2013 Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize
The Wayne S. Vucinich Book Prize, sponsored by ASEEES and the Stanford University Center for Russian & East European Studies, is awarded for the most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies in any discipline of the humanities or social sciences published in English in the U.S. in the previous calendar year.
Winner: Jeremy Hicks for First Films of the Holocaust: Soviet Cinema and the Genocide of the Jews, 1938-1946 (University of Pittsburgh Press).
First Films of the Holocaust is a gut-wrenching book that forcefully and meticulously discloses the importance of a set of visual documents that have been grossly overlooked. Bringing together the significant discovery of documentary film footage relating to the Holocaust in Krasnogorsk with a wealth of other archival sources from RGALI, the Museum of Cinema, GARF and RGASPI, its analysis of film production, dissemination and reception is careful and informative.
The book also provides a critical study of cultural circulation, showing how the meaning of a cultural object changes depending on political and social context. What was seen as an anti-fascist film about German anti-Semitism in Moscow might be perceived as a communist propaganda in Chicago. Without glossing over the ways that Soviet directors, editors, and censors selected and framed images of atrocities during WWII, the book compellingly argues that it was the Soviets (not the Americans) who first attempted to represent and to widely disseminate images of systematic genocidal acts during and leading up to WWII. Moreover, it reveals the ways in which American and British anti- communism, anti-Semitism, and wartime appeasement policies drove censorship on the Western side, silencing and diffusing the potential of these films to evoke sympathy or action.
Connecting the topic to themes such as the influence and constraint of Soviet intellectuals and artists; the permutations of Soviet patriotism and Russian nationalism under Stalin; and shifts in Soviet-American relations, First Films of the Holocaust is not only a significant contribution to the historiography of World War II, but to our understanding of that war’s reverberations ever since.