02 April 2014

Wartime Losses in Light of Expected and Actual Mortality Due to Soviet Repression


The all-present figure of 26.6 million demographic losses of the Soviet Union during the Great Patriotic War is based on a calculation that on the basis of mortality figures for 1940 posits that without the war there would have been 25.3 million fewer losses among those born before July 22nd 1941, and 1.3 million fewer losses among those born after 22.6.1941.[23]

Such a calculation would, in the case that in 1940 the number of Soviet repression deaths was negligible, produce an estimate of total Soviet losses in the war, ie the total of losses due to the war and due to Soviet wartime repression. However, the number of Soviet repression deaths in 1940 is not necessarily so small as to be insignificant for this calculation.

In the case that Soviet repression during the war caused no more deaths per year than in 1940, such a calculation would produce an estimate of Soviet losses directly due to the war, ie without losses due to Soviet wartime repression. However, the war actually brought about a great increase in the scale and the lethality of Soviet state repression.

This means the 26.6 million figure is neither an estimate of total Soviet losses in the war, nor an estimate of losses due to the war. It captures some, but not all wartime deaths due to Soviet repression. It captures wartime Soviet repression deaths in excess of the expected level of Soviet repression deaths based on the 1940 levels, but does not capture the part of Soviet losses due to Soviet state repression not in excess of the 1940 levels.

How many people perished in 1940 due to Soviet state repression? We know that 47 thousand people died in the labor camps of the gulag, 7 thousand in the labor colonies of the gulag and 6 thousand in prisons. 2,044 people were executed for criminal offenses and 1,649 for political offenses. Additionally there would have been excess deaths among internal exiles.[24]

In 1940 the majority of exiles was made up of those who had been deported as kulaks in the early 1930s. By the late 1930s, however, mortality rates among them equalized with those of the general population.[25] In 1940 majority of the deported "kulaks" were still exiled, but they were no longer dying because of it. This leaves excess deaths to occur among the 200 thousand deported in 1940, the 250 thousand deported 1936-1939 and possibly among the 450 thousand deported in 1935.[26]

Given that 1940 represented an early year of exile for a comparatively small number of deportees, and that it was a non-crisis year when the food supply in the USSR was adequate it is likely very few of the estimated 0.85 million total deportation deaths occurred specifically in 1940.[27] In all likelihood the number of excess exile deaths did not exceed 15,000 and could be just a portion of that number. 10 thousand, or a number just under it, could be a decent mid-point estimate.

In total Soviet state repression resulted in some 75 thousand deaths in 1940. This means expected losses due to Soviet repression from June 1941 through 1945 would be just under 340 thousand. Instead, as we have seen Soviet wartime repression actually produced some 1.5 million deaths. The estimate of 26.6 million demographic losses of the Soviet Union in the war captures only the difference between these two figures. It simultaneously leaves out the 0.3 million expected repression deaths, but captures the some 1.2 million repression deaths in excess of predicted deaths based on 1940 data.

The 26.6 million figure of Soviet demographic losses consists of 2.7 million emigration deficit, the 1.2 million excess repression deaths and 22.7 million deaths due to war and policies of the enemy. It does not include 0.3 million expected repression deaths and an estimated 1.1 million deaths due to the war of people who would have likely died in the timeframe anyhow, but at a later date and of different causes.[28]

The actual likeliest total number of Soviet war dead is 25.3 million (26.6 million less 2.7 million, plus 0.3 million, plus 1.1 million). Combined with the likely emigration deficit the number of total Soviet losses is 28 million. Of the 25.3 million total deaths some 1.5 million are due to Soviet wartime repression and 23.8 million are due to war and policies of the enemy.

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23. V.P.Tarasova, Poteri SSSR v gody Vtoroj mirovoj vojny: sovremennoe sostojanie problemy (Report at a conference in Budapest, 9-10 December 2011).

24. Haynes and Hasan, A Century of State Murder?, 214. Wheatcroft, "Victims of Stalinism and the Soviet Secret Police", 337-338.

25. Stephen Wheatcroft "The Scale and Nature of German and Soviet Repression and Mass Killings, 1930-1945". Europe-Asia Studies Vol. 48, No. 8 (1996): 1319-1353, Table 7, Table 11. 

26. Polian, Against Their Will, 328-329.

27. Ediev, Demograficheskie Poteri Deportirovannyh Narodov SSSR, 303.

28. The 2.7 million emigration deficit is arrived at by Ellman and Maksudov "Soviet Deaths in the Great Patriotic War", 678- 679. The 1.1 million figure is from Harrison, "Counting Soviet Deaths in the Great Patriotic War", 943-944. Harrison calculates non-excess real war deaths must be in the range between 0 and 1.9 million "with the true figure likely to be somewhat above the mid-point". I take this to mean 1.1 million is the likeliest figure.

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