Daniil Skorinkin: People between prosecution and war: record linkage in prosopographical databases of 20th-century Russia

When it comes to 20th-century Russia, the largest prosopographical sources are centred on some of the most catastrophic events: World War II, Stalin’s terror, and, to a lesser extent, World War I. These events involved millions of people and heavy bureaucracy. Today digitisation of these sources enables computer-aided analysis of millions of life-paths with computational methods.

Russian WWII archival data has been extensively gathered and digitised by state-funded organisations, with the Russian Ministry of Defence as the main driving force. Their OBD (‘Объединенный банк данных’, Unified data bank) now includes dozens of millions of entries from war-time conscription lists, field reports, award documents, and alike.

The data on the repressions, though visibly less welcome by the state in recent years, have also been extensively gathered by NGO’s (most notably the ‘Memorial’, a 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate) and civil activists. Nowadays the ‘Memorial’ database includes more than 3 million entries about repressed individuals.
Naturally, these databases overlap, as there were tens of thousands of people who fought in the war and were also repressed at some point in their lives (before, during, or after the war). 
However, meaningful integration of such data remains a challenge. Different databases that contain mentions of the same individuals are mutually agnostic, and there are no machine-readable bridging mechanisms (such as URIs in the LOD model) between them. Our project aims to link several databases with record linkage procedures and reintegrate such ‘split’ biographies.  These large databases also have intersections with smaller prosopographical sources, such as data on wartime Nazi collaborationists in the Soviet Union. These materials were initially obtained from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Yad Vashem Archive. After 2014 an additional portion of documents came from the archive of the State Security Service of Ukraine.

Based on data intersection and record linkage, we attempt to reconstruct the personal biographies of a number of Soviet soldiers who were labelled ‘killed’, ‘missing’, ‘captured’, or ‘deserted’ in the WWII-related archives, but were then mentioned as convicts in the materials of the post-war Soviet trials of supposed collaborationists. Moreover, some people who were labelled ‘dead’ during the war and then prosecuted for collaborationism right after the war in the late 1940-es were then honoured with WWII commemoration medals in the late 1980-es. 
Our findings reveal the mechanisms of Soviet post-WWII era prosecution, as well as the specifics of late Soviet ‘mass glorification’ of the WWII victory. 
In Soviet times, the officially prescribed memory culture related to WWII was largely binary. It offered a polarised black-and-white picture with heroes (the Red Army), enemies (the Nazis), and traitors (e.g. general Vlasov) who were presumably even worse than the enemies. Although this simplified view prevails in modern Russian historiography, it is now being challenged by novel approaches relying on newly available data. With our research, we hope to contribute to this new stream of approaches that tend to be less contrastive and present a more complex picture of the war’s impact on individual lives.

Vortrag im Rahmen des „Digital History“-Forschungskolloquiums
Zeit: Mittwoch, 16. November 2022, 16-18 Uhr
Ort: Zoom-Konferenz (Zugang auf Anfrage oder via Mailingliste)

Cite this article as:
digitalhistory: Daniil Skorinkin: People between prosecution and war: record linkage in prosopographical databases of 20th-century Russia, in: Digital History Berlin (Blog), erschienen am: 14. November 2022, Internet: https://dhistory.hypotheses.org/2986.

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