Population transfer in the Soviet Union

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Romanian refugees after the 1940 Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina 07.jpg
Romanian refugees after the 1940 Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina

Population transfer in the Soviet Union refers to forced transfer of various groups from the 1930s up to the 1950s ordered by Joseph Stalin and may be classified into the following broad categories: deportations of "anti-Soviet" categories of population (often classified as "enemies of workers"), deportations of entire nationalities, labor force transfer, and organized migrations in opposite directions to fill the ethnically cleansed territories.

Joseph Stalin Soviet leader

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was a Soviet revolutionary and politician of Georgian ethnicity. He led the Soviet Union from the mid–1920s until 1953 as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1922–1952) and Premier (1941–1953). While initially presiding over a collective leadership as first among equals, he ultimately consolidated enough power to become the country's de facto dictator by the 1930s. A communist ideologically committed to the Leninist interpretation of Marxism, Stalin helped to formalise these ideas as Marxism–Leninism, while his own policies became known as Stalinism.

Ethnic cleansing is the systematic forced removal of ethnic, racial and/or religious groups from a given territory by a more powerful ethnic group, often with the intent of making it ethnically homogeneous. The forces applied may be various forms of forced migration, intimidation, as well as genocide and genocidal rape.


In most cases, their destinations were underpopulated remote areas (see Forced settlements in the Soviet Union). This includes deportations to the Soviet Union of non-Soviet citizens from countries outside the USSR. It has been estimated that, in their entirety, internal forced migrations affected at least 6 million people. [1] [2] [3] Of this total, 1.8 million kulaks were deported in 1930–31, 1.0 million peasants and ethnic minorities in 1932–39, whereas about 3.5 million ethnic minorities were further resettled during 1940–52. [3]

Forced settlements in the Soviet Union took several forms. Though the most notorious was the Gulag labor camp system of penal labor, resettling of entire categories of population was another method of political repression implemented by the Soviet Union. At the same time, involuntary settlement played a role in the colonization of remote areas of the Soviet Union. This role was specifically mentioned in the first Soviet decrees about involuntary labor camps.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 30 December 1922 to 26 December 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Some 1 to 1.5 million perished as a result of the deportations — of those deaths, the deportation of Crimean Tatars and the deportation of Chechens were recognized as genocides by Ukraine and the European Parliament respectively. [4] [5] [6] [7]

Deportation of the Crimean Tatars genocidale deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 to Central Asia

The deportation of the Crimean Tatars was the ethnic cleansing of at least 191,044 Tatars from Crimea in 18-20 May 1944. It was carried out by Lavrentiy Beria, head of the Soviet state security and secret police, acting on behalf of Joseph Stalin. Within three days, Beria's NKVD used cattle trains to deport women, children, the elderly, even Communists and members of the Red Army, to the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan, several thousand kilometres away. They were one of the ten ethnicities who were encompassed by Stalin's policy of population transfer in the Soviet Union.

Genocide is intentional action to destroy a people in whole or in part. The hybrid word "genocide" is a combination of the Greek word γένος and the Latin suffix -caedo. The United Nations Genocide Convention, which was established in 1948, defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".

Ukraine sovereign state in Eastern Europe

Ukraine, sometimes called the Ukraine, is a country in Eastern Europe. Excluding Crimea, Ukraine has a population of about 42.5 million, making it the 32nd most populous country in the world. Its capital and largest city is Kiev. Ukrainian is the official language and its alphabet is Cyrillic. The dominant religions in the country are Eastern Orthodoxy and Greek Catholicism. Ukraine is currently in a territorial dispute with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. Including Crimea, Ukraine has an area of 603,628 km2 (233,062 sq mi), making it the largest country entirely within Europe and the 46th largest country in the world.

