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Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Lives of the Great Patriotic War

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Courtesy The Blavatnik Archive

The Jewish Daily Forward reporter Paul Berger recently viewed the Lives of the Great Patriotic War: the Untold Stories of Soviet Jewish Veterans in the Red Army during WWII exhibit, which is now on display at the 92Y Weill Art Gallery. The exhibit looks at the participation of 500,000 Soviet Jewish soldiers in the fight against fascism during WWII (known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War).

Berger interviewed both Blavatnik Archive director Julie Chervinsky, who organized the exhibition, and Semeon Grigorevich Shpiegel, one of the soldiers featured in the exhibit.

The veterans’ stories are well worth the concentration it takes to explore the exhibition. But they are conveyed most accessibly by a 15-minute video of interview snippets that loops on a television screen set up on a table next to a wall.

In the film, Vladimir Ilyich Nemets recalls seeing cotton fly out of the back of the coats of the soldiers running in front of him as the men were gunned down. Dora Motelevna Nemirovskaya recalls the “tchok-tchok-tchok” of sniper fire exploding around her as she struggled to bandage a gruesome stomach wound.

Although anti-Semitism was rare in the trenches, Chervinsky said that many Jewish soldiers felt they had to fight harder and act braver “so no one would say, ‘He’s a Jewish coward.’” She said Jewish veterans also recounted how they had “an extra score to settle with Hitler” after they found out about the Holocaust.

But for the most part, Judaism played a secondary role to the veterans’ identities as Soviet citizens. Often in the exhibition, the most striking elements of their stories are not the Jewish ones but the universal ones — the senselessness and randomness of war.

Read the full article here.

Lives of the Great Patriotic War: the Untold Stories of Soviet Jewish Veterans in the Red Army during WWII is on display at the 92Y Weill Art Gallery until December 6. The exhibit features war-time diary and letter excerpts, reproductions of archival photographs and documents, as well as excerpts from contemporary oral testimonies.

Upcoming Jewish Interest Talks at 92Y include Debbie Wasserman Schulz in Conversation with Thane Rosenbaum (Dec 11); Our Movies Ourselves: Jews & Film (Dec 15); Reaching the Jewish Community in the 21st Century (Jan 8); The Hidden Jews of the Holocaust (Jan 10).

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