Remembering the Soviet Gulag

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 12:00am

Holocaust survivor testimony to enhance education initiative in the Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic, Holocaust survivors’ eyewitness testimonies will soon be used to teach a different aspect of local history: the imprisonment of Czechoslovak citizens in the Soviet Gulag.

“Many Czechoslovak Jews who fled to the Soviet Union to escape Nazi-occupied Europe found themselves in the camps and prisons of the repressive Gulag system,” said Adam Hradilek, head of the Oral History Group of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes in Prague (USTR). “Out of the thousands of such cases, hundreds of people died.”

Some of those who survived gave testimony to the USC Shoah Foundation, which interviewed nearly 52,000 Holocaust eyewitnesses and preserved their stories in the Visual History Archive, a searchable database available at 40 institutions around the world, including Charles University, in Prague.

“Finding such testimonies was an extraordinary event for scholars dealing with the Gulag memory,” Hradilek said. “Video clips from the Visual History Archive, together with interviews conducted by the Oral History Group in the Czech Republic, Israel, and other countries, will be used in research and educational projects, and to develop a web presentation dedicated to Czechoslovak victims of the Soviet labor camps.”

Martin Šmok, Senior International Program Consultant for the USC Shoah Foundation, anticipates that the newly formed partnership between the Foundation and USTR will lead to the development of much-needed classroom resources, training programs for teachers, and a public exhibition on the experiences of Czechoslovak survivors of the Gulag system.

“The horrors of the Nazi death camps should not make us forget the fate of those unfortunates who crossed the Molotov-Ribbentrop demarcation line hoping for asylum,” Šmok said.