This chapter begins by describing the 'spontaneous' migration of the population of the Western Front areas of the Russian Empire at the outbreak of war in 1914 along with deportation of others, including Russian subjects. It examines the causes and consequences of mass movement of refugees that began in the summer of 1915, the efforts of the authorities to accommodate refugees in the rear and ensure their welfare. The chapter addresses the activities of public organisations before and after February 1917 and the activities of the main Soviet organisation for refugees after the Bolshevik revolution. After the change of power in February 1917 and the general democratisation of political life, refugee committees, including national committees, were reformed to include an elective element. After signing the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty, the Soviet government was obliged to prepare for the re-evacuation of prisoners of war and refugees on its territory.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book provides plenty of evidence of a dynamic cultural life among communities of refugees and its broader political and social import during wartime. Belgian refugees were sometimes despatched to designated camps in Holland and forced to live in squalid conditions in camps at Gouda, Nunspeet and elsewhere. The book points out that refugees encountered Polish colonies in Moscow, Petrograd and parts of Siberia, where the descendants of Polish rebels were living half a century after the great revolt of 1863. In Eastern Europe and the Balkans, by contrast, armies and civilians were regularly on the move, but the tribulations of refugees have barely registered in the literature.
As a region bordering the Russian Empire, East Prussia was, apart from Alsace-Lorraine, the only part of the German Empire to be directly affected by the military operations of the First World War. At the beginning of the civil war, the population displacements and resulting drama were broadly publicised in the media, provoking a surge of solidarity among the German public. Very quickly there was a clear appreciation on the part of German society of the situation emerging in East Prussia and of the difficult circumstances for the population that resulted from it. Starting with the liberation of the province, publications such as The East Prussian War Journal were launched in order to put on record the experience of the events of the war and the rushed departure. Within the province, the 'East Prussian Refugee Care' was primarily responsible for material support.
Bulgaria stands out as a specific case in relation to population displacement during the First World War for several reasons. This chapter focuses on the circumstances of displacement, the reception and settlement of refugees, and the state's attempts to address the political, economic and social shock of accepting thousands of refugees from the lost territories. It outlines the centrality of the refugee issue to the development of the modern Bulgarian state, particularly after the Balkan Wars when it occupied a central role both internally and externally. The chapter also focuses on three main episodes: before 1912, when a quarter of a million refugees had already fled to Bulgaria, whose population was around 4.5 million in 1912; between 1913 and 1918, when 120,000 refugees settled in the country; and in the years 1919-25 during which time Bulgaria witnessed the influx of an additional 180,000 refugees.
Warfare on Polish soil in 1914-15 caused huge material losses, as well as the impoverishment and deprivation of the local population. The war also led to mass displacement, much of it involuntary, involving people living in the territories of the Kingdom of Poland, a constituent part of the Russian Empire, and in Galicia, belonging to Austria-Hungary. As a general order of magnitude, it is reasonable to agree with Walentyna Najdus who concludes that the Russian Empire was home to around one million refugees from the Polish lands during the First World War. In the case of refugees from Polish lands, the criteria used by Polish relief organisations also proved to be important. Despite the efforts to conduct an orderly repatriation of the refugees, many of them attempted to return without waiting for the approval or assistance of any re-emigration or relief organisation.
This chapter concentrates on the impact of war on displaced Ukrainians before and after the collapse of tsarism in February 1917, whose lives were beset by political uncertainty, economic deprivation and social conflict. In the first months of the war, the Russian authorities failed to understand the scale and the challenge posted by mass displacement. In Ukraine, as throughout the Russian Empire, provincial councils were established and chaired by provincial governors who co-ordinated the arrangements for refugee relief. In fact most refugees managed to find work in agriculture, in the coal and iron ore mines in the Donbass and Kryvyi Rih (Krivoi Rog), and in newly created workshops. The refugee phenomenon during the First World War was a new social phenomenon that embraced the European continent. It produced moral and psychological damage on a large scale.