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The Perils of Displacement: The Soviet Evacuee between Refugee and Deportee

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 November 2007

Department of History, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, K7L 3N6;


In the wake of the German invasion of June 1941, sixteen and a half million Soviet citizens were evacuated to the country's interior. Unlike the archetypal European refugee, the Soviet evacuee was displaced but not stateless. This article, based on previously unexamined sources from archives in Russia and Uzbekistan, examines the status of the displaced in a state in which rights were grounded in territory and the lack of fixed residence could have dire implications. More specifically, it focuses on the way in which the evacuee was conceived in relation to the ‘refugee’ and the ‘deportee’.

Les périls d'être déplacé: l'évacué soviétique entre réfugié et déporté

Dans le sillage de l'invasion allemande de juin 1941, seize millions et demi de citoyens soviétiques ont été évacués vers l'intérieur du pays. A la différence de l'archétype du réfugié européen, l'évacué soviétique était déplacé mais pas apatride. Cet article examine le statut du déplacé dans un état dans lequel les droits étaient fondés sur le territoire et où l'absence de résidence fixe pouvait avoir des implications désastreuses. Plus spécifiquement, l'article se concentre sur la manière dont l'évacué était conçu par rapport au ‘réfugié’ et au ‘déporté’. L'article est basé sur des sources d'archives en Russie et en Ouzbékistan jusqu-là non exploitées.

Sowjetische evakuierte – weder flüchtlinge noch deportierte

Im Gefolge der deutschen Invasion vom Juni 1941 wurden 16,5 Millionen Personen in das Innere der Sowjetunion evakuiert. Anders als der archetypische europäische Flüchtling waren sowjetische Evakuierte zwar entwurzelt aber nicht staatenlos. Dieser Artikel untersucht den rechtlichen und gesellschaftlichen Status entwurzelter Personen in einem Staatswesen, in dem Rechte auf territorialer Zugehörigkeit beruhten und in dem der Mangel einer dauerhaften Adresse schlimme Folgen haben konnte. Der Artikel nimmt besonders die Art und Weise in den Blick, wie Evakuierte im Vergleich zu ‘Flüchtlingen’ und ‘Deportierten’ gesellschaftlich und politisch konzeptionalisiert wurden. Die Darstellung beruht auf bisher unveröffentlichten russischen und usbekischen Quellen.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2007

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1 The estimate of sixteen and a half million is taken from Mark, Harrison, Soviet Planning in Peace and War, 1938–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 72Google Scholar. While the most significant wave of evacuations took place in the months following the invasion, there was a second wave in summer and autumn 1942.

2 See Hannah, Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, new edn with added prefaces (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1973), 267302Google Scholar. See also Michael, Marrus, The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985)Google Scholar.

3 Unlike the terms evacuee and deportee, the term refugee (bezhenets) was not a formal, administrative category during the war. While the status of deportee was a highly differentiated one, encompassing a range of groups each of which was subject to somewhat different regulations, for the purposes of this article I have used the term ‘deportee’ to refer mainly to the so-called special settlers (spetsposelentsy), who constituted a clear majority among deportees during the war. On this category see Zemskov, V. N., ‘Spetsposelentsy (po dokumentam NKVD-MVD SSSR)’, Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniia, 11 (1990), 317Google Scholar.

4 Mikhail, German, Slozhnoe proshedshee (Saint Petersburg: Iskusstvo SPb, 2000), 83Google Scholar. All translations of quotations from untranslated sources are by the author.

5 Peterson, V., ‘Iz blokady – na bol'shuiu zemliu’, Neva 9 (2002), 151–2Google Scholar.

6 See Peter, Gatrell, A Whole Empire Walking: Refugees in Russia during World War I (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999)Google Scholar.

7 A.V. Sorokina, unpublished manuscript in Narodnyi Arkhiv (NA), f. 18, op. 1, d. 21, l. 13.

8 For a general overview of deportations in the pre-war period see Pavel, Polian, Ne po svoei vole: istoriia i geografiia prinuditel'nykh migratsii v SSSR (Moscow: O.G.I.-Memorial, 2001)Google Scholar. On dekulakisation, see Lynne, Viola, ‘The Other Archipelago: Kulak Deportations to the North in 1930’, Slavic Review, 60, 4 (winter 2001): 730–55Google Scholar. On the deportation of enemy peoples see Martin, Terry, ‘The Origins of Soviet Ethnic Cleansing’, Journal of Modern History, 70 (December 1998): 813–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv literatury i isskusstv (RGALI), f. 2057, op. 2, d. 29, l. 86.

