The Great War in Russian Memory

The Great War in Russian Memory

by Karen Petrone
     
 

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Karen Petrone shatters the notion that World War I was a forgotten war in the Soviet Union. Although never officially commemorated, the Great War was the subject of a lively discourse about religion, heroism, violence, and patriotism during the interwar period. Using memoirs, literature, films, military histories, and archival materials, Petrone reconstructs Soviet

Overview

Karen Petrone shatters the notion that World War I was a forgotten war in the Soviet Union. Although never officially commemorated, the Great War was the subject of a lively discourse about religion, heroism, violence, and patriotism during the interwar period. Using memoirs, literature, films, military histories, and archival materials, Petrone reconstructs Soviet ideas regarding the motivations for fighting, the justification for killing, the nature of the enemy, and the qualities of a hero. She reveals how some of these ideas undermined Soviet notions of military honor and patriotism while others reinforced them. As the political culture changed and war with Germany loomed during the Stalinist 1930s, internationalist voices were silenced and a nationalist view of Russian military heroism and patriotism prevailed.

Editorial Reviews

Choice

"This important book radically alters understanding of the Russian and Sovet responses to WWI during the interwar period and up to 1945... The book deserves a wide readership.... Highly recommended." —Choice

www.wwiindex.blogspot.com
"[This book] has... the merit of being an important contribution in intergrating Soviet WWI memories into the history of European war representation, without underestimating the peculiarities of Russian history and culture." —wwiindex.blogspot.com
H-Net Reviews in the Humanities & Social Sciences

"Petrone's achievement in this important book is to have set a convincing benchmark for a discussion that will run for many years. H-Memory" —H-Net Reviews in the Humanities & Social Sciences

Jay Winter

"Karen Petrone’s book is at one and the same time a major contribution to the history of Russia and to the history of the Great War. By placing the cultural history of Russia in a European perspective of mass mourning and selective remembrance, Petrone has managed to help ‘Russify’ the way the history of the First World War and its aftermath is configured. Here is cultural history at its best." —Jay Winter, Yale University

Peter Gatrell

"An original work of serious scholarship.... Petrone engages with a flourishing literature on the cultural consequences of the First World War." —Peter Gatrell, author of A Whole Empire Walking

Joshua A. Sanborn

"Petrone makes very important contributions not only to the field of Russian and Soviet history but to the field of World War I studies as well." —Joshua A. Sanborn, Lafayette College

N. M. Brooks

This important book radically alters understanding of the Russian and Soviet responses to WW I during the interwar period and up to 1945. Most scholars have believed until now that the response to WW I in Russia and the Soviet Union differed from that in the rest of Europe, and was muted or suppressed by the political leadership who wanted to focus attention on the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war of 1918-21. Petrone (Kentucky), however, persuasively argues that although the official Soviet response downplayed the impact of the war and did not establish an overarching mythic narrative of the war, there was a wide variety of public remembrances of the war because so many people were directly touched by it. The author skillfully analyzes films, graphic arts, novels, short stories, journalism, architecture, memoirs, paintings, museum exhibits, and many other expressions of people's memory of the war to demonstrate the main themes of this discourse as well as how it changed over time. The book deserves a wide readership. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. -- ChoiceN. M. Brooks, New Mexico State University, February 2012

wwiindex.blogspot.com

"[This book] has... the merit of being an important contribution in intergrating Soviet WWI memories into the history of European war representation, without underestimating the peculiarities of Russian history and culture." —wwiindex.blogspot.com

American Historical Review

"Karen Petrone has devoted years to her project, producing a readable and compendious study that weaves its way through early Soviet culture, literature, and art with commendable determination. What results is a lively review of traces of imperial Russia's last great war, ranging from poetry to novels and posters to the (doomed) Moscow Military History Museum." —American Historical Review

Canadian Slavonic Papers

"Overall, this book offers a detailed and comprehensive survey of World War I discourse.... After reading The Great War in Russian Memory, there is little doubt that THE Russian experience of war merits closer study in a broader, European context." —Canadian Slavonic Papers

Journal of Contemporary History

"Was the memory of the Great War somehow reflected in the Soviet cult ofthe Second World War? These questions are merely an indication of how engagingand welcome Petrone’s book is. This is cultural history at its best." —Journal of Contemporary History

Slavic and East European Journal

"Professor Petrone has provided an important account of Russia's dealing with its forgotten war—which turns out to have been not so forgotten after all. Hopefully, this volume will lead to further studies of how World War I came to resonate in Russian cultural, historical and political memory." —Slavic and East European Journal

