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Authors: Vasily Grossman

A Writer at War

BOOK: A Writer at War
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A Writer at War

Vasily Grossman with the Red Army


Antony Beevor


Luba Vinogradova



This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

Version 1.0

Epub ISBN 9781407092010

Published by The Harvill Press 2005

2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1

Copyright © Ekaterina Vasilievna Korotkova-Grossman and Elena Fedorovna Kozhichkina 2005

English translation, introduction, and commentary © Antony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova

The moral right of Vasily Grossman to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

First published in Great Britain in 2005 by The Harvill Press Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London sw1v 2sa

Random House Australia (Pty) Limited 20 Alfred Street, Milsons Point, Sydney, New South Wales 2061, Australia

Random House New Zealand Limited 18 Poland Road, Glenfield, Auckland 10, New Zealand

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The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

1 84343055 x

Papers used by Random House are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests; the manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin

Designed by Peter Ward Maps by Paul Simmons

Typeset by Palimpsest Book Production Limited Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc





Also by Vasily Grossman in English


Translators’ Note


The Shock of Invasion 1941

1    Baptism of Fire
August 1941

2    The Terrible Retreat
August to September 1941

3    On the Bryansk Front
September 1941

4    With the 50th Army
September 1941

5    Back into the Ukraine
September 1941

6    The German Capture of Orel
October 1941

7    The Withdrawal before Moscow
October 1941

The Year of Stalingrad 1942

8    In the South
January 1942

9    The Air War in the South
January 1942

10    On the Donets with the Black Division
January and February 1942

11    With the Khasin Tank Brigade
February 1942

12    ‘The Ruthless Truth of War’
March to July 1942

13    The Road to Stalingrad
August 1942

14    The September Battles

15    The Stalingrad Academy
Autumn 1942

16    The October Battles

17    The Tide Turned
November 1942

Recovering the Occupied Territories 1943

18    After the Battle
January 1943

19    Winning Back the Motherland
The Early Spring of 1943

20    The Battle of Kursk
July 1943

From the Dnepr to the Vistula 1944

21    The Killing Ground of Berdichev
January 1944

22    Across the Ukraine to Odessa
March & April 1944

23    Operation Bagration
June & July 1944

24    Treblinka
July 1944

Amid the Ruins of the Nazi World 1945

25    Warsaw and
January 1945

26    Into the Lair of the Fascist Beast
January 1945 Pozna
and Schwerin

27    The Battle for Berlin
April and May 1945


The Lies of Victory



Source Notes



Gomel and the Central Front,
August 1941

In the Donbass,
January to March 1942

Autumn and Winter 1942

The Battle of Kursk,
July 1943



Also by Vasily Grossman in English



Vasily Grossman’s place in the history of world literature is assured by his masterpiece
Life and Fate
, one of the greatest Russian novels of the twentieth century. Some critics even rate it more highly than Pasternak’s
Doctor Zhivago
or the novels of Solzhenitsyn.

This volume is based on his wartime notebooks, but also some essays which are all in the Russian State Archive for Literature and the Arts (RGALI). We have also included some letters in the possession of his daughter and step-son. The notebooks reveal a good deal of the raw material which he accumulated for his novels as well as his articles. Grossman, a special correspondent for the Red Army newspaper,
Krasnaya Zvezda
, or
Red Star
, proved to be the most perceptive and honest eyewitness of the Soviet frontlines between 1941 and 1945. He spent more than a thousand days at the front – nearly three out of the four years of war. The sharpness of his observation and the humanity of his understanding offer an invaluable lesson for any writer and historian.

Vasily Grossman was born in the Ukrainian town of Berdichev on 12 December 1905. Berdichev had one of the largest Jewish populations in central Europe and the Grossmans were part of its educated elite. Vasily had been given the name of Iosif, but like many assimilated families, the Grossmans russified their names. His father, born Solomon Iosifovich, had changed his to Semyon Osipovich.

Grossman’s parents separated and, as a young boy, he lived in Switzerland for two years with his mother before the First World War. In 1918, just after the revolution, he was back in Berdichev. The Ukraine and its rich agriculture was destroyed first by Field Marshal von Eichhorn’s German occupation, which stripped the countryside.
Then, as the German armies withdrew in November as revolution broke out at home, the Russian civil war began in earnest with fighting between White and Red Armies, while Ukrainian nationalists and anarchists resisted both
sides. Whites and nationalists, and in some cases Red Guards, vented their blind hatred with pogroms across the Ukraine. Some say that around 150,000 Jews, roughly a third of the Jewish population, were murdered during the civil war. Famine followed between 1920 and 1922, with hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Ukraine alone.

Grossman went to Moscow University in 1923 where he studied chemistry. Even at that early stage, the unmilitary Grossman demonstrated a fascination for the army. ‘
At first glance, Father
was a completely civilian person’, said his only child, Ekaterina Korotkova-Grossman. ‘One could see this immediately from the way he stooped and the way he wore his glasses. And his hands were so clumsy. [Yet] he first showed an interest in the army when he was still a student. He wrote in one letter that if he was not called up he would volunteer.’

In 1928, when only twenty-three and still a student, he married his girlfriend in Kiev, Anna Petrovna Matsuk, known as Galya. This relationship produced a daughter in January 1930. They called her Ekaterina, or Katya, after Grossman’s mother. In 1932, ten years after the civil war, an even worse man-made famine, provoked by Stalin’s campaign against the kulaks and the forced collectivisation of agriculture, killed over seven million people.
Parents crazed by hunger ate their own children. It was the epitome of what Osip Mandelstam described in a memorable poem as ‘
the wolfhound century
’. If Grossman did not witness the worst horrors of the famine, he certainly heard of them or saw the results, as skeletal figures begged beside railway tracks in the hope of a generous traveller throwing them a crust. He described this Ukrainian famine in his last novel,
Forever Flowing
, including the execution of a woman accused of eating her two children.

BOOK: A Writer at War
11.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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