Visiting Researcher Feature: Diana Dumitru

CERES Visiting Researcher Diana Dumitru will deliver the annual Ion Ratiu Lecture at Georgetown about her research on the Holocaust in Moldova in early December. Dr. Dumitru teaches courses about the 20th century in the Department of World History at the Ion Creanga State Pedagogical Institute in Chisinau, Moldova, where she also completed her Ph.D. in History in 2000.

During her talk, Dr. Dumitru will elaborate upon the research for her book,forthcoming in February 2016, The State, Antisemitism, and Collaboration in the Holocaust: The Borderlands of Romania and the Soviet Union. Her research question—what happened to Moldovan Jews during the Holocaust?—was sparked in 2003-04, when she took part in a U.S. State Department Junior Faculty Development Program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. During her time at UNC, she came across Jan Gross’ book Neighbors about the pogroms in Poland in 1941. This book caused her to question what had happened to the Jews in her own country. Dr. Dumitru took this question to the archives department at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., only to find out that if she wanted to read a history of the Holocaust in Moldova, she would have to be the one to write it. Although she was hesitant to take on this research given her lack of background on the Holocaust, she applied for and carried out a research fellowship at the Holocaust Museum in 2005-06.

In 2007, Dr. Dumitru continued her research through a fellowship at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, where she examined testimonies related to her geographic area of Moldova. During this time, she began to notice a fascinating trend between the experiences of Jews in the neighboring territories of Bessarabia and Transnistria. Although up until 1918 these two territories were both part of the Russian Empire and were similarly anti-Semitic, Dr. Dumitru found that the experience of Jews after these territories came under occupation in 1941 were vastly different. In Bessarabia, there were many pogroms; in Transnistria, there were none.

Dr. Dumitru realized that something critical must have taken place in the interwar years. At the end of the First World War, Bessarabia came under the control of Romania while Transnistria became part of the Soviet Union. Attitudes towards Jews in Bessarabia remained largely unchanged during the interwar period, she found. Meanwhile, Transnistria experienced the Soviet Union’s efforts to fight anti-Semitism on many fronts. In her book, Dr. Dumitru used the cases of Bessarabia and Transnistria to illustrate the way that a state can, with enough political willingness and commitment, change people’s attitudes.

Dr. Dumitru has come to CERES to work on a new research project looking at Soviet Jews in the post-WWII era. Although many people are well acquainted with Soviet anti-Semitism, Dr. Dumitru found a lack of scholarship analyzing why relations between the Soviet state and Jews soured post-war. Her research will focus on centralized Soviet policy and its application in Moldova and Ukraine. Among her research goals is to look at Soviet Jews as actors in this period of history rather than merely objects of Stalinist policy. She chose to do research in D.C. because of the richness of the local archives: she expects to depend heavily, again on the Holocaust Museum, as well as the National Archives, the Library of Congress’ European Reading Room, as well as Georgetown itself.

After her fellowship ends in January, Dr. Dumitru will accept a position at the University of Toronto, where she will teach a course on totalitarian regimes called “Stalinism, Nazism and Beyond.” At the end of the academic year, she will return to Chisinau and resume her teaching.