Ghosts of War: Nazi Occupation and Its Aftermath in Soviet Belarus

Recording of book talk by Franziska Exeler, Assistant Professor of History at Free University Berlin

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The UCLA Center for European and Russian Studies, in co-sponsorship with UCLA History, the Promise Institute for Human Rights, and the UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies invite you to watch the recording of webinar by Franziska Exeler, the author of Ghosts of War: Nazi Occupation and Its Aftermath in Soviet Belarus. The book talk took place on March 1, 2023. You can watch the recording here on our website or on the CERS YouTube Channel.


How do states and societies confront the legacies of war and occupation, and what do truth, guilt, and justice mean in that process? In her talk, Franziska Exeler 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 uncovers 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.


Franziska Exeler is Assistant Professor of History at Free University Berlin and a Research Fellow at the Centre for History and Economics, Magdalene College, University of Cambridge. She received her PhD in History from Princeton University, and held postdoctoral fellowships at the European University Institute in Florence and the International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Ghosts of War: Nazi Occupation and Its Aftermath in Soviet Belarus has been published by Cornell UP. The book is the recipient of the 2021 Ernst Fraenkel Prize awarded by the Wiener Holocaust Library in London.


Jared McBride is an Assistant Adjunct Professor in the History Department at the University of California-Los Angeles. He is a historian who specializes in the regions of Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe in the 20th century and whose research interests include nationalist movements, mass violence, the Holocaust, interethnic conflict, and war crimes prosecution. His research has been funded by Fulbright-Hays, the Social Science Research Council, the Mellon Foundation, and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and has been published in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Journal of Genocide Research, The Carl Beck Papers, Ab Imperio, Kritika, and Slavic Review. At present, McBride is currently completing a book manuscript on local perpetrators and interethnic violence in Nazi-occupied western Ukraine.

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Duration: 01:24:59



Welcome, everyone. I'm Liana Grancea, Executive 

Director of the Center for European and Russian  

Studies, and standing in for our Director, 

Laurie Hart, who unfortunately wasn't able to  

join us today. So it's my great pleasure today 

to welcome you to our book talk Ghosts of War:  

Nazi Occupation and Its Aftermath 

in Soviet Belarus, and of course,  

to introduce the speakers. Franziska Exeler 

and Jared McBride, today's author and critic.  

But first, I'd like to thank our UCLA co-sponsors, 

the Department of History, the Alan D. Leve Center  

for Jewish Studies, and the Promise Institute for 

Human Rights at the School of Law. I also want  

to thank our long-time community partners at the 

Southeast European Film Festival in Los Angeles  

for spreading the word about our events and 

this one in particular. And last but not least,  

many thanks to our colleague Lenka Unge, who has 

made all the arrangements for this talk, and  

rearrangements since this is being rescheduled. 

After the author's presentation and  

discussant's comments and questions, we will 

open the discussion to all participants,  

so please feel free to post your questions 

in the Q&A section and we will read them out  

in the order that they have been posted 

once we open the floor to the audience.  

And now to the introductions and I will be brief. 

Franziska Exeler is Assistant Professor of History  

at Free University Berlin and a research fellow at the 

Center for History and Economics at Magdalene College,  

University of Cambridge. She received her 

doctorate in history from Princeton and held  

postdoctoral fellowship at the European University 

Institute in Florence and the International Center  

for the History and Sociology of World War II and 

Its Consequences at the Higher School of Economics  

in Moscow. Ghosts of War was published by Cornell 

University Press, has received wide praise and  

is the recipient of the 2021 Ernst Fraenkel Prize awarded 

by the Wiener Holocaust Library in London.  

One of them. Jared McBride, is Assistant Adjunct 

Professor in UCLA History Department. He  

specializes in the regions of Russia, Ukraine 

and Eastern Europe in the 20th century. And  

his research interests include nationalist 

movements, mass violence, the Holocaust,  

inter-ethnic conflict and war crimes prosecution. 

His research has been funded by Fulbright Hays,  

the Social Science Research Council, the Mellon 

and Guggenheim Foundations, and has been published  

in numerous journals - Holocaust and Genocide 

Studies, Journal of Genocide Research, The  

Carl Beck Papers, Ab Imperio, Kritika, and Slavic Review.

He is currently completing a book manuscript on local  

perpetrators and interethnic violence in

Nazi-occupied Western Ukraine, which we look forward to  

bringing to you as soon as it's published. Thank 

you both for accepting our invitation.

Thank you so much for the invitation and for the 

kind introduction. I'm particularly honored to  

have Jared McBride discuss the book since

he is an expert on the Second World War in  

Eastern Europe. So let me begin with some 

of the larger questions that motivated me to  

write the book and I will share my screen 

in the hope that it's going to work out.  

Yes, I hope this should be working.

This book project has been a long project,  

as probably most dissertations that 

were eventually revised at some point, you know,  

it seemed it almost fell apart, then we're put 

together again with lots of new archival research.  

But at the very beginning of this 

book stood three questions, essentially.  

The first one was, what I wanted to find out 

was, what is the scope for individual agency  

in extreme moral circumstances such as wartime 

occupation? The second question that I wanted  

to find out was, how do states and societies, 

social communities and individuals confront  

the legacies of war and occupation, and what do 

truth, guilt and justice mean in that process?  

And the third question that interested me was, how 

does the process of confronting the past play out  

within authoritarian states? Scholarship on 

transitional justice usually assumes that seeking  

justice and accountability in the aftermath of 

war and violence contributes to the development  

of more pluralist democratic spheres.

I wanted to know what seeking  

justice for wartime atrocities meant and looked 

like in a dictatorship like the Soviet Union.  

The book then examines people's choices, and their 

choices' choices, and the Nazi occupation and the  

ways in which these shaped postwar Soviet rule. 

It does so through the lens of Soviet Belarus,  

a Soviet republic, an East European border 

that was particularly affected by the war.  

The Soviet Socialist Republic of Belarus was 

established in 1919 out of the turmoil of  

war and revolution. The Republic was initially 

quite small, as you can see on this map here. So  

initially it really only consisted of what is here 

indicated in number one, then grew in the interwar years,

sort of added territories to the east and 

then doubled its territory in population and size  

when following the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the 

Soviet Union annexed Eastern Poland. And then  

Northeastern Poland became Western Belarus. 

So these are then sort of the west and have  

number four that you can see on 

that map. And on the map to the right,  

you can see the Soviet annexations of 1939 and 

With the exception of Bialystok region, 

which was handed back to Poland in 1945, so the  

western most part of Belarus, the Soviet Union, 

then between these territories after the war.  

On June 22, 1941, Germany broke the pact 

and invaded the Soviet Union. Belarus was  

then under German occupation from the 

summer of 1941 to the summer of 1944,  

when the Red Army liberated the region from Nazi 

war. German occupation brought incredible death  

and destruction to the Soviet western regions, 

and Belarus was among the hardest hit places. 

About 19 to 22 percent of the population that by 

June 1941 lived in the territories, that  

would constitute post-1945 Belarus, were 

killed or died as a direct result of the war.  

This included almost the entire Jewish population 

of the republic, an estimated 500,000 to 607,000  

people. And as part of so called anti-partisan 

campaigns, the Germans also erased approximately  

in Nazi occupied Europe, and killed up to 345,000  

civilians, some of them Jews, but the overwhelming 

majority of non-Jewish rural residents.

For people in occupied territory, 

it was impossible not to come into  

contact with the occupation regime, not least 

because in the regions under their control,  

the German authorities depended heavily 

on the employment of Soviet citizens.  

Willingly or unwillingly, on their own initiative, 

or much more reluctantly, some people became  

complicit or entangled in German crimes. Most 

notably, this included the local policemen and  

town mayors, who took part in the Holocaust. 

But there were also many more ways, an entire  

sort of broad range and spectrum, in which an 

individual could become entangled in German  

policies. For example, as an office clerk or as a 

teacher or more general, be in contact with them.  

What is more, during the war, Belarus emerged 

as the center of Soviet partisan warfare against  

the Germans. This meant, for civilians in occupied 

territory, that it was not only impossible not to  

come in contact with the German occupation regime, 

but it was also impossible to stay neutral in the  

fight between Soviet Partisans on the one hand, 

and Germans and local policemen on the other hand.  