Slavic and East European Review

"Petrone has revealed new and fascinating lines of inquiry into an important topic. Indeed, she has reset the research agenda on Russian World War One memory, and future scholars will hereafter be following in her footsteps." —Slavic and East European Review

From the Publisher
"Was the memory of the Great War somehow reflected in the Soviet cult ofthe Second World War? These questions are merely an indication of how engagingand welcome Petrone’s book is. This is cultural history at its best." —Journal of Contemporary History

This important book radically alters understanding of the Russian and Soviet responses to WW I during the interwar period and up to 1945. Most scholars have believed until now that the response to WW I in Russia and the Soviet Union differed from that in the rest of Europe, and was muted or suppressed by the political leadership who wanted to focus attention on the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war of 1918-21. Petrone (Kentucky), however, persuasively argues that although the official Soviet response downplayed the impact of the war and did not establish an overarching mythic narrative of the war, there was a wide variety of public remembrances of the war because so many people were directly touched by it. The author skillfully analyzes films, graphic arts, novels, short stories, journalism, architecture, memoirs, paintings, museum exhibits, and many other expressions of people's memory of the war to demonstrate the main themes of this discourse as well as how it changed over time. The book deserves a wide readership. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. — ChoiceN. M. Brooks, New Mexico State University, February 2012

"[This book] has... the merit of being an important contribution in intergrating Soviet WWI memories into the history of European war representation, without underestimating the peculiarities of Russian history and culture." —wwiindex.blogspot.com

"The Great War in Russian Memory is an important addition to both the literature on World War I and Russian/Soviet historiography. It provides fertile ground for further research, which should aim to go beyond accepted paradigms about the European experience and examine how Russian memory became Soviet." —Laboratorium

"[T]his book serves as a timely and poignant reminder of this dark chapter in human history and reveals the dangers of ignoring history." —Bowling Green Daily News

"T]his excellent work of scholarship is a timely reminder of Russia’s participation in the Great War, connection to Europeanwide practices of memory and remembrance, and therefore deserves a place in future international commemorations of the Great War." —Europe-Asia Studies

"Karen Petrone has devoted years to her project, producing a readable and compendious study that weaves its way through early Soviet culture, literature, and art with commendable determination. What results is a lively review of traces of imperial Russia's last great war, ranging from poetry to novels and posters to the (doomed) Moscow Military History Museum." —American Historical Review

"[E]xcellent... Petrone's work [is]... an invaluable contribution to understanding how those who shaped the Red Army after 1917 saw the Great War and what it meant." —Journal of Slavic Military Studies

"[W]orld War I was not completely forgotten, but when one compares Russia to every other country, this book’s main contribution is its detailed confirmation of an incredible story of the near total elimination of public memory of the most traumatic historical event in Russian history in the entire century from 1815 to 1917." —The Russian Review

"An original work of serious scholarship.... Petrone engages with a flourishing literature on the cultural consequences of the First World War." —Peter Gatrell, author of A Whole Empire Walking

"Overall, this book offers a detailed and comprehensive survey of World War I discourse.... After reading The Great War in Russian Memory, there is little doubt that THE Russian experience of war merits closer study in a broader, European context." —Canadian Slavonic Papers

"Karen Petrone’s book is at one and the same time a major contribution to the history of Russia and to the history of the Great War. By placing the cultural history of Russia in a European perspective of mass mourning and selective remembrance, Petrone has managed to help ‘Russify’ the way the history of the First World War and its aftermath is configured. Here is cultural history at its best." —Jay Winter, Yale University

"[An] illuminating and refreshing book." —New Books in Russia and Eurasia

"Petrone makes very important contributions not only to the field of Russian and Soviet history but to the field of World War I studies as well." —Joshua A. Sanborn, Lafayette College

"Petrone's achievement in this important book is to have set a convincing benchmark for a discussion that will run for many years." —H-Memory

"Petrone has revealed new and fascinating lines of inquiry into an important topic. Indeed, she has reset the research agenda on Russian World War One memory, and future scholars will hereafter be following in her footsteps." —Slavonic and East European Review

Europe-Asia Studies

"T]his excellent work of scholarship is a timely reminder of Russia’s participation in the Great War, connection to Europeanwide practices of memory and remembrance, and therefore deserves a place in future international commemorations of the Great War." —Europe-Asia Studies

The Russian Review

"[W]orld War I was not completely forgotten, but when one compares Russia to every other country, this book’s main contribution is its detailed confirmation of an incredible story of the near total elimination of public memory of the most traumatic historical event in Russian history in the entire century from 1815 to 1917." —The Russian Review

