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23 September 2018

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The Forgotten Winter War

Author: Tamara Eidelman
Translation: Nora Seligman Favorov

Nov/Dec 2014
Page 24   ( 2 pages)

Summary: You won't find much about the Russo-Finnish War (1939-40) in Russian history books.


I’m trying to remember when I first heard about the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland. I can’t. It certainly wasn’t in school. This topic was not, apparently, worthy of the attention of Soviet schoolchildren.

Probably there were a couple of lines in our textbook, but not in the sections devoted to the Second World War. In the Soviet Union and Russian Federation, textbooks categorized (and continue to categorize) everything that happened at the front before June 22, 1941, as part of the “prewar situation.” The real war began when we were invaded. Up until then there was war in the West, but all was peaceful in the USSR. Well, almost peaceful.

Maybe I was told about it at the university? I don’t remember that either. Was it mentioned in lectures on Soviet history? Probably. The lectures were so boring that nobody was really listening, if we even bothered to attend. For us students of history, the fact that Stalin and Hitler were allies between 1939 and 1941 was obscured in some sort of mist.

Might I, perhaps, have seen memorials commemorating the Winter War? Definitely not. There isn’t a city or village in our country that was left untouched by the war, whether or not it was reached by German troops. From everywhere, people went off to fight, never to return, and everywhere memorials were erected in their honor. Star-topped obelisks emblazoned with lists of the fallen is a common site found on the main thoroughfare of every Russian city or village. But these names all belong to people who died between 1941 and 1945. What about those who died earlier? But for a few monuments in Leningrad Oblast, no serious attempt has been made to store collective memories.

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