As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I’ve added a new page for research papers – entitled, appropriately enough, “Research Papers”. The first contribution to it (well, I may add some older material to it later, like Jen’s research on the Caucasus and Ukraine’s economy) is hoct’s “Breaking Down Soviet WWII Losses”.
What a piece of work. Although educated opinion does play a part in anything for which we cannot find exact statistics, this is not an opinion piece – it’s a magnificent chunk of a person’s time and persistence and patience and intelligence. Meticulously researched and diligently substantiated, it stands, for me, as the best collected and assembled work on the subject that I have ever seen. It is truly an honour to be allowed to publish it here.
Hoct (Hero Of Crappy Town) now stands revealed to the readership as Marko Marjanović, from Ljubljana, Slovenia. He describes himself thus; ” Blogger and history enthusiast writing from Ljubljana. Works as a machinist in a manufacturing plant. Rothbardian anarchist in terms of politics and ideology”. His blog can be found at http://www.crappytown.com/ , and is highly recommended for serious and well-researched content on the region and Europe. Academics researching this particular subject could do far worse than to give this article a long look. I’m still copying over the bibliography, and it’s slow going, but the meat of the research is there and I encourage all interested to check it out. Meanwhile, here’s hoct to introduce it himself:
“The 26.6 million people the Soviet Union is usually believed to have lost in the Second World War is the biggest population loss of any country in any war. This being the case one might assume that the topic of Soviet war death has received a great deal of scholarly attention and that scholars so far have had a great deal to say to the public regarding this topic. In fact the opposite is true. Scholars have made only tardy and at times uncertain progress in shedding light on the question of how many Soviet citizens lost their lives in the Second World War and in what circumstances.
To begin with, at times the problem may have been the objective lack of useful primary sources relating to a desperate and chaotic conflict that is now 70 years old. More than that the archives in the Soviet Union were closed and the research by both foreign and Soviet historians greatly impeded. Morever the latter had to contend with censorship. Historians abroad did not, but in the climate of the Cold War, there reigned a certain level of disinterested in the question of how many Soviet citizens perished in the Second World War. The question that excited the Russia-specialists in the West was instead how many people had perished due to repression of the communist Soviet Union against its own citizens.
As a result of the years of voluntary or involuntary scholarly neglect the average representative of the public knows fairly little about this topic, and some of what he knows is actually wrong. For example, if you understand the ubiquitous figure of 26.6 million as to mean that the war brought about that many deaths among Soviet citizens you are actually wrong. If you believe the Soviet Union suffered 8.7 million military casualties as per the conclusions of the well-known research conducted by the team around GF Krivosheev you are again mistaken. Likewise if you are still under the impression that the blockade of Leningrad cost just 640,000 civilian lives, or that the German bombing of Soviet cities caused 500,000 deaths, and so on.
For the longest time no real work could be done on this matter in the Soviet Union. Perhaps to conceal the extent of the failure of the state to protect the lives of its citizens against an external aggressor, the question of how many perished in the USSR was internally hardly ever raised under Stalin, much less properly answered. Under Khrushchev it was answered haphazardly – it was said the Soviet Union had lost “at least 20 million people” further research, however, was impeded and remained so until the late 1980s.
Better estimates could be published abroad. The Russian scholar Sergei Maksudov who managed to emigrate from the Soviet Union in the 1970s published what latter turned out to be a surprisingly accurate estimate of 24.5-27.4 million excess deaths among those alive at the beginning of the war. Such work, however, went by relatively unnoticed.
It was not until the glasnost period kicked in earnest that historians in the Soviet Union and later on Russia were finally given the means to tackle the question of Soviet wartime losses. The first result was the now ubiquitous figure of 26.6 million as the estimated total loss of the Soviet population, which was calculated by comparing census data.
The figure itself is as reliable as possible given the data available, however, there is widespread misunderstanding over what the figure represents. 26.6 million is not actually the estimate of Soviet war dead, but the estimated excess demographic loss. Along with excess wartime deaths the 26.6 million figure actually includes losses due to emigration, but excludes non-excess deaths due to the war, of people whose deaths were accelerated by the war but were statistically expected to die between1941 through 1945 anyway. To make matters even more complex the figure, as a result of how it was arrived at, encompasses some, but not all, deaths due to Soviet state repression during the war. Despite the uncertainty and the misunderstanding, however, at least the figure of demographic loss and of the war dead are in the same ballpark.
