On October 14, 1943, Aleksandr "Sasha" Pechersky led a mass escape of inmates from Sobibor, a Nazi death camp in Poland. Despite leading the only successful prisoner revolt at a World War II death camp, Pechersky never received the public recognition he deserved in his home country of Russia. This story of a forgotten hero reveals the tremendous difference in memorial cultures between societies in the West and societies in the former Communist world.
Pechersky, along with other Russian and Jewish inmates who had been prisoners of the Nazis, was considered suspect by the Russian government simply because he had been imprisoned. In this volume, Selma Leydesdorff describes the official silence in the Eastern Bloc about Pechersky’s role in the Sobibor escape and how an effort was made to recognize his actions. The narrative is based on eyewitness accounts from people in Pechersky’s life and a discussion of the mechanism of memory, mixing written sources with varied recollections and assessing the collisions of collective memory held by the East and the West. Specifically, this book critiques the ideological refusal of many societies to acknowledge the suffering of Jews at Sobibor.
Offering fascinating insights into a crucial period of history, emphasizing that Jews were not passive in the face of German violence, and exploring the history of the Jews who fell victim to Stalinism after surviving Nazism, this is valuable reading for students and scholars of the Holocaust and the position of Jews under Communism.
Table of Contents
List of illustrations
Chronology: Important Dates in the Life of Aleksandr ("Sasha") Aronowitz Pechersky
Chapter 1: Jews in a Post-Revolutionary World: Integration and Exclusion
Chapter 2: A Trajectory of Misery: The Army and Imprisonment
Chapter 3: Sobibor Through the Eyes of Survivors
Chapter 4: Resist and Tell the World
Chapter 5: After the Escape: Life with the Partisans and the Red Army
Chapter 6: Return to Rostov: Spreading the Word About Sobibor
Chapter 7: Traumatized and Alone in Front of "Justice"
Conclusion: To Speak and to Be Silenced
Selma Leydesdorff is a professor emerita of oral history and culture at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Her publications include We Lived with Dignity: The Jewish Proletariat of Amsterdam 1900–1940 (1998), Surviving the Bosnian Genocide: The Women of Srebrenica Speak (2011), and The Tapestry of Memory, Testimony and Evidence in Life-Story Narratives (2013, co-edited with Nanci Adler).
"It has taken a long time for Sasha Pechersky, the unsung hero of the 1943 revolt in the Sobibor death camp, to find the right voice to tell his story. Selma Leydesdorff’s sad and tragic tale describes the evil he overcame and the injustice that defeated him ‘in a world that remained dark.’ Her love of truth and her passion for history, compelled by her own family’s long-ago loss, highlights the quick success and slow demise of this Russian Jew’s remarkable courage and idealism."
Robert Skloot, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA