The Holocaust through the eyes of Soviet-Jewish photographers

Historian and scholar Shneer delivers Holocaust Memorial Lecture for Assembly Series

Three years before American troops experienced the horror of Nazi brutality and liberated the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps, a handful of Soviet-Jewish photographers bore witness to Nazi atrocities.


The photographers comprised an elite unit charged by Joseph Stalin to tell the visual story of the genocide of their people.

Now, seven decades later, historian and scholar David Shneer, PhD, is sharing their story — and how they were instrumental in the creation of Soviet photojournalism — in a presentation for the Washington University in St. Louis Assembly Series.

“Through Soviet-Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust,” this year’s Holocaust Memorial Lecture, is free and open to the public and will be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, in Wilson Hall, Room 214, on the university’s Danforth Campus.

The title mirrors Shneer’s much-acclaimed 2011 book, which won the 2013 Jordan Schnitzer Prize and was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called Shneer a “pathbreaking scholar who uses photography as a new way of considering issues of Russian Jewish history, Yiddish culture, the diaspora, and the Holocaust.”

Tracking down the photographs wasn’t easy. It took Shneer almost a decade to compile the images like the one at left for his book (click here for a slideshow sample.)

Accompanying the publication was a traveling museum exhibit, “Through Soviet Jewish Eyes.” It debuted at the Colorado University Art Museum in Boulder, then traveled to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, the Holocaust Museum Houston, and the University of Louisiana’s Museum of Art. In February 2015, it can be viewed at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Chicago.

Shneer is professor of history and religious studies and the Louis P. Singer Endowed Chair in Jewish History at the University of Colorado-Boulder. He is also director of the Program in Jewish Studies at Colorado and serves as a distinguished lecturer for the Association for Jewish Studies. Shneer earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley.

Additional books by Shneer include “Queer Jews,” a finalist for the Lambda Literary award; “Yiddish and the Creation of Soviet Jewish Culture,” also a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award; and “New Jews: The End of the Jewish Diaspora.”

Shneer co-founded Jewish Mosaic, the first national Jewish LGBT organization, which merged with Keshet in 2010; he also is active in LGBT educational outreach initiatives in his community.

For more information on the Assembly Series, call 314-935-4620 or visit