10 Borovoi, S. Ia., Vospominaniia (Moscow: Evreiskii universitet v Moskve, 1993), 240Google Scholar.

11 Rossiiskaia natsional'naia biblioteka, f. 368, op. 1, d. 1, l., 45.

12 Tsentral'nyi gosudarstvennyi arkhiv istoriko-politicheskikh dokumentov Sankt-Peterburga

(TsGAIPD SPb), f. 25, op. 5, d. 181, l. 30.

13 Ibid., d. 188, l. 51.

14 Ibid., d. 180, l. 51.

15 Ibid., l. 52.

16 Punin, N., Mir svetel liuboviu: dnevniki, pis'ma, ed. Zykov, L. A. (Moscow: ‘Artist. Rezhissior. Teatr’, 2000), 344Google Scholar.

17 For an interesting critique of the use of arboreal metaphors in scholarship on population displacement, see Liisa Malkki, ‘National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees’, Cultural Anthropology, 7, 1 (1992), 24–44. Ultimately, my own position more closely resembles that of Gaim Kibreab, who has underscored the importance of rights (in his case citizenship rights) in shaping people's attitudes towards and experience of displacement. See Gaim, Kibreab, ‘Revisiting the Debate on People, Place, Identity and Displacement’, Journal of Refugee Studies 12, 4 (1999): 384410Google Scholar.

18 Sergei Eisenshtein in Bukov, K. I., Gorinov, M. M., and Ponomarev, A. N., Moskva voennaia, 1941–1945. Memuary i arkhivnye dokumenty (Moscow: Izd-vo ob edineniia Mosgorarkhiv, 1995), 156Google Scholar.

19 See, for example, a fairly typical report by an official in the Mariiskii ASSR in Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv Rossiiskoi Federatsii (GARF), f. 6822, op. 1, d. 422, l. 10.

20 Ibid., l. 53.

21 Ibid., l. 55.

22 Ibid., l. 66. The request was subsequently forwarded to the NKVD. See ibid., l. 67.

23 Ibid., l. 53.

24 Ibid., l. 9.

25 See, for example, GARF, f. 6822, op. 1, d. 52, l. 42.

26 V. P. Iampol'skii et al., eds., Organy Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti v Velikoi Otechestvennoi Voine, vol. 2, bk. 2 (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo ‘Rus’, 2000), 31.

27 GARF, f. 6822, op. 1, d. 422, l. 11. Suspicion seems to have been particularly strong with regard to the Baltic populations. For other examples see Izvestiia TsK, 7 (1990), 204 and Iampol'skii et al., Organy, vol. 2, bk. 1, 526.

28 GARF, f. 259, op. 40, d. 3024, l. 137.

29 GARF, f. 6822, op. 1, d. 422, l. 54. A pood is equivalent to 16.38 kilograms.

31 Rossisskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv sotsial'no-politicheskoi istorii (RGASPI), f. 644, op. 1, d. 80, l. 95.

32 GARF, f. A-259, op. 40, d. 3041, l. 8.

33 Ibid., d. 3022, l. 40. The Evacuation Council was established on June 24, 1941. The Council had twelve members, the most active of whom included N. Shvernik, L. Kaganovich, A. Kosygin and A. Mikoian.

34 Interestingly, the ‘workers’ category was added several days after the initial categories were drawn up. Gosudarstvennyi arkhiv goroda Tashkenta (GAGT), f. 10, op. 17, d. 14, ll. 58, 59.

35 GARF, f. A-259, op. 40, d. 3067, l. 136.

36 GAGT, f. 10, op. 17, d. 10, l. 4.

37 RGASPI, f. 17, op. 22, d. 767, ll. 108–9.

38 GARF, f. A-259, op. 40, d. 3067, l. 136. Those who did not comply were to be evicted forcibly.

39 A verification of some 1,655 buildings, conducted in late September 1941, turned up ninety-eight people living without registration, of whom seventy-one were evacuees. GAGT, f. 10, op. 17, d. 14, l. 65.

