Czechoslovak Diplomacy and the Gulag

Deportation of Czechoslovak Citizens to the USSR and the Negotiation for their Repatriation, 1945-1953

Milada Polisenska


Commentary on the List of Civilians Deported from the Territory of Czechoslovakia to the USSR at the End of World War II

I have 7,422 names in the database of persons deported at the end of World War II from the territory of Czechoslovakia to the USSR. The database is not conclusive and is being updated whenever new or more precise information emerge based on continuing research.

Two impulses contributed to the idea of trying to compile a list of deported persons right at the start of my research in 1992. One was the huge differences in the estimates of the number of the deported I was recording at that time, which set me thinking as to whether it would be possible to find out the exact numbers, or at least to come close. I was given a second impulse by the lists which came into my hands while working in the Archive of the Foreign Ministry in Prague, and which made me wonder whether they could be used to determine the number of deported civilians, and to put together all their names.

Many lists had survived, mainly in the paperwork of the desk for the USSR from 1945 to 1959, but also in the records of the Legal Section and of the General Secretariat. There were also materials in the Records of the embassy in Moscow and in the Cabinet of the minister. The repatriation and reemigration agenda could also be found in the records of the consular section. However, it was clearly insufficient just to add up the names from these lists. The lists were prepared at intervals in time based on centralized instructions and progressed from the local level to the higher authorities until in the end they reached the Foreign Ministry, which passed them to the Moscow embassy. These lists were compiled, transcribed, frequently duplicated, or selectively duplicated, while when it came to deportations, the lists were missing from several localities. The lists are, however, the most important source for determining the number of the deported and therefore I had to make the maximum use of them, while still being aware of their inaccuracies. Another source supplementing the lists consisted of the repatriation documents of individuals.

Some lists contain the names of the deported classified according to ethnicity, but there are also lists classified by profession and by date of internment. Some lists also include the date of birth and date of arrest; sometimes, especially with the later lists, even the name of the camp is given, but often in a very garbled form. For example, Yenakievo was written as Inakov.

The work on the database was very difficult to start with. One problem in the early 1990s was the lack of suitable computer software which would have made it possible to bring the data together and work with them. The first partial list of the deportees which I presented in 1994 when applying for a grant from the Central European University contained around 2,000 names.

The sources processed in the database I now present consist above all of the lists from the Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which I tried to use comprehensively, without being able to lay claim to hundred percent completeness. It cannot be ruled out that there are still some lists undiscovered in the extensive Archive of the Foreign Ministry. I do not, however, think that finding more lists would influence the database in any major way. Inasmuch as the lists were prepared, transcribed, compiled and distributed among the relevant departments of the Foreign Ministry, at a certain point they repeat themselves and overlap. I made additional use of data from correspondence with family members and institutions who turned to the Foreign Ministry with requests for intervention, and from other written material of the ministry which contained what I needed—the first name, the surname and a statement which indicated that this was a civilian abductee—or at least, where it was not specifically stated that it concerned a prisoner of war.

Another important source for this database was the documentation of SANO (Slovak Association for Those Forcibly Abducted) and I was very grateful to have access to this. The basis of SANO’s documentation is made up of questionnaires completed by the deportees or their family members as part of an application for compensation for the period they were interned in the Soviet Union. Applications for compensation relating to Act 319/91 Sb. concerned only civilian deportees—former prisoners of war were not covered by the act. According to SANO, the documents were under the name of the abductee even when the husbands, wives or children of deportees were making the application for compensation as heirs. With a view to the fact that the public in Slovakia followed the passing of the act about compensation very closely and that the media devoted extensive coverage to it, it could have escaped only a very few of the surviving deportees or their family members. We can assume that applications for compensation represent one of the most complete documentations on civilians deported from Slovakia, and that it covers the great majority of deported civilians.

Nevertheless, some problems did emerge in the course of more detailed work with the SANO documentation. Even though it was stated as a principle that the documentation concerned exclusively civilian deportees, I was not a hundred percent convinced. In the filing cabinets of SANO I caught a few names whom I knew to belong to the category of prisoners of war. If I could safely verify from other sources that the person concerned was not an abducted civilian I did not include them in my database. But I cannot rule out that from the huge amount of SANO documentation some individuals who were not civilians may have entered my database.

I moreover have the feeling that even though SANO stated that documents had to be always under the name of the deportee, and one number allocated to one deportee, I was not sure that this principle had always been adhered to. I found that in some cases I had the name of a deportee documented from archive sources, but found in the SANO documentation a name indicating a relationship which could only concern a family member of the deportee. I noticed this above all in the case of people with unusual names, where the similarity was very striking. However, I always left these cases as they stood in the database and did not emphasize them. It could always happen that brothers and sisters were deported, or a married couple, or two deportees who later married. Only if it was clearly demonstrated that none of these cases applied did I delete people of the same name from the database. According to the registration numbers, it also seemed that one and the same abductee was sometimes entered several times, which probably happened when several heirs applied for compensation. This conflicted with the principle that there should be one document under one number allocated to each abductee, as sometimes a new document was started in error.

Since I was collecting such a large amount of data from different filing systems in different places, I proceeded by putting all the names into the database and waited until the end of the work to organize all the entries alphabetically and delete obvious duplications.

