To the Tashkent Station

To the Tashkent Station: Evacuation and Survival in the Soviet Union at War

Rebecca Manley
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    To the Tashkent Station
    Book Description:

    In summer and fall 1941, as German armies advanced with shocking speed across the Soviet Union, the Soviet leadership embarked on a desperate attempt to safeguard the country's industrial and human resources. Their success helped determine the outcome of the war in Europe. To the Tashkent Station brilliantly reconstructs the evacuation of over sixteen million Soviet civilians in one of the most dramatic episodes of World War II.

    Rebecca Manley paints a vivid picture of this epic wartime saga: the chaos that erupted in towns large and small as German troops approached, the overcrowded trains that trundled eastward, and the desperate search for sustenance and shelter in Tashkent, one of the most sought-after sites of refuge in the rear. Her story ends in the shadow of victory, as evacuees journeyed back to their ruined cities and broken homes. Based on previously unexploited archival collections in Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, To the Tashkent Station offers a novel look at a war that transformed the lives of several generations of Soviet citizens. The evacuation touched men, women, and children from all walks of life: writers as well as workers, scientists along with government officials, party bosses, and peasants. Manley weaves their harrowing stories into a probing analysis of how the Soviet Union responded to and was transformed by World War II.

    Over the course of the war, the Soviet state was challenged as never before. Popular loyalties were tested, social hierarchies were recast, and the multiethnic fabric of the country was subjected to new strains. Even as the evacuation saved countless Soviet Jews from almost certain death, it spawned a new and virulent wave of anti-Semitism. This magisterial work is the first in-depth study of this crucial but neglected episode in the history of twentieth-century population displacement, World War II, and the Soviet Union.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5900-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Note on Translation and Transliteration
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    In the fall of 1941, the Polish writer Aleksander Wat, recently released from confinement in a Soviet prison, made his way east across the vast expanses of the Soviet Union. In his memoirs, he depicts a railway station en route: “I saw a striking image of suffering there. . . . All of Russia was on the move . . . peasant men and women, whole families, middle-class people, workers, intellectuals, all on the miserable floor of the train station.”¹ Wat described the scene as an expression of “Russian nomadism.”² Those en route, however, were not traditional Russian migrants. Nor,...

  7. 1 Conceiving Evacuation: From Refugee to Evacuee
    (pp. 7-23)

    Population displacement has been a perennial feature of war. In the lands of the former Russian Empire, as elsewhere, successive wars have wrought successive waves of people on the move. One need think only of the flight from Moscow in 1812, immortalized by Tolstoy in his epic War and Peace, to appreciate that wartime population displacement is not a purely twentieth-century phenomenon. Tolstoy’s depiction of Muscovites quitting their homes during the Napoleonic Wars resonates with the contemporary reader in part because the scene is so familiar. For Russians living through World War II, it was eerily so. Almost a century...

  8. 2 The Official Mind of Evacuation: Policy in the Wake of the Invasion
    (pp. 24-47)

    In late June 1941, as German forces penetrated deep into Soviet territory, Nikolai Dubrovin, a top-ranking official in the Commissariat of Transportation, was dispatched on a research expedition. He had been appointed to a newly established council responsible for “directing the evacuation of the population, institutions, military and other transports, factory equipment and other valuables.”¹ As Dubrovin recalled many years later, however, “we didn’t have concrete, well-developed evacuation plans in case of an unfavorable course of events. . . . On orders from higher up we searched the archives and the libraries of Moscow, including the Lenin State Library, to...

  9. 3 Evacuations in Practice
    (pp. 48-76)

    In early July 1941, a former official of the Minsk regional party committee (obkom) wrote to Stalin, asserting that the “evacuation [of Minsk] . . . took place in such a disorganized fashion that one is forced to reflect, and pose the question, why did it happen this way?” According to the former official, “until 10 p.m. on the evening of the twenty-fourth, nobody knew that the city was to be evacuated. Even we, responsible members of the obkom, did not know.” At ten that evening a selection of party secretaries and other leading workers “got in their cars” and...

  10. 4 Popular Responses
    (pp. 77-118)

    Reflecting on her experiences during the war, Irina Ehrenburg observed: “The perspective of evacuation revealed the division in the population. Many civilians were not at all determined to depart. To the contrary, they were waiting for the Germans, were persuaded that the invaders would save the country.”¹ Lydia Osipova, one of Ehrenburg’s contemporaries, echoed her assessment. In a diary entry of mid-August 1941, Osipova, a resident of one of Leningrad’s suburbs, recorded that the “boundary between ‘defeatists’ and ‘patriots’ has taken shape with unusual precision. The patriots strive to evacuate themselves as quickly as possible, while the others, like us,...

  11. 5 The Journey East
    (pp. 119-147)

    “All of Russia was on the move,” Aleksander Wat recalled.¹ In city after city, settlement after settlement, residents took leave of their homes, their things, their former lives. The daughter of the poet Dmitrii Kedrin later recalled how “Mama distributed our things among neighbors and friends: to one—the wardrobe, to another—the tea kettle and wash basin, to another—our room. Taking only the most necessary items, we departed for the Kazan station.”² They were embarking, as Sergei Eisenstein put it, on a journey into the “unknown.”³

    There was no more emblematic point of departure for the journey into...

  12. 6 Survival on the Tashkent Front
    (pp. 148-195)

    “I am going to Tashkent,” Maria Belkina, recently evacuated from Moscow, wrote to her husband en route. “That’s it . . . I am beginning a new life, without illusions and hopes.”¹ For Belkina, as for others, the journey into evacuation was a time of anxious contemplation. Those heading east pondered what the “new life” held in store. Georgii Efron, likewise en route to Tashkent, was tormented by questions, which he duly recorded in his diary: “What will I do in Asia? . . . What will it be like?” As his train approached the Uzbek capital, his companions were...

  13. 7 “Our War” in Tashkent
    (pp. 196-237)

    Olga Boltianskaia, describing the difficult living conditions in Tashkent in her diary, reflected: “but none of this is as terrible as the fact that thanks to a handful of maniacs the world has been plunged into blood and misery.”¹ While the difficulties of daily life weighed heavily on evacuees, they did not lose sight of the larger tragedy of which they were a part. Evacuees were anything but indifferent to the war. Indeed, the war years witnessed a surge in popular patriotism, even among those who had reason to be suspicious of the state. Emblematic in this regard are the...

  14. 8 The Return
    (pp. 238-269)

    “Everyone is leaving Tashkent, one after another,” Nadezhda Mandelstam observed in the fall of 1943.¹ The city was indeed, in Tatiana Lugovskaia’s words, “emptying out,”² so much so that Anna Akhmatova reported in a letter of late September that “everyone has left Tashkent.”³ The “evaco-interlude” was drawing to a close. By the fall of 1943, the fortunes of war had shifted. The Red Army had halted its long retreat and was now on the offensive. Tashkent, like other Soviet cities, was abuzz with news of liberation. Evacuees began to pack their bags.

    The reevacuation began as a trickle in 1942...

  15. Conclusion: The Memory and Meaning of Evacuation
    (pp. 270-274)

    Several years ago, the distinguished Russian filmmaker Samarii Zelikin set about making a documentary on the evacuation. To his surprise and that of his coproducer, there were, as yet, no films on the topic, “however strange it may seem.”¹ Despite a long-standing cult of the war in the Soviet Union and its successor states, only a handful of books had examined the evacuation. Compared with the thousands of works published on the war, the evacuation has been singularly neglected. As an article about Zelikin’s film put it, “over the course of the almost sixty years since Victory Day, the words...

  16. Index
    (pp. 275-282)