Finding Your Soldier of the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45 (Eastern Front of WWII): Part I
Did your ancestor serve during the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45? Learn more about their Soviet military service using this free resource!
Many descendants of Eastern European immigrants who landed on North American shores in the first wave of immigration soon found that their relatives who stayed behind were no longer citizens of the historical empires who had ruled over them. With the changing borders through the Interwar period to the beginning of World War II, the citizens of the new Soviet Union were thrust into military service for their country by 1939. If you have ancestors who immigrated from the occupied Baltic nations or what were known then as other Soviet Socialist Republics, odds are they had family members or friends that were conscripted into the Red Army.
Personnel of the Red Army
During the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45 (Russian: Великая Отечественная война), the Red Army conscripted almost 30 million men into the existing troops, totaling about 5 million at the beginning of the war. Of the millions mobilized between 1941–45, about 23% were non-Slavic minority soldiers and almost eight hundred thousand were women. The Red Army suffered personnel losses over 8 million—the majority of the soldiers being ethnic Russians and Ukrainians.
Today, documenting Soviet military service in the Eastern Front of WWII is achievable using the Pamyat Naroda (Память народа) web portal. Launched in 2015, the “Memory of the People” project was established by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (Министерство обороны Российской Федерации). The main objective of the project is to provide users with access to the most complete information on the participants in the war.
The portal offers researchers the ability to:
- Determine the military service of relatives and family friends in the Great Patriotic War
- Locate information about military and patriotic service awards
- Explore the original archival documents for military units, combat operations, war graves, and more
The underlying documentation consists of over 425 thousand archival documents of the Red Army. Combining all the data in one project makes it possible for researchers to request access for documents directly and search over 18 million entries within the database. Currently, about 80% of (over 12.5 million) combat awards [mainly bravery and military merit] have been digitized and supporting records such as combat logs and documents of operational management are available. Additionally, Memory of the People includes burial details for more than 5 million soldiers and officers who died in battle or from wounds and diseases in hospitals and medical facilities.
Data Collections: New in 2020
The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation (Министерство обороны Российской Федерации) continually adds material to Pamyat Naroda (Память народа) web portal to support the underlying goal of perpetuating the memory of those who served and died. In the Spring of 2020, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation added almost 25 million new records to Memory of the People — Pamyat Naroda. These new additions included:
- 8 million records from cases with name lists
- 6.9 million cards of war participants from the service record of officers
- 1.7 million cards of war participants from the Navy files
- 5 million records of conscription and demobilization from the documents of military enlistment offices
- 1.39 million entries from burial transit lists, documents on personnel losses and prisoners of war
- 2 million records of military personnel called to duty from reserve regiments
History of Military Operations
From the main page, you can find links to significant military operations including those that took place in Vienna, Konigsberg, Berlin and more. The pages for each operation provide a brief history, the units involved in the operation, an animated map of the areas impacted by the military activity, related war memorials, notable persons and documents, including combat logs. In all, the website contains information on over 225 offensive and defensive combat activities between 1941–45.
Using Pamyat Naroda
The website offers two language options: Russian and English. Switching between the two languages is achieved by selecting En or Ru in the upper right corner of the webpage. This feature does not translate all fields within each section of the website. We recommend using Google Chrome as your browser with auto translate Russian-to-English enabled. This helpful tool for non-Russian speaking researchers offers the ability to gain a deeper understanding of each section of the website. However, all searches — Heroes of the War, Combat Operations, Military Graves, War Units, Documents — must be conducted in Russian.
Next week’s blog will illustrate targeted searches and the various name searchable components including the section dedicated to user-submitted stories and memoirs of people.
We at Legacy Tree Genealogists would be honored to assist you with any step along the way in your journey to discover your family member’s Soviet military service, including onsite research if needed. Our experts have the linguistic and research skills to efficiently find your family. Contact us today to request a free quote.
1. “Red Army,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Army, accessed July 2020.
2. Euridice Charon Cardona and Roger D. Markwick, “Our Brigade Will Not Be Sent to the Front”: Soviet Women under Arms in the Great Fatherland War, 1941-45,” The Russian Review, Vol. 68, No. 2 (April 2009), p. 240-62, viewed digitally, https://www.jstor.org/stable/20620992, accessed July 2020.