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Contemporary Uses of the Second World War in Russia and the Former Soviet Republics - Book Reviews (4 titles)

Pamiato voine 60 let spustia. Rossiia, Germaniia, Evropa [Memory of the War 60 Years Later. Russia, Germany, Europe]

Moskva, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2005, 784 pages
Nathalie Moine
Bibliographical reference

Pamiato voine 60 let spustia. Rossiia, Germaniia, Evropa [The Memory of the War 60 Years Later. Russia, Germany, Europe], Moskva, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2005, 784 pages

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Editor’s notes is grateful to Marlene Elwell who edited this book review.

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1This voluminous collection of articles is a second edition, revised and expanded, of Neprikosnovennyi Zapas and Osteuropa’s common special issue devoted to different forms and mechanisms of memory of World War II. An introduction and a summary of the articles are very useful to orientate the reader in this substantial and stimulating book.

2This publication is all the more significant as studies on memory and both collective and individual attitudes, especially concerning the war, have a long tradition in Germany but are nascent in Russia.

3In that country (and in other post-Soviet successor states), some groups of participants and victims of the Great Patriotic War gained a voice only in the last decades, when they had dwindled to very few in number: the ostarbeiter, disabled, former inmates of German camps who survived the war, or simply people who spent the war in the occupied territories. They told of their experiences both in numerous oral history projects and through German compensation programs.

4In the introduction of this book, the authors maintain that a range of important topics, such as the Katyn Forest Massacre, the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the terror waged against the newly annexed territories, the fact that former Soviet POWs were sent to the Gulag, and the new political regimes imposed by the Soviet Union after the war are still held in the Russian collective memory, an assertion which could be revised now, taking into account recent public statements made by Russian top officials. Of course, these statements are not fully representative of collective memory; a majority of Russians could have been aware of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, including its secret clause, before any official acknowledgement of this issue, or could ignore it, even after its appearance in public discourse.

5This complexity of the construction of collective memory is best exemplified by the fervent debate on the Wehrmacht War Crimes, especially on the Eastern Front, initiated by an exhibition in Hamburg in the 1990s and had barely cooled down when this book was published; although nothing really new appeared in this debate, it was considered as the end of a myth, that of the untainted Wehrmacht, which, indeed, could survive (and still survive?) among the population despite long-available evidence.

6Determined to deeply explore the multifaceted issue of memory and war, the editors of the volume have included in the first part of the book three theoretical articles on collective memory, including the translation of two texts by Maurice Halbwachs and Theodor Adorno and one by German sociologist Harald Welzer. The remaining 40 articles address a whole range of issues. Most of them are devoted to the memory of World War II in the Soviet Union, post-Soviet Russia (Ukraine and Latvia are also represented), and Germany (including the former German Democratic Republic). The concepts elaborated upon in the first part of the book are then combined with more empirical material. Public memory is explicated from various angles: presence of the war in public opinion and political discourse, historiographic debates, notably centered around the Wehrmacht Crimes and commemorative policies, including the construction of memorials. In a sense, artistic expressions of the war (literature, music, movies), although they come from the recollections and interpretations of individuals, have become part of public memory. A key contribution of this volume is that it points to an entire range of actors in the construction and evolution of public memory, as well as its repression and overcoming, from historians to the state-sponsored committee in charge of anniversary festivities, independent researchers creating Holocaust centers and Holocaust museums in post-Soviet countries. Public memory is contested, both within a given society and between the former enemies, despite the attempt to create an internationalization of memory through official commemorative ceremonies.

7Private memory cannot be studied outside this production of split and shifting public memory. Yet, the issue of private memory, rooted in individual and familial experiences and recollections of the war appear as a particularly promising field of study, as reflected in the article based on oral testimonies from inhabitants of the Pskov Region. The issue of war memory as expressed in the private sphere is relevant in all countries, but has, of course, a particular importance in successor states of the Soviet Union, where it encounters the notions of official and unofficial cultures that prevailed before 1991. This aspect of private memory is analyzed in several articles.

8The connection between public and private memories of the war, as well as the difficult construction of a shared memory of the war between former enemies is best exemplified in the case of the work of the German foundation in charge, since the 1990s, of paying compensation to former victims of the German occupation in post-Soviet successor states, which implies interaction with German officials and former Soviet ordinary citizens.

  • 1 N. Tumarkin, The Living and the Dead. The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia, NY, (...)
  • 2 L. A. Kirschenbaum, The Legacy of the Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1995: Myth, Memories, and Monuments, (...)

9The prevalence of World War II memory, especially in the Soviet Union, also affected the elaboration of the memory and memorialization of subsequent wars, as illustrated by the article on memorials of the Afghan War. Other articles underscore the prevalence of the Great Patriotic War in post-Soviet mass consciousness and collective identity. Contrary to the assumptions of Nina Tumarkin,1 a pioneering researcher on the memory of the war in the Soviet Union, the end of the state that had defeated the Nazis did not end its role in either the public or private sphere. This remarkable volume reveals both the complex prevalence of war memory in societies affected by the conflict and the vitality of this field in the human sciences. Since its publication, some significant books have been written, notably on the Leningrad Blockade and Soviet war movies2; however, it does not diminish the importance of this rich volume; quite on the contrary.

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1 N. Tumarkin, The Living and the Dead. The Rise and Fall of the Cult of World War II in Russia, NY, Basic Books, 1994.

2 L. A. Kirschenbaum, The Legacy of the Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1995: Myth, Memories, and Monuments, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006; D. Youngblood, Russian War Films: On the Cinema Front, 1914-2005, Lawrence, University Press of Kansas, 2007.

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Electronic reference

Nathalie Moine, Pamiato voine 60 let spustia. Rossiia, Germaniia, Evropa [Memory of the War 60 Years Later. Russia, Germany, Europe] The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 12 | 2011, Online since 20 December 2011, connection on 03 December 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Nathalie Moine


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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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