"My mother, Zina Amburg, said, 'Run, and if you survive, put up a monument.' My brother kissed me one last time and told me to visit their grave, if I made it out alive."
(Sonia Amburg, 1942)
In a letter to Soviet partisan commanders, 17-year-old Sonia Amburg transmitted the idea of memorialization through a request conveyed to her by her relatives directly before the Nazis shot them to death. Similar messages of remembering resonated with many Soviet Jews.
Unwelcome Memory: Holocaust Monuments in the Soviet Union examines the connection between the memory of the Holocaust in the USSR and the ethnic identity of Soviet Jews. It demonstrates that the Holocaust memorial culture of the Soviet Jews was very different and more diverse than was widely assumed, and presents a new perspective on the functioning of the Soviet system. The relatively large number of monuments reflects the ambivalent situation in the Soviet state— approval of the monuments depended no less on the local authorities’ positions in each instance than on general Soviet policy.
Thousands of Jews, men and women alike, from various parts of the USSR and different social and educational strata, banded together in more than 700 separate groups and organized semi-formal, mass, grassroots activities to memorialize their loved ones murdered by the Nazis and their local collaborators. Although most were loyal Soviet citizens, the memory of their relatives outweighed the considerations of circumspection required under the conditions of the totalitarian state.
About 100 of the monuments established by these groups include clear ethnic–religious inscriptions in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian, as well as Jewish symbols. Thus, Holocaust memorial practices became the main public expression of these activists’ commitment to traditional Jewish values, which symbolized their identification with those killed. The rich and manifold photographs in this book reflect the diversity of the memorialization forms and the ethnic message that Soviet Jews sought to transmit to other Jews and to generations to come.