Central European History Society President’s Panel: Transnational Encounters on the Soviet Home Front: Central and East European Jewish Refugees in the USSR during the Holocaust

AHA Session 15
Central European History Society 1
Thursday, January 4, 2018: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Calvert Room (Omni Shoreham, East Lobby)
Atina Grossmann, Cooper Union
John Goldlust, La Trobe University

Session Abstract

This panel aims to engage the conference theme of “race, ethnicity, and nationalism in global perspective” by focusing attention on the experience of Central and Eastern European Jewish refugees as they struggled to survive the Holocaust in remote regions of the Soviet Union. The papers trace their diverse journeys through, and in, a vast expanse of the USSR and present a complex entangled wartime history of transnational and multicultural encounters between Jewish and non-Jewish Polish refugees, or with Soviet citizens of multiple nationalities and ethnicities including mostly Muslim Uzbeks and Kazakhs, and Soviet, including local Bukharan, Jews. Stalin’s Soviet Union provided the crucial if extremely harsh and generally involuntary refuge, first in Siberia and then in Central Asia for much of the “saved remnant” of Eastern and Central European Jewry. Indeed, 2/3 to 80 percent of all Polish Jews who survived the Second World War (altogether perhaps 10 percent of 3.3 to 3.5 million Jews who had resided in prewar Poland) did so because they escaped Nazi occupation after they were evacuated (as newly Soviet citizens) or deported (as suspect Poles) away from the invading German forces. Notwithstanding the boom in Holocaust studies and commemoration over the past decades, the experience of this largest cohort of survivors and their transnational trajectories of flight, displacement, and survival remain unclear and under-researched.

The papers and commentary by scholars from the U.S. and Australia seek therefore to recuperate this essentially lost history, which has gone missing in the cracks among Jewish, East and Central European, and Soviet historiographies. Mark Edele’s paper unravels demographic and geographical data, much of it newly unearthed from post-Soviet archives, about the quite varied fates of Polish Jews who sought to escape National Socialism in the Soviet Union. Natalie Belsky’s contribution analyzes a 1984 memoir by a Czech Jewish refugee as an example of the testimonies historians are only now discovering and as a window into broader questions about wartime relations with local residents, Soviet wartime evacuees, and Polish deportees in Siberia and Central Asia. Eliyana Adler examines the ways in which Polish Jews remembered and tried to explain their fraught, ambivalent, and unexpected interactions with a wide variety of more or less exotic “others” in Central Asia. By bringing a “variety of national historiographies in dialogue with each other," the papers will analyze how Soviet, Polish, Czech, Uzbek Muslim, and Jewish identities, defined by ethnicity, religion, and nationalism, were entangled, reinforced, and transformed during a period of extreme crisis behind the lines in wartime Siberia and Central Asia. We see this panel with its integration of scholarship from the areas of the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust, the history of Poland and the Soviet Union, and the study of refugees and displaced persons as part of the remapping of standard definitions of Central European, East European, Soviet, and Jewish history as well as a key contribution to the evolving field of transnational studies

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