: Representation, Documentation, and Interpretation
Chapter 6. Marat Grinberg, “Foreshadowing the Holocaust: Boris Slutskii’s Jewish Poetic Cycle of 1940/41” 
Chapter 7. Harriet Murav, “Poetry After Kerchʹ: Representing Jewish Mass Death in the Soviet Union” 
Chapter 8. Olga Gershenson, “Between the Permitted and the Forbidden: The Politics of Holocaust Representation in The Unvanquished (1945)
Chapter 9. David Shneer, “From Photojournalist to Memory Maker: Evgenii Khaldei and Soviet Jewish Photographers” 
Chapter 10. Memoirs:
a. Boris Slutskii, “The Story of Gershelʹman, a Jew”
b. Mikhail Romm, “The Question of the National Question, or
A Rally for a Genuinely Russian Cinema” 
c. Anatolii Rybakov, “A Novel of Memoirs”
Chapter 11. Zvi Gitelman, “Afterword: Soviet Jews in World War II: Experience, Perception and Interpretation”