Bowling Green Daily News

"[T]his book serves as a timely and poignant reminder of this dark chapter in human history and reveals the dangers of ignoring history." —Bowling Green Daily News

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780253001443
Publisher:
Indiana University Press
Publication date:
07/14/2011
Series:
Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
408
File size:
4 MB

Read an Excerpt

The Great War in Russian Memory


By Karen Petrone

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2011 Karen Petrone
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35617-8



CHAPTER 1

Introduction · The Great War in Russian Memory


The Moscow City Fraternal Cemetery (also known as the All-Russian War Cemetery) was one of the most visible war memorials created in imperial Russia during World War I (figure 1.1). First proposed by the Grand Duchess Elisaveta Fedorovna, it was organized by prominent Moscow civic leaders and dedicated with great solemnity and fanfare in the village of Vsekhsviatskoe on the outskirts of Moscow on February 15, 1915. The architect of the cemetery, P. I. Klein, directly linked the site to civic, national, and patriotic goals: he hoped that "future generations will here learn love of the motherland and will carry away in their hearts the steadfast resolution to serve for the benefit of the fatherland." These national goals were to be realized through an Orthodox Christian religious idiom of memorialization. First a temporary chapel was erected at the cemetery in 1915; then the prominent architect A. V. Shchusev's memorial Church of the Transfiguration was consecrated three years later. The cemetery eventually held 17,500 dead from World War I, including Allied troops and enemy prisoners of war. After revolutionary disturbances began in 1917, ten thousand of the revolution's victims (both Reds and Whites) were also interred in the cemetery. Buried together with the World War I dead of several nations were revolutionaries killed by tsarist troops in March 1917, cadets from Moscow military schools who fought against the Bolsheviks in November 1917, Soviet Civil War commanders, and victims of the Red terror executed by the Soviet secret police.

Klein's hope that the site would instill patriotism in future generations was not fulfilled. In 1925 burials in the cemetery ceased, its administrative offices were closed, and it was turned into a park. Relatives of the dead no longer knew where to turn to request permission to repair graves or erect monuments, and gradually the graves began to "fall into decline and lose their inscriptions." Soon, no one knew where to find the graves of their relatives or of the revolutionary martyrs buried in the cemetery. openly abandoning their responsibility for the upkeep of the cemetery, Moscow city authorities enlisted the help of a voluntary organization, the old Moscow Society, to "take the graves of outstanding public figures under its protection." The society, which likely included relatives of those buried in the cemetery, protected the site to the best of its abilities. But, before it ceased meeting in 1929, when the Soviet government disbanded many voluntary societies, it had been unable to obtain 10,000 rubles from the Sokol district soviet to build a fence around the cemetery that would protect it from the students of a nearby school. Deprived of both civic and financial support, the cemetery was left to its fate.

Information about the destruction of the cemetery is shrouded in urban legend. According to the testimony of some local residents, the All-Russian War Cemetery was desecrated and "neighboring urchins ... played football with skulls that they dug up from the ground." The grave markers were supposedly destroyed in 1932 on Stalin's personal orders. In another account, it was the building of the Moscow metro that precipitated the cemetery's destruction, and afterward, the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) used the site to execute and bury victims of Stalin's purges. What is certain is that sometime in the 1930s or 1940s, the Church of the Transfiguration and all monuments and grave markers were demolished, with the exception of one.

The unique exception to this general destruction was a monument to Sergei Aleksandrovich Shlikhter, a Moscow University student who was wounded at Baranovichi on June 20, 1916, during the Brusilov offensive and died on June 25, 1916. The monument mixed the personal and the political. Inscribed on a sculpted stone tablet in new orthography was a quotation from his war diary: "How good is life. How good it is to live." On the base of the monument were also inscribed the words "To a victim of the imperialist war." While the first inscription pointed to the irony of war taking the life of this particular exuberant young man, the second inscription set Shlikhter's death within a Soviet anti-imperialist context. How can one explain the survival of this lone Sovietera monument to a "victim" of World War I, the last remaining physical evidence of war memory in the former territory of the Moscow cemetery?

