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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 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
  • Soviet political police, including interviews with people who served in the NKVD.

Soviet Jewish Life

  • Jewish religious observance in the USSR
  • The closure of Jewish schools and synagogues
  • Jewish kolkhozes
  • Jews serving in the Soviet army
  • Issues of Jewish and Soviet identity and anti-Semitism in the USSR
    • “5th line of the Soviet passport”
    • “Anti-cosmopolitan” campaign
    • “Doctor’s Plot”
  • Birobidzhan, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast.
  • Additionally, the Visual History Archive includes rare interviews with Bukharan Jews, Karaites, Krimchaks, and Mountain Jews.

The Holocaust in the Soviet Union

  • 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
    • Treatment of Soviet citizens who had been under German occupation during the war
    • 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

"dekulakization" (USSR, 1928-1933)

deportation to Transnistria


"enemies of the people"

gas vans

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

ghetto insignia

hostages taking

information restrictions

Jewish community extortion

Jewish kolkhoz

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


New Economic Policy (USSR, 1921-1927)

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 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 history

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 propaganda

Soviet psychiatric hospitals

Soviet residence restrictions

Soviet resistance fighters

Soviet resistance groups

Soviet soldiers

Soviet special settlement regime


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

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Crispin Brooks