1929-1939 1945-1949

World War II, 1939-1945 - Domestic Policy

Until June 22nd 1941, the U.S.S.R. was involved in regional wars (Mongolia May-Sept. 1939, Poland Sept. 1939, Finland Nov. 1939 - March 1940), which affected society in the U.S.S.R. marginally. The population of the newly acquired territories, for instance of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, in Bessarabia, the Northern Bukovina, Western Belarus, the Western Ukraine, was subjected to the deportation of persons regarded hostile to Communism.
The Soviet economy was, to a large extent, supplied the goods the population consumed; the fact that wars were raging in Europe and in the Far East, until June 1941, had only a limited impact on the U.S.S.R.

The German invasion of June 22nd 1941 turned the U.S.S.R. from a neutral observer into a major belligerent, fighting for the survival of the country. In the course of 1941 and 1942, German and allied forces occupied Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine and significant stretches of Russian territory. These regions were vital to the Soviet economy, as here much of her food was produced, as here many of her factories were located.
Her industries were vital to the Soviet war production; many factories were disassembled, put on trains, and were relocated into Soviet Siberia or Central Asia, complete with a labour force consisting mainly of ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians. Consumer goods (most notably food) were rationed, many Soviet citizens of either gender drafted into the armed forces.

When the German forces approached Stalingrad, Stalin decided to have the entire ethnic German population of the Volga German A.S.S.R. deported to Central Asia. He suspected them to be potential traitors; as, among others, Crimean Tatars and Chechens did collaborate with the German occupants, a concern not without foundation.
The German occupation of Soviet territory was extraordinarily oppressive; much of the occupied country was regarded territory for future German settlement, the existing population regarded a potential workforce to be exploited, and 'racially' to be divided into those who were of Germanic ancestry, to be reassimilated into German culture, those of Slavic ancestry to be resettled east of the Urals, and the Jews, deemed 'racially inferior', who were subjected to mass executions shortly after the resperctive area had been occupied by German forces. The inhabitants of occupied Soviet territory were exposed to conditions considerably worse, by comparison, than those in occupied France, for example.
As a consequence, the harsh-handed retaliation of the German military administration against acts of violence against persons wearing a German uniform, in form of the execution of 100 civilians for the shooting of one German, which caused the resistance in the westlimiting themselves to acts of sabotage and to targeting collaborators, failed to have the same impact in the occupied areas of the U.S.S.R.; the Soviet partisans controlled large areas and inflicted a heavy toll on the German and allied forces of occupation.
On the other hand, the Germans succeeded in turning the Galicia Division, originally fighting the invasion, into switching sides and fighting alongside the Germans.

Two cities particularly enduring a particularly hard fate during the war were Sevastopol (besieged Oct. 1941 - June 1942) and Leningrad (besieged from Sept. 1941 to Jan. 1944). The order to the German forces was not to take Leningrad, but instead to starve its population (losses estimated at c.800,000). Dmitri Shostakovich composed the Lenngrad Symphony (Oct. 1942), in order to raise the spirit of the Leningraders to resist. In 1945 Leningrad was awarded the title "Hero City".

Crucial for the Soviet ability to stop the German juggernaut were a number of factors : the Russian winter which brought an end to the German offensives of 1941 and 1942, the brutality of the German occupation, but most importantly the Russian arms industry which produced robust tanks, practical Kalashnikov guns and artillery so precise that artillery shells hit right into German trenches, once their location was known. From December 1942 onward, the German and allied fatality rates on the Rusian front increased significantly. An attempt by the German army to stop the Soviet advance and to launch another German offensive was defeated in the Battle of Kursk (July 1943); by mid-1944 most of Soviet territory had been liberated by the Red Army.

Those who had collaborated with the Germans or were suspected of having done so were treated harshly; some of the Ukrainians who had fought alongside the Germans, upon surrendering to the British in Carinthia in 1945, when informed that they were to be sent in train waggons to the U.S.S.R., committed suicide rather than facing Stalin's revenge. The entire population of the Crimean Tatars was deported to Soviet Central Asia.
German P.O.W.s were sent to Soviet labour camps, where many of them died of starvation, disease, the cold or of being overworked; Stalin regarded this treatment as payback for the German treatment of Soviet P.O.W.s and forced labour. The last German P.O.W.s returned in 1955 (in many cases, without having been allowed to correspond with their families).
Soviet forces, when occupying German territory in 1945, sent a number of Germans into Soviet territory (forced labour). The U.S.S.R. was espcially keen to get a hold of German weapons technology engineers, who were treated as 'guests' of the U.S.S.R. and were instrumntal in developing the Soviet space technology, in improving their aircraft industry etc.

The U.S.S.R. remained a society where everybody was supervised. While western societies treat suspects as innocent until proven guilty, in the U.S.S.R. suspicion of illoyalty toward the Soviet system alone justified state action against the individual and his family.
Soviet population losses in World War II are estimated at 20,000,000. Much of her European territory was devastated by three years of German occupation, the Jewish population of the occupied territory, to the most part, exterminated.

REFERENCE Richard Overy, Russia's War. A History of the Soviet War Effort 1941-1945, NY : Penguins 1998 [G]
Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms. A Global History of World War II, Cambridge : UP 1994 [G]
The Invasion of Russia ff., in : Jasper H. Stembridge, The Oxford War Atlas Volume II, 1 September 1941 to 1 January 1943, Oxford : UP 1943 [G]
Article : USSR, in : Statesman's Year Book 1943 pp.1222-1263 G]
Article : Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, in : New International Year Book Events of 1940 pp.749-754, 1941 pp.668-675, 1942 pp.698-703, 1943 pp.652-659, 1944 pp.633-641, 1945 pp.613-619 [G]
Article : Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, in : Funk & Wagnall's New Standard Encyclopedia Year Book 1940 pp.509-512, 1941 pp.479-483, 1942 pp.454-457, 1943 pp.450-453, 1944 pp.387-393 [G]
Article : Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, in : Americana Annual 1940 pp.779-787, 1943 pp.722-730, 1944 pp.695-701, 1945 pp.709-716 [G]
Article : Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, in : Britannica Book of the Year 1944 pp.706-711 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted June 17th 2008

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