New film: Soviet Jews in Minnesota

Leaving aside the questionable capitalization—The American VOICES of the Soviet Jews—this new documentary from the Minnesota Soviet-Jewish community captures the stories of Soviet Jews who lived through WWII. I like that it turns the camera onto ordinary people who just happened to be born into the wrong time and place. And that after all that trauma and upheaval, they’re now living in the most ordinary of settings. It’s something I’ve often thought when I’m doing my own interviews—how do you go from the gulag over there to here (usually meaning Edmonton in my case)?

With the exception of Stalingrad movies, the Soviet experience of that period got swallowed up the divisions of the Cold War, similar to the point I made in my last post about Soviet archives. This film is one attempt to uncover that history. And even just from the trailer, I can hear echoes of stories from my own family, as both my grandfathers also fought in the war.

I’m a little puzzled by the promo article though, which seems to indicate that the enforced secularism of the USSR was part of a wider European trend: “Life in the Soviet Union was strongly influenced by government’s desire to hammer together a new ethnos—the Soviet people. The Soviet Jewish community embraced this, following the pan-European trend toward secularization, as well as toward marrying outside of the Jewish community.”

Umm, yeah. That sounds quite a bit gentler than what actually happened, which was a state-wide propaganda campaign, directed at Jews as much as the rest of the population (although in different ways), and the complete ban of all religion, extending all the way to round-ups of Russian Orthodox clergy. Not quite the Enlightenment-style embrace of secular liberalism that swept through Europe.

That aside, it looks to be an interesting documentary—the filmmakers ended up with 25 hours of interview footage—and hopefully it’ll make its way to Toronto at some point.

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