40 GAGT, f. 10, op. 17, d. 51, l. 211.

41 Ibid. Note that homeless and neglected children were also targeted. They were to be rounded up and put in children's homes.

42 RGASPI, f. 17, op. 22, d. 767, ll. 108–9.

43 The citation is from a decree by the Government Commission for Controlling the Spread of Infectious Diseases, GAGT, f. 10, op. 17, d. 51, ll. 9–10. The other decree, issued by the Uzbek Sovnarkom, can be found in GAGT, f. 10, op. 17, d. 51, l. 212. Other, similar, decrees, drawn up by the NKVD and designed to ‘prohibit the entrance into Tashkent of people who do not have the right or the permission to reside in Tashkent’, instructed railway authorities to establish a round-the-clock checkpoint at the exits from the station. Only those with a propiska (registration stamp) in their passports for Tashkent were to be permitted to leave the station. Tsentral'nyi gosudarstvennyi arkhiv respubliki Uzbekistana (TsGARUz), f. 314, op. 1, d. 37, l. 11.

44 GAGT, f. 10, op. 17, d. 51, l. 212.

45 GARF, f. A-259, op. 40, d. 3067, l. 149.

48 The ‘categories of individuals’ who were ‘refused passports in “regime” cities’ are described by Paul Hagenloh as ‘residents’, ‘not connected with industry or education or not carrying out socially useful labor’, kulaks fleeing from the countryside, individuals who had arrived in cities after January 1, 1931 without an invitation to work or who, although they were presently employed, were ‘obvious labor shirkers [letuny] or have been fired in the past for disorganization of production, and lishentsy [disenfranchised persons]’. Paul M. Hagenloh, ‘“Socially Harmful Elements” and the Terror’, in Sheila, Fitzpatrick, ed., Stalinism: New Directions (New York: Routledge, 2000), 295Google Scholar. On the passport system more generally see Gijs, Kessler, ‘The Passport System and State Control over Population Flows in the Soviet Union, 1932–1940’, Cahiers du Monde Russe, 42, 2–3–4 (2001), 477503Google Scholar; Nathalie, Moine, ‘Passportisation, statistique des migrations et contrôle de l'identité sociale’, Cahiers du monde russe, 38, 4 (1997), 587600Google Scholar; Shearer, David R., ‘Elements Near and Alien: Passportization, Policing, and Identity in the Stalinist State, 1932–1952’, Journal of Modern History, 76, 4 (2004): 835–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Popov, V. P., ‘Pasportnaia sistema v SSSR’, Sotsiologicheskoe issledovanie, 9 (1995): 313Google Scholar.

49 Exempted from the resettlement were state pensioners and invalids. GARF, f. A-259, op. 40, d. 3067, l. 156.

50 The Evacuation Council's critique of the Azerbaijani plan contained the following spirited defence of evacuees: ‘In addition to the planned distribution of evacuees in your Republic in accordance with the decisions of the Evacuation Council, the family members of the party and Soviet aktiv, the families of workers and employees who have been taken in by their relatives or acquaintances, etc., may (and evidently have) come to your Republic from the frontline regions, and there are no grounds to expel or resettle them.’ Ibid., l. 158.

51 GARF, f. A-259, op. 40, d. 3017, l. 4. The memo also stated that ‘the Commissariat of Justice considers it necessary to establish that the distribution of tickets for railway transportation and transportation by ship take place only with the permission of the organs of the police’.

52 Ibid., l. 5.

53 Ibid., l. 7.

54 GARF, f. 6822, op. 1, d. 422, l. 14.

55 Ibid., l. 43.

56 GARF, f. A-327, op. 2, d. 366, l. 50.

57 Ibid., l. 52.

58 Ibid., l. 52; d. 68, l. 11.

59 GARF, f. A-259, op. 40, d. 3041, l. 15.

60 Ibid., l. 16.

61 The decree is mentioned in a report by the director of the NKVD's division of spetspereselentsy (special settlers) published in Nikolai Fedorovich Bugai, ‘Mobilizovat nemtsev v rabochie kolonny– I. Stalin:’ sbornik dokumentov (1940-e gody) (Moscow: ‘Gotika’, 1998), 30. The Germans sent from the Crimea to the Ordzhonikidze krai were repeatedly included in the count of evacuees. The order on the evacuation of Germans preceded more general evacuation orders in the Crimea by four days. See GARF, f. 6822, op. 1, d. 43, l. 8.

