“History’s only true heroes, the only true leaders of mankind are those who help to establish freedom, who see freedom as the greatest strength of an individual, a nation, or state, who fight for the equality, in all respects, of every individual, people, and nation.”
–Vassily Grossman, from Stalingrad, translated by Robert Chandler & Elizabeth Chandler
Grossman is one of the great world literature figures of the 20th century. His novel Life and Fate is a masterpiece. Life and Fate was published posthumously but Stalingrad, was published in his lifetime, in the 1950s, with much editing by Soviet censors and publishers.
The two books are a duology, with Stalingrad being part I and Life and Fate its sequel. Like Tolstoy’s War and Peace there are philosophical chapters on war and history and the above concludes a brilliant and hairraising chapter analyzing Hitler and his rise to power. Interestingly in both of Stalingrad‘s USSR’s publications in the 1950s the chapter was cut from the book. The analysis some thought might also apply to Lenin and Stalin.
In the early 1960s, Grossman was dying of cancer and struggling with authorities to get Life and Fate published. Instead, the book, while praised, was, as he said “arrested.” Authorities said it would be safe to publish in 200 or 300 years. Grossman seemed to cooperate with authorities in surrendering manuscripts but two copies were hidden, survived, and led to the book’s publication after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Grossman was also a phenomenal war correspondent. He was among the first to write about Nazi death camps and his reporting was used at Nuremberg in the war crimes trials. His mother was a victim and his attention to the Jews as special victims of Nazi brutality ran afoul of Soviet orthodoxy that there were no categories of victims of fascism. Were it not for Grossman’s popularity as a war correspondent he likely would have been purged after the war and only Stalin’s death in the early 50s saved him from a purge of Jews in the so-called “Doctor’s Plot”.
Enduring history is not just told by the victors; it’s also told by the survivors and their descendants.
Read yesterday’s Thought. Thought of the Day (TOD) is selected by Rick Larios, Monday-Friday, minus public holidays and an arbitrarily chosen summer vacation. Saturday and Sunday, Stacey will be selecting TODs from the archives of past postings. Often, but not always, a comment comes with the quote. TOD originates as a personal email list-sharing and is further shared here with permission. A poem appears in full on Fridays; the copyright belongs to the poet and/or publisher. Buy poetry you like. It will be good for you, good for poets, and order from your local community bookstore and it will be good for them too.