In many cases the original fragmented data was gradually supplemented from other sources, and having fed the data into the database, the alphabetic ordering enabled me either to confirm the persons in the database or to delete them, if it could be safely demonstrated that they were not deported civilians. I was very careful about the process of removing duplicate names from the database, always on the principle of “measure twice, cut once.” Where the same name seemed to appear quite frequently, one had to allow that there could be deportees of the same name from different corners of Slovakia. Even in neighboring localities we find people of the same first and second name and very close dates of birth.

I could not avoid noticing that dates of birth given in the documentation were frequently incorrectly entered. Sometimes the mistake was quite plain and I had no doubts about removing duplicates from the database. They are mainly cases where the day and month were entered in the wrong order, such as when we have the dates 8.9.1912 and 9.8.1912 entered against identical names. I was happy to find such cases among the thousands in my database. I had to proceed carefully, however, because not every such case is a typing error and it can be that there really are two people with the same name and almost identical dates of birth. In some cases it concerned cousins living in neighboring villages. Given the low mobility of country dwellers, this can happen quite frequently.

I also had to keep in mind that in some cases the surname is not always written in a unified way and so it is possible that surnames occur in the database in forms not used by relatives today. There are still greater shifts in the transcription of names from Russian. When we have at our disposal a list of repatriates given to the Czechoslovak authorities by the Soviets, we have to work with names transcribed into Cyrillic, so frequently one can only reconstruct the correct form very roughly, especially if the name is of German or Hungarian origin. The computer too keeps strictly to the length of the vowel, and therefore lists the surname Tóth separately from Toth. The same applies to Kovács/Kovacs, Nágy/Nagy and a number of other names. So we have to look for people with the surname Kovacs also under Kováč, Kovács and so on.

Names from the Czech lands frequently appear in the lists; most of them members of the “white emigration.” To identify deported members of the former Russian and Ukrainian (and other) emigration I used materials from the “They Were the First” Committee and from specialist literature. Sudeten Germans also appear in the lists of repatriates; these cases were, with a few exceptions, shown to be prisoners of war. I did not include the prisoners of war in the database, but I did process those in whose case it was not clear.

My database is based above all on the lists of deportees. These were as a rule prepared by the local councils or the local police stations on the basis of central instructions, and insofar as they give exactly when and where the deportation took place, and in some cases other data, they are relatively reliable sources.643 The Slovak historian Ladislav Boroň doubts the informative value of lists predominantly from south and south-east Slovakia, where according to him 99% of the local councils and police stations included deported civilians and prisoners of war together in the lists, and even persons arrested by the Gestapo.

The lists are often divided into deported civilians and missing persons—prisoners of war; but as has already been said, not all the lists from every locality from which deportations took place have survived. Similarly problematic are the lists of the repatriation transports, very often indicated to be lists of prisoners of war, of repatriated persons, or of repatriated deported persons. It cannot be known with certainty how many civilians are mixed with prisoners of war.

It can, however, be anticipated that the population from the parishes outside the area occupied by Hungary in south Slovakia were for the most part deported civilians, with the exception of those held for defense work to Hungary, Levente and soldiers of the Slovak Army. On the other hand, a great many civilians were also deported from the parishes occupied by Hungary. For example, a considerable number of people were held in Feledince on 11 January 1945. These really were civilians, for on that day the parish did suffer from a widespread detention of local people. A number of deportees give Tomašovce in what was at that time the district of Feledince as their birthplace, dwelling place and place of arrest, and one therefore anticipates that this was a mass deportation of local people. Vyšný Blh and Nižný Blh were likewise parishes which fell to Hungary, and from which practically all the civilians were abducted en bloc.

By contrast, the parish of Csoma in south Slovakia showed a large number of deportees but with many prisoners of war among them—soldiers in the Hungarian Army. We find relatively frequently in archive documents data about the arrest of persons (we know from the context they are soldiers) who give their birthplace as Csoma. Natives of Csoma were arrested on the Eastern front in 1942 and 1943; in the case of some of them the place of arrest is given as Budapest. Even several homeless deportees claim they are from Csoma, and other people from Csoma claim to have been arrested in Hungary during the retreat of the Hungarian Army. I mention these cases to show how varied is the evidence of archive materials.

In our present state of knowledge it is impossible to ascertain, by comparing the whole database of deportees with the lists of those who returned, how many people did not return from the USSR. The lists are incompatible, mainly because prisoners of war are also given in the lists of returnees; because many people were repatriated without getting on the lists; and because others returned on their own account. Moreover, the exchange of populations with Hungary ran contemporaneously with the repatriation of Hungarian prisoners of war and civilian deportees.

I have in the database concentrated primarily on the names of the deportees and on the reference to the source. Other data, such as the birthplace, dwelling place or other notes, I have given only selectively and for the sake of orientation, since it is possible to look someone up according to the reference to the source. I give as the source the name of the records, box and fascicle in the Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague (AMZV), the documentation of the “They Were the First” Committee, or the title of the specialist literature; in other cases I refer to the record number in the Ministry of Justice of the Slovak Republic, under which a document is deposited in SANO’s documentation in Bratislava.

List of Czechoslovaks Deported to Gulag Camps in the Soviet Union, 1945