Staunton, June 28 – No more than one in 20 of the graves of Russian soldiers who died in World War I remains undisturbed to this day, the result of a Soviet policy intended to downplay Russia’s role in that conflict and shift losses from it to the deaths arising from the Russian civil war, according to a St. Petersburg historian.
At a press conference on Thursday, Nikolay Rodin, a leader of the White Cause Historical-Cultural Center, said that in Russia, “the theme of military memorials from World War I remains one of the least investigated because that conflict remains in mass consciousness a forgotten war”.
Rodin noted that during World War I, there was a tradition of reburying those initially interred at battle sites nearer their homes or in Petrograd, as St. Petersburg, the capital of the Russian Empire, was then known. In one case, in March 1915, 12,000 dead were buried in a communal grave there.
There were plans, the historical activist said, to put up a memorial cross and build a church for mourners, but the Bolshevik seizure of power blocked such steps. As a result, that mass grave like many others remains unmarked and in many cases unknown either to family members or to anyone else.
Rodionov’s “White Cause” movement has identified and begun restoration of more than 30 World War I cemeteries in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Argentina. But the task remains enormous: According to most historians, Russian military losses in World War I were “about two million.”
The Soviets sought to minimize that number in order to play down Russian patriotism and play up losses in the conflict between the Reds and the Whites during the Civil War, just as Moscow later played up losses in World War II to emphasize Soviet patriotism and minimize losses during Stalin’s Great Terror.