In parts of western Belarus, this precarious 

situation for civilians was further complicated  

by the presence of Polish partisans, so units 

of the army [. . .], and in southern Belarus  

towards the end of the war by the presence of 

Ukrainian nationalists. When the Red Army then  

returned in the summer of 1944, one question 

hovered over encounters between the returning  

Soviet authorities and those who had lived under 

German rule between soldiers and family members,  

evacuees and colleagues, Holocaust survivors and 

their neighbors. What did you do during the war?  

Let me say a few words just about the outline 

of the book. So the book begins with the first  

chapter at the turn of the 20th century 

and then extends from the war years into  

the postwar years. So the first chapter kind of 

provides the historical background looking at  

this region as a particularly contested space and 

also the different ways in which Soviet rule came  

to eastern and to western Belarus. The second 

chapter then zooms in on to the war years and  

looks specifically at wartime choices and looks 

at different moments in time, the Holocaust,  

the Soviet partisan movement, or the development 

of the Soviet partisan movement, and traces  

individual choices under Nazi rule. And

chapters 3 to 6 then look at sort of  

the short and the longer postwar. 

So it starts with a moment of return in 1944,  

then followed by a chapter on trials, so the 

Soviet politics of retributions, means and meanings  

of punishment, retribution and justice and what 

can be called the treason or collaboration trials,

then proceeds with a chapter that looks 

specifically at the ways in which non-state  

actors or individuals try to grapple with what I 

call the ghosts of war, so the wartime choices,  

how they tried to find out what others did 

during the war, how they responded when they  

assumed or knew or otherwise surmised that 

somebody had become complicit in German  

crimes and the different ways, both through 

Soviet state channels and non-state channels,  

or a combination of the both in which they then 

sought accountability for wartime wrongdoings.  

And then it concludes with a chapter on the 

ways in which the Soviet state inherited  

the years of Nazi occupation. So under the 

heading of Belarus, the Partisan Republic,  

how this conflicted with a lot of wartime memories 

of individuals in Belarus, but also different  

ways in which, within limits, individuals could contest 

the Soviet state narrative and at the same time  

strive to be included in it. And it also has a 

note on wartime losses, which numbers are often  

political and which I assess different estimates on 

wartime losses that are being discussed both in  

the scholarly literature, but also on the ways in 

which the current, the authoritarian government  

under Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus today, 

how they use the different uses to which they  

put these tremendously high number and then 

the human losses of the war. And to the left  

you can see a map of Soviet Belarus in its

post-1945 borders. So without Bialystok region, which  

was handed back to Poland and then the dotted 

line indicates the pre-1939 Soviet-Polish border.

To be able to fully capture the complexity of 

human behavior, my analysis draws on a wide  

range of different sources and perspectives. 

So these ranged from Soviet and German state  

documents to letters, memoirs, short recollections 

and oral history interviews in different European  

languages. And the voices of individuals are 

really something that I've tried to make central  

to my analysis. These were, to name just a few 

individuals like [. . .]

These four individuals, 

which you can see here on the slide,  

they came from different backgrounds, Jewish and 

Christian, religious and secular, from Belarusian,

Yiddish, Russian or Polish speaking families. 

And they also come from western or eastern Belarus,  

from the new and the old Soviet part of the 

republic indicated here in yellow on the map.  

What they had in common was that they 

called this East European borderland home,

and like countless others, their lives were 

transformed by the Second World War.  

Now, the remain of the talk, I'd would like to speak 

about two issues in particular. The first one,  

Soviet trials, or what we can call the Soviet 

treason or collaboration trials, and then  

the more personal ways of seeking justice and how 

that could clash with the official war narrative.  

And I would like to then conclude with a few 

thoughts on comparison. After the trend  

of Soviet power in 1944, the pursuit of truth 

was a common goal for individuals, communities,  

and the Soviet authorities alike. Yet they often 

held different understandings of what that meant.

For local party leaders, state security 

officers, so the NKVD and the NKGB, and  

members of the judiciary, finding out

what people in occupied territory had  

done was a task of utmost importance. Inextricably 

linked to the re-establishment of Soviet authorities.  

The authorities were determined to punish local 

participation in German atrocities, and during  

the first postwar occupation years, they prosecuted,

for example, many policemen who had taken  

part in the Holocaust and the killing of other 

civilians. At the same time though, the search  

for alleged traitors was about defining who and 

who had not been loyal to Moscow during the war.

As military tribunals translated complex moral 

gray zones of war and occupation into the  

language of treason, external pressures 

or intent were not taken into account.  

Mitigating circumstances were only recognized 

if an individual had gone over to the partisans,  

thereby proving that he was willing to die 

for the Soviet Union. So this is really the  

only case in which I could find that, or which 

I found that military tribunal systematically  

took mitigating circumstances into account. So 

the cases of individuals who first fought on the  

German side as policemen, for example, and then 

during the war went over to the partisans side.  

That phenomenon was perhaps, on a side 

note, actually not a marginal phenomenon.  

The data that we have of the partisans, who were 

active in Belarus during the war, it pertained  

to about 10% of partisans who had previously, 

prior to joining the Soviet partisans,  

either been policemen for the Germans or else 

worked on German institutions. And this was also  

a sort of a phenomenon encouraging people 

to come over to the Soviet side that really  

came from the topmost level, sot to say. It was 

a policy that was put in place by Ponomarenko,  

who was the head of the Soviet Partisan 

Movement, and it was approved by Stalin.  

These tensions then between on the one hand 

wanting to punish local participation in  

German atrocities, yet at the same time also 

thinking about the war as a test of people's  

loyalties, these tensions then continued to 

inform later Soviet trials. Most people who  

are charged with wartime treason were prosecuted 

until the early 1950s. After Stalin's death in  

efforts, the state moderated its punitive  

policies and in 1955 issued a partial amnesty. 

In the 1960s then, domestic and international changes  

spurred a second wave of trials. As the statute 

of limitations did not exist for treason, the  

prosecution of Soviet citizens accused of wartime 

collaboration continued until the late 1980s.  

So there's much, much more that one could say 

about the trials and I'd be really happy to do so  

later on. There are just three points that I'd 

like to raise today. For one, we can see that  

contrary to official wartime proclamations, 

namely that traitors only deserve one fate,  

death as Stalin said in a July 1941 speech, we 

can see that punitive practices were not static,  

but rather varied over time, alternating 

throughout the postwar years between more lenient  

and stricter, less active and more expensive 

phases. The punishment was particularly strict in  

the war years, in particular in the first 

sort of reconquest phased in early 1942  

when it was particularly harsh and indiscriminate, 

when somebody as we know from  

[. . .] in western Russia, who worked

as a cleaning lady for the Germans,  

could in some cases did receive the same sentence 

as a local policeman. During the war years then, 

the authorities published a set of instructions 

that kind of aimed to clarify the legal basis of  

punishment. But the real turning point,

I think, in the Soviet politics of  

punishment really comes in early 1944. So by 

the time when large parts of the Soviet western  

regions had already been liberated and sort 

of Red Army was preparing for a major offensive.

And we can see here that punishment becomes 

somewhat less strict, with a ratio of death  

sentences to prison sentences further dropping 

in the immediate postwar years. I think this has  

a lot to do with considerations about the way in 

which the returning Soviet authorities wanted to  

present themselves vis-à-vis the population 

and formerly occupied territory. So it has a  

lot to do with domestic, but also in some parts 

changes in the international sort of structure.   

The second point I'd like to make is that we 

see different kinds of trials that were taking  

place. Different types of shifts

and visibility. So in the first  

wave, as the Red Army is sort of pushing the 

German army from the Soviet western regions,  

the trials usually take place in public. 

And here on the slide you can see  

an example of one of these 

trials. This image was taken  

in a village of northwestern Russia, which the Red  

Army had retaken by the fall of 1943. On trial 

was a man by the name of Bazylev, who'd during  

the German occupation served as the head of 

this village. He's standing in the center right of  

the photo, sort of in front of what looks like a 

jury of three officers, surrounded by at least four  

armed guards. Others soldiers were probably 

his fellow villagers, most of them women.  

