The Holocaust in the Crimea and the North Caucasus

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Kiril Feferman
  • Jerusalem, Israel: 
    Yad Vashem Publications
    , April
     2016.
     540 pages.
     $58.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9789653085053.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The introduction explains the reasons for choosing the regions in question as the main focus of the study, discussing the historiography and source base which is very solid: German wartime documents, trials and preliminary proceedings conducted against former Nazis after World War II, reports of the Soviet Extraordinary State Commission, KGB files in the Ukraine, testimonies offered by Jewish Holocaust Survivors and non-Jewish witnesses, newspapers, and academic studies. 

The author begins then his study with a short “Historical Background”: it delivers a relevant historical overview of the Crimea since its annexation in 1783 and the pacification of the North Caucasus in 1864 by Russia until the pre-war period, respectively. Feferman also discusses the strategic importance of the regions in question for Nazi Germany.

Chapter 1, “Jews in the Crimea from the Beginning of the German-Soviet War (June 22, 1941) to the German Occupation (November 1941),” and chapter 2, “Jews in the North Caucasus from the Beginning of the German-Soviet War (June 22, 1941) to the German Occupation (August 1941),” generally explore the evacuation into and from the respective region with a detailed focus on Jewish evacuees and refugees.

Chapter 3, “Destruction of Jewish Population in the Crimea,” and the fourth chapter, “Destruction of Jewish Population in the North Caucasus,” describe the Nazi machinery of destruction. The devastation of the Ashkenazi Jewish Population in the regions was all-encompassing. The number of Holocaust victims may fluctuate in the Crimea between 30,000 to 35,000, and in the North Caucasus between 35,000 to 45,000 Ashkenazi Jews.

Chapter 5, “Food Conditions and the Holocaust in the Crimea and the North Caucasus,” investigates the relationship between the food factor and the Holocaust in these two regions. The Germans never attributed food considerations as the rationale behind their decisions to kill the Jews in the North Caucasus, in contrast to the Crimea. Most of the Jews in the North Caucasus were evacuees or refugees, and as such were the first to run short of food reserves. They were denied food rations at all stages—first as ordinary inhabitants of the towns, then as forced laborers, and finally as prisoners before the execution.

As titled, chapter 6 examines “The Fate of Karaites and Krymchaks in the Crimea and Mountain Jews in the North Caucasus during the Holocaust.” The Nazis were aware of their existence in the south of the USSR, and Nazi “research” traced the origin of these non-Ashkenazi Jews and established their degree of Jewishness. The Karaites were fortunate to be recognized by Berlin as a group distinct from Jews, the Nazis regarded them as a Turkish people. Their unique religion was problematic given it contained elements of Judaism. A combination of foreign political considerations and the desire to appease Crimean Tatars created conditions favorable for the Karaites. The result was Berlin’s decision to spare them from the annihilation. The fate of other groups was far more tragic. The Krymchaks were declared by Berlin to be ethnically Jews and approximately 5,500-7,000 Krymchaks were killed by the Germans—more than 70% of their prewar number. Roughly 1,100-1,500 Mountain Jews were murdered in the Holocaust—25-30% of their number in the area under German control.

Chapter 7, “Jewish Responses to the Holocaust in the Crimea,” and chapter 8, “Jewish Responses to the Holocaust in the North Caucasus,” explain why Jewish reactions relegated themselves primarily to acquiescence to German policies. Only isolated cases of non-compliance were recorded, and none were armed resistance. Jewish responses were frequently influenced by the relatively short time span between the onset of the German occupation and the destruction of the Jewish population. In the North Caucasus, it was particularly important that the majority of the Jews were displaced persons with little or no knowledge of peculiar conditions of the region. The large majority of them were killed, sharing the same responses and fates as the “local” Jews.

Chapter 9, “The Local Population and the Holocaust in the Crimea,” and Chapter 10, “The Local Population and the Holocaust in the North Caucasus,” analyze the responses of the local population to the Holocaust, including its collaboration with the Nazis and involvement in mass murder of the Jews. While Russian reactions in the Crimea were rather ambiguous, the evidence of large-scale involvement in the “Final Solution” may characterize the Crimean Tatars as a group insofar as such a generalization is admissible. In the North Caucasus, the Cossacks were the only group among the Slavic population who had given the Germans a welcome reception. By that time, the Germans had a high level of confidence in the Cossack collaborators given their involvement in the “Final Solution.” The non-Russian population frequently welcomed the entry of German forces into the Caucasus, and their position regarding the “Jewish Question” is difficult to determine. The subject was largely foreign to them, and played no substantial role in their daily life or political discourse. Thus, there was both collaboration of the elite groups with the Germans, and the rendering of aid and giving of shelter to the Jews among ordinary non-Russian people.

The final chapter, “Responses of Orthodox Christianity and Islam in the Crimea and the North Caucasus to the Holocaust,” explores the importance of the religious element. It seems that explicitly pro-German and anti-Jewish appeals affected ordinary Christians and Muslims more in the Crimea than in the North Caucasus, where the German occupation was short-lived. Beyond intellectual and religious circles, specific religious appeals to the populations in the regions in question—urging them to embrace the notions of Jew-hatred allegedly embedded in their religions—were able to produce only meager results.

Ultimately, Feferman delivers a comprehensive and profound study of the Holocaust in the southern area of the USSR. These two regions were selected as the primary focus of the research mainly given that the scholarship has hitherto failed to explore the unfolding of the Holocaust in that location. Additionally, although different in geography, culture, and history, both regions have much in common: they are situated on the alleged Russian ethnic and religious frontier—thus, similarities in the composition of general (the noticeable presence of non-Slavs professing Islam) and Jewish (presence of non-Ashkenazi groups) populations. Moreover, the regions in question were subjected to different impulses prior and during the Holocaust. These similarities and differences are very important for a better understanding of the Holocaust. This interpretation is often better served by comparing those aspects of the Holocaust which seemed to the author most compatible, such as evacuation, proximity to battlegrounds, heterogeneous Jewish and non-Jewish populations, and the presence of Islam. Feferman successfully avoids overextending his comparative approach while recognizing that direct comparison overlooks unique developments in the Crimea and the North Caucasus necessary for understanding the subject. In some instances Feferman engages both regions separately, even if it involved unavoidable repetitions.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Bakhodir Sidikov is Assistant Professor of the Institute of Islamic Studies and Modern Oriental Philology at the University of Bern.

Date of Review: 
January 17, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Kiril Feferman 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).

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