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.
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.