In 1943, World War II raged on. Already, it had wrecked the world. It appeared that no region was untouched, and Russia was no exception; in 1941, “1.5 million Soviet troops were dead while another 3 million were German POWs” (Freeze 376). Families drastically adapted to match the needs of war. The Soviets conscripted its young male population, and “Moscow called up almost all classes of reservists born after 1905” (Freeze 385). However, this magnitude of this war required support beyond the battlefield. Thus, the remaining sectors (such as women, children, and older populations) of the economy were enlisted in support of the country. In the name of patriotism, women contributed heavily to the war effort. However, while women were 70 percent of the rural labor force in 1943, production dropped to half its previous levels (Freeze 386). This had dire effects for the entire nation.
Despite some negative consequences, women’s participation benefitted the nation greatly. The Russian army would not have been as successful if women did not rise to the occasion. Thus, to recognize the increasing burden that Russian women faced, the government adopted new measures to support them. One edict, “Aid for Mothers and Children,” advocated for state funding for large families, considering that households often functioned as single-parent homes. It promoted monthly stipends, longer maternity leave, and ceremonial titles (such as “Mother Heroine” for mothers “birthing and rearing” ten children living past one year of age). It also included rights for unwed mothers. Another law, “Benefits for Illegitimate Children,” outlines new policies for children of unwedded parents.
As one author writes, children born out of “wedlock” increased dramatically during the war. He explains that individuals grew more sentimental (viewing many encounters as their “last,” so to speak). While many might view this as uncharacteristically progressive for the time period, the writer concludes that the need to repopulate Russia trumped moral values. This is again evident in the previous law, which delivered numerous benefits to women with children. Thus, as “Aid for Mothers and Children” suggests, the government encouraged women to have numerous children. Additionally, it actively punished childless families with a supplementary tax.
World War II is often associated with catastrophe, military might, and large-scale deaths. Images of battle scenes, thick with carnage, immediately come into focus. Stories, handed down from our grandparents and great-grandparents, remind us of bloody fields. When our history – our world’s past – trickles down like this, we forget much. Vanished from the collective memory are the experiences that contrast against the common shared story of pain, suffering, and anguish. We miss stories of love and passion. Thus, people should recognize that 1943, while nestled into a dark period in history, also represented times of opportunity and growth.
To end, check out this short video. In it, performer Klavdiia Shul’zhenko sings her song “Blue Scarf.” This song gained prominence as Shul’zhenko performed this number in blockaded cities (Stites 105). It embodies the spirit of the era.
Freeze, Gregory, L. Russia, A History. Oxford University Press. Oxford, New York. 2009.
Stites, Richard. Russian Popular Culture: Entertainment and Society Since 1900. Cambridge University Press. 1992.