The Holocaust in Russia, Photographed
The Soviet Union obscured victims’ Jewishness
A forthcoming book details the official Soviet practice of explaining photographs of Jewish victims of the Nazis—among the first visual documents of the Holocaust—as evidence not of anti-Jewish violence but of broader malevolence toward “the Soviet people,” whose country the Germans invaded in 1941.
Even more poignantly: The photographs were almost always taken by Jews.
David Shneer, a professor at the University of Colorado, writes in Through Soviet Jewish Eyes that the Soviet government wanted citizens to view these products of its nearly all-Jewish corps of photojournalists and believe that the Nazis had not distinguished among their victims.
“During World War II,” an article about the book in Colorado Arts & Sciences Magazine reports, “the Soviets saw an advantage in framing the Nazi assault as being against the entire nation, not just Jewish people. As Shneer observes, there was a rationale: ‘Do you think a bunch of Russian peasants wanted to go fight a war because of Jews?’”
Take the photograph above. It was originally captioned, “Kerch resident P.I. Ivanova found her husband, who was tortured by the fascist executioners.” There is no note of the fact that her husband was likely one of 7,500 Kerch Jews murdered, for being Jews, before the Red Army retook that southern city.
Another, similar photograph was captioned, “V.S. Tereshchenko digs under bodies for her husband. On the right: the body of 67-year-old I. Kh. Kogan.” The name Tereshchenko (a Ukrainian surname) is still alive; the Kogan is not.
The photographer’s name? Mark Redkin.
A few months ago, Tablet Magazine editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse looked at how Roman Vishniac’s famous photographs have also been put to use crafting an alternate narrative for the Jews of Europe.