20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
A unique and moving eyewitness account of the Eastern front,
This review is from: A Writer At War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army 1941-1945 (Paperback)
For several years during the Second World War, as Britain and America gathered their forces for the invasion of France, they did no fighting in Europe. Being "at war" with Germany meant battles for the sea, the air and North Africa. All this time, the real war, a huge war, was going on in eastern Europe between the Axis powers and Russia.
Soviet war correspondent Vasily Grossman saw almost all of it: the racing retreat before the Blitzkrieg, months of slaughter and sniping in Stalingrad, massed tanks at the battle of Kursk, the newly liberated Majdanek concentration camp, the hidden horror of the Treblinka killing centre, the raping rampage towards Berlin and the inside of Hitler's bunker. He had a knack of getting generals to talk and to spot the extraordinary in an ordinary soldier's tale.
He was Jewish (although not religious) and his letters to his mother, who was lost in the holocaust, are some of the most moving things I have ever read. His shockingly candid report on Treblinka, which was used at the Nuremburg trials, tells how a few dozen Germans managed to kill almost a million people in around a year. It would be hard to believe if Grossman hadn't interviewed guards, survivors and local people, and put it all down on paper. The battle of Stalingrad too would be impossible to imagine without his eyewitness account.
Since he was Russian, one might expect Grossman's journalism to be so censured and blindly pro-Stalin as to be worthless. But this is not the case. His reports are full of real people, unusual quirks of war, and telling details; and he was just as despairing of the Red Army's failings as he was proud of its successes. And if he couldn't put something in the newspaper, he wrote about it in his notebooks and letters to his family. We are taught in the west that the Soviet system ruthlessly expunged all dissent. But in reality it was also so inefficient that it failed to snuff out all humanity. Although very politically naive at times, Grossman was one of the lucky ones who slipped through Stalin's net. What we are not taught in the west is that the real war was won and lost on the eastern front. This fascinating account is a rare opportunity to correct that balance and to discover what really happened in the Second World War.
Beevor and Vinogradova deserve high praise and deep thanks for giving us this judiciously edited new perspective.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 3 May 2009 12:18:44 BDT
Roald Schoenmakers says:
It is partially true that the second world war was won and lost on the Eastern Front. Let us not forget, however, that the Soviet Union had invaded Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bukovina, Finland and the Eastern part of Poland before it was attacked itself by Nazi-Germany in 1941. Furthermore we could say that by not loosing the war in 1940, Britain laid the basis of winning the war for the eventual allied powers. Furthermore you do not mention the bombing war on Germany by Britain and the US and the material support of the western allies to the Soviet Union. Finally the invasion of Sicily did have a direct influence on the huge battle of Kursk and the Normandy invasion also drew many German divisions away from the eastern front.
In reply to an earlier post on 11 Feb 2011 22:09:55 GMT
No Roald, the Second World War was very much decided on the German-Soviet front. It was there that the formidable German armies were bled white from 1941 until 1944, so that by the time the Anglo-Americans finally landed in France the Wehrmacht facing them was a shadow of its former glory. By that time also the Luftwaffe had been ground to pieces by the US precision bombing campaign and its mass of fighter escorts, rather than by the British night bombing that concentrated on civilian targets (Hamburg, Dresden etc). No other nation could have sacrificed over 20 million people and continued fighting until final victory was theirs, but the Russians (being the bulk of the former Soviet Union). The Anglo-American naval and land campaigns against the Reich were also of military importance, but they were sideshows compared to the titanic battles and horrendous slaughter taking place between Hitler's and Stalin's forces. Let us give credit where credit is due.
In reply to an earlier post on 21 Feb 2011 10:48:47 GMT
Wota 34659813 says:
Good review. One question though, you mentioned that he talks about the Nazi atrocities like Treblinka and others but does he also cover the atrocities of Soviet soldiers in 1944-45 like the rape and murder of hundreds of thousands of german, polish, czech and other eastern european women?
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