Deportation of social groups

Kulaks were a group of relatively affluent farmers and had gone by this class system term in the later Russian Empire, Soviet Russia, and early Soviet Union. They were the most numerous group deported by the Soviet Union. [8] Resettlement of people officially designated as kulaks continued until early 1950, including several major waves. [9]

The kulaks were a category of affluent peasants in the later Russian Empire, Soviet Russia and the early Soviet Union. The word kulak originally referred to independent farmers in the Russian Empire who emerged from the peasantry and became wealthy following the Stolypin reform, which began in 1906. The label of kulak was broadened in 1918 to include any peasant who resisted handing over their grain to detachments from Moscow. During 1929–1933, Joseph Stalin's leadership of the total campaign to collectivize the peasantry meant that "peasants with a couple of cows or five or six acres more than their neighbors" were labeled "kulaks".

Large numbers of kulaks regardless of their nationality were resettled to Siberia and Central Asia. According to data from Soviet archives, which were published in 1990, 1,803,392 people were sent to labor colonies and camps in 1930 and 1931, and 1,317,022 reached the destination. Deportations on a smaller scale continued after 1931. The reported number of kulaks and their relatives who had died in labour colonies from 1932 to 1940 was 389,521. [10] It is estimated that 15 million kulaks and their families were deported by 1937, during the deportation many people died, but the full number is not known. [11]

Siberia Geographical region

Siberia is an extensive geographical region spanning much of Eurasia and North Asia. Siberia has historically been a part of modern Russia since the 17th century.

Central Asia core region of the Asian continent

Central Asia stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north. The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It is also colloquially referred to as "the stans" as the countries generally considered to be within the region all have names ending with the Persian suffix "-stan", meaning "land of".

Ethnic operations

A train with Romanian refugees following the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina 03.jpg
A train with Romanian refugees following the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia

During the 1930s, categorisation of so-called enemies of the people shifted from the usual Marxist–Leninist, class-based terms, such as kulak, to ethnic-based ones. [12] The partial removal of potentially trouble-making ethnic groups was a technique used consistently by Joseph Stalin during his government; [13] between 1935 and 1938 alone, at least nine different nationalities were deported. [14] Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union led to a massive escalation in Soviet ethnic cleansing. [15]

Marxism–Leninism political ideology

In political science, Marxism–Leninism was the official state ideology of the Soviet Union, of the political parties of the Communist International after Bolshevisation, and is the ideology of some contemporary Communist parties, such as the Communist Party of Cuba, and the Party for Socialism and Liberation of the U.S. As Joseph Stalin's synthesis of Leninism, the political praxis of Lenin, and of Marxism, the politico-economic theories of Karl Marx, the purpose of Marxism–Leninism is the transformation of a capitalist state into a socialist state, by way of two-stage revolution, guided and led by a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries, drawn from the proletariat. To realise the two-stage transformation of the state, the vanguard party establishes the dictatorship of the proletariat, which determines policy with democratic centralism.

Operation Barbarossa 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union during the Second World War

Operation Barbarossa was the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941, during World War II. The operation stemmed from Nazi Germany's ideological aims to conquer the western Soviet Union so that it could be repopulated by Germans (Lebensraum), to use Slavs as a slave labour force for the Axis war effort, to murder the rest, and to acquire the oil reserves of the Caucasus and the agricultural resources of Soviet territories.

The Deportation of Koreans in the Soviet Union, originally conceived in 1926, initiated in 1930, and carried through in 1937, was the first mass transfer of an entire nationality in the Soviet Union. [16] Almost the entire Soviet population of ethnic Koreans (171,781 persons) were forcefully moved from the Russian Far East to unpopulated areas of the Kazakh SSR and the Uzbek SSR in October 1937. [17]