I think this image shows or suggests, obviously 

every image is staged, but this image, I think,  

so suggests just how improvised and quick these 

Red Army trials were. We know from memoirs by  

prosecutors who worked for the Red Army 

military tribunals that these trials took  

place throughout every district 

in the liberated territories.   

They're usually conducted within one or two 

days, sometimes just within a couple of hours.  

Once the troops then moved westward, 

the prosecution of civilians wartime  

treason primarily became the

responsibility of the state security organs.  

And this is also when the majority of 

prosecutions then takes place in  

secret without audiences that can attend, often 

usually also without defense lawyers and the  

like. But there are a couple of select trials 

that then were chosen to take place in public.

Although, and this is kind of a subcategory of 

these trials, trials of Soviet citizens who are  

accused of collaboration with the Germans 

during the war, the trials that took place  

in the mid to the late 1940s, were

public, meaning that public, like local  

audiences were allowed to attend. They were usually 

not much publicized beyond the locality in which  

they took place, which is a difference then 

to the 1960s trials, which are geared both at  

domestic audiences, but also increasingly 

towards a much more global audience.  

And the third point I'd like to raise about 

these trials is that we can see that there's  

a professionalization of the administration of 

justice happening. By that I mean that later  

trial records, especially from the early 1960s 

on, are far more extensive than the trials that  

were conducted in the immediate aftermath of Nazi 

occupation. Still I think it's important to  

stress that this didn't mean that we also

see an increase in due process of law.  

So the Soviet collaboration trials continue to 

lack fundamental standards of rule of law, such  

as an independent judiciary, independent defense 

attorneys and the assumption of innocent until  

proven guilty that form the precondition for any 

trial to be considered as impartial as possible.  

In contrast to the Soviet authorities were 

preoccupied with the question of political  

loyalty for many inhabitants of postwar Belarus, 

confronting people's wartime choices was a highly  

individualized process. Contingent on 

a multitude of interacting factors,  

circumstances and personal experiences. Most 

of these in Belarus lay in ruins. Entire rural  

districts had been burnt down and large parts 

of the population were uprooted or displaced.  

For private individuals, the moment of return 

was first and foremost about the much hope  

for reunion with family members. Returning home, 

however, also led to encounters with former  

neighbors and friends, fellow villagers 

and colleagues. These encounters not only  

threw into sharp reveal that some, in particular 

Jews, had lost more than others during the war.

They also, and inevitably so, raised 

questions about people's wartime behavior.  

Now, one might probably assume that in a 

dictatorship like Stalin's Soviet Union,  

individuals would shy away altogether from talking 

about the war in ways that might deviate from the  

official line. That wasn't the case though.

As neighbors and acquaintances met in  

social settings, they did talk frankly about the 

war at times, including sensitive topics such as  

violence committed by Soviet partisans against 

civilians in occupied territory. And it seems  

when it came to sort of approaching neighbors 

directly, asking them what had happened in a  

particular locality during the war, it seems that 

it was often Holocaust survivors who survived with  

the partisans or who fought with the Red Army, who 

were the ones who did this, sort of who approached  

neighbors directly, asking them what had

happened in their hometowns during the war.  

But if people spoke about taking furniture from 

Jewish apartments, stealing food from villagers,  

or serving the German organized police forces, 

they usually always referred to other locals as  

having done such and such things, not themselves. 

And they needed a lot of personal determination  

and assistance to overcome people's reluctance to 

respond to uncomfortable questions, in particular  

ones that might have brought to light their 

own entanglement and wrongdoings.   

When individuals found out or surmised that 

members of their pre-war social communities  

have become complicit or entangled in Nazi 

crimes, or that their neighbors had taken  

advantage of other people's plight, 

they responded in different ways.  

Some sought comfort in the social relations that 

had survived. The friendship and solidarities that  

had not been destroyed by what people 

had done or not done during the war.  

Often, people cut all ties with those 

whom they suspected of wrongdoings,  

Yet others decided to altogether sever the bond 

to the local community. Whether this entailed  

leaving one's hometown, region, or Belarus, 

or possibly even the Soviet Union itself,  

which as an option was only open to a small 

group, namely some ethnic Poles from western  

Belarus and Holocaust survivors as well 

from western Belarus, were able to leave  

the Soviet Union under the conditions of the 

As varied as people's responses to the ghosts 

of war were, one sentiment was widely shared  

by inhabitants of Belarus, the urge to seek 

justice and retribution that is punishment that  

people believe to be morally right. In its most 

extreme form, retribution meant revenge and violence. 

For example, by beating up a fellow villager 

accused of having worked for the Germans,  

which was reported from villages from 

eastern and western Belarus in the fall of 1944.  

I actually only came across such cases for 

that particular sort of the first weeks and  

at most months after the Soviet return. 

I think the reason for that was that  

the Soviet state security organs were able to 

bring any... Simply to establish kind of their  

networks, but also more generally to bring 

the region much sooner under control than,  

for example, western Ukraine. So I think there 

was also less room for people to kind of engage  

in these spontaneous acts of violence. What usually 

then happened is that if the state security organs  

heard about it, they would let it go on for 

one or two days, and then eventually would arrest  

somebody. So the vengeance violence mostly

takes the form of beatings. Yet individuals  

also pursued many other less physical means of 

retribution. Some did so privately, for example,  

by confronting neighbors directly, demanding the 

restitution of property that these had acquired  

during the war. At times that was successful, at 

times not. It turned out to be more successful if  

somebody who reclaimed property was or during 

the war had been a member of, for example

the Soviet partisan movement, or former Red 

Army soldier. Beyond these private efforts,  

many individuals found themselves brought into 

contact with the Soviet state. In the efforts  

to determine what Soviet citizens had done under

Nazi rule, the authorities relied heavily on local  

information on an assortment of names, clues and 

stories. Some of these were supplied unwillingly,  

such as when torture during interrogations made 

people provide or fabricate incriminating material  

about friends or neighbors. Or when people 

were blackmailed into becoming informers.  

Others agreed to become informants for the state 

security organs because they saw this as a chance  

to punish locals they believed guilty of crimes 

committed in the name of German power. While  

some consented to pass on information to the state 

after they were approached by its representatives,  

many more acted on their own initiative and 

wrote letters to the central authorities.

Testifying to the state, whether 

to the members of the

extraordinary state Ccmmission, or if 

possible, as a witness at a public trial,  

was another means to which individuals 

could seek justice as they understood it.  

In doing so, some people found that their 

individual notions of what constituted  

morally right punishment overlapped or even

were congruent with those of the regime.  

When the authorities acted on the tip and arrested 

a neighbor they believed to have committed crimes,  

even someone who otherwise was not sympathetic to 

Soviet power could see the state as a guarantor of  

justice. The same could apply to individuals who 

served as witnesses in court. Although,  

as we also know, especially from research

on the aftermath of the civil war in former  

Yugoslavia, that is a very complicated question. 

The extent to which serving, for example,  

as a witness in a court can make somebody feel 

that for him or herself, justice had been done.  

The widespread desire for punishment, in other 

words, made it possible for some inhabitants  

of postwar Belarus to find more justice.

But the state's legal system was

and remained profoundly illiberal.  

At the same time, of course, interaction with 

the authorities came at its own risk. People  

who engaged with the state could only do so on the 

terms set by the authorities. There are boundaries  

to what could be said and done, and investigations 

could backfire on those who initially set them  

in motion. Nowhere did this become more visible 

than in the many property conflicts. What belong  

to whom was an immensely contentious question in 

the immediate postwar years. A deeply personal,  

at the same time, highly political question. The 

death and displacement of hundreds of   

thousands of people, and in particular the 

region's Jews and the destruction of houses  

as a result of military operations or German 

punitive actions meant that a lot of property,  

be it apartments, furniture, or clothes, had passed 

through many different hands during the war.  

