01 January 2016

The Making of Soviet Chernivtsi • National “Reunification,” World War II, and the Fate of Jewish Czernowitz in Postwar Ukraine


Abstract: This dissertation revisits the meaning of Soviet expansion and sovietization during and after World War II, the effects of the war on a multiethnic Central-Eastern European city, and the postwar construction of a national identity. One of several multiethnic cities acquired by the USSR in the course of World War II, modern pre-Soviet Chernivtsi can be best characterized as a Jewish-German city dominated by acculturated Jews until the outbreak of World War II. Yet Chernivtsi emerged from the war, the Holocaust, and Soviet reconstruction as an almost homogeneous Ukrainian city that allegedly had always longed for reunification with its Slavic brethren. Focusing on the late Stalinist period (1940–1953) but covering earlier (1774–1940) and later (1953–present) periods, this study explores the relationship between the ideas behind the incorporation; the lived experience of the incorporation; and the historical memory of the city’s distant and recent past. Central to this dissertation is the fate of the Jewish residents of Czernowitz-Chernivtsi. This community was diminished from an influential plurality to about one percent of the city’s population whose past was marginalized in local historical memory. This study demonstrates a multifaceted local experience of the war which was all but silenced by the dominant Soviet Ukrainian myth of the Great Patriotic War and the 'reunification of all Ukrainian lands.' When the authors of the official Soviet historical and cultural narratives represented Stalin’s annexation as the 'reunification' of Ukraine, they in fact constructed and popularized a new concept of 'historical Ukrainian lands.' This concept—a blueprint for the Soviet colonization of the western borderlands in the name of the Ukrainian nation—tied ethnically defined Ukrainian culture to a strictly delineated national territory. Applied to the new borderlands and particularly to their urban centres characterized by cultural diversity, this policy served to legitimize the marginalization and, in several cases, the violent displacement of ethnic minorities, bringing to an end Jewish Czernowitz."

Courtesy: Dr. Svitlana Frunchak

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