Looking at the entire period of Stalin's rule, one can list: Poles (1939–1941 and 1944–1945), Romanians (1941 and 1944–1953), Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians (1941 and 1945–1949), Volga Germans (1941–1945), Ingrian Finns (1929–1931 and 1935–1939), Finnish people in Karelia (1940–1941, 1944), Crimean Tatars, Crimean Greeks (1944) and Caucasus Greeks (1949–50), Kalmyks, Balkars, Karachays, Meskhetian Turks, Karapapaks, Far East Koreans (1937), Chechens and Ingushs (1944). Shortly before, during and immediately after World War II, Stalin conducted a series of deportations on a huge scale which profoundly affected the ethnic map of the Soviet Union. [18] It is estimated that between 1941 and 1949 nearly 3.3 million were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. [19] By some estimates, up to 43% of the resettled population died of diseases and malnutrition. [20]

The deportations started with Poles from Byelorussia, Ukraine and European Russia (see Polish minority in Soviet Union) between 1932 and 1936. Koreans in the Russian Far East were deported in 1937. (See Deportation of Koreans in the Soviet Union.)

Western annexations and deportations, 1939–1941

Deportee barrack in the Kolyma region, 1957 Deportee barrack in the Kolyma region.jpg
Deportee barrack in the Kolyma region, 1957

After the Soviet invasion of Poland following the corresponding German invasion that marked the start of World War II in 1939, the Soviet Union annexed eastern parts (known as Kresy to the Polish) of the Second Polish Republic. During 1939–1941, 1.45 million people inhabiting the region were deported by the Soviet regime, of whom 63.1% were Poles and 7.4% were Jews. [21] Previously it was believed that about 1.0 million Polish citizens died at the hands of the Soviets, [22] but recently Polish historians, based mostly on queries in Soviet archives, estimate the number of deaths at about 350,000 people deported in 1939–1945. [23] [24] From the newly conquered Eastern Poland, 1.5 million people were deported.

The same followed in the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia (see Soviet deportations from Estonia and Soviet deportations from Lithuania). [25] More than 200,000 people are estimated to have been deported from the Baltic in 1940–1953. In addition, at least 75,000 were sent to the Gulag. 10% of the entire adult Baltic population was deported or sent to labor camps. [26] [27] In 1989, native Latvians represented only 52% of the population of their own country. In Estonia, the figure was 62%. [28] In Lithuania, the situation was better because the migrants sent to that country actually moved to the former area of Eastern Prussia (now Kaliningrad) which, contrary to the original plans, never became part of Lithuania. [29]

Likewise, Romanians from Chernivtsi Oblast and Moldovia had been deported in great numbers which range from 200,000 to 400,000. [30] (See Soviet deportations from Bessarabia.)

World War II, 1941–1945

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Lavrenti Beria (in foreground). As head of the NKVD, Beria was responsible for mass deportations of ethnic minorities. Lavrenti Beria Stalins family.jpg
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Lavrenti Beria (in foreground). As head of the NKVD, Beria was responsible for mass deportations of ethnic minorities.

During World War II, particularly in 1943–44, the Soviet government conducted a series of deportations. Some 1.9 million people were deported to Siberia and the Central Asian republics. Treasonous collaboration with the invading Germans and anti-Soviet rebellion were the official reasons for these deportations. Out of approximately 183,000 Crimean Tatars, 20,000 or 10% of the entire population served in German battalions. [31] Consequently, Tatars too were transferred en masse by the Soviets after the war. [32] Vyacheslav Molotov justified this decision saying "The fact is that during the war we received reports about mass treason. Battalions of Caucasians opposed us at the fronts and attacked us from the rear. It was a matter of life and death; there was no time to investigate the details. Of course innocents suffered. But I hold that given the circumstances, we acted correctly." [33] Historian Ian Grey writes "Towards the Moslem peoples, the Germans pursued a benign, almost paternalistic policy. The Karachai, Balkars, Ingush, Chechen, Kalmucks, and Tatars of the Crimea all displayed pro-German sympathies in some degree. It was only the hurried withdrawal of the Germans from the Caucasus after the battle of Stalingrad that prevented their organizing the Moslem people for effective anti-Soviet action. The Germans boasted loudly, however, that they had left a strong “fifth column” behind them in the Caucasus." [34]

Volga Germans [35] and seven (non-Slavic) nationalities of the Crimea and the northern Caucasus were deported: the Crimean Tatars, [36] Kalmyks, Chechens, [37] Ingush, Balkars, Karachays, and Meskhetian Turks. All Crimean Tatars were deported en masse, in a form of collective punishment, on 18 May 1944 as special settlers to Uzbekistan and other distant parts of the Soviet Union. According to NKVD data, nearly 20% died in exile during the following year and a half. Crimean Tatar activists have reported this figure to be nearly 46%. [38] [39] (See Deportation of Crimean Tatars.)