Just how did you manage to move into a new 

apartment during the war? Because the Germans had  

burnt down your house as punishment for ties to 

the partisans or because the partisans,  

as it happened in a few cases, had burned down 

your house as punishment for ties to the Germans,  

or because a bomb had destroyed your house 

and you simply needed a new place to stay?

Property contracts also were not limited to 

housing questions. How did you come to acquire  

new furniture or clothes? How did you come to own 

a cow during the war? Did you take it from the  

collective farm after the Soviet state took 

it from you during the collectivization of  

agriculture in the 1930s? Or did you receive it 

from the Germans for services rendered to them?  

And if you bought it from someone, 

how did that person acquire it?

These questions arose when trying to 

solve the widespread property conflicts, which is  

why we can read them as one of the ways in which 

people in Belarus grappled with the ghosts of war.  

Sorting them out was an inherently difficult 

task, both practically as well as morally. And  

Red Army soldiers, Holocaust survivors, or 

former partisans often turn to the state,  

asking the authorities to settle the question 

of ownership or occupancy rights in their favor.  

In doing so, they had no choice but to work with 

Soviet normative categories, with the authority's  

notions of right and wrong wartime behavior. 

This means that in consequence it was, of course,  

impossible to seek justice for wartime wrongdoings 

believed to have committed in the name of the  

Soviet state. A peasant could not complain 

to Minsk for instance that Soviet partisans had  

stolen his cow during the war. Doing so would have 

meant that he would have made himself suspicious.  

The partisans were officially deemed 

unambiguous heroes and defenders of the  

social motherland. So why, in other words, 

had he not given it voluntarily to them?  

In the Soviet narrative of the war as an old 

people's war, Belarus occupied a special place  

as the republic where the so-called old 

people's partisan war had taken place.  

According to this narrative, the local population, 

both the Republic's eastern and western part, had,  

with the exception of a few, 

stood firmly behind Soviet power.  

In this respect, meriting the use of war and 

occupation was also about the creation of a  

new linear story of Soviet Belarusian statehood, 

one that firmly united eastern and western values  

under the banner of the Partisan Republic, 

as the postwar republic came to be known.

After 1953, this general Soviet war

narrative and its specific Belarusian  

version became more inclusive and within 

limits some of its aspects could be contested.  

Still, because of the centrality of the old 

people's partisan war to postwar Soviet Belarusian  

statehood, there was no space to acknowledge 

that the relationship between Soviet partisans  

and civilians in German occupied territory had 

been fragile, unequal, fraught with conflict, and  

at times antagonistic. This exclusively positive 

depiction of the Partisans civilian relationship  

was and remains to this day, non-negotiable in 

Belarus, and for that matter in Russia, too. And  

in other words, violence that was

committed by Soviet partisans against  

civilians is a political taboo and challenging

it comes with high professional and social costs,

especially now as we see that Belarus 

has instituted its own memory laws.  

Russia already has memory

laws in place that

for an individual to challenge these taboos 

carries these particular or potential threats.  

How then did individuals live with conflicting 

narratives? Sorry, I shouldn't probably say narratives.   

How did they live then with the fact that there 

was an initial official narrative in place, but  

their own experience of the war

differed from the official narrative. Some  

strategy or some ways in which individuals in 

postwar Belarus tried to make sense of this  

discrepancy between the official and private 

memory was that they distinguish between  

"real partisans" who could be honored and 

"bandits". They were attempting to rationalize  

the abuse that they encountered from

the latter. So, you know, this apologist  

who interviewed both in western and 

eastern Belarus and village inhabitants,  

when they recounted their war time experiences

to talk about those who were partisans,  

and they called them partisans, and others, usually 

people who had taken food from them against their  

will, or had else sort of threatened them in

some ways, would not call them partisans,  

even though they were members of the partisan 

movement, but they would say that these people,  

they did not belong to the real partisan

movement, that they were the bandits.   

Thereby you could rationalize the abuse that 

they had encountered from the bandits  

and reframe your wartime experiences. Although 

this reframing of their wartime experience could  

publicly only be articulated at the cost of 

exclusion from the larger political community. 

Those who felt that Soviet power had done 

them an injustice, either during the war  

at the hands of the partisans, or also after the 

war at the hands of Soviet officials, therefore  

resorted to particular strategies in order to 

be able to mobilize the state on their behalf.  

They wrote letters to party leaders in which they 

accused others of being German accomplices. Well,  

the efforts often turned out to be unsuccessful 

because it often then triggered investigations,  

which might have then led to two other 

things being uncovered. The authorities  

usually benefited from them. On a more abstract 

level, you can say that these complained letters  

to the regime acknowledge that the 

Soviet state alone had the means to  

settle the conflicts brought forward by the 

authors. And I think that this affirmation  

of Soviet state authority shouldn't 

be underestimated. In particular,  

when we consider how rapidly institutions in the 

western regions collapsed in the summer of 1941.  

In that sense, you can say that regardless 

of the author's intentions, each letter to the  

state contributed to the rebuilding of Soviet 

power in the aftermath of Nazi occupation.

Or put differently, unintentionally confronting 

the past, had a regime stabilizing effect,  

strengthening the mechanisms of power in an 

authoritarian state like the Soviet Union.  

Sorry, I have a bit of a cold. Okay, I'd like 

to conclude with a few thoughts on comparison.  

So one of the challenges in writing

this book was to account for  

people's pre-war experiences with the Soviet rule, and 

how these pre-war experiences with Soviet rule  

then impacted the choices that they 

made under German wartime rule,  

which is an issue that is tied to the question of 

comparison, and more specifically the question  

of western Belarus, which had only become 

Soviet in 1939, differed from eastern Belarus,  

which prior to the war had been Soviet for 

roughly two decades. And also if Belarus  

differed from the other Soviet republics that 

were under German occupation during the war.  

There is some long answer to this

question and then there's a short one.  

So my short answer would be it depends. In other 

words, there's no simple, all encompassing answer,  

but it depends very much on what we compare, 

on the particular issues that we are looking at.  

So for the postwar period, for example, it is 

difficult to identify a clear contrast between  

western and eastern values when we compare the 

way some individuals in Belarus investigated,  

assessed and grappled with the question of wartime 

behavior. And the reason for that is that this  

process of confronting the ghost of 

war as such was highly individualized,  

multidimensional, contingent on a multitude 

of interacting factors, circumstances and  

personal experiences, which is why we cannot 

detect a clear sort of east-west pattern.

For the war years, the picture is a bit 

different with some differences between the  

new and the old Soviet territories, but also 

some similarities. If we take the question of  

inter-ethnic relations for example, we can 

see that when it comes to the question of  

behavior in the Nazi occupation, the 

civilian population in eastern Belarus  

did not differ fundamentally from the 

civilian population in western Belarus.  

The one exception to this is the extent of local 

anti-Jewish violence in the summer of 1941.  

So during the transition from Soviet to a German 

rule, when a wave of local pogroms swept through  

the east European border lands. That level of 

local violence was highest in the Bialystok region,  

which was then the westernmost part of western 

Belarus, and then from 1945 on again, part of  

Poland, much lower than the other regions 

of western Belarus with a few smaller-scale  

pogroms taking place and possibly nonexistent in 

eastern Belarus, for which these local programs  

have not been recorded. And I think an

important factor here is the presence or the  

absence of small radical nationalist groups,

that acted as catalysts of communal violence.  

However, once the Germans began to establish their 

occupation regime, they could depend on  

both western and eastern Belarus, just like in 

the other western republics of the Soviet Union,  

on the participation of a small 

group of people, who primarily in  

their capacity as local policemen  

actively took part in the Holocaust. Similarly,  

we see that in their treatment of their Jewish 

neighbors, the non-Jewish civilian population  

in western Belarus displayed the same 

behavioral spectrum as in eastern Belarus,  

ranging from acts of rescue and providing 

shelter to expropriating Jewish property,  

blackmailing or denouncing neighbors and 

hiding or even taking part in the killings.  

This existence of a spectrum of human behavior, 

of course, doesn't exclude the existence of  

quantitative differences within it. We know 

from [. . .] work on Bessarabia and  

Transnistria, which correspond roughly to 

the territories of modern-day Moldova and  

southwestern Ukraine, that there were substantial 

differences in how the non-Jewish populations  

treated the region's Jewish populations during the 

war, when both regions were under Romanian rule.  