The dead soldier was the son of Aleksandr Grigorievich Shlikhter, Soviet Russia's first People's Commissar of Provisioning in 1917 and later the vice president of the ukrainian Academy of Sciences. According to S. A. Shlikhter's nephew, the youth had joined the tsarist army against his revolutionary father's wishes. Sometime in the early Soviet period, Shlikhter honored his son with a monument carved by the famous sculptor S. D. Merkurov. When the cemetery was being destroyed, legend has it that Shlikhter lay on the gravestone and protested "You will have to destroy me as well." A more prosaic conjecture is that Merkurov's almost two-ton granite block was left by chance, because it was too heavy to move. Whether or not Shlikhter actually intervened in such a dramatic way to save his son's grave, this particular gravestone was preserved from the Stalin-era bulldozers and allowed to remain standing in the park, continuing to give voice to the tragedy of World War I (figure 1.2).

In the late 1940s, as Moscow expanded well beyond the boundaries of the former village of Vsekhsviatskoe, residential and commercial building began in earnest on the cemetery site, the area around today's Peschanaia Street. Urban legend tells us that the Leningrad Movie Theater was built in 1956 at the location of the Church of the Transfiguration. A portion of the All-Russian War Cemetery remained a park (Leningrad Park), but almost all of the cemetery's memorial features had disappeared. Soviet authorities had first adopted a utilitarian stance toward the memorial cemetery, burying its heroes and enemies indiscriminately. Later they practiced demolition of both tsarist and Soviet graves by neglect. And ultimately they almost, but not quite, erased the cemetery from the Moscow landscape.

The fate of the cemetery demonstrates a dramatic contrast between the Soviet Union and much of the rest of Europe. Between 1918 and 1939 Europeans built tens of thousands of World War I memorials. They engaged in intense cultural and political activity as they commemorated and reinterpreted the catastrophic events of the war, honored the dead, and connected the war to future political and social agendas. European opinion makers of all persuasions competed to define the war in ways that forwarded their particular social and political goals. At the same time, as local communities and millions of mourning families tried to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones, they constructed more intimate memorials and remembered the war in highly personal ways. As the successor state to the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union was unique among the combatants in the virtual absence of public commemoration of World War I at the level of the state, community, and civic organizations, or even individual mourning.

Scholars generally agree about this erasure of memory. Daniel Orlovsky has observed that the major scholarly works about European intellectual and social responses to World War I do not include "a single word about Russia and Russian memory about the fallen." This absence has largely been explained by the Soviet leaders' rejection of World War I (in contemporary Soviet terminology "the world war" or "the imperialist war") as an illegitimate imperialist war and their conscious refusal to commemorate the sacrifices of Russian soldiers and civilians in the service of the tsar. Peter Gatrell argued that the Bolsheviks "discouraged public reflection on the war as a compelling human struggle and did nothing to sustain its commemoration." Aaron Cohen showed that the marking of World War I anniversaries in the Soviet press contained "few depictions of the actions of individuals, the details of battles, the suffering of soldiers or civilians, or the experience of Russia and the Russians." And Richard Stites suggested that "the absence of a real historical memory [of World War I] in Russia" is "one of the many historical phenomena that have divided Russia from the West psychologically in our century." It is true that World War I, as an "illegitimate" and "imperialist" war, remained largely outside of official myths and on the margins of Soviet culture. The Soviet government generally ignored the war and instead poured its energies into creating a myth of the revolution, constructing Sovietness through a conscious process of forgetting imperial Russia's last war. The dead of World War I, according to Catherine Merridale, were displaced by "millions of more important bodies — red heroes of the civil war — for the new state to honor." While to some extent this is true, the example of the All-Russian War Cemetery suggests that even these Red heroes were only sporadically honored in an official Soviet milieu that was generally resistant to creating a cult of the dead. World War I was also pushed to the background of Soviet consciousness because of the much greater physical devastation of the Civil War, with a population loss nearly twice as great as that of World War I due to military engagements, general lawlessness, famine, and disease in the years 1918–1922. Personal commemoration of both World War I and Civil War dead was made extraordinarily difficult by the daily struggles for survival during the Civil War years, and few had the wherewithal to honor their own dead. There were a variety of reasons, then, both political and personal, why World War I receded from a central place in Soviet life.

Yet, I argue that the absence of official commemoration did not mean the absence of war memory itself. The 18.6 million men of the Russian Empire who had been in uniform during World War I, the families mourning the 2 million (or more) dead, the 5 million hospitalized for wounds or disease seeking to recover their health or learning to cope with their disfigurements, and the 5 million who endured the hardships of prisoner of war camps simply did not forget about their war experiences in the decades after World War I. The marginalization of World War I in Soviet culture and the lack of centralized mythmaking or official commemoration does not signify an absence of memory or the failure of Russians to see the war as a compelling human struggle. When one analyzes the broader discourse of World War I beyond the official press, one finds a complex and varied discussion of individual war experience. Remembrance of and reflection on World War I occurred quite regularly in Soviet interwar culture, even if World War I often appeared as mere "prelude" to the revolution or its foil. This book examines the myriad depictions of World War I to recover the Soviet discourse about the war that has hitherto remained largely outside of historical view.

