Impact in Profile: Kiril Feferman

Impact in Profile: Kiril Feferman

Kiril Feferman’s research topic may be rarely studied now, but that may change after his fellowship at USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research.

Feferman, formerly a senior lecturer at the Russian State University for the Humanities in Moscow and head of the educational and research department of the Russian Research and Educational Holocaust Center, has been named the 2015-16 Center Fellow at the Center for Advanced Genocide Research. This week, he began his approximately four months in residence at USC this fall conducting research in the Visual History Archive for his upcoming book project. He will also give a public lecture during his stay.

He earned his Ph.D. at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and was a fellow at Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).

Feferman has conducted extensive research on the Holocaust in Crimea, the North Caucasus and the Soviet Union, but said there is one subject that is severely underrepresented in the field of Holocaust research: the role that religion played in the lives of Jewish and non-Jewish aid providers, aid recipients and survivors in the Soviet Union.

He said that in the aftermath of the Holocaust, little attention was paid to religion or rescuers in the Soviet Union, so researchers since then have chosen to focus on other topics. Part of the problem was that up until about 20 years ago, Holocaust survivors and witnesses in the Soviet Union could not speak freely about their experiences, since the government had such a “tight grip” on the documentation of the Holocaust, especially when it came to religion. Religion was a taboo subject, “regarded as a holdover of the old bourgeois society, doomed to wither away under socialism,” Feferman said.

But when the Visual History Archive came along in 1994, many felt free for the first time to share their stories of how religion had in fact affected their lives during the war. Feferman is keen to watch and explore the nearly 7,000 Russian-language testimonies that include discussion of religiously-motivated survival and rescue decisions, by priests and non-Jews as well as survivors.

“Neither German nor Soviet authorities or the collaborating administrations recorded anything like this. It was of no interest to their bureaucracies,” Feferman said. “But it is of interest to me.”

Feferman is interested in, as he describes it, “entirely secular people [who] find themselves between life and death and remember God.” He believes the Visual History Archive will provide the final evidence he has been looking for to complete his research.

Ultimately, Feferman’s goal is to prove that rescuers and perpetrators were not simply fighting over Nazism. Rescuers, he believes, represent tradition and religion, while perpetrators represent modernism.

“My great idea is to try to prove that until recently, the clash between Nazism and the rest of the world was viewed on entirely pragmatic terms – living space, world domination – but I try to bring an added dimension that is the clash between secular radicalism and traditionalism,” he said.

As he enters the final stages of his research, Feferman is confident that his fellowship at the Center for Advanced Genocide Research will transform the qualitative element of his project.

 “Your archive is the most important repository of these testimonies,” he said. “People between life and death in my humble opinion were inevitably led to religion – this is emerging in these testimonies.”

If the testimonies he studies during his fellowship do corroborate his assumptions, "it will be a major revelation," in his field, Feferman said.