The Overlooked Holocaust

Remembering the millions of Soviet Jews killed by the Nazis    
By Sara Friedman ’13

“When most Americans are asked what is their principal image of the Holocaust, most people think of the fate of Anne Frank and her family as a kind of iconic image of the destiny of the six million,” Joshua Rubenstein says. They don’t think about the two and a half million people who perished in the Soviet Union.

Rubenstein is the northeast regional director of Amnesty International and a researcher on Eastern Europe. His talk was cosponsored by the Jewish Studies Program, Department of History, Department of Politics, and the East Europe Initiative, a new program in the Department of History. On September 21, approximately 40 students, staff, and community members came to Clark Lounge to hear him talk about his book, The Unknown Black Book: The Holocaust in the Soviet Union.

Rubenstein spoke about the mass killing sites in German-occupied Soviet territories and the Einsatzgruppen, Nazi mobile death squads that operated in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. The Einsatzgruppen’s largest killing site was Babi Yar, outside of Kiev, where 37,773 Jewish men, women, and children were murdered over a period of two days. Of the 24 Einsatzgruppen officers tried in the United States after the war for mass killings across the Soviet Union, 20 of them were released from prison in less than seven years.

“One of the points Rubenstein made was that the Jews who were living in Soviet lands were really caught between two totalitarian states,” says Rebecca Lesses, associate professor and Jewish studies coordinator. “The Soviets weren’t killing the Jews, but it was a very repressive regime. [Soviet Jews] had this idea that they would be freed from the Nazis by the Soviets, which was obviously an illusion.”