Stalin's World War II Evacuations
Triumph and Troubles in Kirov
Larry E. Holmes
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In the face of the German onslaught in World War II, the Soviets succeeded, as Molotov later recalled, “in relocating to the rear virtually an entire industrial country.” It was an official declared, “one of the greatest feats of the war.” Focusing on the Kirov region, this book offers a different and considerably more nuanced picture of the evacuations than the typical triumphal narrative found in Soviet history. In its depiction of the complexities of the displacement and relocation of populations, Stalin’s World War II Evacuations also has remarkable relevance in our time of mass migrations of refugees from war-torn nations.
“This is an enjoyable book and the narrative comes alive through the extensive use of diaries, letters, and a wide array of state and provincial archives. . . . a good regional study, a fine analysis of wartime civilian life, and a useful study that sets the evacuation into a broader history of massive forced migration.”
“A valuable addition to recent scholarship on Soviet evacuations and migrations. Specialists and general readers alike will find Larry Homes’s perceptive book both highly informative and heartbreaking.”
—Michigan War Studies ReviewSee all reviews...
“An important contribution to our understanding of the complex processes occurring on ground level that far better characterize Soviet wartime evacuations than stories of heroism.”
—Journal of Military History
“Further distinguishes Holmes as not only the preeminent English-language historian of the Kirov region during the Soviet period but also as a gifted institutional historian. . . . A welcome contribution to the scholarship on wartime evacuation.”
“Holmes provides a much-needed (and still relevant) analysis of the problems engendered by the mass migrations of peoples and the tensions that inevitably arise between hosts and refugees (or, in this case, evacuees), as well as a nuanced explication of the political conflicts between the “center” and the periphery that does much to reveal the nature of the Soviet regime in both war and peace. Highly recommended.”
“Holmes tells a riveting story of the evacuation of 1,500 factories and hundreds of thousands of citizens into the Soviet rear following the German attack in summer 1941. The narrative is easy to follow—an extraordinary story of courage and survival side-by-side with tragic suffering that Soviet civilians endured during the war years. There have been in recent years a handful of books purporting to tell the story of the evacuations, but this book is by far the very best because of Holmes’ astounding research base: years of work in central and regional archives, libraries and other local collections supplemented by interviews. It will attract a wide readership.”
—Jeffrey Burds, professor of history, Northeastern University
“An extraordinarily valuable study. It’s a great compliment to Manley and Stronski’s work on the wartime evacuations to Central Asia; a fine-grained analysis with a clear eye for the power politics involved in evacuation. Its focus on different types of institutions such as factories, offices, schools and orphanages creates a remarkable holistic picture of the evacuation and war years in Kirov with its refugees, hunger, epidemics, deprivation, and incredible grittiness. In addition, Holmes’ work is so well researched and so capacious in it subjects, that it easily should go down as one of our finer regional studies. It gives a whole new depth to the tired cliché of “home front” and an insight to just what the Soviet civilians far from the front endured.”
—Matthew J. Payne, author of Stalin’s Railroad: Turksib and the Building of Socialism
“Larry Holmes tells a gripping tale of the rescue, evacuation, and resettlement of Soviet industry and people during World War II from the frontline territories soon to be overrun by the Nazis. He takes us to the northern industrial town of Kirov, to reveal in heartbreaking detail the difficulties of life on the home front for both evacuees and the local population. Holmes describes not only how tens of thousands of evacuees were welcomed, housed, and fed, but also the more painful side of resettlement: struggles over food, space, and control. His book contains valuable lessons for a contemporary world once again facing a vast refugee crisis amid the horrors of war and mass displacement.”
—Wendy Z. Goldman, Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor of History, Carnegie Mellon UniversitySee fewer reviews...
The citizens and government of Kirov, some 500 miles northeast of Moscow, provided food, clothing, and shelter to the people and institutions that descended on the region in numbers far exceeding prewar plans or anyone's imagination. But as they continued to share their already strained resources—with adult evacuees, Leningrad’s children, wounded and ill soldiers, factories, and commissariats—the people of Kirov became increasingly resentful, especially as it grew clear that the war would be prolonged, and that their guests demanded privileged treatment. Larry E. Holmes reveals how, without directly challenging the Stalinist system, they vigorously advanced their own private and regional interests. He shows that, as Kirov and Moscow pursued their respective agendas, sometimes in concert but increasingly at cross-purposes, they exposed preexisting and highly dysfunctional dimensions of Soviet governance at both the center and the periphery.
The dictatorial center and the periphery literally came face-to-face in the evacuation to Kirov, allowing for a new, informed understanding of the tensions inherent in the Stalinist system, and of the power politics of the wartime Soviet Union.