Seth Bernstein: Across the Iron Curtain: The Repatriation of Soviet Citizens After WWII

Though World War II looms large in both the North American and European popular imaginations, the complex history of the post-WWII settlement has largely been erased from public memory. Indeed, for millions of people the end of the war was only the beginning of an uncertain future. A refugee crisis was brewing on the Eastern Front, which became a key factor in the birth of modern-day international humanitarian law. Moreover, many of those who had been caught up in the horrors of Nazi control in Eastern Europe now faced the prospect of being sent back across the Iron Curtain. The task of repatriating Soviet citizens grew into an enormous challenge for the Allies in the aftermath of the war.

This week on The Provocateur I am joined by Seth Bernstein, assistant professor of history at the Higher School of Economics (Moscow), to discuss the repatriation of Soviet citizens after WWII. We begin by talking about the Cold War perception of repatriation among Soviet writers, before zooming in on the experience of Soviet people in German-occupied Europe and the refugee crisis that followed the war. We also look at the role of the Allied war dead in the story and how the Soviets allowed them to be removed from Soviet Germany in exchange for the Allies permitting Soviet repatriation missions to enter the Allied side of Germany. Towards the end of the programme, we talk about the legacies of repatriation in the later 20th century up to the present moment and the continuing need to rectify the injustices of the past.

You can listen to the podcast here: 

Further Reading:

Bernstein, S. (2017) ‘Burying the Alliance: Interment, Repatriation and the Politics of the Sacred in Occupied Germany’, Journal of Contemporary History 52(3), pp. 710-730.

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