Lecture of Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick “Back to the Motherland” (VIDEO)
On October 4 Sheila Fitzpatrick gave a lecture on her current research project entitled “Back to the Motherland: Why Some Soviet “Displaced Persons” Chose to Return after the Second World War”.
In terms of existing scholarship, a lot about is known about forced repatriation of DPs to Soviet Union after Second World War, but very little is known about voluntary return in the period from 1949-1952. She found remarkable documents about some 400 returning DPs in GARF (“Golikov agency” or Fond Upravleniia upolnomochennogo Soveta Ministrov SSSR po delam repatriacii). Professor Fitzpatrick analyzed interviews of those who first spent several years in DP camps and then decided to return in 1949-1952.
In assessing why these clearly a minority of repatriates chose to return she observed case studies of their experiences in the late 1940s, including their r experience abroad, and also their anticipation of reuniting with family at home.
She identified the main institutions involved in voluntary return as “the Golikov agency”, SWAG, of Soviet Consulates and Embassies. On the whole, a small number: 41000 (out of 500,000) DPs chose to return. The majority from Eastern Europe (then Soviet dominated countries), and only 9000 came from Allied zones.
Professor Fitzpatrick divided repatriates into the following groups:
- Forced laborers
- Former prisoners of War
- Other military: Anders Army, First Polish army and Second Polish Army
- Women who had married foreigners. They and their children were welcome to come back; curiously, their husbands were not, and had to apply through formal channels.
Fitzpatrick, one of the most distinguished historians of the Russian Revolution and Stalinist regime, assessed the nature of her sources: the interview conducted not to judge or even debrief DPs, but to collect information on IRO and other DPs who might be persuaded to return. Thus DP’s eхperiences abroad was incidental in the interview, but the historical sources were rich, anyway, with life stories which the DPs insisted on telling. Professor Fitzpatrick gave examples of fascinating life stories of some repatriates; she noted that of course, one cannot check the veracity of these stories.
The main reasons to return were associated with rejoining family and economic factors (unemployment, resettlement to other countries rarely being an option for the middle aged DPs). Those who agreed to Soviet offers of voluntary repatriation knew all the risks but they were prepared to run them in the hope of being reunited with family and returning to their familiar culture.
The lecture was followed by lengthy question and answer session, and one student studying for an MA at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences in the History of Soviet Civilization program asked for practical advice for future historians. Professor Fitzpatrick suggested to explore the questions that have not previously been investigated very often or thoroughly, for example, after having examined social history for so long, she now advised students to study the political history and political economy of the Soviet Union, which deserves more attention than it has received.