Soviet Partisans in World War II
When the Wehrmacht rolled into the Soviet Union in World War II, it got more than it bargained for. Notwithstanding the Red Army's retreat, Soviet citizens fought fiercely against German occupiers, engaging in raids, sabotage, and intelligence gathering—largely without any oversight from Stalin and his iron-fisted rule.
Kenneth Slepyan provides an enlightening social and political history of the Soviet partisan movement, a people's army of irregulars fighting behind enemy lines. These insurgents included not only civilians-many of them women-but also stranded Red Army soldiers, national minorities, and even former collaborators. While others have documented the military contributions of the movement, Slepyan is the first to describe it as a social phenomenon and to reveal how its members were both challenged and transformed by the crucible of war.
“Essential reading for anyone interested in the partisans, and it makes an important contribution to the social and political history of the Soviet Union at war.”
—Journal of Modern History
“Nothing less than a history of Soviet society at war, seen from the vantage point of the irregulars. . . . Carefully researched and engagingly written.”
—Slavic ReviewSee all reviews...
“Slepyan’s book offers a fresh perspective on the Soviet partisan movement that emerged during the Second World War. . . . His conclusions, based on a broad set of personal recollections and archival documents, reveal much about emerging Stalinist society in a time of crisis. . . . This work offers a more detailed and nuanced understanding of how the regime harnessed the unwieldy and often disorderly guerilla movement to the successful war effort. More importantly, Slepyan sheds greater light on how the Stalinist system that had evolved over the course of the 1930s was uniquely suited to meet the terrible burdens placed on Soviet society by total war.”
—The Russian Review
“Through defining the political nature and achievement of the Soviet partisan movement, Slepyan makes a serious contribution to the debate on how the Stalinist regime both survived and was changed by the Second World War.”
“Slepyan provides new insights about why partisans fought, the lesser-known but still gruesome episodes of violence in the war, institutional conflicts within the state, and the behavior of ordinary human beings in a situation of almost unimaginable danger.”
—American Historical Review
“A work of great value to not only military historians but also anyone interested in Soviet history. Slepyan presents a thoughtful, well-documented account of the social aspects of the partisan movement during World War II. . . . This is a great book. Slepyan’s reliance on Soviet archival sources, memoirs, journal articles, and books in Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian, as well as his use of Western sources, allows him to present the Soviet partisan movement both from within and from above in a way that previous scholarship has not.”
“This important book gives us valuable new insights into both the dynamics of the partisan movement and the nature of Stalinist society.”
—International History Review
“An excellent analysis of the psychology and sociology of insurgents within the context of their larger society, and this is a topic of considerable utility in the current age of cross-cultural, asymmetrical warfare.”
“This well-researched book is a ‘bottom-up’ history that exposes the war within war that partisans suffered. It also illustrates the cruelty of partisans against their own brethren.”
—Journal of Military History
“Characterized by sound scholarship, clarity, and acute attention to detail, Ellis’s work adds substantially to our understanding of the Battle of Stalingrad and the travails of the troops who fought, suffered, and often perished in the fighting.”
—David M. Glantz, author of The Stalingrad Trilogy
“Ellis has uncovered a number of previously unavailable or neglected sources that offer valuable insight into the daily struggles for survival in the Stalingrad cauldron.”
—Stephen G. Fritz, author of Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East
“A fascinating and essential volume for all students of the Eastern Front.”
—Robert M. Citino, author of The Wehrmacht Retreats: Fighting a Losing War, 1943See fewer reviews...
By tracing the movement's origins, internal squabbles, and evolution throughout the war, Slepyan shows that people who suddenly had the autonomy to act on their own came to rethink the Stalinist regime. He assesses how partisan initiative and self-reliance competed with and countered the demands of state control and how social identities influenced relations among partisans, as well as between partisans and Soviet authorities.
Slepyan has tapped newly opened Soviet archives, as well as wartime radio broadcasts and Communist Party publications and memoirs, to depict the partisans as agents actively pursuing their own agendas. His book gives us a picture of their day-to-day struggle that was previously unknown to all but those few who personally survived the experience, paying special attention to questions of nationality, ethnicity, and gender to illuminate the sociopolitical relations within this diverse group. Through these varied accounts, he demonstrates that Soviet citizens reinterpreted Stalinism and the Soviet experience in the context of total war.
Offering numerous fresh insights into the partisans' multifaceted relationship with the state, Slepyan's book reveals the ways in which the war simultaneously reinforced and undermined both Stalinism and the Soviet system. Ultimately, his study rescues the Soviet partisans from obscurity to depict the complexity of their lives and underscore their vital contributions to the defense of their homeland.