CfP: Prisoners of War. Russian and Soviet Experiences in the 20th Century

Call for papers, deadline 17 January 2020

War captivity was an important experience for military personnel in the Tsarist Empire and the Soviet Union, affecting several million people (not only, but predominantly male). Conceptions of war captivity were often passed on from fathers to sons. Although the conditions in the various wars undoubtedly differed, as is well documented in research, there were also connecting experiences shared by the soldiers and officers captured in war. The conference aims at tracing this overarching experience of captivity and its significance for Russian and Soviet history in the 20th century. The focus will be on the First and Second World Wars and the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989), but other case studies (on the Russian-Japanese war, the Polish-Soviet war, the Soviet-Finnish war, the Chechen wars) are also welcome.

From the perspective of a history of experience and perception "from below", topics such as the capture itself, everyday life in the camps, experiences of violence, hunger, forced labour, diseases and death as well as individual survival strategies of the prisoners of war will be discussed. How did the prisoners experience relations with the guards and contacts with the civilian population? What transcultural experiences were made in captivity?
Further questions of the conference will concentrate on the POW's scope for action between resistance and collaboration, the social hierarchies within the camp societies, the role of prisoner functionaries, the formation of groups in the camps (along social, religious, ethnic, regional and other dividing lines) as well as the position of the few female prisoners of war and the experience of sexual violence. Last but not least, attention should also be paid to the question of the repatriation and return of POWs and their reintegration into the home society.
Contributions that relate the experiences of POWs from different wars to one another are particularly welcome. Which older notions of war and captivity, but also which concrete practices are passed on and prove to be the guiding principles of action for military personnel? Sometimes such references between the various war experiences also emerge in the current Russian culture of remembrance. Since the Stalin era war captivity had been a taboo for decades which seems to disappear only slowly.
As a result, the diachronic examination of the experiences and perceptions of Russian/Soviet war captivity is intended to elaborate perspectives of an entangled history on Russia's wars of the 20th century, which at the same time contribute to sharpening the specific experience of the various wars.

Please send your abstract with a short CV by January 17, 2020 to Prof. Dr. Tanja Penter ( and Dr. Esther Meier (
The deadline is January 17, 2020.