Humanitarian Aid in the Cold War Era

The Tolstoy Foundation's Support of Displaced Persons and Refugees (1949-1989)

Vitalij Fastovskij


The East-West conflict was not least a competition for people's hearts: Western states, above all the United States, invested enormous sums in humanitarian aid, demonstrating that the "free world" had not forgotten the persecuted and oppressed ones. Independent aid organizations played a decisive role in state policy - without their commitment, it would hardly have been possible to cope with humanitarian crises. Insufficient attention has been paid, however, to their role as vehicles for the transnational transfer of people, goods and ideas. With their cross-border activities, humanitarian agencies were able to both challenge and stabilize binary logics of the Cold War. One such actor was the Tolstoy Foundation. The Russian-American organization drew a considerable part of its self-legitimization from the conflict with the Soviet Union. At the same time, it represented the interests of people who were considered "strangers" in the "West:" Displaced Persons (DPs) – in their majority former forced laborers – as well as refugees from almost all state socialist countries. The project examines the "local integration" of these people and the care work provided by the Tolstoy Foundation in the Federal Republic between 1949 and 1989. The study focuses on negotiation processes for economic and social participation and their institutional, (geo-)political and cultural conditions. It investigates the knowledge, agency and self-representation of (forced) migrants and traces the role of the Tolstoy Foundation as a form of migrant self-organization with a transnational impact history.