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Remobilizing the Dead: Wartime and Postwar Soviet Burial Practices and the Construction of the Memory of the Great Patriotic War

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Robert DaleORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Slavica Publishers, 2021.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Exploring the memory of the Great Patriotic War presents difficult methodological problems for historians. Since the war’s end, over seventy years ago, numerous layers of official and popular myth have accrued around the narrative and meaning of the Soviet Union’s remarkable victory. By exploring the complexities of a multi-layered Soviet war memories, this article serves as a corrective to misunderstandings about the development of war memory. This article seeks to explore concerns about the upkeep of Soviet graves and the appropriate treatment of the war dead during the war (1941–1945) and in the first post-war decade (1945–55). It explores both the conditions in which Soviet citizens, especially serving soldiers, were buried during the war, and the subsequent attempts to consolidate and bring order to burial sites in its wake. It focuses on three key pieces of post-war legislation intended to protect and preserve war memorials and soldiers’ graves, passed in February 1946, October 1948, and September 1950. Drafts of these laws and periodic investigations into their implementation provide a damming picture of the state of the memorial landscape. The article argues that the widespread neglect of military cemeteries and soldiers’ graves offers important insights into the dynamics of the memory of the Great Patriotic War. Although the party-state sought to ensure that the war dead were appropriately commemorated, many sections of Soviet society wished to remember the war on their own terms, if not forget it altogether. Only towards the end of the period examined here, following Stalin’s death in March 1953 and the beginning of a cultural thaw, did campaigns to bring order to military cemeteries and collective graves gradually gain traction. If memorializing the war dead was a sacred duty, it was one that many late Stalinist citizens were unable or unwilling to fulfil.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Dale R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History

Year: 2021

Volume: 22

Issue: 1

Pages: 41-73

Online publication date: 12/03/2021

Acceptance date: 14/11/2019

Date deposited: 14/11/2019

ISSN (print): 1531-023X

ISSN (electronic): 1538-5000

Publisher: Slavica Publishers


DOI: 10.1353/kri.2021.0002


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