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Ghosts of War. Nazi Occupation and Its Aftermath in Soviet Belarus (with Franziska Exeler)
November 29, 2023 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
How do states and societies confront the legacies of war and occupation, and what do truth, guilt, and justice mean in that process? The talk examines people’s wartime choices and their aftermath in Belarus, a war-ravaged Soviet republic that was under Nazi occupation during the Second World War. After the Red Army reestablished control over Belarus, one question shaped encounters between the returning Soviet authorities and those who had lived under Nazi rule, between soldiers and family members, reevacuees and colleagues, Holocaust survivors and their neighbors: What did you do during the war? The talk analyzes the prosecution and punishment of Soviet citizens accused of wartime collaboration with the Nazis and shows how individuals sought justice, revenge, or assistance from neighbors and courts. It examines the many absences, silences, and conflicts that were never resolved, as well as the truths that could only be spoken in private, yet it also investigates the extent to which individuals accommodated, contested, and reshaped official Soviet war memory. It is often assumed that in societies that experienced war, occupation, or violent conflict, the act of seeking justice and accountability contributes to the development of free public spheres and democratic societies (a process also known as transitional justice). In contrast, the talk asks how efforts at “confronting the past” played out within, and at times through, a dictatorship like the Soviet Union.
This event is co-hosted by the NYU History Department and the Jordan Center for the Advanced Study of Russia. It is part of the Elihu Rose Lecture Series in Modern Military History.
Franziska Exeler is Lecturer (equivalent to Assistant Professor) of History at Freie Universität Berlin. She is also a Research Fellow at the Centre for History and Economics at Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. Her research interests include twentieth-century East European, Russian and German history; war and society; (international) legal history and war crimes trials; myth, memory and trauma; and empire, migration, and border regimes. Her book Ghosts of War. Nazi Occupation and Its Aftermath in Soviet Belarus was published in 2022 with Cornell University Press. It is the recipient of the 2021 Ernst Fraenkel Prize awarded by the Wiener Holocaust Library in London.