So she showed in her work that when these 

two regions were under Romanian rule until 1944,  

the civilian population in Bessarabia had a more 

antagonistic attitude and the civilian population in

Transnistria a more cooperative attitude 

towards the Jews during the Holocaust.  

With the exception of the summer of 1941, such 

regional differences cannot be detected clearly for  

Belarus, at least not for the regions that constitute

the post-1945. Where eastern and western  

Belarus did differ was the type of

support networks that people could draw.

As a result of two decades of civilization, 

inter-communal relations among certain urban  

groups in eastern Belarus, so mostly younger 

people, those who no longer practice religion,  

and people who closely identified with

the Soviet project, were less defined for  

traditional social and religious markers 

of identity than in western Belarus 

during the war. This increase the chances 

that Jews in the urban centers of eastern  

Belarus would be able to depend on the 

help of non-Jewish friends or colleagues,  

especially if they were fellow 

Communist Party members.  

So in this respect, we see that higher  

pre-war levels of inter-ethnic integration in  

eastern Belarus shaped the makeup 

of support networks during the war.  

That's also reflected in differences in how 

legacies of pre-war Soviet rule form the choices  

that individuals in western and eastern Belarus 

made under Nazi occupation. So we'll leave  

it at that. Thank you for your time and I look 

forward to Jared's comments and the discussion.  

Thank you, Franziska, so much. And now we'll 

hear from Jared and after his comments and  

possibly a few questions to which you might want 

to answer, we'll open it to the larger audience.  

A reminder for everyone to post their

questions in the Q&A section. Thank you.  

Super. Thanks, I was going to remind everyone 

to ask questions while I'm talking and we'll  

come to them in a second. So I want to thank 

both the UCLA Center for European and Russian  

Studies and their Director, Laurie Hart, as well 

as the staff, Liana and Lenka, and the History  

Department for co-sponsoring this event today and 

bringing really a leading scholar in our field,  

Franziska Exeler, to discuss her award winning 

book. And the award was already mentioned. I was  

going to mention it too. So I'm so happy to have 

Fraziska with us today for several reasons. First,  

to have a book like this come out during a time 

of war in the region, is vital. Though Franziska's   

book is about Russia, Ukraine's 

authoritarian neighbor, I still think it's  

really important that new research on the region's 

past is published and supported, so we can not only  

put to rest the ghosts of the most vicious war 

of the 20th century, but prepare to deal with the  

ghosts of the current war. Sadly. And second, 

from a personal perspective, over the years,  

I've had a chance to learn from friends, discuss 

work through publications, conferences and  

conversations. I'll note I was a dissertation 

defender many years ago, so it's really a real  

pleasure to see a decade plus of work finally 

come to fruition in the form of this book.  

So decades of research, and Franziska mentioned

this, decades of research for a single book, or a  

decade or so, is a pretty good encapsulation of 

what it means to be a scholar of the region in  

which Belarus falls. Exeler's book is a research 

triumph that brings together materials from dozens  

of archives in seven countries, newspapers 

and oral histories. The book's central  

arguments revolve around the horrific choices 

the population of Belarus had to undertake  

during the Nazi occupation, as well as the ways 

in which postwar Soviet Belarus sought to come to  

terms with wartime violence from various vantage 

points, be they individual, to the state, and many  

experiences in between. Far from more traditional 

studies that overemphasize state repression or  

paint monochromatic pictures of the population as 

solely collaborators, heroes or anti-Semites,  

Exeler deftly crafts a narrative that shows 

the negotiations at all levels of Belarusian  

society to come to terms with the war. At the 

end of the day, probably unsatisfactory to all,  

but certainly a captivating story worth reading about. 

To craft these arguments, Exeler employs a 

laser-like precision in putting her own findings in 

conversation with existing scholarly literature,  

all conveyed through lucidly written prose. Woven 

throughout the text are many vignettes of average  

Belarusian lives, like a female partisan fighter 

returning to Minsk who had not seen her son for  

three years, or a Jewish survivor returning to 

his town after the war to see what had become  

of his community. This made me think of the 

recent Hungarian film 1945. Overall, the book  

represents the best of new work on Belarus and 

the war in the last decade or so, and should be  

read alongside works by authors

like Per Rudling, and the regional studies

also on similar themes as well, which 

should be put in conversation with this book, 

like Jeffrey Jones' on Russia...

So my comments, moving forward

here, in questions will focus on three  

points: wartime behavior, regional comparative 

frames, and injustice. And so these are just  

for conversation. We'll see if we get any

questions and we'll go from there. So  

the first point on wartime behavior. So Exeler's account 

of wartime behavior is dynamic and reflects the  

best of new research on the broader borderland 

region under Nazi occupation. In particular when  

it comes to the behavior of local populations 

in Belarus under the Nazis, she stresses two  

extremely important points, temporality and 

contingency. Exeler argues that how locals  

chose to interact with the Nazi occupation powers 

was not fixed. So in chapter two, she writes:  

"While the occupiers clearly circumscribed

local space for action, the size of that space  

was neither the same for everyone nor static over 

time. Moreover", she writes, "in short, complicity  

in entanglement were questions of degree, and 

both people's decisions and their consequences  

varied over time. So the decisions whether or 

how to work with the Germans and collaborators  

or even the Soviet partisans could change over 

time as the conditions changed. For example,  

a local mayor or policeman may move from being an 

open and willing collaborator of the Germans at  

one point in the war, to someone later in the war, 

maybe perhaps in the same position, but playing  

both sides." Clandestinely, supporting the Soviet 

partisans as one example. She likewise notes  

that the reasons for both joining many of these 

groups and institutions and moving between them  

often was not rooted in personal characteristics 

or ideology. For example, the chances of joining a  

Soviet partisan unit could hinge far more upon 

an individual's geographical location to the  

forests where Soviet partisans were based, rather 

than any deep-seated connection to Soviet power.  

One particular strength of these arguments is that 

it helps explain often contradictory behavior we  

see in these “collaborators”. So in one

example Exeler mentions a mayor, who  

despite taking a position that inevitably made 

one very complicit with the worst of Nazi crimes,  

decided not to turn over any local communist 

while in this position to the Nazis. So  

essentially providing cover for people in 

the community. As a result, she formulates  

an understanding of complicity as shades of 

gray, one of degrees and one of contingency.  

You've heard some of these words already in the talk 

today. The stress on this temporal dimension of  

behavioral variation and the importance of 

contingency is crucial, in my estimation, of  

moving the historiography beyond the pitfalls 

of over categorization that puts individuals in  

tiny boxes. It also stresses that the choices at 

one point of the war do not necessarily capture  

the range of behaviors throughout the occupation, 

nor define them as individuals beyond the wartime  

conflict, despite states', not just the Soviet 

state, but many states' interests in doing so.

I don't have any particular questions on these 

points, but I just wanted to stress them because  

I thought they were really well articulated in 

the book and I welcome any follow up from Franziska.

On the comparative frames. So the geographical, 

and this has already been covered in the talk,  

but I'll just read my comments because I have 

them prepared, the geographical focus in the book  

provides its own useful "natural experiment"

for all who use this kind of term  

as historians. So while on the surface we might 

actually tend to think of Belarus bifurcated  

into two entities, the Soviet eastern region, 

part of Soviet Union since 1921, the western half, that had  

been part of Poland, integrated in 39. Yet there 

is the special status of Bialystok region which  

we've already heard about today, both in terms 

of its integration into the Soviet Union in 39,  

as well as its special status under the Nazi 

occupation. And this makes the wartime comparison  

here three-fold rather than rather than two. So 

this tripartite comparative frame is actually most  

intriguing, to my eyes, when it comes to the summer 

population of Belarus. So the volume and intensity 

of anti-Jewish violence in Bialystok versus  

western Belarus, versus eastern Belarus offers a 

useful puzzle. How to explain why there were more  

pogroms in, or at least more violence generally 

in Bialystok. So building on comparative works in  

other regions, Exeler offers that the presence of 

far-right Polish groups in Bialystok region explains  

the variation there, versus the more kind of 

neutral Belarusian inflected western Belarus.  

