Decolonising the Museum of Victory, Moscow – A Specifically Russian Understanding of the Holocaust in “Шоа-Холокост. Как человек мог сотворить такое?”

Until recently, Russia had not remembered the Holocaust as a unique evil in twentieth century history. This was true both in the Soviet Union and in an independent Russia. However, this position has changed markedly since Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012.1 A specific Holocaust memory has now developed in the Russian Federation, one which emphasises “Soviet heroism, the fascist leaning of former republics and contemporary Russia’s supposedly tolerant, multicultural society in which the most painful periods of history are confronted”.2

This paper addresses this phenomenon by examining the temporary exhibition “Шоа-Холокост. Как человек мог сотворить такое?” (Shoa-Holocaust. How could a person do this?”), displayed in 2018 at the Museum of Victory, Moscow3, but curated by Yad Vashem.4 The Yad Vashem exhibition is available in twenty-one languages, but the Russian version of the exhibition is different to the other versions that could be accessed online (English, Spanish, Hebrew).5 It seems that the Russian version was rewritten and repackaged for a specifically Russian audience, and this paper will highlight the distinctiveness of the Russian version, including the topics that only the Russian copy confronts. It will also examine the tensions between the understanding of the Holocaust in the West and the Russian interpretation of events as presented in the exhibition.

This paper will use this case-study to showcase a unique memory-culture that is developing in the Russian Federation, one that has been critically overlooked in the West and that is part of a broader engagement with Holocaust memory by ethnonationalist partners in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. It will highlight the specific elements of this uniquely Eastern Holocaust memory, one that exposes, problematises and deconstructs the Holocaust memory practices of the West.

1 I Sawkins, ‘Russia’s State Mobilization of the Holocaust Onscreen – Konstantin Khabensky’s Film Sobibor (2018)’, Modern Languages Open, 1.23 (2020), pp. 1-8 (p. 1).
2 Ibid.
3 ‘Shoa-Kholokost. Kak chelovek mog sotvorit’ takoe? [Shoa-Holocaust. How could a person do this?]’, Muzei Pobedi <https://victorymuseum.ru/exhibitions/in-the-hall/vystavka-shoa-kholokost-kak-chelovek-mog-sotvorit-takoe-/> [accessed 22 May 2020].
4 ‘Shoa-Kholokost. Kak chelovek mog sotvorit’ takoe? [Shoa-Holocaust. How could a person do this?]’, Yad Vashem <https://www.yadvashem.org/yv/ru/exhibitions/ready2print/index.asp#shoah> [accessed 22 May 2020].
5 ‘SHOAH. How was It Humanly Possible?’, Yad Vashem <https://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/ready2print/index.asp#shoah> [accessed 22 May 2020].
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