The Holo­caust in the USSR and the memo­rial cal­en­dar

At the war’s end, the sur­viv­ing Jews wanted to com­mem­o­rate the murder of their co-re­li­gion­ists. Yet Dr. Arkadi Zeltser, di­rec­tor of the Moshe Mir­i­lashvili Cen­ter for Re­search on the Holo­caust in the Soviet Union, said ‘the at­ti­tude of the gov­ern­ment in th

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIONS - • ALAN ROSEN­BAUM

How does one com­mem­o­rate a yahrzeit (an­niver­sary of a date of death) with­out a Jewish cal­en­dar, and with­out an or­ga­nized Jewish com­mu­nity? These ques­tions were real-life is­sues for the Jews of the Soviet Union af­ter World War II, who wanted to mark the murder of their fel­low Jews dur­ing the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion of the USSR.

This sub­ject will be the theme of the lec­ture de­liv­ered by Dr. Arkadi Zeltser, di­rect or of Yad Vashem’s Moshe Mir­i­lashvili Cen­ter for Re­search on the Holo­caust in the Soviet Union, at next week’s in­ter­na­tional re­search con­fer­ence ti­tled “The Time Di­men­sion Dur­ing and Re­gard­ing the Holo­caust: In Real Time and in Ret­ro­spect.” Or­ga­nized by Yad Vashem’s In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute for Holo­caust Re­search, the con­fer­ence will cover a wide ar­ray of top­ics on the re­la­tion­ship to and per­cep­tion of time dur­ing the Shoah for those caught in its in­ferno.

In 1941, when the Nazis in­vaded the USSR, they ram­paged through­out vast amounts of Soviet ter­ri­tory, mur­der­ing tens of thou­sands of Jews daily in line with their geno­ci­dal an­tisemitic ide­ol­ogy. By the end of 1941, more than half a mil­lion Jewish civil­ians had been ex­e­cuted within the ar­eas of the Soviet Union con­quered by the Nazis.

At the war’s end, the sur­viv­ing Jews wanted to com­mem­o­rate the murder of their co-re­li­gion­ists. Yet, Zeltser says, “the at­ti­tude of the gov­ern­ment in the USSR was not to dis­cuss the Holo­caust as a spe­cific phe­nom­e­non di­rected at the Jews, but rather to say that the Nazis mur­dered the Jews be­cause they were Soviet citizens, not be­cause of their eth­nic­ity or re­li­gion.” More­over, he adds, Soviet au­thor­i­ties in gen­eral were more in­ter­ested in com­mem­o­rat­ing their vic­to­ries rather than mark­ing days of re­mem­brance and loss. Soviet of­fi­cials were also op­posed to re­li­gion, in­clud­ing Ju­daism, and made ef­forts to weaken all forms of of­fi­cial and non-of­fi­cial, Jewish re­li­gious prac­tice.

De­spite dif­fi­cul­ties in com­mem­o­rat­ing the deaths of their loved ones, how­ever, the Jews suc­ceeded in erect­ing more than 700 mon­u­ments ded­i­cated to Holo­caust vic­tims. When a mon­u­ment was ded­i­cated, Jews would travel from all over the coun­try to mark its ded­i­ca­tion. The Kad­dish memo­rial prayer was re­cited by some of the re­li­gious Jews from the older gen­er­a­tion, and of­ten some­one also spoke at the event. Un­like the mass murders in the ex­ter­mi­na­tion camps, in which the yahrzeits of in­di­vid­ual vic­tims were of­ten not known, the Jews in the USSR knew the ex­act dates of the mas­sacres of Jews in towns across the Soviet Union. Many of the mon­u­ments would be marked with He­brew or Yid­dish in­scrip­tions list­ing the He­brew date of the murder, and oc­ca­sion­ally a verse from the Bi­ble or other Jewish sym­bols, in ad­di­tion to Cyril­lic char­ac­ters stat­ing the facts of the mas­sacre in more neu­tral terms.

While the gov­ern­ment did not of­fi­cially support these types of memo­ri­als, they would fre­quently al­low them, as part of the gen­eral com­mem­o­ra­tion of the events of World War II.

Zeltser ex­plains that in this way, the dates of mass murders of Jews that were en­graved on mon­u­ments – ac­cord­ing to both the Gre­go­rian and the Jewish cal­en­dars – be­came an in­sep­a­ra­ble part of the cul­ture of mem­ory of Soviet Jews re­lat­ing to the Holo­caust. Ob­ser­vance dates would vary. Many Jewish ac­tivists or­ga­nized memo­rial cer­e­monies near the mon­u­ments di­rectly on the date of murder ac­cord­ing to the secular cal­en­dar, or on the clos­est Sun­day to the secular date, when peo­ple were not at work. Still oth­ers would es­tab­lish memo­rial vis­its on May 9, the day com­mem­o­rat­ing the vic­tory in the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, be­cause they shared the Soviet val­ues re­gard­ing the vic­tory over the Nazis or be­cause it was a na­tional hol­i­day, and peo­ple would be able to travel to and from the event with­out miss­ing work. Some groups of Jews and in­di­vid­u­als would visit the mon­u­ments on dates when Jews would tra­di­tion­ally visit the ceme­tery in dif­fer­ent re­gions, such as Tisha Be’av, dur­ing the He­brew month of Elul im­me­di­ately be­fore Rosh Hashanah, or on Lag Ba’omer, be­tween Passover and Shavuot.

How­ever, com­mem­o­rat­ing these memo­rial days was com­pli­cated in the USSR, be­cause the mark­ing of events via pub­lic means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, such as ra­dio, news­pa­pers and other chan­nels, could take place only with of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment ap­proval.

While the of­fi­cial Soviet cal­en­dar in­cluded spe­cific dates and hol­i­days such as In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, In­ter­na­tional Work­ers’ Day, and Novem­ber 7 mark­ing the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion, there were no na­tional days of re­mem­brance, and cer­tainly no Jewish hol­i­days listed what­so­ever. Though Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in larger cities, such as Moscow and Len­ingrad, would print small quan­ti­ties of cal­en­dars list­ing the Jewish hol­i­days, Jews else­where would have no easy means of know­ing when these memo­rial com­mem­o­ra­tions would be held, even if they were ob­served on the Gre­go­rian date. Zeltser says that the Jews man­aged to spread news of the dates by word of mouth, rather than through any of­fi­cial means. “It was done all at the grass­roots level,” he pro­claims.

Nev­er­the­less, the memo­rial ac­tiv­i­ties united Jewish peo­ple through­out the vast ter­ri­tory of the USSR. Shared grave sites and memo­ri­als for Holo­caust vic­tims trans­formed in­di­vid­u­als into co­he­sive units. The Jews’ in­sis­tence on the right to memo­ri­al­ize their tragedies within the con­text of Jewish ob­ser­vance in­di­cated the need for Soviet Jews to have “their own pub­lic time,” Zeltser ex­plains, not only for their col­lec­tive past, but also for their shared present and com­mu­nal fu­ture.

Many of the Jewish ac­tivists or­ga­nized memo­rial cer­e­monies near mon­u­ments di­rectly on the dates of murder

(Photos: Yad Vashem Photo Archive)

RAKHOV, BE­LARUS: A mon­u­ment in the old ceme­tery.

NEVEL, RUS­SIA: A memo­rial panel in mem­ory of peo­ple who were mur­dered in Septem­ber 1941.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Israel

© PressReader. All rights reserved.