On the evening of Wednesday 14 November, around 100 Middle Fifth and Upper Fifth pupils welcomed Dr Claire McCallum from Exeter University to hear her talk about the experience of teenagers who lived through Stalin’s purges in the USSR in the 1930s and 40s. Dr McCallum focused on three young people who all left journals detailing their differing reactions to the arrest and imprisonment of their relatives during this traumatic time in Soviet history. All three lived in Moscow and although they had different attitudes to the Stalinist regime, they were deeply affected by the removal of their loved ones at short notice. Despite this, their lives carried on and what was interesting was the rapid return to an essentially normal routine despite the upheaval to their families. For those supporters of Stalin, it did not necessarily mean the rejection of support for him or his policies. Nonetheless, some children faced social ostracisation from their peers and exclusion from their schools and youth organisations for the alleged sins of their parents. The youngest children were taken into state care and if under two or three years old may have been renamed. Conditions in these state homes were often brutal and unforgiving.
Dr McCallum concluded that victims of the terror were not just those arrested, imprisoned or executed. Everyday experiences such as going out with friends or continuing education sat alongside the extraordinary circumstances of the time. The impact of arrest affected every family differently, not least in how they coped with the practical realities of life. Neither did this experience necessarily stop young people from continuing to socialise with others or feeling excluded from society.