The situation is worse than this when it comes to understanding what victim groups make up the approximately 25 million wartime victims. Simply put few historians have been brave enough to attempt to breakdown the total number of victims into their component parts. Even when they have done so the results have been mixed.
For example, GF Krivosheev’s work from 2001, “Russia and the USSR in the War of the 20th Century”, which is often taken as authoritative presents a partial mini-breakdown of the Soviet losses. It states the USSR sustained 8.7 million deaths from its armed forces, 7.4 million Soviet civilians whose lives were violently extinguished by the Germans, 2.2 million deaths of Soviet forced laborers in Germany, 641 thousand residents of Leningrad who succumbed to starvation in besieged Leningrad and the 4.1 million who died due to malnutrition in the western USSR under the German occupation. In fact, all but the last number, are certainly inaccurate.
To begin with Krivosheev’s figure of 8.7 million deaths when coupled with the rest of his research which has authoritatively shown 7.4 million soldiers were lost to combat, accidents, disease and military tribunals, allows for no more than 1.1 million to have died in German custody. In fact, we know from research conducted by German historians that over 3 million Soviet citizens died as prisoners of war. Even though hundreds of thousands of though may have been civilians, rather than actual Red Army men, it is still the case more than twice as many Red Army men perished in German custody than Krivosheev’s figure allows. The actual Soviet losses from the armed forces were at least 10 million, of whom more than a quarter in German captivity, rather than on the front.
Next, the figure of 7.4 million Soviet civilians shot, gassed or burned alive by the German occupiers is based on the findings of the Extraordinary State Commission (ChGK) that was active 1942-1945 and was tasked with investigating Nazi war crimes and collecting material that would help establish the losses caused by the invaders. The ChGK was a Herculean effort, but its methodology based on eyewitness accounts was inadequate to the task. According to my own estimates the German occupiers deliberately caused the violent deaths of some 3.5 million Soviet civilians, including 2.55 million Soviet Jews murdered in the Holocaust. (In addition to deliberately causing millions of civilian deaths due to malnutrition and associated disease.)
The figure of 2.2 million deaths among Soviet forced laborers in German-run Europe is another estimate based on outdated Soviet historiography. Soviets historians assumed over six million Soviet citizens were deported for work in German-run Europe, actually the real number was just over 3 million of whom the great majority returned alive after the war. The deaths of Soviet civilians arising from the German forced labor program are actually in the low hundreds of thousands.
641,000 civilian residents of Leningrad who starved to death in the besieged city is a well-known figure, however, it is also outdated and inaccurate. Just as during the Great Patriotic War the Leningrad was under-reported from and the seriousness of the situation in the city glossed-over or underplayed (probably for fears the knowledge of the real situation in the former capital and the birthplace of the revolution would hurt morale and help spread defeatism and panic), so the extent of civilian losses and suffering continued to be underplayed after the war. We now know that the real number of civilians who lost their lives in the siege of the Soviet Union’s second city is in the neighborhood of one million.
I hope this serves to whet your appetites and convinces you to check out my attempted breakdown of the losses. I do not claim it to be anything approaching a definite breakdown. On the contrary, I believe with more work it can be improved on further in the future, which I intend to do. I do think it is the most detailed and uses the most reliable data of any such attempts currently, however.
I estimate the total war dead at 25.3 million of which, 1.5 million due to Soviet state repression. 7.25 million Soviet regulars killed in combat, accidents and disease and 3.1 million soldiers and civilians who died as Soviet “prisoners of war” in German custody. I estimate 7.6-8 million civilian deaths due to general privation, whether in the occupied parts of the Soviet Union, or the unoccupied interior.
This last part is crucial to understand. Despite the unprecedented bloodlust of the German occupation during the Soviet-German War its tool of choice in its macabre arsenal was hunger, rather than the bullet, or the gas chamber. The biggest single cause of death in the war overall, but particularly among civilians was malnutrition and disease, which the Germans had planned to introduce since the onset of the invasion in 1941. If anything the realities of the war forced them to downgrade their plans and temporarily set aside the schemes to starve out tens of millions. In the end the Germans invaders caused the deaths of some 15.7 million Soviet civilians and soldiers they had already disarmed. The Soviet side caused the deaths of some 1.7 million of its civilians and servicemen.
For more information, greater detail and citations please continue to the full report. And if you have any thoughts, comments or critiques please share them, whether they are positive or negative. As they say sometimes we learn the most from those with whom we disagree.”