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The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities

Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota

Conquest, Robert. The Soviet Deportation of Nationalities. London England: Macmillian & Co., Ltd., 1960.


This is a thin but powerful book about the national groups of people living in South Russia who, in the 1940s, were systematically rounded up, loaded onto railroad boxcars, and sent to Siberia, to Kazakhstan, and other points north and east. The groups deported en masse were first the Volga Germans in 1941, the Karachi and Kalmycks in 1943, and then the Chechans, the Ingushi, and the Crimean Tatars in 1944. It felt strange to be reading about the deportation of the Chechans, whom I had never heard of before, at the time the Russian invasion of Chechnia was hot in the news in 1994. The deported groups included most people living in the area of the Crimea and north Caucusus, whether Moslem or Christian.

In a chilling vignette, he tells about how NKVD (secret police) agents would enter a community several weeks before the deportation to get the feeling of the area. Then they would surround a village, read a decree, and give the people a brief time to gather food and clothing and appear at a place where Studebaker trucks, given as a stimulus to economic development through the US lend-lease program, would take them to trains. A map in the book (which I have seen reprinted elsewhere) shows where these people were deported to.

Because Conquest is a professional scholar, he draws more from official sources than from personal stories. He notes such as the "secret" speech by Nikita Khrushchev that acknowledged the error of the deportations, and the documents that released the Germans as prisoners in the 1950s but did not allow them to return to their former homes. Most of the other groups were given identifiable areas to return to. Ivan Alexandrovich Serov, the man who masterminded the deportations, received an important award, the Order of Suvorov First Class, and Conquest can find no indication that it was ever rescinded.

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