The Great War in Russian Memory
Indiana University Press 2011
Historical studies on the European memory of World War I are, to put it mildly, voluminous. There are too many monographs to count on a myriad of subjects addressing the acts of remembrance and commemoration of the so-called war to end all wars. But when it comes to Russia, from which 15 million men fought, 2 million died, 5 million were captured and an estimated 1.5 million civilians perished, there is a strange historiographical silence. In fact historians of Russia speak more often of an absence of memory because the Bolshevik revolution labeled WWI as an “imperialist war,” and thus rendering its remembrance illegitimate.
It is because of this silence that Karen Petrone‘s The Great War in Russian Memory (Indiana University Press, 2012) is such an illuminating and refreshing book. Petrone shows that much like their European counterparts Russians produced a rich memory of the war, even within the strictures of the Soviet system. And the issues that memory addressed were many we assume were forbidden in Soviet Russia: the sacred and the religious, Russian nationalism and patriotism, and the war’s physical and psychological traumas, to name a few. In Petrone’s study, Russia is rightly restored as part a pan-European reckoning with the Great War, the remembrance and commemoration of which was far reaching and impossible to tame despite the Bolsheviks’ best attempts.