As USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research’s 2017-2018 Greenberg Research Fellow, Irina Rebrova will study not only the testimonies in the Visual History Archive but also the process of recording them and their influence on local memory of the Holocaust.
Now in its fourth year, the Margee and Douglas Greenberg Research Fellowship is awarded to one advanced standing Ph.D. candidate each year who will use the Visual History Archive as a key component of their dissertation research. The fellow spends one month in residence at USC Shoah Foundation and gives a public lecture about their research during their stay.
Rebrova will complete her fellowship in October-November 2017.
Rebrova is working toward her Ph.D. at the Center for Studying Anti-Semitism at Technische Universität Berlin. She also holds an MA in sociology from European Humanities University and has completed fellowships at the Claims Conference, the Center for Holocaust Studies at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).
She first explored the Visual History Archive at Freie Universität Berlin while on a scholarship in 2010. In 2014, after beginning her doctoral work at TU Berlin, she transcribed over 100 testimonies relevant to her study of the memory of the Holocaust in the North Caucasus region in southern Russia.
It was then that she got the idea to study not only the historical events as described by the survivors, but how the testimonies were collected as well and the impact they might have had on local memory of the Holocaust.
“I came to the idea to study not only the information in the interviews but the process of conducting interviews in late 1990s in the former Soviet countries with the Soviet Jewry,” Rebrova said.
She has already interviewed several former Shoah Foundation interviewers, but believes there is more to discover within the Institute’s records of its early interviewing methodology.
“I need to look into the interior documents of USC Shoah Foundation for better understanding the work of interviewers, their backgrounds and the whole “kitchen” of the interview process in the early post-soviet period,” she said. “This information can better explain the quality of interviews and their historical role as a significant stage of the function of memory about the Holocaust in the post-Soviet space.”
Rebrova will first watch testimonies in the Visual History Archive of Holocaust survivors from the North Caucasus region. This region is known for its diverse ethnic and religious population, and 40 percent of all Jews along the border of Russia today were exterminated there. She will pay particular attention to who was chosen for an interview, how the interviewees construct their narrative (and what they choose not to tell), how they corresponded with the interviewers, and how their social status and living conditions may have influenced how they remember the Holocaust.
She will also examine official documentation of the efforts of USC Shoah Foundation – then titled Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation – to collect the testimonies in the North Caucasus. She will look at interviewee/interviewer questionnaires, correspondence with colleagues in the region and other records to enhance her understanding of how the testimonies were collected.
From this research, Rebrova hopes to find out how memory about the Holocaust could exist in a region with a relatively small Jewish population, and how it corresponds with other memories of the Soviet Union. Testimonies in the Visual History Archive will illustrate how survivors tell their stories, what they emphasize and what they leave out, and how the backdrop of the Soviet Union may have influenced how they remember and talk about the past.
This is a piece of history that has traditionally been silenced, Rebrova said. So how did Holocaust survivors of the North Caucasus construct their memory of the Holocaust, both with and without the efforts of USC Shoah Foundation?
“We can study [testimonies] as a primary historical source and as a source for reconstructing the individual and collective memory about soviet past and wartime in particular,” Rebrova said. “My study can show that the memory about the Holocaust existed in the USSR from the very beginning; the question is how deep and at what levels it was suppressed.”