The Phantom Holocaust

The Phantom Holocaust: Soviet Cinema and Jewish Catastrophe

Even people familiar with cinema believe there is no such thing as a Soviet Holocaust film. The Phantom Holocaust tells a different story. The Soviets were actually among the first to portray these events on screens. In 1938, several films exposed Nazi anti-Semitism, and a 1945 movie depicted the mass execution of Jews in Babi Yar. Other significant pictures followed in the 1960s. But the more directly filmmakers engaged with the Holocaust, the more likely their work was to be banned by state censors. Some films were never made while others came out in such limited release that the Holocaust remained a phantom on Soviet screens.

Focusing on work by both celebrated and unknown Soviet directors and screenwriters, Olga Gershenson has written the first book about all Soviet narrative films dealing with the Holocaust from 1938 to 1991. In addition to studying the completed films, Gershenson analyzes the projects that were banned at various stages of production. 

The book draws on archival research and in-depth interviews to tell the sometimes tragic and sometimes triumphant stories of filmmakers who found authentic ways to represent the Holocaust in the face of official silencing. By uncovering little known works, Gershenson makes a significant contribution to the international Holocaust filmography.

The Phantom Holocaust in the Media

Русская Служба, BBC Интервью

Радио Свобода. Интервью [audio] Невидимая Катастрофа [text]

"Beyond the Pale" WBAI Radio. Interview

"The Phantom Holocaust traces the story of a shadow Soviet film industry that only rarely managed to represent the tragedy that filmmakers, directors, and screenwriters sought to warn against or memorialize. Gershenson’s work is a monumental achievement in giving a voice to the lost Soviet Holocaust films—to the filmmakers, and to also the millions whose fates they attempted to memorialize." Tablet Magazine

"Le principal mérite de ce travail est de mettre au jour des dizaines de projets et de films (uniquement de fiction) ayant voulu – pu dans une moindre mesure – évoquer le génocide des Juifs." 1895. Revue d'Histoire du Cinéma

"...will serve as a foundation for all further research and reflection on the topic" Holocaust and Genocide Studies

"A pioneering book on the history of Holocaust representation in Soviet cinema. Gershenson's book unearths much about the history of the cinematic representation of the Holocaust beyond Hollywood's iconic take on the subject, tracing—and occasionally breathing new life into—the phantoms that the Soviet cinema industry has left behind." Forward

“…Olga Gershenson’s The Phantom Holocaust is the most ambitious in scope, most dramatic, and most connected to the present. At times, it reads like a captivating film script, with twists and turns, dramatic reunions, and unexpected happy endings.” Jewish Quarterly

"In this work of prodigious scholarship, Gershenson makes an important contribution to the depiction of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union. Highly recommended." Choice [paywall]

"When she first began broaching the subject of Soviet-made Holocaust films, recalls Gershenson, the typical response she’d get from friends and colleagues was disbelief. “What do you mean ‘Soviet-made Holocaust films?’” they’d ask me. “The Soviets actually made films about the Holocaust?” Yes, and how, as her book reveals." Haaretz

"The story of the Holocaust, as told by Soviet filmmakers, is very different from the Hollywood versions shown on U.S. movie screens. The Russian films were not about concentration camps, ghettos, and deportations, for that was not the doom to befall Soviet Jews. Rather, in Soviet films that were made about World War II, a viewer had to read between the linesto catch the subtle, almost hidden messages that the screenwriters and film directors managed to get past the  censors." The Jewish Advocate

"Nearly a dozen long-lost, rarely seen Soviet films and scores of screenplays that were never produced about the persecution of Jews during World War II have been revived to offer decades-old evidence of a side of the Holocaust few people recognize today. From the dusty archives of Moscow and elsewhere across Russia, the works are featured in The Phantom Holocaust, a startling new book."RIA-Novosti Reprinted in Spanish in Rusia Hoy

Ольга Гершензон — исследователь русско-еврейских культурных связей, писавшая о русском театре в Израиле и о российско-израильском кино. В этом году вышла ее книга The Phantom Holocaust — о то появляющейся, то исчезающей теме Холокоста в советском кинематографе. Ольга Гершензон — о том, когда евреям можно было появляться на советском киноэкране и когда нельзя, о том, почему мы сейчас не спешим смотреть фильмы, отправленные на полку; о том, почему Холокост — это всегда где-то далеко” Booknik

В целом новую монографию Ольги Гершензон «Призрачном Холокосте» можно оценить как значительный и весомый вклад в киноведение и политологию. Ее оценки тщательно взвешены, исторические факты изучены и проверены, «Призрак Холокоста: советский кинематограф и еврейская катастрофа» а исследовательская обстоятельность вызывает заслуженное уважение. Медиаобразование

דאָס בוך ״דער פֿאַנטאָם פֿונעם האָלאָקאָסט: סאָװעטישע קינאָ און דער ייִדישער חורבן״ ברענגט צונױף אַ געשפּאַנטן סיפּור־המעשׂה מיט אָריגינעלע טעאָרעטישע השׂגות. די מחברין דערװײַזט, אַז די אָפֿיציעלע סאָװעטישע אױסטײַטשונג פֿונעם ייִדישן חורבן האָט זיך געהאַלטן אױף צװײ יסודות. ערשטנס, איז דאָס פֿאָרגעשטעלט געװאָרן װי אַן אוניװערסאַלע דערשײַנונג. דהײנו, די נאַציסטן זײַנען געװען אױסן אומצוברענגען דעם גאַנצן סאָװעטישן פֿאָלק מיט די ייִדן בתוכם. און צװײטנס, אױב מען װיל טאַקע ספּעציעל װײַזן די ייִדן װי די קרבונות פֿון די נאַציסטן, דאַרף מען איבערטראָגן די האַנדלונג קײן אײראָפּע, מחוץ די סאָװעטישע גרענעצן. דער פֿאָרווערטס