Now, this argument seems to align with 

newly emerging theories about far-right  

groups as drivers of pogrom violence, or at least 

the organized forms of it. The western and eastern  

comparison and its lack of violence also 

provides an interesting abstract to  

the 1939 debate and the well-worn argument that 

programs were driven solely by the experiences or  

new experiences under Soviet power following the 

Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact. And this was just  

commented on at the end of your talk. So I 

will kind of repeat this here. So Exeler's   

findings, I would say, and maybe we

can follow up on this here, seem to both  

support in terms of eastern Belarus, but not 

support in terms of western Belarus,  

argument about a similar natural experiment

in Bessarabia, Transnistria. So at this point,

I'd be kind of interested in maybe hearing a 

little more, although you did talk about it  

at the end of your talk, about the ability 

to kind of extrapolate these patterns across  

the wider region, which is something we're in 

the process, I think, of doing at this time.  

So what is particularly helpful in this discussion of 

pogroms is that Exeler still digs deeper and shows  

variation even within the regions themselves, at 

times employing negative cases. So just to paint  

what we are saying, where violence didn't occur. So 

she notes the lack of violence in Grodno versus the  

more violent neighboring Bialystok. Similarly, 

across the so-called border in neighboring  

[. . .] there is widespread violence 

despite the lack of Polish nationalists there,  

showing that the nationalist argument does 

not hold sway across the border here. So like  

elsewhere in the book, Exeler is careful to say 

that there's no model causal explanations for this  

variation in violence, despite the fact that it 

seems, at least parts of it seem to overlap with  

popular general theories we've had about pogrom 

violence over the last 20 or 30 years. One comment  

from myself here would be, when dealing with this 

variation, I wonder whether there are maybe worth  

considering the role of apolitical actors or just 

simply kind of what we might call kind of criminal  

gangs as driver of some of this violence across 

these artificial borders. There is an emphasis  

in a lot of the literature on assumed grievances 

with the Soviets and nationalist aspirations based on  

anti-Semitism, but sometimes it's more kind of 

rogue-like violence in summer 41, maybe worth  

considering as a perhaps explanation for some 

of this variation and also incredibly difficult  

to detect through a lot of the sources. It is 

a part of the conversation we've already had.  

So now I turn to the last point for my comments, 

and this is on justice. So the book discusses  

at length issues related to postwar justice in 

distribution, drawing from several standalone  

articles from the author [. . .], which 

occurred to everybody to read as well. The book  

makes persuasive argument about the fact that 

postwar justice changed over time, responding to  

both domestic and international demands, noting 

the various waves of trials and in offering a  

distinct periodization of understanding these 

trials, while consistently negotiating,  

"ideological imperatives versus 

pragmatic concerns" to use Exeler's words. So  

characterization of the Soviet state as ambivalent 

runs counter to some previous academic, and I would  

definitely say popular accounts, of Soviet justice 

that posit an all knowing and brutal Soviet state  

bent on punishing the guilty and the innocent for 

wartime transgressions. Now seen through the prism  

of mass scale deportations of entire nations, 

widespread arrests in violence, suppression of  

insurgencies in this region, we need not wonder 

where this framing originally came from. However,  

as Exeler explains, that Soviet state is not 

necessarily seen in postwar Belarus cases against  

wartime collaborators. She explains that the 

Soviet judicial system was ill equipped to deal  

with the many shades of gray that often defined 

wartime behavior and we see this in various sentencing  

for similar crimes, a lack of clear definitions 

for unacceptable behaviors, interagency feuds,  

and in an amenability to leave wartime behaviors 

behind for decades to come. All of these things  

plagued the Soviet state when it came 

to a kind of clear and defined approach to justice  

or, even retribution after the war. Now, while I 

find this framing and argumentation persuasive,  

I just offer two questions for the purposes of 

discussion. So the first is about periodization.

Exeler remarks that the politics 

of retribution certainly evolved over time.  

Can we say the same thing about the ambivalent 

state? And so it seems that post 61, the Soviets  

are pretty clear about what the public purpose 

of these trials are in an international audience, right? 

And so the trials, as Exeler notes

here and also in other writings,  

are a useful tool for the Soviets to make 

moral arguments about the lack of war crimes  

prosecution in the West, right, from the sixties 

onward. So given this stance, and I'm aware that  

book study kind of stops in the early sixties, 

but given this stance, how would we periodize this  

ambivalence? Meaning, would you say it's an 

ambivalent state on this issue for the entirety  

of the postwar period until the collapse or that

that's really kind of a culminating break there?  

The second question. Before the second question, 

I'd like to probe a little deeper on this concept  

of ambivalence. So when we're considering on a 

whole, the functioning of justice, say, from 44  

to 53, the sheer chaos surrounding many of these 

cases and everything from sentencing to appeals,  

is this more of a story of state 

incompetence rather than ambivalence?  

So to be clear, I don't think these things 

are mutually exclusive, but I also find this  

ambivalence characterization quite convincing. 

I'm just thinking out loud here with  

you. I wonder how ambivalent a dysfunctional 

state can be. It almost seems a little, and this  

is tongue in cheek, it almost

seems complimentary of the  

Soviets to imply there were two or three coherent 

ideas about what to do in these trials and that  

these coherent ideas were fought over in some 

distinguishable manner. And maybe I'm, you know,  

that's not a fully accurate take, but

I'll be interested to hear some thoughts  

on this. So does this framing work better than a 

portrayal of a state simply failing about due to a  

lack of personnel, established practices, limited 

oversight, no checks and balances, problematic  

legal theories, and just a complete lack of 

infrastructure to carry out the monumental task  

of assessing what millions of people did during 

an occupation? Things that were all very clearly  

described in the book. So in other words, do we 

see so much variation in how justice is administered  

because the actors aren't sure which approach to 

take or that they're just simply making things up  

as they go along? Which I think, from a bird's eye 

view, looks like ambivalence, but maybe from the  

bottom up or reading the trials up looks more like 

ineptitude. So and perhaps this is also, kind of  

reframing the question, is a question of agencies, 

you know, who exactly are the ambivalent parties,  

per se? The police don't seem terribly 

ambivalent, but is the ambivalence coming from  

their clash with folks in the judicial branch 

or in the party? So maybe that's another way  

to think about that question. And so just a couple 

throwaway comments here to finish up on justice.  

So in terms of comparative frames on 

postwar justice with places like Ukraine,  

I was curious about the role of nationalism or 

fear thereof in trials. And so in your opening  

you mentioned a [. . .] who had some 

nationalist paraphernalia in his possession. And  

so just I was curious if we know, and we 

may not know yet, how common it was to try to turn  

Belarusians into nationalists and collaborators 

at the same time in these trials? So in the case  

of Ukraine, given their side as the nationalist 

insurgency, the charge of nationalism was actually  

quite useful because if you couldn't prove someone 

was a collaborator to the degree you wanted, you  

could always just sort of throw the nationalist 

charge at them as a backstop in a lot of these  

cases. And so that had me thinking, this chapter 

had me thinking comparatively with Ukraine.  

And there's obviously a much smaller, almost 

non-existent nationalist insurgency  

in Belarus, so I'd be curious to see your kind of 

long-term discussion, what that comparison looks  

like in terms of justice. And then finally, my 

last point here. I'd be remiss not to mention the  

discussion of specialists and administrators, 

this kind of "special types of  

collaborators" who worked with the Germans in 

the book in light of the current war in Ukraine.  

So there's some great data, Exeler describes 

how most schoolteachers, it was actually a shocking  

amount, maybe not, but remained

in German-occupied territory  

and had no connection to the resistance. 

But the Soviet state was in no position to 

punish all of these teachers if it wanted  

a functional education system after the 

war. So they had to settle for retraining,  

something likely to be haphazard at best. 

