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War and Terror in Leningrad: The Museum of the Defense of Leningrad and War Commemoration under Stalin


This dissertation examines the history of the exhibition “Heroic Defense of Leningrad” (1943-45) and its successor Museum of the Defense of Leningrad (1946-1953) in the context of the development of the war museum culture in the Soviet Union during the Second World War and the politics of war commemoration after its end. The museums constituted an important part of the war propaganda machine and were employed by the Soviet state to mobilize its population and to create an historical narrative of the war. In addition to the role of the central ideology, regional factors were as important in the creation of the war-themed displays, which I demonstrate by examining the war-themed exhibitions and museums in Kyiv, Minsk, and Moscow.The Museum of the Defense of Leningrad represented distinctly local narratives of the siege, including starvation in the besieged city. The attack and closure of the museum represented yet another step in the unification of the central narratives of the war during Late Stalinism. The ideological tendency of late Stalinism was to downplay the official commemorations of the war, which resulted in the closure of the vast majority of war exhibitions and museums. Yet, the fate of each individual institution also depended on the local factors, including the client-patron relationships between Stalin and the regional leaders, and between the regional leaders and the museums. The Museum in Leningrad was purged along with its former patrons during the course of the Leningrad Affair. The closure of the museum and other attacks on the memory and commemoration of the siege traumatized its survivors, hindered historical scholarship, and contributed to the discourse of the city’s victimhood. In addition to the history of the institutions, this dissertation examines the biographical case studies of the museum’s organizers, who survived the siege, worked to commemorate it, and then faced the political terror of late Stalinism.

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