Lecture by Dr. Anna Shternshis

In her lecture, Professor Shternshis discussed how Soviet Jews survived the Holodomor and how they made sense of their experiences. Shternshis, who is Al and Malka Green Associate Professor of Yiddish studies and the director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, based her observations on more than 200 oral interviews of Jews in or from Ukraine that she conducted or reviewed in the course of her research on Jewish identity in the Soviet Union. In the course of her interviews, Shternshis did not pursue the issue of the Famine as it was not the topic of her research. In a conversation with Dr. Frank Sysyn, she mentioned that some interviewees had brought up the Famine, and he encouraged her to revisit the interviews with a focus on the Famine and invited her to conduct a seminar on her findings. It was during this re-examination that Shternshis realized that the Famine was mentioned in nearly every interview. 

Among her many interesting observations, Dr. Shternshis noted that the Famine may have been part of a demographic shift of Jews to larger towns and cities, which she sees as an overlooked development (the pogroms have been assumed to be the major factor pushing Jews from village and shtetl to urban centers). She noted that in examining these interviews, the Famine now appears to her as an overlooked factor in secularization of the Jewish community–when food was hard to come by, Jews found it difficult and not as crucial to keep kosher dietary practices. Professor Shternshis also noted that many of her informants mentioned losing close family members during the Famine, including parents and siblings.