And at this very moment in time, right, we  

see the Ukrainian state began to struggle with 

similar such issues. And even this issue of  

teachers looms large with claims by the  

Ukrainian state that any teacher who had taught  

under the Russian occupation would need to be 

investigated. And so this comes up with a lot of  

stories that we're reading in New York Times 

and elsewhere right now. Recent reporting  

show citizens, investigators, prosecutors already 

struggling again with the shades gray about what  

people did or did not do under the current Russian 

occupation. So overall, mass-scale investigations  

of all teachers is likely to large for a state 

currently at war and perhaps even after the war,  

and maybe not a dissimilar predicament to 

the Soviets. So of course, we will note that   

the Ukrainian state is very different now than 

in Soviet Belarus after the war. So back to my  

comment in the beginning, there's a lot to learn 

from this book, not just about Belarus during  

World War II, but about our current 

moment, sadly, as well. So I have probably had  

at least three more pages of comments, but that's 

great for now. We can talk about that another time.

Franziska, is there anything you want to touch on? 

I don't see any questions just yet, but if  

people have questions, they should feel free to put 

them in here, or we can just have a conversation.  

I'd love to respond. Thank you 

so much for these really rich comments.  

There's so much in there. And I think,  

you know, I feel like finishing this book,  

in many ways I felt like looking back at 

the journey, and how it all started. And then  

as I mentioned earlier, sort of after 

the defense, I kind of thought, okay,  

this is it. And then one of my

committee members said to me: No,  

no, no. Think of the dissertation as 

a very good first draft. Which was,  

well, how should I put it? It was kind of like, wait

a moment, a draft? I thought it was done. And then  

I went back to the archives. I reconceptualized 

the entire piece. I ended up adding, making the  

war years and a lot more prominent, adding another 

chapter than the entire outline fell apart. So  

it's been a long process, and I do feel like at end, 

I do hope I was able to put it all together   

in a convincing way. But obviously, 

there are many things that I think  

could still be researched further. And the 

programs in the summer of 1941, although by now,  

as Jared mentioned, we have a lot of research and 

micro studies on that, and it continues to be one  

of these areas or one of these issues where more 

especially micro studies could be conducted if,  

of course and that's always the other question, 

archives or sources allow that. And here we also  

can really come to the limits of certain things. 

So what I wanted to briefly respond to your  

comment on, you know, how this fits in a larger 

sort of trans-regional kind of perspective. I  

mean, as I wrote in the book, it is possible 

that from a quantitative perspective that more  

non-Jewish and urban centers in

Belarus, where we see  

higher levels of inter-ethnic integration 

before the war, we're willing to help  

Jewish friends, neighbors or others during the 

war than, let's say, in western Belarus. And  

I think Diana has shown this really convincingly 

for the case of Bessarabia and Transnistria. 

You know, Bessarabia, having been under Romanian 

rule in inter-war years, and Transnistria part of  

Soviet Ukraine, I couldn't find that in 

in the case of Belarus. But that doesn't  

mean that's not possible. I think it's 

incredibly difficult to do it quantitatively  

if the contrast isn't as clear as I think it 

was in the case of Bessarabia and Transnistria. So  

even if these quantitative differences did exist, 

and I'd say that they are rather small, and so  

that in itself sort of confirms the argument about 

one of the similarities between East and West.  

The question about the ambivalent status is a 

really interesting one. I think there's several  

sort of issues here. I mean, for one, we do see 

differences between overall the state security  

organs on the one hand and the prosecutor's office 

on the other hand. So they are, and have from the  

prosecutors will look more at the technicalities  

of law, I'd say, than the state security organs, 

certainly, who are not ambivalent about what they  

are doing. And, you know, the prosecutor's office

is appealing to the higher levels in Moscow,  

saying that the state security organs aren't properly 

qualifying crimes. And I think that one is  

mostly a technical issue, because

both of them are part of  

an illegal justice system, and

representatives of that system. So I think  

the conflict is really about the technicalities, 

the applicability of law to cases and vice versa.  

I think I read the ambivalence as  

reflected in the larger sort of state  

policy, and that ambivalence also mostly 

comes down, on the one hand, as a result of this  

tension between, on the one hand there were people 

who have committed crimes and who helped the  

Germans commit crimes and you want to prosecute 

them. But on the other hand, as you're saying,  

there are these examples of people who have 

a nationalist leaflet at home and then  

get the same sentence ten years of forced labor, as 

somebody, for example, who could receive  

the same sentence, who first worked for the German 

police forces, then went over to the partisans  

side and because of that had a sentence lowered 

from 25 to 10 years. So that kind of tension  

contributes to this ambivalence.

But it's also that general thing than  

the case of policemen and town mayors seem relatively 

easy to judge. But then this, as you mentioned  

in your comment, also this big gray zone kind of 

starts already with the village heads  

who often are simply appointed by their communities 

or who used to be in the eastern part of Belarus,  

often the heads of the collective farms. And in 

the resources, the party representant is often speaking  

of people who had worked under the

Germans or for the Germans.  

the problem is that there's never a consensus 

established on what that actually means. Now, how  

does that relate to this ambivalent state? 

Does that still make sense for the 1960s trials?

My narrative sort of ends in the 

more in detail. Although I know from your work, 

I remember you give a paper once on  

showing how these Cold War dimensions, right, and 

dynamics of how the Soviet Union was often rightly  

accusing the US of harboring war criminals 

and publications then coming out of the Ukrainian  

emigrant community and vice versa. And I think

that these trials might be a bit different in that  

they result from different global

dynamics and are geared at not just  

domestic audiences, more so even 

at international audience, of maybe up to  

certain degrees. Because they are

public trials, in these public trials,  

the state shows much less ambivalence

also because the people that they chose to  

put on trial are usually the ones, who were...

How should I put it? Even if it's clear to  

somebody that the actual trial is not 

a fair trial, so it was unable to establish the  

individual's responsibility or the responsibility 

of the individual on trial, it seems highly likely  

that the knowing what we know now, for example, 

that they did commit some of these things.  

So if you put a local policeman on trial, or you 

put a member of the command on trial, it  

seems highly likely that indeed they committed the 

things that the Soviet state accuses them, right?  

And I think in these 1960s trials,

the public trials, I'd say that   

there's probably much less ambivalence. 

It would be interesting to know what actually  

happens in secret in the 1960s, like the 

prosecutions that don't sort of feature,  

or don't have that kind of audience, and how 

those secret prosecutions actually continue,

but that, unfortunately, I don't know. So that's

another kind of avenue for further research, I'd say. 

I can leave it at that for the time being.  

Oh, nationalism. The nationalism component.  

I've seen it in some trials as well, that

as you're saying, it's easy then...

and in some cases it does overlap probably, 

that sort of in reality, somebody  

had these both goals, or both 

identities during the war. 

In a similar line of argument: Oh, he 

is the nationalist or, you know, he's  

the son of a so-called kulak. And so then you 

kind of put people or the existing categories  

of individuals, who are considered hostile to the 

Soviet state, so it's an easy way of doing that. 

And it's very much the kind of the language of the 

state security organs that comes through here. But  

I think because the army essentially, 

I mean, officially disbanded in early 1945,  

some units continue to fight. State 

security organs call them Lithuanian partisans,  

Ukrainian partisans, Polish partisans in western 

Belarus. There are also other groups, simply men who  

end up in the forest for various reasons, and who 

also present a challenge to the return of Soviet power.  

But the situation is really not comparable to 

western Ukraine, where we have the civil war then  

developing between the state security organs 

and the Ukrainian nationalists. I think the  

situation from the Soviet perspective, or the 

perspective of Soviet state security organs,  

is much more stable and they are able to bring 

this under their control. So they also don't  

necessarily need, for example, the nationalist 

card to kind of arrest or prosecute people,  

because I think they don't see the

same kind of threat coming.

It's interesting, kind of the utility argument that 

it doesn't. I mean in the Ukrainian case,  

it serves a purpose, because if you 

are mass deporting entire family,  

their villages for supporting

the nationalists, you might as try  

to accomplish the same goal through

the prosecutions of individuals.  

And it's serving ideological purpose of tying 

Ukrainian nationalists to the Germans.  

And yeah, it's something that is always there, 

right? It's always kind of a question of what,  

you know, how did you get your position in the 

police or mayor, and what you know, which Ukrainian  

nationalist put you in that position, even though 

in majority of these cases, probably nobody.

