In the wake of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet museum curators began to establish a museal depiction of the war. This article analyzes these early beginnings of Soviet war commemoration and the curtailing of its surprising heterogeneity in late Stalinism. Historical research has largely ignored the impact of Soviet museum workers (muzeishchiki) on the evolution of Russian war memory. Archival material from the Red Army Museum, now renamed the Central Museum of the Armed Forces, in Moscow and the Belarus Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War in Minsk documents the unfolding of locally specific war exhibitions which stand in stark contrast to the later homogenized official Soviet war narrative. Yet war memory was not created unilaterally by the curators. Visitors also participated in its making, as the museum guestbooks demonstrate. As “sites of commemoration and learning,” early Soviet war exhibitions reveal the agency of the muzeishchiki and the involvement of the visitors in the “small events” of memory creation.
Anne E. Hasselmann works as a scientific assistant in the Historical Museum of Basel. Email: email@example.com