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Seth Bernstein “Victims, Traitors, Refugees: The Social Reception of Soviet Repatriates after World War II”

On January 26 Seth Bernstein gave a presentation “Victims, Traitors, Refugees: The Social Reception of Soviet Repatriates after World War II” at the scholarly seminar of the International Center for the History and Sociology of World War II and Its Consequences.

At the end of World War II, roughly five million Soviet people were outside the Soviet Union, displaced by the war as prisoners, forced laborers or willing migrants in Germany and allied states. The overwhelming majority of displaced Soviets returned to the USSR, most in a massive population transfer in the summer of 1945. Returnees’ interactions with non-Soviets in occupied Europe attracted scrutiny from central officials in the NKVD and its successors. However, the primary experience of returnees was of “wild” repatriation, where central authorities’ control was limited and their attitudes divided. The majority of repatriates went home but the crucible of return was at the local level, where returnees faced exploitation from soldiers, factory bosses and neighbors. In his presentation Seth Bernstein described how viewing Soviet repatriation as social history, rather than the history of state repression, reveals the commonalities between this episode and other population displacement crises after World War II.