Then if you are back at this kind of temporal

dimension, somebody might end up  

in the UPA later in the war, but not have been 

connected to the UPA earlier in the war.

Or maybe some people are connected to 

the UPA early in the war and then later  

in the war they break with the nationalists.

But through the gaze of the Soviet state,  

no one cares about that either. And so,

you know, if you can get someone as a  

collaborator and a nationalist, then it's kind 

of a win-win from that perspective. But yeah,  

that makes a lot of sense

in the Belarusian case,   

it's not really needed, or it's not perceived

as a security, perhaps a security threat  

as well, or contemporaneous security threat,

then maybe it doesn't factor there.

Not to draw too many sort of, you

know, historical comparisons, but  

in this really weird, convoluted way, what we

see happening in Belarus now is an attempt  

to... There's now a new memory law

in place in Belarus as of last year,  

which carries a sort of the law on the genocide

of the Belarusian people, as it's called,  

And denying that "a genocide of the

Belarusian people took  

place during the Second World War", whatever that 

means. And that's also basically unclear.

But it essentially means going against the 

official narrative of the state can carry  

a prison sentence of up to ten years. So this is 

quite a strict memory law in place. But one of the  

reasons it seems, why the government 

has put this law in place, is because they are  

looking for a way to discredit

the protest movement. And they're  

trying to draw a connection between the protest

movement that uses the right-wing red flag today and  

Belarusian nationalists during the Second World 

War, who align themselves with Germans. Interesting.  

What I've heard from colleagues 

in Belarus is that, at the moment a lot  

of these files that are pertaining to

World War II are closed to researchers,  

so even to researchers in Belarus, and that the 

prosecutor's office is going through them because  

they, you know, again want to find

new evidence on Belarusian nationalists  

who collaborated with the Germans during the war, 

and then tie sort of the presence of this flag,  

which was also used by them during 

the World War II, and is used now by the protest  

movement against Lukashenko, bring that together in 

this grander narrative of, if you are protesting  

Lukashenko today, you are using the same 

symbol, and so clearly you are a fascist.  

And so here we have in some ways parallels then 

to, you know, this kind of fascist rhetoric  

which is used by Putin's government in the war 

against Ukraine and the ways in which the images  

of World War II are being utilized 

to further present political projects.

Flags are a big part of that, too, the red

and black Ukrainian nationalist flag.

That's fascinating, especially in a discussion 

of diaspora as well, of the famous  

group of Belarusian collaborators, who

made their way to places like New Jersey and  

New York after the war, if they got around

to roping them into this storyline yet.   

That's a good question. I always felt like the 

Ukrainian case has got more attention because  

maybe they were more vocal, or more also larger 

simply than the Belarusian community.  

There are, I mean, you know, to the extent that 

it was possible that you could publish books in  

Belarus, there were also books that were quite, 

you know, downplaying people's entanglements  

or complicity with the Germans from

Belarusian nationalists today.  

My sense is that there again,

maybe because of resources, 

maybe the Belarusian community isn't quite

as organized, the emigrant community, it's  

not quite as powerful. It doesn't really

resonate that much in Belarus today.

Even though there's stuff, there's

material from the Cold War, too. 

I mean, they go back to the trials, 

right, of those kind of robing in this larger  

narrative of demonizing diaspora, demonizing 

certain groups during the war, and kind of pulling  

all these strings at once, and then see again, 

pulling the strings in the last couple of decades  

as well. Yes, absolutely. So I think these

trials, which, you know, take place in the  

Baltic republics as well, obviously in 

Belarus and in Ukraine, they often then make  

that connection between often the absentia trials 

of people who had left in 1944 with the Germans  

and whatever they ended up in the US or 

in the UK, and then are being put on trials in  

absentia or also in person trials. But then using 

these trials also to highlight that and correctly  

so how the west German authorities, for example, 

failed to prosecute, or the Americans, or the UK. 

United Kingdom were turning a blind eye from 

to who they had accepted as displaced persons.  

That's a fascinating topic really, to look

at, what audiences these trials are tailored at,

because again, there are domestic audiences and 

very local audiences, but also these sort of  

more global audience. And I think

that the way you framed that,  

I would put that as the number

one point. And also your  

point too about in absentia trials. But yes,

who gets chosen is something I've been  

interested in as well about. In 1976, you can 

pick from dozens of people who are collaborators,  

have now since returned from the gulags 

and you're going to effectively retrial, 

these people were always retried. You're going 

to retry someone. Who you are choosing  

the retry? So the official word, the first page 

in these cases is that we found new evidence,  

which was, of course, absurd, but also true 

in some ways that we found that, you know,  

they had killed another hundred people, even 

though we just tried them for killing 5,000 people,  

you know, 20 years ago. And there was this 

other massacre we didn't realize. And so this  

is a reason to restart a year-long 

two-year-long investigation. But I think,  

you know, thinking regionally of cases in 

Latvia, Ukraine or Belarus, of, you know,  

what individuals are chosen, who you 

know, what puts that in motion.  

To your point as well. I mean, it

does seem very choreographed, right?  

Both in terms of how intense they are, 

domestic play, and internationally.  

My guess right now would be international more 

than domestic because everyone's probably seen  

this act by now domestically, but yeah, something 

for future comparison and future research.

If there are no questions in the  

chat. I mean I do think that especially

these 1960s trials can be super  

interesting, because I don't think we really 

have a good sense of differences within the  

liberal justice, and differences within illiberal 

contrasts. So there's quite a lot of sophisticated  

literature, you know, going back to Judith Shklar 

about all the flaws in trials that were conducted  

by the Western allies and more generally, we know 

that this moment of post-Cold War justice is  

flawed across the board, just in terms of sort 

of like from a strictly legal perspective, in terms  

of the fairness of these trials, and that a lot of 

the trials that the Western allies conducted also  

didn't often live up to the legal standards 

that they sought to uphold at home. But I think we  

don't really have a good sense

of illiberal trials. You know, in the  

literature on the theory of a war crimes 

trials or international criminal law, there's  

often the notion of Soviet show trials 

invoked of the 1930s but that's with fabricated  

evidence. And what you make of trials that were

not fair, but where those who are standing on trial  

might have high probability and actually did commit 

these acts. And so I think what the 1960s trials  

with a close analysis could also contribute to,

is to give us a more refined understanding of  

differences within the liberal justice and types 

of trials where you have the illegal framework but  

you have the actual acts. And then the question 

is, do these trials fulfill the criteria to  

actually be able to link the individual? And then 

there's also the difference between like this very  

technical legal perspective and maybe our later 

perspective as historians, right? And the question  

whether we would use different kinds of evidence 

or you could come to reach a conclusion that  

like from a strictly legal point of view, that 

individual's responsibility hasn't been proven, but  

from a historical point of view, when we bring 

together all these different points of evidence,  

testimonies, memoirs, we can see,  

high likelihood or almost certainty that  

yes, we do. So that would be, yeah, so much  

to research, and so many fascinating new  

projects and trials. Yeah, and I agree with 

you especially on that point and people.  

There's certainly a flavor of show trials in 

all of these later trials. But we have to... that's  

certainly part of the story. But we kind of need 

to drill down and we can all agree that there  

is an a illiberal legal system. If someone's not 

coming to the debate, we implied by that. But that  

is a base foundation. There's probably 

a problem. But is it a liberal legal system?  

There's certainly echoes of Soviet

legality from prior to the war. But there's  

much more going on there. And your book

helps to engage with this, and many of your articles 

engage with these issues. So yes, more 

to discuss. So should we wrap it up there then, 

Liana? We don't have time, unfortunately. But thank you 

for a very interesting and thought-provoking  

discussion. And thank you, Franziska, for all your 

incredible work and as such fine-grained and nuanced  

analysis. And also thank you for bringing in, you 

know, contingency and ambivalence in all of this,  

and giving them analytical weight. Hope to see

more of your work in the future, and yours, Jared, as  

well. Thank you, everyone. We're going to 

wrap it up here. Thank you so much.

Duration: 01:24:59