Book Review: Sacrificing Childhood: Children and the Soviet State in the Great Patriotic War


by Julie K. deGraffenried

Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2014. Pp. xvi, 248. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0700620028

Soviet Children Under Fire

Prof. deGraffenried (Baylor) attempts, with considerable success, to address how the Second World War affected the children of the USSR, a largely neglected subject. 

She opens with a short discussion of pre-war Soviet childhood policies, before plunging into the war and its effects.  Prewar, providing a “happy childhood” had been a goal of the Soviet regime, intended to create the “New Soviet Man” and the “New Soviet Woman,” but that all changed with the German invasion.  The demands of war closed schools, reduced medical services, sent many children into factories or farms, and, of course, put enormous numbers of children at the mercy of the enemy.  Disease, starvation, privation, atrocities, and combat took a heavy toll of children, who comprised more than half of the 24 million Soviet civilian dead in the war. 

DeGraffenried examines the experiences of children in the war, how they were mobilized for the war work, and various forms of propaganda aimed at children.  She makes extensive use of statistics, often very grim statistics, and seasons her narrative with first hand accounts, anecdotes, and observations of children’s experiences, some written during the war and some in memoirs and reminiscences afterwards.  DeGraffenried touches upon children in combat, as soldiers or as partisans, and even as spies, subjects which are in need of more research. 

A volume in the University Press of Kansas series “Modern War Studies”, Sacrificing Childhood is an outstanding overview of the horrific impact of the war on the children of the USSR.

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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