Other minorities evicted from the Black Sea coastal region included Bulgarians, Crimean Greeks, Romanians and Armenians.

Post-war expulsion and deportation

After World War II, the German population of the Kaliningrad Oblast, former East Prussia was expelled and the depopulated area resettled by Soviet citizens, mainly by Russians.

Poland and Soviet Ukraine conducted population exchanges; Poles who resided east of the established Poland–Soviet border were deported to Poland (c.a. 2,100,000 persons) and Ukrainians that resided west of the established Poland-Soviet Union border were deported to Soviet Ukraine. Population transfer to Soviet Ukraine occurred from September 1944 to April 1946 (ca. 450,000 persons). Some Ukrainians (ca. 200,000 persons) left southeast Poland more or less voluntarily (between 1944 and 1945). [40]

A dwelling typical to some deportees into Siberia in a museum in Rumsiskes, Lithuania Rumsiskes jurta.jpg
A dwelling typical to some deportees into Siberia in a museum in Rumšiškės, Lithuania

Post-Stalin policy on deportation

In February 1956, Nikita Khrushchev in his speech On the Personality Cult and its Consequences condemned the deportations as a violation of Leninist principles, asserting as a joke that the Ukrainians avoided such a fate "only because there were too many of them and there was no place to which to deport them."[ citation needed ] His government reversed most of Stalin's deportations.

This did not include the Crimean Tatars, Meskhetian Turks and Volga Germans, however. They were only allowed to return en masse to their homelands after 1991. The deportations had a profound effect on the non-Russian peoples of the Soviet Union and they are still a major political issue; the memory of the deportations played a major part in the separatist movements in Chechnya and the Baltic republics.[ citation needed ]

Some peoples were deported after Stalin's death: in 1959, Chechen returnees were supplanted from the mountains to the Chechen plain. The mountain peoples of Tajikistan, such as the Yaghnobi people, were forcibly settled to the desert plains in the 1970s.

According to a secret Soviet ministry of interior report dated December 1965, for the period 1940—1953, 46,000 people were deported from Moldova, 61,000 from Belarus, 571,000 from Ukraine, 119,000 from Lithuania, 53,000 from Latvia and 33,000 from Estonia. [41]

Labor force transfer

Punitive transfers of population transfers handled by the Gulag [42] and the system of forced settlements in the Soviet Union were planned in accordance with the needs of the colonization of the remote and underpopulated territories of the Soviet Union. (Their large scale has led to a controversial opinion in the West that the economic growth of the Soviet Union was largely based on the slave labor of Gulag prisoners.) At the same time, on a number of occasions the workforce was transferred by non-violent means, usually by means of "recruitment" (вербовка). This kind of recruitment was regularly performed at forced settlements, where people were naturally more willing to resettle. For example, the workforce of the Donbass and Kuzbass mining basins is known to have been replenished in this way. (As a note of historical comparison, in Imperial Russia the mining workers at state mines (bergals, "бергалы", from German Bergbau, 'mining') were often recruited in lieu of military service which, for a certain period, had a term of 25 years).

There were several notable campaigns of targeted workforce transfer.

