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Dissertation to Shed Light on Soviet Union's Nazi Crime Information

August 31, 2018 – Paula Chan (G’15), a Ph.D. candidate in the history department, has been awarded a 2018-2019 Visiting Fellowship at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, which is part of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She begins the fellowship on Oct. 1.

Master’s Degrees: Pratt Institute, M.S. in library and information science, 2011; Georgetown University, M.A. in Eurasian, Russian, and East European Studies, 2015

Previous Positions: Archivist in Washington, D.C., and New York City

Hometown: New York City; now lives in Falls Church, Virginia

Family: Husband Nicolas, sons Henry (2) and Xavier (2 months)

Why a Georgetown Ph.D.?

“By the time I decided to pursue my Ph.D. I had been fortunate enough to build up an intellectual support system that sustains me into the present – my advisor, professor Michael David-Fox, and professor Harley Balzer, a member of my dissertation committee. I feel comfortable and yet continuously challenged, which I think is the best one can hope for in a doctoral program. The Washington, D.C., location was also a selling point – being so close to government and the policy community encourages me to consider how my research interrelates with current events and how I can make my work relevant to non-historians.”

Her research, explained:

Chan’s doctoral thesis focuses on Stalin’s Soviet Extraordinary State Commission, created in 1942 to document violent crimes and material losses from the Nazi occupation. The commission generated more than 43,000 files that only became available to researchers after the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

What is your approach?

“A core component of my argument is that the immediate goals of Jewish survivors and Soviet investigators overlapped. I strive to verify local-level findings by comparing witness statements given to commission representatives with these same survivors’ testimony preserved in non-Soviet sources, such as memoirs and oral histories.”

How will this help the museum?

“By shedding light on how the Soviet Union gathered, shaped and presented information about Nazi crimes, my dissertation will decrease practical limitations on scholarly use of the Extraordinary State Commission’s documents. Future historians focusing on specific events during the war will be able to juxtapose survivor accounts preserved at the crime scene with those generated in very different settings.”

Why study Holocaust-related material?

“Although this may sound strange, I feel fortunate to be researching such tragic history because I genuinely believe that my work is important. Ideally, every Ph.D. student feels this way, because there is often nothing else to sustain us through the long slog of dissertation writing, but I sincerely believe this to be true in my case. Each story of a survivor or victim is important, and those of Soviet Jews have not yet received the attention that they deserve.”