Because analysts have tended to focus on "official" commemorations and pronouncements and have privileged the accounts of the "main attraction" of the revolution over extant sources about the "opening act" of World War I, they have often overlooked the considerable attention to World War I that emerged on the margins of Soviet culture. By excavating and analyzing this rich and complicated discourse at the margins, we can learn much about the centers of Soviet ideology and Soviet culture. In comparison to the other European combatant countries, the Soviet state maintained much tighter control over all cultural production and was much more active in shaping World War I discourse. But in spite of some state actors' conscious attempts to control, to marginalize, and in effect to "forget" certain interpretations of World War I, treatments of the war nonetheless addressed many aspects of war experience in candid, compelling, and sometimes subversive ways.

By Soviet World War I discourse, I mean all public and media representations of World War I during the interwar period including print, visual sources, music, commemorative practices, and public events and interactions. This book focuses broadly on this discourse to consider the implications of the absence of Soviet World War I "myths." In his groundbreaking study of World War I memory, George Mosse examined "the myth of the war experience," prominent especially in germany and other "defeated nations." In this myth, "the memory of the war was refashioned into a sacred experience which provided the nation with a new depth of religious feeling." Although the Russian Empire was "defeated," no such legitimating myth could emerge in a Soviet context.

My work explores Soviet understandings of World War I in a country where millions of individual memories and experiences of the war generally lacked an overarching mythic narrative within which they could be organized. In the Soviet union, there was not a singular and agreed upon World War I "memory." Without overarching myths to guide the process, the contest to construct or to obstruct cultural memory of World War I was far more fragmented and more open-ended than the creation of European World War I myths or the Soviet myths of the october revolution and civil War. Because this notion of contestation is central to my understanding of how all memory works, I see memory as "an outcome of the relationship between a distinct representation of the past and the full spectrum of symbolic representations available in a given culture." The relationships among such representations were constantly changing; by acknowledging that all memory is "unstable, plastic, synthetic, and repeatedly reshaped," I hope to provide insight into the ever-shifting contours of World War I memory and identify the forces behind its reshaping.

Various Soviet World War I memories gained or lost prominence in relation to other memories of World War I as well as in interactions with the dominant Soviet myths of the October Revolution and the Civil War. This notion of contest makes it imperative to define the creators of these distinct representations of the past. The actors engaged in the battles over World War I memory include individual writers, artists, historians, military theorists, and museum curators; the critics, publishers, and journalists who vetted their works; the government institutions that provided financial support for the production of the works; censorship agencies; and the readers/viewers who responded to the works. Mourners, clergy, civic organizations, and individual veterans or groups of veterans also engaged with various Soviet institutions in their efforts to carry out acts of remembrance that did not leave a literary or artistic trace. These acts are much harder to document, but nonetheless constitute an important component of World War I memory.

The marginalization of World War I was not accomplished by some kind of overarching directive from top Soviet authorities. Changes in the nature of World War I memory occurred over decades through thousands of individual bureaucratic, personal, or institutional contests in which memory of the war was both intentionally and unintentionally protected or undermined. Engaged in these contests to promote particular kinds of World War I remembrance were thousands of individuals, such as the members of the Old Moscow Society who donated their time to the upkeep of the All-Russian War Cemetery, A. G. Shlikhter, who may have fought to preserve his son's gravestone, and the military theorist A. A. Svechin, who was a prominent member of the Red Army's commission to study war experience in the early 1920s. Although the Old Moscow Society, which disappeared in 1929, and Svechin, who was shot as an enemy of the people in 1938, both ultimately failed in their efforts to promote their visions of World War I memory, their struggles are worthy of our attention. The lone gravestone left standing in the Moscow memorial cemetery is symbolic of the persistence of particular visions of World War I memory in spite of considerable efforts to destroy them.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Great War in Russian Memory by Karen Petrone. Copyright © 2011 Karen Petrone. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Karen Petrone is Associate Professor of History at the University of Kentucky. She is author of Life Has Become More Joyous, Comrades: Celebrations in the Time of Stalin (IUP, 2000) and editor (with Valerie Kivelson, Michael S. Flier, and Nancy Shields Kollmann) of The New Muscovite Cultural History: A Collection in Honor of Daniel B. Rowland.

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