Title: Life after war: The demobilization and post-war adjustment of Red Army veterans in Leningrad and the Leningrad region, 1944-1950
Name: Robert Dale
History Department
Queen Mary, University of London
Year: 2010
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary:

This project examines the demobilization and post-war adjustment of Red Army veterans in Leningrad and its environs between 1944 and 1950. It studies the difficult transition from war to peace made by over 300,000 soldiers demobilized in this region. The war on the Eastern Front between 1941 and 1945 was amongst the most violent examples of industrialised total warfare. Mass death, destruction and extreme violence cast a dark shadow over post-war Soviet society. The situation in post-war Leningrad was particularly bleak. Few cities confronted a greater wartime loss of life, or legacy as traumatic. The region was far from an ideal environment in which to demobilize veterans. Few could rely on returning to their homes, jobs and families. Despite this in July 1945 veterans began flooding home. Their path to civilian life was more challenging than they could ever have imagined.

The research explores the enormous political, social, economic and cultural challenge of reintegrating the influx of former soldiers into a war-ravaged society. It addresses two principal questions: how, and how successfully, were veterans reintegrated into civilian society after 1945. It concentrates upon six thematic areas: the demobilisation process, veterans responses to housing shortages, the difficulties of finding employment, issues of health, disability and trauma, the relationship between veterans and criminality and how veterans political attitudes were shaped by war and demobilization. These issues provide the framework for assessing the progress Leningrads veterans made in becoming civilians, and reveals the continuing impact violence had upon combatants.

Throughout history societies have found turning soldiers back into civilians difficult. Yet Soviet propaganda celebrated demobilization as a smooth process reuniting veterans with their families, reintegrating them into the workforce, and facilitating upwards social mobility. Ex-servicemen were presented as exemplary citizens, who became the bedrock of post-war society, and who were ideally equipped for the challenges of reconstruction. Returning veterans, however, were struck by the disparity between patriotic myths and the reality of their lives. Based on extensive original research in local and national archives, detailed study of journals and newspapers, and oral history interviews my research peels back the multiple layers of myth woven around demobilization in Leningrad to reveal a history repressed by wider society and concealed from official historiography.

Problems abounded. Wartime service was not an agent of social mobility. In the immediate wake of war Leningrads veterans were, by and large, not the beneficiaries of enhanced opportunities. The reality of veterans experiences of housing and employment challenges the notion that veterans were a privileged social group. Inefficiencies and corruption in distribution mechanisms generated great resentment. But, these short-term disappointments were easier to cope with than the long-term physical and psychological effects of war. Veterans paid an enormous physical and emotional price for victory. Minds and bodies had to be sacrificed for the cause. Patriotic myths suggested that Red Army veterans were immune to psychological trauma. Yet some veterans were traumatised by their wartime experiences. Although, trauma was routinely ignored by doctors and social security officials, it manifested itself in a range of aberrant behaviour. Veterans disorientation and dislocation, anger, resentment, drinking and disruptive behaviour could also to be ascribed to the traumatic effects of war. Veterans, then, were not always ideal citizens. A minority unable or unwilling to adapt to ordinary life drifted towards vagrancy, speculation, illicit trade or criminal gangs. Others unable to demobilise their minds were accused of anti-Soviet agitation. Accustomed to the relative freedom on the frontlines they fell victim to a post-war tightening of public expression and state repression. Assertive free-thinking soldiers were all very well for winning wars, but post-war realities demanded different behaviour.

Despite the obstacles faced by Leningrads veterans the overwhelming majority successfully navigated the transition to peace. Most managed to pick up the threads of their pre-war lives relatively quickly. But, even when veterans successfully readjusted the war had a profound and lasting impact on their lives. Many veterans felt that the war was never truly over.

Bibliography: Robert Dale, Rats and Resentment: The Demobilization of the Red Army in Post-war Leningrad, 1945-50, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol.45, No.1 (January 2010), 113-33.