Eighty years after the launch of the German war of annihilation against the Soviet Union, reams of folders containing the first transcribed voices of hundreds of survivors of German occupation have surfaced in former Soviet archives. Their creation was the work of several teams of historians who set out document the history of “German-fascist” occupation on Soviet soil.
This site presents ten of the more than 700 interviews that the historians conducted with Soviet survivors and other eyewitnesses of Nazi occupation. The purpose of this project is to recover the forgotten first Soviet experience of “German-fascist” rule. Most of the witnesses were women and older people who were left behind in the Soviet evacuation effort and experienced the full brunt of the Nazi occupation regime. Their testimonies detail encounters with the occupiers and atrocities that have hitherto remained outside the historical record; beyond this, they offer insights into the distinct ways Soviet survivors tried to make sense of traumatic events, using categories available to them.
“Soviet Survivors of Nazi Occupation: The First Testimonies“ seeks to draw attention to the vast realms of Soviet suffering in the histories of the Holocaust and the Second World War. Recent initiatives such as Father Patrick Desbois’s “Holocaust by Bullets” documentation, or Yad Vashem’s exploration of the murder sites of the Jews in the occupied territories of the former USSR, have begun to map the “Holocaust on Soviet soil.” Yet their focus on the murder of 2.75 million Soviet Jews skirts millions of POWs, other suspected “Bolsheviks,” partisans, and slave workers who also lost their lives in Germany’s campaign of annihilation in the East. The crucial Soviet chapter in modern history’s most terrible war demands to be further explored.
The project was formed in partnership between the German Historical Institute in Moscow and the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Further partners are Ukraine’s Central State Archive for Mass Organizations (CDAGO, Kyiv) and the National Archive of the Republic of Belarus (NARB, Minsk). The technical implementation of the research data management system is provided by „perspectivia.net“, the publication platform of the Max Weber Foundation. The project is being sponsored by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the Max Weber Foundation, and Germany’s Federal Agency for Civic Education. The project is led by Rutgers historian Jochen Hellbeck, author of Stalingrad: The City that Defeated the Third Reich (PublicAffairs, 2015), and the website www.facingstalingrad.com. The project team is further led by Viktoria Naumenko (Kharkiv), author of “The Policy of the Economic Staff ‘East’ in the Occupied Territory of Ukraine, 1941-1944” (Ph.D. dissertation, V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, 2010), and Darya Lotareva (Moscow).
We want to especially thank Jan Rohden, Michael Kaiser, Britta Hermans, Anastassia Hriaznova and the team of translators for all the work they have put into the creation of this website.