To Flee or Not to Flee? Soviet Jews Face the German Invasion

Wednesday, February 24, 2021 - 3:00pm to 4:15pm
Kiril Feferman

Jews as a group were never mentioned in Soviet evacuation orders, which prioritized withdrawal of the Party, Soviet and security agency functionaries, as well as those employed in defense industries. During the Cold War, this led to allegations of Soviet indifference to the fate of the Jews; accusations that they were deliberately abandoned to their fate under German rule. The reality, so it seems, was more complex. In the first months of the war, the Soviet regime was on the verge of military defeat and total collapse. In fact, with the exception of the aforementioned groups, critically necessary for its survival, the regime left the decisions to its people, Jews among them. As a result, Soviet Jews had to make one of the most important decisions of their lives: to flee or not to flee. This was an enormous challenge for people disciplined for years not to display initiative if the government did not explicitly tell them to do so. But now, Jewish individuals and families had to make fateful decisions, frequently at the spur of the moment, and almost always without having reliable information, thus relying on their intuition. The behavior of Soviet Jewish civilians in these critical hours and days was motivated by their resourcefulness, the degree of their "Sovietness," Jewishness, personal circumstances like health problems, as well as by the specific conditions reigning in their region (like the behavior of local Soviet authorities, presence of refugees and German bombardments).

Kiril Feferman was born in Moscow in 1970. In 1991, he moved to Israel. In 2008, he earned a Ph.D. in Contemporary Jewish History with a specialization in Holocaust history from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dr. Feferman’s expertise entails a variety of topics related to the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, contemporary general and Jewish history, centered around two world wars of the 20th century, the history of Soviet and German totalitarianism and their attitudes towards Jews. His first book, Soviet Jewish Stepchild: The Holocaust in the Soviet Mindset, 1941-1964, analyzes the treatment of the Holocaust in the USSR from 1941-1964, with particular focus on the Babi Yar massacre of 1941. Dr. Feferman’s second book, The Holocaust in the Crimea and the North Caucasus was issued by Yad Vashem Publications in 2016. It examines, inter alia, contrasting Nazi policies towards various Jewish ethnic and religious groups, and the ensuing responses by Jews and local populations, including reactions by Orthodox Christians and Muslims. His third book, "If we had wings we would fly to you": A Soviet Jewish Family Faces Destruction, 1941-42, was published by Academic Studies Press in 2020. It relates the evacuation of Jews in the Soviet Union during WWII through a study of one family’s correspondence, showing the interaction of factors at the micro and macro levels. Dr. Kiril Feferman teaches at Ariel University on varied aspects of the Holocaust, as well as other topics in contemporary Jewish history. He also serves as Head of the Holocaust History Center at Ariel University.

Maxim D. Shrayer, born and raised in Moscow, is a bilingual author, scholar and translator. A Professor of Russian, English, and Jewish Studies at Boston College, Shrayer serves as Director of the Project on Russian and Eurasian Jewry at Harvard’s Davis Center. Shrayer authored and edited over fifteen books in English and Russian, among them the internationally acclaimed memoirs Leaving Russia: A Jewish Story and Waiting for America: A Story of Emigration, the double biography Bunin and Nabokov: A History of Rivalry, the Holocaust study “I SAW IT,” and the travelogue With or without You. Shrayer edited and co-translated four books of fiction by his father, the Jewish-Russian writer David Shrayer-Petrov. Maxim D. Shrayer won a 2007 National Jewish Book Award, and in 2012 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Shrayer’s Voices of Jewish-Russian Literature was published in 2018. His most recent book is A Russian Immigrant: Three Novellas. Shrayer's Of Politics and Pandemics: Songs of a Russian Immigrant is forthcoming.


Kiril Feferman (Ariel University)
Moderator: Maxim D. Shrayer (Boston College; Davis Center)

Cosponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University. The Project on Russian and Eurasian Jewry has been made possible with the generous support of Genesis Philanthropy Group.Genesis Philanthropy Group

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