The Russian Way

The Punished Peoples: The Deportation and Fate of Soviet Minorities at the End of the Second World War

by Aleksandr M. Nekrich, translated by George Saunders
Norton, 238 pp., $10.95

Dr. Nekrich, until he left the USSR in 1976, worked as a senior research scholar at the Institute of History of the Soviet Academy of Sciences. In 1965, his work on the outbreak of the war between the USSR and Germany, entitled June 22, 1941, was published by the Academy, and subsequently translated into English and other languages. Its general theme was the lack of preparation for the war for which not only Stalin but the Communist Party and the government were held to blame.

One would have thought, from the record of the Red Army in the early stages after the invasion, that this was pretty obvious. One would also have thought that the Soviet authorities would have been satisfied with the reflection that the universally acknowledged magnificent performance which the armed forces and the entire population put up after recovering from the initial setbacks were enough to satisfy wounded national pride. But that is not the way that Soviet authorities behave. Having allowed the book to be published, they had second thoughts about it, although its appearance had been not only authorized but indeed sponsored by the Academy of Sciences.

So, in typical manner, a conference was summoned in the Institute of Marxism-Leninism and a great debate was held in which the frightened and sycophantic fellow scholars of Dr. Nekrich duly condemned the book—most, but not all. A number of courageous voices were raised from those who had served in the armed forces and had witnessed the shambles of the preliminary phase of the war. A full account of this meeting reached London, and was published in Survey in April 1967, and attracted a good deal of attention.

This did not help Dr. Nekrich. The book was banned and copies destroyed in libraries—except for those in the “Special Sectors.” Dr. Nekrich was expelled from the Party, but left in his job. However, he was not allowed to publish, but was allowed to leave the Soviet Union. He brought with him a manuscript in draft which formed the basis of this book, which he completed while holding a fellowship at the Russian Research Center at Harvard.

The story of the brutal rounding up and deportation to Central Asia, Kazakhstan, and Siberia of some one million of small peoples from the Caucasus and the Crimea for allegedly collaborating with the Germans is the subject of The Punished Peoples. It was first told by Robert Conquest in The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities, published in 1960. This was an excellent piece of research, and indeed Dr. Nekrich acknowledges his debt to it. But Dr. Nekrich has been able to expand the grim story of these deportations—during which thousands died—in two respects, on the basis of information to which he had access while working in the USSR. He was able to use the results of detailed and important research which its authors were not allowed to publish, and which has remained either in manuscript or in the form of …

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