Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Soviet “displaced persons” in Europe, 1941–1951
by Janco, Andrew Paul, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2012, 389; 3513670
Abstract (Summary)

Soviet citizens were the single largest population displaced by the Second World War. However, Soviet DPs are largely unmentioned in histories of the postwar "displaced persons." This is partially because of the highly successful postwar repatriation campaign. By February 1946, 95% of displaced Soviet citizens had returned home to the USSR. This was possible, in part, because Soviet citizens genuinely wanted to return home and also because force was used to ensure repatriation. Once identified as Soviet, DPs were transferred to special repatriation camps under direct Soviet authority.

Those that did not wish to be repatriated were forced to assume alternative non-Soviet identities or to remain outside the UN camps. These individuals claimed to be Polish, Latvian or "stateless." Living on their own, Soviet "non-returners" lived in the forests or rented rooms from German farmers. Because they remained largely outside the purview of the Allied forces and UN, the experiences of Soviet "non-returners" are largely unknown.

This dissertation is a history of Soviet "displaced persons." It begins with their displacement during World War II. Nearly three million Soviet POWs and civilians were taken into Nazi Germany to work as forced laborers. Others were enlisted in volunteer units that worked for the military. The failure to capture Stalingrad in 1942-1943 led to a prolonged retreat by German forces from Soviet territories. During this withdrawal, tens of thousands of Soviet citizens were taken west into Europe.

Rather than treating this displacement as either forced or voluntary, I discuss displacement as a process, which is composed of multiple migratory events. Given that postwar "displaced persons" share a wide diversity of wartime experiences, this earlier history is often excluded from DP histories. By dividing the process of displacement into specific migratory events it is possible to analyze the diversity of wartime movements and their selective effects on migrant populations.

After the war, displaced civilians were placed in military "assembly centers." The initial registration of DPs was based on one's claimed nationality. No proof of identity was required, making it possible for large numbers of Soviet DPs to become "Polish" or "stateless" in UN statistics. Allied personnel followed an inconsistent "field policy" in regard to forced repatriation and even assisted Soviet citizens that did not want to return home. Aware of these efforts to misidentify DPs, Soviet officers inspected camps, compiled lists of suspected Soviet citizens and fought for their return. They actively pursued anti-Soviet DPs as collaborators in the hope that others would return home if "fascist" influence could be countered. Except in cases of voluntary return, these efforts were largely unsuccessful.

In late 1946, it became possible for Soviet DPs to become refugees. Refugee status created a "stateless" person who could then travel outside Europe using papers issued by the IRO. While Soviet delegates at the UN argued for the preservation of prewar conventions, American and British delegates introduced a new definition of refugees as victims of persecution. After extensive negotiations, this definition was entered into the constitution of the International Refugee Organization in December 1946. Thereafter, it was possible for Soviet DPs to claim asylum as refugees and to resettle outside Europe.

In sum, approximately 100,000 Soviet DPs were able to escape from forced repatriation. The history of this group lends important insights into the active role played by "displaced persons" as they interacted with aid agencies, military officials and the UN.

Whether living without documents or using a false identity in the camps, Soviet "non-returners" lived outside the law. Because Soviet DPs were forced outside legality, their history illuminates several important aspects of the postwar refugee crisis. First of all, not all "displaced persons" registered with the UN. A significant population of undocumented DPs lived in postwar Europe. Additionally, a large component of DPs, as much as one third, did not live in the camps. These "free-living" DPs lived and worked independently. Finally, the IRO did not resettle a substantial number of registered IRO refugees.

These findings suggest the need for a reevaluation of the postwar history of "displaced persons." While the Allied forced and UNRRA attempted to manage the postwar refugee crisis, they often met resistance from "displaced persons" who were not eager to see themselves as victims in need.

This study, unlike works that highlight the isolation of "displaced persons" from surrounding societies and their dependence on the UN for assistance, records the active role played by DPs as they traveled in search of family, sought employment and general well-being. DPs manipulated their identities to join communities or to evade forced repatriation. They negotiated social and political categories in ways that met their self-interest. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fitzpatrick, Sheila
Commitee: Geyer, Michael, Suny, Ronald
School: The University of Chicago
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 73/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: European history, Ethnic studies, Russian history
Keywords: Displaced persons, Refugees, Soviet Union
Publication Number: 3513670
ISBN: 978-1-267-44067-9
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