Azerbaijan, a haven for Jews and other groups during Hitler’s Holocaust

The memory of a girl, and of a special relationship between Azerbaijan and the Jews

Rachel Brooks

May 4, 2021 

Commentary

“Anne Frank House” by daryl_mitchell is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

On Tuesday evening, Anne Frank, Dutch-born Jewish youth who authored the famous “Diary of a Young Girl” was drawn into a polarizing discussion of Hitler’s Holocaust. Frank was referred to as a “colonizer” and the “child of a colonizer” by American youth via their Twitter profiles. 

Little Anne’s story took place in one of history’s darkest hours 

The attic room in which Anne Frank lived in hiding before she was eventually taken by the Nazis to Bergen-Belsen where she was killed has been an attraction for historical tourists. While it is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may still view it here. 

Safe harbor for Jewish victims of Hitler’s Holocaust found in Azerbaijan

Hitler’s Holocaust saw the mass murder of 6 million Jews as well as the killing of smaller ethnicities. The Roma people also suffered mass ethnic killings during Hitler’s Holocaust. See more details at Yad Vashem. 

In 2012, speaking in an interview with Visions of Azerbaijan, Yahad–In Unum, the major organization investigating the mass killing of Jews and  other marginalized minorities such as the Roma people in Eastern Europe from 1941-1944 described the multiethnic details of this period. The organization likewise described how Jews and other victims of the Nazi Genocide in Europe, including Roma and Sinti, found safe harbor in Azerbaijan during this most troubling time of history. Small groups of Roma have been found since “behind the lines of the Soviet Union” living in their clans throughout Azerbaijan. Roma were grouped into specific districts by the Soviet Union. Those of recent history group up in places such as Shamakhi district. 

They are called the forgotten victims of the Nazi Genocide. Roma and Jews found their way into Azerbaijan and survived Hitler’s Holocaust. 

 

Roma people live in Azerbaijan as well, in recent history. Some came from the Yevlakh region (Aran Economic, adjacent to districts affected by the Karabakh conflict, including Tartar and Goranboy. Yevlakh was once known as the “gates of Karabakh.”) to escape post-war poverty and now suffer poverty on the streets of Tbilisi, Georgia. 

Gipsies in Tbilisi came from Azerbaijan…

Father Patrick Desbois described a collaboration with The European Azerbaijan Society. The two groups were collaborating to know more about how Jews and other ethnicities survived Hitler’s Holocaust because they were taken to Baku: 

 

“The first is to prepare a symposium that will take place in October about the evacuation of citizens from Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine to here, and both Jews and non-Jews survived because they were evacuated to Baku. We know that in Baku there are a lot of archives about the evacuation and a lot of survivors who saw that – Azerbaijani – so we will organize a symposium with specialists on this period from Azerbaijan, also specialists from Germany, from France, from America, from Israel, so we will build a network to show the place of Baku in the evacuation,” said Father Desbois, as he was quoted by Visions of Azerbaijan. 

 

Get the full story from Visions of Azerbaijan. 

 

He also explained how there was a “special local history” regarding Azerbaijan’s role in preserving those who fled Hitler’s Holocaust, because, at that period in history, Azerbaijan was seen only as a region under Soviet control. 

“We heard about Baku a long time ago but in villages very far from here; it was seen like Tashkent, like other places that they could finally reach and survive. And so now we are here …. we want to record survivors, people from here, Jews, a rabbi told us we could interview 11 Jews who are survivors, not from Azerbaijan, but who came here and made their lives here, so it would be important to interview them, to establish the truth about that story. 

It is also important to interview old Azerbaijanis who saw that story because we have the oral memory of Ukraine, we have the oral memory of Poland…. of Belarus, of Russia, but we don’t have the oral memories of Azerbaijanis…. so it is part of Yahad’s program to send a team to interview so that these memories of Azerbaijanis of the war will be saved; Jewish Azerbaijanis and Muslim Azerbaijanis,” continued Father Desbois, as he was quoted by Visions of Azerbaijan.