After the victory of the Great Patriotic War, the Red Army returned with nearly 11 million men. Of these 11 million, nearly 8.5 million will be demobilized after the war and left with a severance package of 1-5 months of pay, depending on years of service. Stalin and the rest of the government had to incorporate this powerful group into the rest of society, who also expected more from the government after the war. The government made it seem like the every soldier could reintegrate and become part of the rising middle class. For instance, they helped push multiple veteran success stories from around the country. They made it seem like every veteran could buy into the Big Deal and the rising quality of life for the middle class. One of these stories that the government helped to promote was Aleksandr Stopler: Story of a Real Man(1948). This story that was first a novel and then radio program is about a general who lost his leg and his journey back to being a productive part of society.
Preview above(2). Full movie in Russian here.
While there were numerous success stories of veteran reintegration back into society and strong messages from the government bout the ease of transition, the average veteran had a difficult time adjusting to civilian life. They came back to a weakened economy with a weakened infrastructure as a result of the war and its destruction. Due to this, there was a housing shortage and a job shortage. In many regions unemployment reached fifty percent, veterans had nowhere to live. They moved into zemlianki, huts dug into the earth, which were also common on the war fronts”(1).
Wounded veterans had an even worse time returning to society. They experienced a lack of care and medical treatment upon returning home, and there was a shortage of prosthetic limbs to make matters worse. Wounded veterans had it hardest when it came to the economy. With the little jobs that were available, the wounded veterans would often lose out to the healthy veterans. On the bright side however, women greatly outnumbered men in the Soviet Union. So, healthy soldiers returning from duty often took advantage of this and could easily start a family if they choose to do so.
4. http://pravoslav-voin.info/pravvoiny/495-stroitelstvo-zemlyanki-gotovimsya-k-partizanskoj.html [If you can read Russian you can learn all about zemliankis and their construction here]
This is really similar to how American veterans are treated and the issues that they face when they are discharged. Like American wounded veterans and their widespread problems with the VA, the Soviet ones had trouble finding jobs and work. The return and home these veterans returned to must have been extremely difficult and different from what they left.
Interesting how this seems to be a trend with a lot of war veterans throughout history. Specifically for the Soviets, there were no programs in place that focused on finding employment for veterans. Was there any attempt to form a program or was there a program that focused on helping Soviet veterans adjust to civilian life and find jobs following the Great Patriotic war? It is a shame to see those who sacrificed so much to not be able to live the rest of their lives in comfort and peace.
Wow, thank you for this interesting post. It seems like veterans all over the world have experienced integration issues upon returning from war. With so many issues pertaining to veterans today in the US, I can’t imagine the struggles that veterans in the Soviet Union faced, particularly the lack of access to quality medical care.
It’s super interesting to see the parallels between Soviet veterans and American veterans, especially of Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan. I cannot imagine how disheartening it would be to have been wounded fighting for your country and then to come home and be unable to find work or a place to live. Thanks for sharing!
I agree with the earlier comments about how significant (and unacknowledged) the difficulties veterans face reintegrating into society are. In the Soviet case, the situation was especially grim for many returning POWs and soldiers who ended up in labor camps due to suspicion that their survival signified “collaboration” with the Germans. Wonderful source on the Zemlianki!
It’s crazy to think how a country could use its military in it’s time of need and then just discard its service members when they were no longer needed. The changing economy and housing problems expound the problems of re-integration and made it difficult for the government to successfully support their veterans even if they wanted to.