This book, aimed to reintegrate WWII into the social, cultural and political history of the Soviet Union, sheds light on the evacuation of populations from the western parts of the USSR (the Baltic, Belorussia, Ukraine) and Russia (especially Moscow and Saint-Petersburg) from the beginning of the German invasion in June 1941 to the autumn of the next year. This process touched approximately 16.5 millions of Soviet citizens routed in eight different Soviet republics, among which the Uzbek SSR. Focussing on the respective viewpoints of the state, of the administration, and of the evacuees (with exclusion of the vernacular vision of the things), the author has based her work on a wide archive material: from a variety of central state archives in Uzbekistan and in Russia (RGASPI, GARF, RGAE), from central military archives (RGVA), as well as from regional and city archives (Odessa, Tashkent, Volgograd, Moscow, and St. Petersburg), and numerous personal diaries. Her book is divided into eight chapters, chronologically organised. The author first deals with the preparation to war during the 1920s and 1930s (chap. 1); with the launching of the evacuation policy (the administrative apparatus, the populations and regions concerned, the role of the NKVD) in the immediate aftermath of the invasion (chap. 2); with the practice of evacuations (the “escape” of officials, the self-evacuation, the problem of the severance of railway lines and of the subsequent panic, etc.) in chapter 3, as well as the reactions stemming from this situation (riots against the factories’ displacement, rise of anti-Semitism, etc.). She also studies the state of mind among those populations affected by evacuation (chap. 4): Some doubted of the Germans’ atrocities as they were denounced by Soviet propaganda, considering that the invasion would mark the end of the Communist regime, or regarded the process of evacuation as a new form of deportation equivalent to “Ezhov days.” On the opposite, some believed in the final victory of the USSR and stayed in besieged cities. The war, in a sense, facilitated reconciliation with the regime, even for many women whose husbands had been killed during the Terror years.
The journey usually began at the Kazan station of Moscow (chap. 5), from which trains departed for the Volga, the Urals, Kazakhstan and Middle Asia. The station was place of accumulation of masses of people, up to 20,000 within a day, all waiting for tickets. A place of separation, chaos and patronage, the station was also a place of loss: Ilia Ehrenburg lost there the manuscript of the third part of The Fall of Paris; Dmitrii Shostakovich was temporary deprived of his unfinished Seventh Symphony, the manuscript score of which was found the day after. At the very beginning of the war, neither Tashkent nor the Uzbek SSR was designated by the Council for Evacuation as sites for reception of evacuees. In early July 1941, Soviet authorities could hardly imagine that Central Asian republics would be required for settlements. The initial reception sites were the central oblast’s of Saratov, Tambov, Ryazan and Penza, although Siberia, Kazakhstan and the Urals had quickly appeared in evacuation plans. However, after the collapse of the front, the Uzbek SSR and its capital became important centres of organised evacuation for factories, enterprises or scientific and cultural institutions (the Academy of Sciences, the Moscow State Jewish Theatre, the film-studios, etc.). Tashkent’s appeal for evacuees was indisputable, and the city entered Soviet citizens’ imagination as a land of plenty and a place of refuge untouched by the ravages of the war (even if they could also complain, once the city had been reached, about the inhospitable climate). Some of the evacuees could directly quote A. Neverov’s Tashkent, City of Bread, a popular novel written in the early 1920s about the travel of a young boy who flew the famine of 1921 in the Volga region. Survival on the ‘Tashkent front’ (chap. 6) was particularly harsh, with the problems of registration (propiska), of food supplies, with the forcible removal of local residents with a suspect background, of the unemployed or of people of German ascent, with the diseases (typhus, tuberculosis. . .) and death due to the poor living conditions and sanitary standards. Children were making up substantial percentage of those evacuated (approximately 40% of the registered evacuees by December 1, 1941) and they were taken in charge by special institutions, even if conditions remained extremely poor and pushed many children to flee to take their chance in the street.
Indeed life continued in Tashkent, where cultural and scientific élites like Aleksei Tolstoi (author of the historical drama Ivan the Terrible), Anna Akhmatova and many others contributed both to the patriotic output and to a literary production benefiting from more freedom of creation, even if censorship remained tight. The city became a symbol of the “Friendship of peoples,” where evacuated Russian and Jewish artists began to collaborate with native artists, a place where linguists and historians became interested in Uzbek language and literary traditions like those of Central Asian epics. However, language barriers constituted a real impediment to meaningful social interaction between the evacuees and the local population (chap. 7). One can be only surprised by the absence of the Uzbek population in the memoirs, diaries and letters of many evacuees. When they are mentioned, it is through evidence of tensions: Many evacuees were feeling detested by locals, who gave the impression to consider them “importunate indigents,” and members of the intelligentsia feared the Uzbeks, expecting a bloodbath or slaughters against Russians and Jews (anti-Semitism was strong, and it had taken a new shape with the Nazi invasion). Ethnic tensions could be observed between locals and newcomers, as well as within the evacuee population itself. However, the period of evacuation was short (chap. 8): the re-evacuation began slowly in 1942 and accelerated dramatically in 1943-44. The return went with another bureaucratic odyssey. Its rapidity varied according to many circumstances, and gave way to alternatives like “spontaneous re-evacuation”. If the travel back was often easier than the initial evacuation, the arrival was often unpleasant: When houses had not been destroyed, they were often damaged and sometimes occupied, a situation that obliged owners and pre-war tenants to reclaim their apartment and to get embroiled in a “flat war” that would take months.
Rarely investigated, the theme of the evacuation as it has been analysed here by R. Manley offers a very interesting insight into the social history of the Soviet regime during the war, its success in mobilising both resources and popular support, the fragility and limits of the system and the complexity of social and ethnic interactions in Tashkent ― although it would have been also interesting to consider the vernacular, Uzbek viewpoint, a lasting absent of the history of the USSR. This reserve notwithstanding, the book provides a significant contribution to history of WWII and its consequences in Central Asia, a topic still unstudied in Western scholarship.