In a series of spellbinding documentaries, Boris Maftsir, an Israeli filmmaker, has been racing to prevent the last traces of the Holocaust in the USSR from vanishing for good. He went deep into the forests of Belarus to film the remnants of Tuvie Bielski’s partisans’ camp and document instances of Jewish resistance that have not been widely known until now. While it is hard to imagine anything remains to be said about the Shoah, that, says Maftsir, is because we keep retelling half the story—the story of the destruction of the Western European Jewry, from ghettos to gas chambers and everything those stand for: the merciless, mechanized, industrial-scale killing machine that organized the murder of millions into a precise, assembly-line-like operation.
While half of all the Shoah victims died in the Soviet Union, they died very different deaths. Here, people died in mass executions in ravines, forests, and village streets, at the hands of Germans or local collaborators. They perished right where they lived, in front of people who had been their neighbours.
Because the Nazis put Soviet Jews, whom they called Judeo-Bolsheviks, in a separate category and viewed them as particularly dangerous (and because they expected a quick victory here) with a few notable exceptions, they almost never bothered with organizing the Jews into long-term ghettos or transporting them to faraway places. Jews began dying the moment Germans invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.