World War II, also referred to as the Great Patriotic War in Russia, began in 1941 and ended in 1945. Some argue that the Russian people were the hardest hit in the way of the total number of casualties. Have you ever wondered if you had ancestors who were part of the Russian forces during World War II? Here are some first-steps in how to find World War II Russian military records for your family history.
A Quick Look at Soviet Forces during World War II
Though the official number of those who served or died is difficult to calculate, one estimate long believed to be fairly accurate was that there were between 20 and 27 million Russian civilian and military casualties. However, in recent years, Russian scholars have put that number to over 40 million.
According to an analysis of S. N. Mikhalev in 2000, the Russian Army and Navy was about 4.7 million strong at the beginning of the war. About 29.5 million persons were drafted during the war and about 9.6 million were discharged. By the time the Great Patriotic War ended in 1945, the Russian Army and Navy were about 12 million strong. This number included active service personnel, those in hospitals, and civilian departments.
Finding World War II Russian Military Records—Where to Start
As genealogists, we know that the best place to start any research project is with living relatives. You can ask living relatives about ancestors who may have fought in Russian forces during World War II.
(Learn how to conduct a personal interview.)
Russian World War II Records Found Online
A wonderful resource was created several years ago to show appreciation to Russian World War II veterans who were alive for the 60th anniversary of the victory. In this initiative, World War II veterans living at that time (2005) were interviewed, and a great amount of valuable information was recorded. Anyone can see the collection of information at Pobediteli.
The Pobediteli database of World War II veteran soldiers gives the full name, birth date, and residential region of the veteran. Users can search Pobediteli in English or Russian.
Another helpful website database is Memory Road. The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation created this website to collect pictures of World War II Soviet Army veterans. As of today, this resource has over 350,000 pictures.
Memory of the People
Each veteran’s picture is linked to a Memory of the People database that gives the veteran’s name, birth date and place, rank, and a list of awards.
Speaking of Memory of the People, this helpful website offers even more. It has over 70 million records including the following:
- 18 million service records
- 1.3 million award records
- 900,000 records on those killed in action
Memory of the People can be translated into English via your browser (here’s the Chrome tutorial). When using the search function on the website, you will have better results if you use the Russian word and spelling when searching with the names of ancestors. For example, the popular Russian surname “Иванов” gives over 950,000 results, but the English equivalent, “Ivanov,” brings up no results.
Lastly, more than 5 million Russian World War II records can be found at the Memorial website. This website contains databases of records pertaining to Russian and Soviet soldiers who died, went missing, or became prisoners of war during World War II.
Records found at Memorial may include information such as the soldier’s full name, birth date or year, date and place of recruitment, last place of service, military rank, and reason for discharge.
This website is in Russian, but you can use Google Translate to assist you in your research.
Your ancestors’ stories may be hard to find if you live far removed from their homelands, but with these websites, you may be able to find just what you are looking for.
For additional help and resources, see the following: