Shelter from the Holocaust: Rethinking Polish-Jewish Survival in the Soviet Union

Ucieczki i deportacje Żydów na ziemiach polskich, Atlas Historii Żydów Polskich, Demart Warszawa 2010

The lecture addresses a Holocaust story that remarkably – despite several decades of intensive scholarly and public attention to the history and memory of the Shoah – has remained essentially untold, marginalized in both historiography and commemoration.

  • 11 October (Thursday), 6 PM

The majority of the c. 250,000 Jews who constituted the tragically small “saved remnant” (She’erit Hapleta) of mostly Polish, East European, Jewry, survived because they had found precarious “shelter” in the Soviet Union, first in labor camps and then as “amnestied” Poles in Central Asia. The talk seeks to integrate these largely unexamined experiences and memories of displacement and trauma into our understanding of the Shoah, as well as into the wartime history of Poland and the Soviet Union.

It pays particular attention to encounters with non-Jewish deported Poles, evacuated Soviet citizens, and local populations in Central Asia, as well as the passage of the Anders Army through Iran, and the key role of gender, generation, and family in determining the possibilities of survival “behind the lines” on the margins of the European war and genocide. Highlighting this history remaps the landscape of persecution, death, survival, relief and rescue during and after World War II and asks how this “Asiatic” experience shapes – and reshapes – definitions (and self-definitions) of survival in the immediate postwar context of repatriation and further displacement right up until the present.  

Atina Grossmann is Professor of History in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Cooper Union in New York City. Her publications include Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany (2007, German 2012). She co-edited volumes on Crimes of War: Guilt and Denial in the Twentieth Century (2002) and After the Nazi Racial State: Difference and Democracy in Germany and Europe (2009), as well as Shelter from the Holocaust: Rethinking Jewish Survival in the Soviet Union (2017, with M.Edele and S. Fitzpatrick). She is working, together with Dorota Glowacka, on a brief summary volume (Bloomsbury) on Women and the Holocaust: Rewriting Gender in History and Memory, and her current research focuses on “Remapping Survival: Jewish Refugees and Lost Memories of Displacement, Trauma, and Rescue in the Soviet Union, Iran, and India,” as well as the entanglements of family memoir and historical scholarship.

Lecture in English with simultaneous translation into Polish.


The lecture is organized within the Global Education Outreach Program.

The lecture was made possible thanks to the support of Taube Philanthropies, the William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation, and the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland. 

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