Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Through Soviet Jewish Eyes

Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust

David Shneer
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 304
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Through Soviet Jewish Eyes
    Book Description:

    Most view the relationship of Jews to the Soviet Union through the lens of repression and silence. Focusing on an elite group of two dozen Soviet-Jewish photographers, including Arkady Shaykhet, Alexander Grinberg, Mark Markov-Grinberg, Evgenii Khaldei, Dmitrii Baltermants, and Max Alpert,Through Soviet Jewish Eyespresents a different picture. These artists participated in a social project they believed in and with which they were emotionally and intellectually invested-they were charged by the Stalinist state to tell the visual story of the unprecedented horror we now call the Holocaust.These wartime photographers were the first liberators to bear witness with cameras to Nazi atrocities, three years before Americans arrived at Buchenwald and Dachau. In this passionate work, David Shneer tells their stories and highlights their work through their very own images-he has amassed never-before-published photographs from families, collectors, and private archives.Through Soviet Jewish Eyeshelps us understand why so many Jews flocked to Soviet photography; what their lives and work looked like during the rise of Stalinism, during and then after the war; and why Jews were the ones charged with documenting the Soviet experiment and then its near destruction at the hands of the Nazis.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5019-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In the summer of 2002, with the air heavy and warm from days of heavy rains, I wandered into Moscow’s Union of Art Photographers, one of the few galleries in the city dedicated to photography. Once inside, I noticed that the walls were adorned with some of the best examples of Soviet war photography. Although most of the photographers’ names were unfamiliar to me at the time, I couldn’t help noticing—despite my better instincts as a good liberal American trained to resist emphasizing group identity over individuality—that their names, Avrom Shterenberg, Evgenii Khaldei, Max Alpert, Arkady Shaykhet, were...

  6. Part One When Photography Was Jewish

    • 1 How a Group of Jews from the Provinces Built Soviet Photojournalism
      (pp. 13-30)

      Shortly after the Russian revolutions of 1917 that tossed out the czars and brought in Communist commissars, the leading Bolshevik, Vladimir Lenin, said that the camera, as much as the gun, was an important weapon the Bolsheviks had at their fingertips to secure the revolution. He recognized the power of images and the modern media to transform people and society and therefore gave photography and film pride of place in Soviet culture.

      Both film and photography were new artistic and documentary tools in Russia. Although photography had come to czarist Russia in the mid-nineteenth century, photojournalism—the notion of using...

      (pp. 31-59)

      The first generation of Soviet photographers, like other artists, writers, and cultural activists, wrestled with questions of aesthetics, politics, and ideology throughout the 1920s. Was socialist art created by the working classes? Was it simple and accessible to the working classes? Was it meant to throw off the aesthetics of the past and usher in an entirely new visual language? What role would new technology play in the building of a new society? Through the 1920s, modernist trends reigned supreme in magazines such asLEFthat had small print runs. Artists, architects, sculptors, and photographers glamorized the construction of a...

      (pp. 60-84)

      From the first days following the Bolshevik Revolution, Soviet leaders invested significant resources not only in documenting the diversity of the Soviet empire, but also in supporting the cultural and national development of the Soviet Union’s many ethnic minorities. As part of its revolutionary ethos, the state launched a campaign to show how socialism had overcome czarist-era ethnic and racial antagonism. Political leaders as well as anthropologists, ethnographers, writers, cultural activists, and photographers were at the forefront of the campaign to elevate ethnic minorities and to show how the Soviet Union’s system was a superior form of state and empire...

  7. Part Two Soviet Jewish Photographers Confront World War II and the Holocaust

    • 4 “Without the Newspaper, We Are Defenseless!”: PHOTOJOURNALISTS AND THE WAR
      (pp. 87-139)

      Having spent most of the 1930s photographing the development of Stalinism, Soviet photojournalists had little experience photographing war and the violent destruction of society. Several had covered battles against Japanese forces, who had occupied Manchuria in the late 1930s. In Europe, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed in secret in August 1939, staved off a German invasion of the Soviet Union and allowed the country access to territory in Eastern Europe. Several photographers took pictures of the Soviet takeover of these parts of Eastern Europe, in particular western Ukraine and eastern Poland, after the Soviet Union annexed these territories in late 1939....

    • 5 Picturing Grief, Documenting Crimes: SOVIET HOLOCAUST PHOTOGRAPHY
      (pp. 140-183)

      Early in the war, operating under the assumption that they would win, the Allied powers began discussing how to deal with the Nazis’ war crimes against Europe. In June 1942, with pressure coming from interest groups and occupied nations that the Allies make formal declarations about potential punishment, Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt began talking about a unified war crimes commission that would investigate and prosecute the Nazis. In January 1944, the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC) held its first meeting.¹

      Although it participated as a full member in the UNWCC, which led to the Nuremberg Trials after...

      (pp. 184-204)

      Hitler’s war against the Jews of Europe and the Soviet Union was a moment when Soviet Jewish photographers and all Soviet Jews were most radically integrated into the heroic Soviet nation as Red Army soldiers and simultaneously singled out as racially inferior victims. This tension between the pull to universalism and the stark reminders of particularism shaped the world of these photographers and their photography throughout the war.

      In 1940, Evgenii Khaldei returned to his home town of Stalino to visit his dying grandmother and had a family portrait taken that would be the last of its kind (Fig. 6.1)....

    • 7 From Photojournalism to Icons of War and the Holocaust: PHOTOGRAPHS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS AFTER THE WAR
      (pp. 205-232)

      The war proved to be the turning point for the careers of Soviet Jewish photographers, many of whom made it to the Reichstag in May 1945 (Fig. 7.1).¹ Some first-generation photographers, those whose significant work came out in the 1920s and 1930s, saw the peak of their careers already behind them. Others in the second generation, who came of age under Stalin, continued building their careers and became the most famous photojournalists in the country. As important as the biographies of the photographers are the stories of the photographs they took to document wartime heroism and tragedy. As Amir Weiner...

    (pp. 233-236)

    In 1943 Soviet filmgoers were treated to a wide variety of films about the war that had been ravaging their country for two years. The films often glorified the motherland and its soldiers and celebrated brave women on the home front. And as we have seen with the Soviet press, these films did not shy away from the destruction wreaked on the country.

    In the same year, the tide of the war turned in favor of the Red Army at Stalingrad. But the political climate for Jews began changing as David Ortenberg and other Jewish media makers lost their jobs...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 237-268)
  10. Index
    (pp. 269-283)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 284-284)