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Ethnic Cleansing in the U.S.S.R., 1937-1949.

Ethnic Cleansing in the U.S.S.R., 1937-1949, by J. Otto Pohl. Series: Contributions to the Study of World History, Number 65. Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 1999. xvii, 179 pp. $59.95 U.S. (cloth).

The term "ethnic cleansing" has become quite familiar to the general public. Frequently used by the electronic and print media, especially during the various conflicts in the last decade of the twentieth century -- such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda and Kosovo -- the term signifies the forced removal by the state of ethnic, racial or religious groups from their traditional areas of settlement. If the intent of the state is, as well, to create adverse conditions of life in order to bring about the physical destruction, in whole or in part, of any such group, then, under international law, it is defined as genocide. However, according to the author, using a very strict definition, genocide can be applied only to three examples in the twentieth century: Turkey's extermination of the Armenians in 1915, Nazi Germany's annihilation of the Jews and Gypsies in 1933-45, and the Hutu majority murders of the Tutsi in Rwanda during the year 1995 (p. 2).

The aim of J. Otto Pohl, who is a freelance writer and historian, is to show that the Stalin regime pursued ethnic cleansing as part of its overall security policy. Thus, between 1937 and 1949, thirteen small nationalities -- Koreans, Finns, Germans, Kalmyks, Karachays, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars, Crimean Tatars, Greeks, Meskhetian Turks, Kurds, and Khemshils -- those either with ethnic ties to foreign states or with a history of armed resistance to the tsarist Russian rule, deported into the interior of the Soviet Union, particularly to the sparsely populated areas of Kazakhstan, Soviet Central Asia and Siberia. Pohl also intends to show sufficient evidence to negate the views of the American and European "revisionist historians dedicated to whitewashing Stalin's crimes." Their aim, he maintains, "is to portray the Jewish Holocaust as the only instance of state-sponsored mass murder based upon ethnicity in world history." He is especially critical of the works of Charles Maier, The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust, and German National Identity (1987), and Deborah Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1993) (pp. xiii-xiv).

The author achieves his aim by providing ample evidence about the Stalinist regime's ethnic cleansing and the terrible consequences which were experienced by each of the thirteen nationalities. Pohl's work is authoritative because he utilizes the late Soviet and new Russian historiography -- articles, monographs, and collections of documents -- on the subject matter. Such publications appeared in the late 1980s primarily because at that time the subject of national deportations had emerged in open debate in the Soviet Union, and the partial opening of the Soviet archives had enabled scholars to carry out research and publish on this previously forbidden topic. The following collections of documents proved to be the basis of Pohl's research for his book: Tak eto bylo: natsional'nye repressi v SSSR, 1919-1952 gody [How it was: National Repression in the U.S.S.R., 1919-1952] (1993), in 3 vols., edited by Svetlana Alieva; Istoriia rossiiskikh nemtsev v dokumentach 1763-1992 IA History of the Russian Germans in Documents, 1763-1992] (1993), edited by A. Andreevich and Ch. Georgievna; and Iosif Stalin -- Lavrentiiu Berii: "Ikh nado deportirovat':" dokumenty, fakty, kommentarii [Iosif Stalin to Lavrentii Beria: "They Must be Deported:" Documents, Facts and Commentaries] (1992), edited by N. F. Bugai.

As a rule, Pohl devotes a chapter to each nationality; however, due to the paucity of sources, he discusses together the Chechens and Ingush in one chapter, and the Meskhetian Turks, Kurds and Khemshils, in another. His book contains very useful additions: a glossary of names, terms, and abbreviations; a selected annotated bibliography; an ample index; and numerous tables and appendices, all of which provide pertinent statistical information, such as number of people deported, areas of exile, location of camps, type of work performed, mortality rate, and the like.

Readers will note certain weaknesses and deficiencies in the book. The chapters are unbalanced: the author, for example, devotes thirty-two pages to the Germans, eleven to the Koreans, and only five to the Karachays. Moreover, in the three-page chapter entitled "The Return of the North Caucasians," the chronology reaches the 1970s, many years after 1949, the closing date listed in the book's title. There are no maps. However, the most puzzling problem is the omission of other nationalities from the author's story of ethnic cleansing -- here, due to the lack of space, only the Poles will be considered. On 17 September 1939 the territories of Eastern Poland were occupied by Soviet troops and incorporated into the Soviet Union. From 10 February 1940 massive deportations of Poles started to take place. It is a clear example of ethnic cleansing. If to those civilians deported in 1940 are added soldiers who became prisoners of war, and others who were deported in 1944-45, the number of the Poles far exceeded that of the thirteen nationalities discussed by the author. With regard to this subject matter, readers are urged to consult the monograph of Julian Siedlicki, Losy Polakow w ZSRR w latach 1939-1986 [The Fate of the Poles in the U.S.S.R. during the Years 1939-1986] (1988).

Ethnic Cleansing is not a product of Pohl's personal research in the Russian archives; it is, rather, chiefly a synopsis of the accomplishments of the late Soviet and new Russian historiography since 1989. His book does contain certain deficiencies. Nevertheless, it still has to be considered a valuable addition to the English-language historiography relating to the terrible developments in the Soviet Union under Stalin. It is much more valuable than the two existing scholarly books devoted to this subject matter in English -- Robert Conquest's The Nation Killers (1970), and Aleksander Nekrich's The Punished People: The Deportation and Fate of Soviet Minorities at the End of the Second World War (1979) -- for neither of their authors had access to most relevant archival documents. Pohl's book should inform both the academic community and the general public about the true policy of the Stalinist regime toward the "Repressed People" in the Soviet Union.

A. B. Pernal

Brandon University
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Pernal, A. B.; Colwill, Elizabeth
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 2001
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