Repatriation after World War II

Vainakhs returning to the Caucasus in 1957 Na vokzale. 1957 god Frunze. Zhiteli s. Iurt-Aukh.jpg
Vainakhs returning to the Caucasus in 1957

When the war ended in May 1945, millions of Soviet citizens were forcefully repatriated (against their will) into the USSR. [43] On 11 February 1945, at the conclusion of the Yalta Conference, the United States and United Kingdom signed a Repatriation Agreement with the USSR. [44]

The interpretation of this Agreement resulted in the forcible repatriation of all Soviets regardless of their wishes. British and U.S. civilian authorities ordered their military forces in Europe to deport to the Soviet Union millions of former residents of the USSR (some of whom collaborated with the Germans), including numerous persons who had left Russia and established different citizenship many years before. The forced repatriation operations took place from 1945–1947. [45]

At the end of World War II, more than 5 million "displaced persons" from the Soviet Union survived in German captivity. About 3 million had been forced laborers (Ostarbeiter) [46] in Germany and occupied territories. [47] [48]

Surviving POWs, about 1.5 million, repatriated Ostarbeiter , and other displaced persons, totally more than 4,000,000 people were sent to special NKVD filtration camps (not Gulag). By 1946, 80% civilians and 20% of PoWs were freed, 5% of civilians, and 43% of PoWs re-drafted, 10% of civilians and 22% of PoWs were sent to labor battalions, and 2% of civilians and 15% of the PoWs (226,127 out of 1,539,475 total) transferred to the NKVD, i.e. the Gulag. [49] [50]

Modern views

Several historians, including Russian historian Pavel Polian [51] and Lithuanian Associate Research Scholar at Yale University Violeta Davoliūtė [52] consider these mass deportations of civilians a crime against humanity. Terry Martin of Harvard University observes:

Death toll

The number of deaths attributed to deported people living in exile is considerable. The causes for such demographic catastrophe lie in harsh climates of Siberia and Kazakhstan, disease, malnutrition, work exploitation which lasted for up to 10 hours daily as well as any kind of appropriate housing or accommodation for the deported people.

Number of deaths of people in exile 1930s—1950s
EthnicityEstimated number of deathsReferences
Kulaks 1930–1931389,521 [54]
Kulaks 1930–1937Unknown [11]
Poles90,000 [55]
Koreans28,200–40,000 [56] [57]
Estonians5,400 [58]
Latvians17,400 [58]
Lithuanians28,000 [59]
Finns18,800 [56]
Karachais13,100–19,000 [60] [61]
Soviet Germans42,823–228,800 [62] [60]
Kalmyks12,600–16,000 [60] [56] [61]
Chechens100,00–170,000 [61] [63]
Ingush20,300–23,000 [60] [61]
Balkars7,600–11,000 [60] [56] [61]
Crimean Tatars34,300–44,000 [60] [64]
Meskhetian Turks12,859–15,000 [60] [61]