62 The report itself requests that local authorities be ordered to expel ‘neblagonadezhnye elementy’. Bukov, Gorinov and Ponomarev, Moskva voennaia, 77.

63 Bugai, ‘Mobilizovat nemtsev v rabochie kolonny– I. Stalin’, 18, 30–1.

64 N. A. Lomagin, ed., Neizvstnaia blokada (Dokumenty, prilozheniia), vol. 2 (Saint Petersburg: Izdatel'skii Dom ‘Neva’, 2002), 23–5. A similar conflation of evacuation and deportation occurred a few months later in an operation carried out in Moscow. On this occasion, the Evacuation Council ordered the ‘evacuation’ of ‘people with no fixed occupation or place of residence, the criminal element, people who have been arrested and tried, non-registered residents, and the population that has accumulated at the city's evacuation centres’. GARF, f. 6822, op. 1, d. 482, l. 1. (Note that while the population at the city's evacuation centres was dispatched to the Gor'kii region, the other groups were sent to the Mordovskaia ASSR.) In this instance, a standard NKVD operation undertaken, in the words of the NKVD agent involved, ‘in order to cleanse the city’ (v poriadke ochishchenii goroda), was carried out under the auspices of the Evacuation Council. Ibid., ll. 1–2.

65 See, for example, the ‘inquiry into the number of evacuees from the frontline regions’, in GARF, f. 6822, op. 1, d. 481, l. 151. In this case, the number of evacuees in Kazakhstan was presented with a note that there were an additional 232,000 Germans settled in the republic. The Germans were included in the tally of the number of evacuees in the Soviet Union as a whole. In the case of the Crimean Germans, cited above, the Germans were simply included in the count of the number of evacuees from the Crimea.

Interestingly, complaints were lodged with the Evacuation Council regarding the uncontrolled movement of both evacuees and deportees. The special settler division of the NKVD complained to the Evacuation Council that ‘taking advantage of the lack of a reliable count, German migrants [pereselentsy] wilfully move from collective farm to collective farm, from district to district, and even to other oblasts’. GARF, f. A-259, op. 20, d. 3032, l. 52. Similar complaints were repeatedly made about evacuees, despite the ostensibly clear refusal to impose the same restrictions on their movements. An example from Uzbekistan can be found in TsGARUz, f. 837, op. 32, d. 3519, l. 2.

66 For example, authorities in the Rostov oblast attempted to confine evacuees to their regions of resettlement. GARF f. 6822, op. 1, d. 422, l. 23.

67 TsGARUz, f. 837, op. 32, d. 3519, l. 2.

68 Ibid., d. 2894, l. 121. In autumn 1941 Tashkent municipal authorities, in conjunction with an Uzbek Sovnarkom decree, authorised ‘the allocation of 50,000 roubles from the local budget for December for the provision of aid to very needy evacuees from the frontline regions’. GAGT, f. 10, op. 17, d. 14, l. 111. In February 1942, municipal authorities requested additional funds from the Uzbek Sovnarkom, also for one-off aid disbursements, on the grounds that ‘at present the Executive Committee of the Tashkent City Soviet does not have funds for this purpose’. TsGARUz, f. 837, op. 32, d. 3416, l. 182.

69 GARF, f. 8131, op. 19, d. 62, l. 16. The decree, issued on 24 May 1942, stipulated that evacuees from Leningrad be accorded supplemental rations for two months from the date of their arrival in evacuation.

70 Ibid. According to the report, there had been an initial decree on the provisioning of evacuees from both Moscow and Leningrad, but the decree was annulled by the Commissariat of Trade in mid July 1941.

71 Nechkina, M. V., ‘V dni voiny’, in Aleksandr, Mikhailovich Samsonov, ed., V gody voiny: stat'i i ocherki, (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo ‘Nauka’, 1985), 34Google Scholar.

72 Quoted in Gromova, N. A., Vse v chuzhoe gliadiat okno (Moscow: Kollektsiia ‘Sovershenno sekretno’, 2002), 99Google Scholar.

73 GARF, f. 259, op. 40, d. 5249, l. 14.

74 RGASPI, f. 17, op. 117, d. 530, ll. 56–7.

75 RGASPI, f. 17, op. 88, d. 649, l. 232.

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