To the Tashkent Station: Evacuation and Survival in the Soviet Union at War.
The Soviet Union's evacuation of 16.5 million civilians, innumerable factories, and other organizations from front line territories in 1941-1942 is widely regarded by historians as one of its most impressive wartime accomplishments. Until now, historical focus on the evacuation has largely concentrated on the administrative challenges of planning and implementing the initial transport of civilians and factories, and on their contributions to war production. Rebecca Manley's superb history instead examines the evacuation as a means "to reintegrate the war into the social, cultural, and political history of the Soviet Union" (p. 6).
Manley's narrative is well organized and compelling. The first two chapters focus on central Soviet administrators' plans for evacuation during the interwar period, and their subsequent attempts to conduct evacuations during the chaotic first months of the war.. The next two chapters examine how evacuations were conducted in practice, and on the responses of both evacuated and unevacuated remaining citizens. Chapter five analyzes the evacuees' experiences during their transport, while chapters six and seven detail how evacuees in Tashkent, the city that perhaps most exemplified the resettlement, survived and participated in the war. The final chapter chronicles the difficulties the evacuees faced returning to their homes. A brief epilogue notes some of the ways the evacuation has been remembered and portrayed in the postwar period.
Manley uses the experience of the evacuees to investigate Soviet values, social structures, and behaviors. Her study reveals the ways in which authorities prioritized state needs over humanitarian concerns; the difficulties in simultaneously meeting the complex and often conflicting ties of loyalty and duty to the state, to work, and family, all categories emphasized in Soviet culture; the importance of privilege and hierarchy in Stalinist society; and the rise of antisemitism and Russian nationalism even as the state promoted the "friendship of peoples."
For Soviet officials, evacuation was less an act motivated by humanitarianism than it was a means to control the population and its movements. Influenced by the chaos created by the voluntary and forced evacuations during the First World War, and later, by the experience gained through the deportation and forced resettlement of populations, officials began drafting evacuation schemes during the interwar period. However, no plans were actually adopted, in part because acceptance of an evacuation plan would contradict Stalin's doctrine that the Red Army would destroy the aggressor at the border, thus rendering any evacuation plan irrelevant. This meant that when the war began, authorities had to improvise actual evacuation operations, often at the last minute, and sometimes, too late.
Nevertheless, the regime succeeded in evacuating millions of civilians in what Manley terms a "managed migration" (p. 31). State priorities determined who would be evacuated and to where: not only were skilled workers, scientists, and other indispensable personnel sent to the rear, but so too were the "privileged," such as leading cultural and intellectual figures. Those considered a drain on state resources in frontline areas, such as young children and their mothers, were also evacuated. Skilled and privileged personnel were sent to industrial settlements and cities, while the unskilled were often deposited in the impoverished countryside to help with agriculture. As Manley states, "In a real sense, the story of the evacuation is a story of privileged people and privileged places, categories that often overlapped (p. 39)."
For civilians, evacuation raised difficult questions about loyalty to the Soviet regime, and duty to the state, work, and family. One could demonstrate patriotism by placing state interests over those of family, either by staying or evacuating depending on circumstances. But staying and leaving vulnerable dependents at risk could also mean facing social opprobrium.
The decision to evacuate also had political ramifications. Those who chose to evacuate were sometimes labeled "defeatists," doubting the Red Army's ability to hold back the Germans. However, evacuees threw this charge back at those who refused to evacuate, claiming that those who stayed did so because they wanted to live under the Germans (both charges were true in some instances). Later, during and after the war, evacuees had to defend themselves against accusations of cowardice for having "fought" the war on the "Tashkent front." This insult was aimed particularly at Jews, who many felt shirked their duty to the nation. While Jews were overrepresented among the evacuees, as Manley shows, this was because of their high representation among the. Soviet cultural and intellectual elite. Nevertheless, this charge became a part of Soviet World War II mythology and was one manifestation of the growing antisemitism of the war years.
Manley dedicates two chapters specifically to life in Tashkent, the final destination for some 100,000 evacuated civilians. Once in Tashkent, privilege and connections were critical to finding meaningful work, housing, and food. Manley documents the ways in which connected individuals like Aleksei Tolstoi and Komei Chukovskii were able to help friends who otherwise would have been abandoned by the state. Russian evacuees struggled to make the Central Asian city feel like their native land, and all evacuees desperately sought to contribute in some way to the war effort as they waited to hear about the fate of loved ones.
After the war, evacuees had to face down what had become the stigma of evacuation, as the popular mood now determined that they were defeatists and cowards. Moreover, a new privileged class had arisen in the Soviet Union, soldiers and their families, who now laid claim to the state's resources, including the former dwellings of the evacuees. As a final insult, while the evacuation of factories was hailed as a Soviet achievement in the post-war myth-making, the actual stories of the evacuees were not told as they also represented "a moment of breakdown and betrayal (p. 274)." Only within the last fifteen years have the experiences of the evacuees begun to receive public recognition.
To the Tashkent Station makes a significant contribution to the social history of the Second World War. Manley's vivid prose and rich detail brings to life the experiences of the evacuees. Her incisive analysis illuminates the social and cultural paradoxes and ambiguities of Stalin's Soviet Union, in which the same action could be deemed patriotic or treasonous depending on circumstances. My one criticism is that there is an overrepresentation of elite and privileged voices in the text, whose presence overwhelms the stories of ordinary people. This is a minor quibble in a work such as this. Manley's book is an outstanding social history of the wartime Soviet Union, and its range and analysis should attract readers interested more broadly in Soviet and in twentieth-century European history.
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|Publication:||Canadian Journal of History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2011|
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