Music from a Speeding Train: Jewish Literature in Post-Revolution Russia

By Harriet Murav | Go to book overview

Three
Fighting the Great Patriotic War

Shortly after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, his forces quickly occupied the Baltic region, Belorussia, the area of Poland that had been ceded to the Soviet Union in the secret MolotovRibbentrop pact, Ukraine, and parts of Russia. With the invasion, Hitler put into action his plan for the systematic and total annihilation of the Jews.1 German forces used a new type of killing team to achieve their goal, the Einsatzgruppen, who worked with local collaborators. Jews in the German-occupied parts of the Soviet Union were usually taken just outside the cities where they lived, and shot: the most famous of these killing sites is Babi Yar, but numerous other ravines and ditches outside other cities served the same purpose, including Bagerovskii, an antitank ditch outside Kerch’ (in Crimea), and Ponary (near Vilnius). Mobile gas vans were also used. Jews living in the Soviet Union did not, for the most part, die at Auschwitz, and Auschwitz never became a prominent symbol of the Nazi genocide.2 German forces and their collaborators killed 2.6–2.7 million out of the approximately 4 million Jews that lived in German-occupied territories of the Soviet Union.

This chapter and the next are devoted to what the Soviets called the Great Patriotic War, during which twenty-seven million Soviets, including Jews, lost their lives. The impact of the war on Soviet and post-Soviet Russia cannot be overestimated: an exhibit in the State Museum of Political History from May 2010 describes the war against the Nazis as “unprecedented in the history of mankind.” To discuss the111 war and the Holocaust on Soviet soil means contemplating two parallel singularities. Both events took place in the same time and space, and yet paradoxically, subsequent accounts rendered them invisible to one

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