Holocaust Scholar from Russian State University for Humanities in Moscow Selected as USC Shoah Foundation’s Center Fellow

Wed, 02/25/2015 - 5:00pm

A Holocaust studies professor from the Russian State University for Humanities in Moscow has been awarded the 2015-16 Center Fellowship by USC Shoah Foundation’s Center for Advanced Genocide Research.

Kiril Feferman, PhD, was selected last month by a review committee from a crowded field of strong applicants for the originality of his research project titled "Religious Belief and Practice in the Context of Jewish Survival and Rescue in Occupied Soviet Territories, 1941-1944." The innovative project addresses a void in current Holocaust literature. 

“Little is known about the role religion played in the survival and rescue of Jews in Nazi-occupied Soviet areas -- in part because the Soviet Union was disinterested in documenting such cases,” said Wolf Gruner, director of the Center.  “Dr. Feferman has been a leader in piecing together this side of history. We are pleased to welcome him to the Center for Advanced Genocide Research, where he will find ample resources to take his research to new heights.”

A native of Russia, but schooled and academically educated in Israel, Feferman will be in residence at the Center for Advanced Genocide Research from mid-October of 2015 to mid-February of 2016. He plans to deepen his understanding of the subject by delving into USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, a collection of 52,000 video interviews of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides. 

 “The Visual History Archive is an incredible resource that will grant me access to hundreds of testimonies that address this under-researched topic,” he said.  “The religiously motivated behavior by the rescuers and the rescued in Soviet territory during the Holocaust is not well understood. With 7,000 references in the Russian language to categories such as ‘religious discrimination,’ ‘religious populations’ and ‘religion and philosophy,’ the Visual History Archive offers a potential wealth of untapped information in this domain.”

The beginning of the project can be traced back to 2007, when Feferman first examined the phenomenon of religiously motivated behavior by the rescuers and the rescued, as a member of the Yad Vashem Public Commission to Designate Righteous among the Nations.  

Feferman’s interdisciplinary project will examine the following phenomena:

  • Jewish reluctance or refusal to evacuate since doing so would be to leave a prayer congregation
  • Jewish refusal on religious grounds to resist the perpetrators or to take revenge
  • Jewish revenge against perpetrators on religious grounds
  •  Praying or fasting for quick death, Soviet or German defeat or victory, destruction or salvation of Jews
  • Religiously informed decisions either to assist Jews or turn them in to the Germans

Ultimately, Feferman hopes to shed light on whether and to what extent life-and-death decisions by Jews and non-Jews were informed by religious factors in Nazi-occupied Soviet areas during World War II.

This is untrod territory in large measure because the postwar Soviet state regarded religion a holdover of the old bourgeois society, and frowned upon reference to it in accounts of the war, Feferman stated.

“During the postwar period, religion became frequently suspect as a dangerous enemy of the state,” he said.  “Thus any reference to it in historical accounts was out of the question.”

Kiril Feferman has written extensively on the history of Nazi-occupied Soviet territories in English, Hebrew and Russian. His most recent study, “The Holocaust on the Russian Ethnic Frontier: The Crimea and the North Caucasus,” will be published by Yad Vashem in 2015. With the diary of Rabbi Chaim Stein, which he co-edited, he already provided new insights into the history of Jewish religious responses in the wartime Soviet Union. “From Telshe to Telshe” will be published in Hebrew in 2015.