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USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive: USSR

Established in 1994 to preserve the audio-visual histories of survivors and other witnesses of the Holocaust, the USC Shoah Foundation maintains one of the largest video digital libraries in the world: the Visual History Archive (VHA).


The Holocaust in the occupied Soviet Union is one of largest subjects in the USC Shoah Foundation's Visual History Archive, discussed in over 12,500 interviews that include 7,175 in Russian and 304 in Ukrainian. A major effort was undertaken to record testimonies in the former Soviet Union—including 3,427 interviews in Ukraine, 677 in Russia, and 246 in Belarus—with interviewees who were often still living in the same location as they had before and during the war. Other survivors from this part of the world were interviewed in Israel, the United States, Germany, and elsewhere.

A number of themes are common to interviews describing the Soviet experience:

• General aspects of Soviet life: membership of the Communist Party, participation in the Komsomol and Pioneers; attitudes toward Stalin; life on the collective farms; Stalinist political repressions; Soviet concentration camps; the Soviet political police, including several interviews with people who served in the NKVD.
• Soviet Jewish life: the closure of Jewish schools and synagogues; Jewish religious observance in the USSR; Jews serving in the Soviet army; issues of Jewish and Soviet identity and anti-Semitism in the USSR (the “5th line of the Soviet passport”); the “Anti-cosmopolitan” campaign and the “Doctor’s Plot”; Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. Additionally, the Visual History Archive includes a rare collection of interviews with Karaites, Krimchaks, Mountain Jews, and Bukharan Jews.
• The evacuation and flight of civilians in the wake of the Axis invasion of June 22, 1941.
• M
ass shootings both large (such as at Babi Yar in Kyiv) and small (numerous massacres conducted in rural locations); executions using gas vans; subsequent Nazi efforts to cover up traces of mass killings, e.g. as conducted by Sonderkommando 1005 units.
• The establishment of ghettos and camps in the occupied Soviet Union: in some cases, these ghettos and camps are very obscure and Visual History Archive testimonies may be some of the only sources that confirm their existence.
• The partisan movement: the archive has a large body of information on a great number of resistance groups (including Jewish partisans units), the individuals connected to them, their operations, structure, organization, rules, and so on.
• Soviet POWs: the archive contains a number of interviews of Soviet-Jewish prisoners of war who hid their Jewish identity to survive.
• Ostarbeiter: the archive contains a number of interviews of Soviet-Jewish civilians who concealed their Jewish identity and were deported to Germany with other Ukrainians, Poles, Belorussians, and Russians.
• Transnistria: the archive has around 3,500 testimonies that relate to Transnistria—the area of southwestern Ukraine between the rivers Dniester and Bug that was under Romanian control between 1941 and 1944. Subjects discussed include the deportation of Jews from Bessarabia and Bukovina to Transnistria; the establishment of ghettos, camps and colonies; conditions under the Romanians; relations between the local Jews and the deportees; and the operation to rescue Jewish orphans from Transnistria organized by the Jewish communities in Bucharest and Palestine.
• Post-liberation and return home: filtration camps; the treatment of Soviet citizens who had been under German occupation during the war; and the non-recognition by Soviet authorities of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.

See also: Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.


Selected Indexing Terms

anti-political opponent measures

attitudes toward Joseph Stalin and/or Stalinism

attitudes toward the Soviet Union and/or Soviets

Axis-appointed local administration

Axis-appointed local administrative personnel

civilian evacuations

civilian labor conscription

collaboration suspicion

collaborator treatment

communist regime everyday life

deportation to Transnistria


gas vans

German invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941)

ghetto insignia

hostages taking

information restrictions

Jewish community extortion

Jewish population roundups

Jewish resistance fighters

Jewish resistance groups

Kaganovich, Lazar Moiseyevich


Khrushchev, Nikita


Kommunisticheskaia Partiia Sovetskogo Soiuza (KPSS)




mass executions

mass graves

mass murder awareness

mass murder coverups


official registration

persecuted group insignia


political opponent arrests

political opponent legal prosecutions

property seizure

Romanian colony

Russian Civil War

Russian Orthodox Churches

Russian Revolution of 1917

Russo-Polish War (1919–1920)


Sonderkommando 1005

Soviet antireligious measures

Soviet armed forces

Soviet civilian laborers

Soviet Communist Party membership

Soviet Famine (1921–1922)

Soviet government officials

Soviet history

Soviet labor units

Soviet occupation conditions

Soviet police and security forces

Soviet political police

Soviet political rehabilitation

Soviet political repression awareness

Soviet prisoners of war

Soviet propaganda

Soviet psychiatric hospitals

Soviet resistance fighters

Soviet resistance groups

Soviet soldiers


Stalin, Joseph

suspected collaborator arrests


Transnistrian Jewish children rescue

Ukrainian Famine (1932–1933)

Ukrainian Famine (1946–1947)

wartime experience concealment

wartime experience verification


Selected Bibliography


Alʹtman, Il′ia. (ed.). Kholokost na territorii SSSR: Entsiklopediia, Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2009.


Al′tman, Il′ia. Zhertvy nenavisti: Kholokost v SSSR 1941–1945 gg., Moscow: Fond “Kovcheg”: Kollektsiia “Sovershenno sekretno”, 2002.


Arad, Yitzhak. The Holocaust in the Soviet Union, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press; Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2009.


Erenburg, Ilʹia; Grossman, Vasilii. The Black Book: The Ruthless Murder of Jews by German-Fascist Invaders Throughout the Temporarily-Occupied Regions of the Soviet Union and in the Death Camps of Poland during the War of 1941-1945, New York: Holocaust Publications, 1981.


Gitelman, Zvi. Bitter Legacy: Confronting the Holocaust in the USSR, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997. 




Visual History Archive Curator

Crispin Brooks's picture
Crispin Brooks
DML 232, 213-740-5463