Jochen Hellbeck

History, New Brunswick, NJ
Fellowship: 01.02.–31.07.2019


Jochen Hellbeck studied History and Slavic Literatures at the Free University of Berlin and Indiana University, before obtaining his Ph.D. at Columbia University. He is now a Distinguished Professor of History at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Hellbeck’s research centers on individual life stories and the shaping of the self in modern Europe, with a primary focus on the Soviet Union. He particularly seeks to understand the place of individuals in the context of cataclysmic events of the 20th century: the Russian Revolution, Stalin’s dictatorship, and the Second World War. His work has contributed to a more capacious and humane understanding of the Soviet Union, of World War II, and of how consciousness survived in societies that supposedly eradicated it. As a Morphomata Fellow, Hellbeck will explore wartime efforts to record German atrocities committed on Soviet soil. The project highlights a hitherto overlooked epicenter of the Second World War and traces the continued work and explosive presence of deep-level war memories in the region.

Fields of Research

Cultural history, autobiography, selfhood, modern subjectivities, testimonies, Holocaust, World War II, Soviet Union, Russia

Project outline

Soviet Survivors of Nazi Occupation: the First Testimonies
My book project recovers the forgotten first Soviet experience of “German-fascist” rule. It maps and critically examines the wartime fieldwork of a group of Moscow historians who produced more than 1,000 interviews with Soviet witnesses and survivors of Nazi occupation. The historians practiced a form of revolutionary documentarism that dated back to the revolution of 1917: they deployed an auto/biographical interview form to activate and transform their respondents. My project shows how the historians’ biographical impetus became entangled with the urge of traumatized Soviet survivors to talk about hardship and horrors suffered under enemy rule. This encounter yielded a first history of the Soviet experience of Nazi occupation, a history that was narrated in immediate proximity to the time and location of the relayed events. It yielded biographical testimonies that proved too open and unvarnished for the purposes of the Stalinist state and were heavily redacted or consigned to the archive. This project is important not only because it recovers the erased first Soviet experience of Nazi rule; it also brings the Soviet case in conversation with literature on the Holocaust to suggest a novel biographical reading of wartime testimonies throughout Europe.

Publications (Selection)

-- Stalingrad: The City that Defeated the Third Reich (New York: PublicAffairs, 2015). Revised translation of: Die Stalingrad Protokolle. Sowjetische Augenzeugen berichten aus der Schlacht (Frankfurt: S. Fischer, 2012). Also available in Russian, Spanish, and Swedish translations.
-- Revolution on My Mind: Writing a Diary Under Stalin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006; Paperback 2009). Russian version: Revoliutsiia ot pervogo litsa. Dnevniki stalinskoi epokhi (Moscow: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2017).
-- Tagebuch aus Moskau 1931-1939 (München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1996).

-- “The Antifascist Pact: Forging a First Experience of Nazi Occupation in the Wartime Soviet Union,” Slavonic and East European Review 96/1 (January 2018): 117-143.)
-- „Wir werden siegen, wie schon vor 70 Jahren unsere Großväter gesiegt haben.“ Weltkriegsgedenken in der Ukraine im Schatten des neuerlichen Kriegs (with Tetiana Pastushenko and Dmytro Tytarenko), in: Tag des Sieges, ed. Mischa Gabowitsch, Cordula Gdaniec, Katja Makhotina (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2017)
-- “Battles for Morale: An Entangled History of Total War in Europe, 1939-1945,” in: The Cambridge History of the Second World War. Volume 3: Total War: Economy, Society and Culture, ed. Michael Geyer and Adam Tooze (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).
-- "Breakthrough at Stalingrad: the Repressed Soviet Origins of a Bestselling German War Tale,” Contemporary European History, vol. 22, no. 1 (Winter 2013): 1-30; Russian translation: “Proryv pod Stalingradom. Vyrvannye sovetskie korni nemetskogo voennogo bestsellera,” Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie 116 (August 2012).
-- “With Hegel to Salvation: Bukharin’s Other Trial,” Representations 107 (Summer 2009): 56-91
-- “Galaxy of Black Stars: the Power of Soviet Biography,” American Historical Review 115 (June 2009): 615-624 (part of a forum on “Biography and Historians”)
-- “’The Diaries of Fritzes and the Letters of Gretchens’: Personal Writings from the German-Soviet War and Their Readers,” Kritika 10, 3 (Summer 2009): 571-606