I had the opportunity to participate in one of Yahad-In Unum’s research trips to the regions of Stavropol, Karatchaievo-Cherkessie, and Kabardino-Balkarie from the 10th to 25th of May, 2017. Holding a degree in History, and being currently in my second year of a master’s degree in History research entitled “Conflictualités et mediation” (Conflict in current events and mediation), principally dealing with mass conflicts in history and in the world, the importance of memory as emphasized by this trip touches me particularly. It is in this sense that I approached this trip to Russia. It should also be said that as I have been at Yahad for two and a half months, I have been able to work on the research trips by integrating their content into the database or the interactive map. This gave me a good theoretical background that I was able to complete with this experience in the field.
The three regions that we visited are very interesting, specifically by their localization, in the south of the country, at the gates of the Caucasus, but also by their ethnic distribution. Many different people live together or coexist, the Cherkess, the European Jews, Jews from the mountains, Balkars, Karachais, Russians, Armenians, Chechens, Georgians and many others. Their lifestyles, customs, traditions, religions and languages are very different from one another, giving a considerable wealth to these geographical areas. In spite of their divergences, I quickly realized that, in the context of the German occupation and the perpetual massacres, one thing brings this population together: misfortune.
Of course, not all groups were exposed to the same degree of violence, but everyone acknowledges the preservation of memory as their duty and their doors were never closed to the investigators of Yahad. I realized this after seeing each witness, but also, and especially in those witnesses we were not able to see, as the world advanced and did not wait for them. Every day, old age or disease prevails, every day a part of history collapses.
I was also struck by the divergence of testimony across regions. Indeed, in the regions of Karachaiyevo-Cherkessie and Kabardino-Balkaria, there are fewer witnesses and they have seen fewer things, perhaps because they are the most remote areas in which the Germans have gone and those in which they stayed the least amount of time, or also because the cities are less important. In contrast, in the Stavropol region, unfortunately, the stories of the interviewees were richer. Moreover, being on the ground in this way, I found myself faced with a dualism that I did not suspect was probable. On the one hand, complementing the existing archives and discovering the atrocities committed by the Germans satisfied the historian and the “investigator”, but on the other hand, it deeply saddened the human. It is with this duality that the investigative teams of Yahad-In Unum must daily operate.