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What do you do when the Germans invade from the West? You move to the East and South. Something that sounds easy in theory, until you need to move millions of Soviets. The three main locations that would receive these citizens were the Urals, Western Siberia, and Central Asia (Edwards). While an exact number of refugees is unknown, however it is estimated to be around 17 to 25 million evacuees (Edwards). How did these evacuations impact those citizens and companies who had to be moved?
The Soviet Government “created a series of ad hoc committees to direct the evacuation process, such as the Evacuation Council, the Civilian Evacuation, an the Evacuation Commission” (Edwards). However these institutions helped little because they could not provide the money needed for local governments to support the millions of evacuees. While “local leaders tried to increase the availability of housing, cafeterias, medical clinics, and day-care centers, but they were not given enough resources to serve the entire evacuated population” (Edwards).
However, the Soviet Union was determined to “defend and develop the Soviet military capability, so defense workers and factories were evacuated with the highest priority” (Edwards). Thus the companies and people who staffed them were the priority evacuees. While non-industrial evacuees often had to wait in train stations for days or weeks for housing, industrial evacuees were given more food, “higher quality housing, and better medical care” (Edwards).
That doesn’t mean it was all fun and games to be a factory worker during the war though. Soviet “authoritarianism permitted the state to mobilize the people and the resources necessary to prosecute total war” (Freeze 385). One of these measures was an act in June 1940 that made quitting or absenteeism essentially criminal in Soviet Russia (Siegelbaum). Being late to work by more than 20 minutes could allow a boss to fire the worker and evicted them from their “enterprise housing” (Siegelbaum). But as the saying goes, all is fair in love and war.
Edwards, Kristen. “Wartime Evacuation”.Soviethistory.MSU.edu http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1943-2/wartime-evacuation/ Accessed March 25, 2018
Freeze, Gregory. (2009). Russia A History third edition. Oxford University Press.
Photo: Kumanev, G.A. “Wartime Evacuation Images” Soviethistory.MSU.edu http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1943-2/wartime-evacuation/wartime-evacuation-images/#bwg118/696
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Labor Discipline” Soviethistory.MSU.edu http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1939-2/labor-discipline/ Accessed March 25, 2018
7 Comments Add yours
Grace, you chose a really interesting and lesser focused on topic for this post and I really enjoyed reading about it. War affects everyone in a society, and I think this post really emphasized that idea. I think it’s really interesting how the Soviet Union was so focused on industrialization for the war that everyone else fell by the wayside. Great work!
As the comment above stated, I also agree this was a topic that is often overlooked. Your post said 17 to 25 evacuees, is it safe to say that was in millions? I thought it was interesting they moved industrial workers first, but it makes sense on why they did that. This emphasizes their focus on industrialization.
Interesting stuff, when I usually think of war I think of the soldiers fighting in it, not the civilians who are affected by it. And I wonder if these industrial evacuees were sent to other existing factories or if they had to make new factories further east to accomodate all the workers and meet the demands made by the war effort.
Grace, good work. I think one of the most interesting things about your post is how historians aren’t entirely sure how many evacuees there were, whether it be 17 million or 25 million. It is crazy to think that 7 million people may have just slipped through the cracks, or even a fraction of that could add up to thousands of people. What happened to these people, many may have just starved, got caught up in the war, or simply found themselves stuck where they were. The war the Soviets faced is something America is grateful to have missed. The amount of civilian deaths felt by the war is just astronomical.
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Agree! It’s sobering to think that there could be that much ambiguity in the numbers. But that discrepancy (between 17 and 25 million) also speaks to the challenges of counting people in dynamic, extraordinary, and quickly changing circumstances. As we see from the overall war casualties — precision is just going to be illusory. But whatever number you go with, the scale is staggering.
I hadn’t even thought about who the Soviet Union would evacuate first during the war, but this certainly was an interesting topic choice! As stated above, it makes sense that they would choose to move industrial workers first considering their primary focus was to win the war. Overall, your post was very insightful and I learned about something that I otherwise would know nothing about.
The way that the Soviet Union’s society changed and conformed to successfully win the war against the German invasion was really interesting. Their whole society dropped what they were doing and concentrated on working together to win the war. Giving up their homes and everything to migrate and move supplies for the Soviet’s army shows the grit and the capabilities of Soviet Union from a defensive tactical standpoint.