Public Lecture: The Holocaust and the Soviet Union

The Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation (ACJC) will present a public lecture on ‘The Holocaust and the Soviet Union’.

This will be the only public event of The Dr Jan Randa Aftermath Workshop in Holocaust and Genocide Studies on the theme of The Holocaust and the Soviet Union – which will be held in Melbourne on 27 and 28 May, 2015.

Hear from workshop participants about new research findings on the Holocaust and the Soviet Union.

About 1.2 million Soviet Jews and probably as many as 250,000 Polish Jews survived the Second World War in the eastern parts of the Soviet Union. Some, following the German invasion of 1941, were evacuees, transferred to the relative safety of the rear as part of an organized effort by the Soviet state; others were refugees fleeing Nazi persecution deported eastwards by the Soviets, and still others occupied a gray area between evacuee and refugee status. A considerable number of both Soviet and refugee Jews later found, or were assigned, an active role in the Soviet and allied military campaigns that turned the tide of the war against Germany, and were thus able to participate directly in the liberation of Eastern Europe in 1944 and 1945. Some of the Jews who remained outside the reach of the German invaders died as a result of bombings, disease or hunger, participation in military and partisan actions and even at the hands of the Soviet authorities. But the majority managed to survive the difficult years of the war, thousands of kilometers from their former homes and living among the diverse and multinational communities of Soviet Central Asia, and Siberia.

Recent research, facilitated by the opening of Russian and international archives suggests the need to include Jewish evacuees and deportees in the Holocaust narrative and lately, an increasing number of scholars have started focusing on the Jews who survived the war in the Soviet Union.

Australia is well situated to host a workshop on these themes for a number of reasons. Firstly, Polish Jews were by far the largest group of Jewish refugees who fled into Soviet occupied areas prior to in German invasion of the USSR in June 1941. And the Jewish immigrant cohort who settled in Australia in the post-war decade included a substantial number of mostly Polish but also some other European Jews who survived only because they either moved into or were already residents of Soviet controlled areas of Eastern Europe between 1939 and 1941. Their experiences are only now being documented via memoirs and more importantly collections of Holocaust testimonies.

Secondly, Australia’s Jewish population now includes a considerable number of Soviet-born Jews whose family histories are encompassed by the wartime evacuations into the ‘Asian’ regions of the USSR.

Workshop co-hosted by the Melbourne Holocaust Museum and supported by The Pratt Foundation.