Date of transferTargeted groupApproximate numbersPlace of initial residenceTransfer destinationStated reasons for transfer
April 1920 Cossacks, Terek Cossacks 45,000 [65] North Caucasus Ukraine, northern Russian SFSR "Decossackization", stopping Russian colonisation of North Caucasus
1930–1931 Kulaks 1,679,528- 1,803,392 [66] "Regions of total collectivization", most of Russian SFSR, Ukraine, other regionsNorthern Russian SFSR, Ural, Siberia, North Caucasus, Kazakh ASSR, Kirghiz ASSR Collectivization
1930–1937Kulaks15,000,000 [11] "Regions of total collectivization", most of Russian SFSR, Ukraine, other regionsNorthern Russian SFSR, Ural, Siberia, North Caucasus, Kazakh ASSR, Kirghiz ASSR Collectivization
November–December 1932 Peasants 45,000 [67] Krasnodar Krai (Russian SFSR) Northern Russia Sabotage
February–May 1935; September 1941; 1942 Ingrian Finns 420,000 [68] Leningrad Oblast, Karelia (Russian SFSR) Vologda Oblast, Western Siberia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Siberia, Astrakhan Oblast; Finland
February–March 1935 Germans, Poles 412,000 [67] Central and western Ukraine Eastern Ukraine
May 1936 Germans, Poles 45,000 [67] Border regions of Ukraine Ukraine
July 1937 Kurds 1,325 [69] Border regions of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan Kazakhstan, Kirghizia
September–October 1937 Koreans 172,000 [70] Far East Northern Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan
September–October 1937 Chinese, Harbin Russians 9,000 [67] Southern Far East Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan
1938 Persian Jews 6,000 [71] Mary Province (Turkmenistan)Deserted areas of northern Turkmenistan
January 1938 Azeris, Persians, Kurds, Assyrians 6,000 [72] Azerbaijan Kazakhstan Iranian citizenship
January 1940 – 1941 Poles, Jews, Ukrainians (including refugees from Poland)320,000 [73] Western Ukraine, western Byelorussia Northern Russian SFSR, Ural, Siberia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan
July 1940 to 1953 Estonians, Lithuanians & Latvians 203,590 [74] Baltic states Siberia and Altai Krai (Russian SFSR)
September 1941 – March 1942 Germans 855,674 [75] Povolzhye, the Caucasus, Crimea, Ukraine, Moscow, central Russian SFSR Kazakhstan, Siberia
August 1943 Karachais 69,267 [76] Karachay–Cherkess AO, Stavropol Krai (Russian SFSR) Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, other Banditism, other
December 1943 Kalmyks 93,139 [70] Kalmyk ASSR, (Russian SFSR) Kazakhstan, Siberia
February 1944 Chechens, Ingush 478,479 [77] North Caucasus Kazakhstan, Kirghizia 1940-1944 insurgency in Chechnya
April 1944 Kurds, Azeris 3,000 [78] Tbilisi (Georgia)Southern Georgia
May 1944 Balkars 37,406 [76] –40,900 [70] North Caucasus Kazakhstan, Kirghizia
May 1944 Crimean Tatars 191,014 [76] [70] Crimea Uzbekistan
May–June 1944 Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians, Turks 37,080
(9,620 Armenians, 12,040 Bulgarians, 15,040 Greeks [79] )
Crimea Uzbekistan (?)
June 1944 Kabardins 2,000 Kabardino-Balkar ASSR, (Russian SFSR)Southern Kazakhstan Collaboration with the Nazis
July 1944 Russian True Orthodox Church members1,000Central Russian SFSR Siberia
November 1944 Meskhetian Turks, Kurds, Hamshenis, Pontic Greeks, Karapapaks, Lazes and other inhabitants of the border zone115,000 [70] Southwestern Georgia Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia
January 1945"Traitors and collaborators"2,000 [80] Mineralnye Vody (Russian SFSR) Tajikistan Collaboration with the Nazis
1944–1953 Poles 1,240,000 [68] Kresy regionpostwar Poland Removal of indigenous population from the new territory acquired by Soviet Union
1945–1950 Germans Tens of thousands Königsberg West or Middle GermanyRemoval of indigenous population from the new territory acquired by Soviet Union
1945–1951 Japanese, Koreans 400,000 [81] Mostly from Sakhalin, Kuril Islands Siberia, Far East, North Korea, Japan Removal of indigenous population from the new territory acquired by Soviet Union
1948—1951 Azeris 100,000 [82] Armenia Kura-Aras Lowland, Azerbaijan "Measures for resettlement of collective farm workers"
May–June 1949 Greeks, Armenians, Turks 57,680 [83]
(including 15,485 Dashnaks) [83]
The Black Sea coast (Russian SFSR), South Caucasus Southern Kazakhstan Membership in the nationalist Dashnaktsutiun Party (Armenians), Greek or Turkish citizenship (Greeks), other
March 1951 Basmachis 2,795 [83] Tajikistan Northern Kazakhstan
April 1951 Jehovah's Witnesses 8,576–9,500 [84] Mostly from Moldavia and Ukraine [85] Western Siberia Operation North
1920 to 1951Total~20,086,000

See also


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