The history of the Soviet Union - and the Holocaust in the occupied Soviet Union in particular - 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. Between 1995 and 1999, USCSF undertook a major effort 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 World War II. Other survivors from the former Soviet Union were interviewed in Israel, the United States, Germany, and elsewhere.
A number of themes are common to interviews describing Soviet experiences:
• General aspects of Soviet life: membership (or non-membership) of the Communist Party, participation in the Komsomol and Pioneers; attitudes toward Stalin; life on collective farms; Stalinist political repressions (campaigns against private trade, religion, "kulaks," perceived political opponents); collectivization; the famines of 1921, 1932-1933, and 1946-1947; Soviet special settlements and concentration camps; the Soviet political police, including interviews with people who served in the NKVD.
• Soviet Jewish life: the closure of Jewish schools and synagogues; Jewish religious observance in the USSR; Jewish kolkhozes; 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 rare interviews with Bukharan Jews (3), Karaites (9), Krimchaks (37), and Mountain Jews (22).
• The evacuation and flight of civilians in the wake of the Axis invasion of June 22, 1941.
• Mass 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.
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 labor conscription
communist regime everyday life
"dekulakization" (USSR, 1928-1933)
deportation to Transnistria
"enemies of the people"
German invasion of the Soviet Union (June 22, 1941)
Jewish community extortion
Jewish population roundups
Jewish resistance fighters
Jewish resistance groups
Kaganovich, Lazar Moiseyevich
Kommunisticheskaia Partiia Sovetskogo Soiuza (KPSS)
mass murder awareness
mass murder coverups
New Economic Policy (USSR, 1921-1927)
persecuted group insignia
political opponent arrests
political opponent legal prosecutions
Russian Civil War
Russian Orthodox Churches
Russian Revolution of 1917
Russo-Polish War (1919–1920)
Soviet anti-private trade measures
Soviet anti-religious measures
Soviet armed forces
Soviet civilian laborers
Soviet Communist Party membership
Soviet Famine (1921–1922)
Soviet government officials
Soviet labor units
Soviet national minority deportations
Soviet occupation conditions
Soviet police and security forces
Soviet political police
Soviet political rehabilitation
Soviet political repression awareness
Soviet prisoners of war
Soviet psychiatric hospitals
Soviet residence restrictions
Soviet resistance fighters
Soviet resistance groups
Soviet special settlement regime
suspected collaborator arrests
Transnistrian Jewish children rescue
Ukrainian Famine (1932–1933)
Ukrainian Famine (1946–1947)
wartime experience concealment
wartime experience verification
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.