The 500-page book detailed many aspects of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union: how things changed for Jews as soon as the Germans invaded, how Jews were put into ghettos and extermination camps, how barbaric the Germans and their collaborators were in torturing and killing Jews. Documentation was gathered during the war, with people sending letters to the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC) describing the atrocities they had just witnessed or experienced, but the Soviet leadership controlled the process. The Soviet government knew the Germans murdered Jews because they were Jews, but in their official point of view, the victims were first and foremost “Soviet citizens.” However, when sending members of the JAC abroad to gather financial support from international Jewish organisations for the Soviet war effort, the official story was that Germans were murdering Jews and the Soviet Union fought against this evil. It was a double-standard from the very start of the writing process of The Black Book.

Credit: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Credit: shakko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After the war, Ehrenburg kept receiving letters from survivors, telling their stories, hoping that their accounts would be remembered by future generations. There was even an emphasis on how non-Jews saved Jews from extermination by hiding them, to show the readers that Soviet non-Jewish people are good people. The Soviet government, however, decided not to release the book completely in 1947. The book told stories of Soviet people being German collaborators, and the Soviet censors deemed this as anti-Soviet propaganda…as they did not want people knowing about collaborators. In reality, this was about the Soviet government forbidding Jews to present themselves as a separate category. They wanted to ensure that it was seen that everyone suffered the same during the war, as Soviet citizens. Some parts of The Black Book were published throughout the post-war period in Israel and the USA, but many sections were missing. The book was never published in the Soviet Union, and the first complete version was printed after the fall of the Soviet Union, almost 50 years after The Black Book was due to be published.

The history of The Black Book shows why the history of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union is still unknown Stalin’s regime wanted to ensure that Jews would not be separate but seen as Soviet citizens. But we know that the German plan was to exterminate all Jews by the Einsatzgruppen and their local helpers. The Black Book contains history that is vital to our knowledge of the Holocaust. As so many post-war generations could not benefit from hearing these stories, it is vital that we know what happened and that we pass on these stories.