Amid the ruins: the reconstruction of Smolensk Oblast, 1943-1953
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The first Red Army soldiers that entered Smolensk in the fall of 1943 were met with a bleak landscape. The town was now an empty shell and the countryside a vast wasteland. The survivors emerged from their cellars and huts on the verge of starvation. Amidst the destruction, Party officials were tasked with picking up the pieces and rebuilding the region’s political, economic, and social foundations. To understand how this process unfolded is the chief concern of this study. It is my hope that an analysis of the physical and ideological reconstruction of Russia’s western frontier will contribute to a more realistic view of Soviet power in the postwar period. The history of Smolensk’s reconstruction addresses fundamental historiographic questions about the Party’s role in postwar society as well as its relationship with liberated communities. It examines how local officials tried to reassert the Party’s authority and re-Sovietize individuals whose loyalties were now in question and whether these tensions could be overcome in pursuit of the regime’s wider postwar economic goals. It approaches from a new perspective the question of whether collective wartime experiences brought the Party and its subjects closer together and created the foundations of a mature socialist state. This study asserts that the Party’s relationship with local residents in Smolensk Oblast was extremely unstable in the immediate aftermath of the war and defined by internal divisions and conflicts.