[Marxism] Grossman's Life and Fate

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jul 5 13:03:47 MDT 2011

On 7/5/2011 8:13 AM, Dennis Brasky wrote:
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> Could you offer a brief synopsis?

I posted this to the list on Jan. 11th:

> NY Times, January 11, 2006
> Books of The Times | 'A Writer at War'
> Dispatches From the Hottest of Hot Zones
>  From August 1941 until May 1945, the novelist Vasily Grossman worked as a
> special correspondent for Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star), the newspaper of the
> Red Army. From the bleak early days of the war, when the German advance
> across Ukraine seemed unstoppable, to the final push into Berlin, he spent
> more than a thousand days on the front lines. Interviewing generals and
> enlisted men alike, he filed white-hot reports read avidly by millions of
> Soviet readers eager not just for news of Stalingrad or Kursk, but for a
> picture of the lives that their sons and husbands were leading hundreds of
> miles away.
> Much of the material that filled Grossman's notebooks never made it into
> print, because it was either politically sensitive or, in the view of the
> censors, too disturbing for Soviet citizens to read. In "A Writer at War,"
> the British historian Antony Beevor and his research assistant, Luba
> Vingradova, have mined this rich seam of gold, translating and editing
> generous excerpts from the notebooks (made available by Grossman's
> descendants) and stitching together a coherent narrative from Grossman's
> completed articles, his letters and the memoirs of contemporaries, notably
> his editor at Krasnaya Zvezda. The result is a first-rate volume of war
> reporting that belongs with the best work of writers like Ernie Pyle, A. J.
> Liebling and John Hersey.
> Grossman spent the entire war in the hottest of the hot zones. On several
> occasions he was within a hair's breadth of being encircled by the German
> advance. Purely as a record of events, "A Writer at War" has value.
> Grossman's journals, for example, contradict the usual accounts of the fall
> of Orel in the first week of October 1941, which portray a city taken
> completely by surprise, with streetcars still running. Grossman, by
> contrast, describes a scene of mounting panic, with citizens already
> packing up and leaving, well aware that the enemy is at the gates.
> Grossman was more than a mere note-taker, however. His dispatches,
> conveying the taste, the smell and the sounds of the front lines, made him
> one of the most read and admired writers of the war. He observed with a
> novelist's eye for the telling detail and a rich appreciation of the
> characters moving events along. He listened with a sharp and sympathetic
> ear. He even managed to find a wild, absurd strain of humor as the bombs
> fell. "They chase vehicles, individual trucks, cars," an irate commissar
> complained to Grossman. "It's hooliganism, an outrage!"
> "A Writer at War" does not present a sweeping account of battle. Grossman
> specialized in the vignette, the quick snapshot that captured a few moments
> of a story moving at top speed. It is usually a few salty lines of dialogue
> or a strange, horrifying detail caught on the fly that make his journal
> entries and his newspaper articles spring to life.
> "There is a flattened Romanian," he wrote, surveying the battlefield
> outside Stalingrad. "A tank has driven over him. His face has become a
> bas-relief." In Berlin, he noted, "ladies wearing fashionable hats,
> carrying bright handbags, are cutting pieces of meat off dead horses lying
> on the pavement."
> Brief jottings suggest the magnitude of Russian suffering and the ferocity
> of combat waged against a technologically superior enemy. The seriously
> wounded, in the early days of rapid retreat, get a piece of herring and 50
> grams of vodka to keep them going. During the fiercest fighting in
> Stalingrad, a tank driver, out of ammunition, jumps out of his tank and
> begins throwing bricks at the Germans and cursing. "This war in villages is
> a bandit war," one lieutenant tells Grossman, adding that his men sometimes
> strangle Germans with their bare hands. Even more shocking is the admission
> of a peasant soldier who tells Grossman, "As for hardships, life is harder
> in the village."
> Grossman kept his own story out of the newspapers. As a good journalist, he
> let the soldiers do the talking (he had an uncanny gift for drawing them
> out) and, even in his private journals, complained only about ham-fisted
> editors who mauled his copy or, even worse, failed to get one of his
> articles into the newspaper. Mr. Beevor, however, deftly weaves in the
> personal drama behind many of Grossman's reports.
> Grossman, a Jew, left his mother behind in his hometown of Berdichev, in
> Ukraine, where she and 30,000 other Jews were executed by the Nazis.
> As Soviet forces regained lost territory in Ukraine and western Russia,
> Grossman quickly grasped the enormity of what had happened to the Jews. He
> filed a powerful article, "Ukraine Without Jews," which Krasnaya Zvezda
> refused to run. It is a spare, heart-rending account of Ukraine under
> occupation that makes a point of citing specific names and specific places
> while memory is fresh. He went on to write "The Hell of Treblinka," a
> superb piece of reporting, after entering that concentration camp with the
> Red Army in July 1944. He was also among the first journalists to enter the
> Warsaw ghetto.
> Grossman was fortunate that the secret police did not read his notebooks.
> They contained frank criticisms of drunken officers, inept leadership and
> bureaucratic bungling, as well as shocked condemnations of Russian soldiers
> who raped not only German women, but Polish and Russian women freed from
> Nazi hands. "Horror in the eyes of women and girls," a laconic notebook
> entry reads.
> Grossman always insisted to his editor that his articles had to depict "the
> ruthless truth of war." They did, and he did.

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