on 18 December 2005
I had never heard of Grossman until about 2 months ago. Then I heard Beevor talking on the BBC radio about Grossman's writing - including this collection of his wartime notebooks. I bought it and have been astounded and deeply moved by the quality and humanity of his writing. Here is an example from page 252:
(the soviet authorities) found the subject (of russian collaboration with the germans) embarrassing and any mention was entirely suppressed until the fall of communism. Grossman was determined to emphasize the personal tragedy as much as the vast collective crime. He sensed that horror on such a scale should never be reduced to statistics which dehumanized the victims.
" There's no one left in Kazary to complain, no-one to tell, no-one to cry. Silence and calm hover over the dead bodies buried under the collapsed fireplaces now overgrown with weeds. This quiet is much more frightening than tears and curses.
Old men and women are dead, as well as craftsmen and professional people; tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, jewellers, house painters, ironmongers, bookbinders,workers, freight handlers, millers, bakers and cooks; also dead are physicians, prosthesists, surgeons, gynaecologists, scientists - bacteriologists, biochemists, directors of university clinics, teachers of history, algebra, trigonometry. Dead are professors, lecturers and doctors of science, engineers and architects. Dead are agronomists, field workers, accountants, clerks, shop assistants, supply agents, secretaries, nightwatchmen, dead are teachers, dead are babushkas who could knit stockings and make tasty buns, cook bouillon and make strudel with apples and nuts, dead are women who had been faithful to their husbands and frivolous women are dead, too, beautiful girls, and learned students and cheerful schoolgirls, dead are ugly and silly girls, women with hunches, dead are singers, dead are blind and deaf mutes, dead are violinists and pianists, dead are two-year olds and three year olds, dead are eighty year old men and women with cataracts on hazy eyes, with cold and transparent fingers and hair that rustled quietly like white paper, dead are newly born babies who had sucked their mothers breasts greedily until their last minute.
This was different fom the death of people in war, wiht weapons in their hands, the deaths of people who had left behind their houses, families, fields, songs, traditions and stories. This was the murder of a great and ancient professional experience,passed from one generation to another in thousands of families of craftsmen and members of the intelligensia. This was the murder of everday traditions that grandfathers had passed to their grandchildren, this was the murder of memories, of a mournful song, folk poetry, of life, happy and bitter, this was the destruction of hearths and cemetaries, this was the death of the nation which had been living side-by-side with Ukranians over hundreds of years ..."
Grossman accompanied the Red Army in the front line from the debacle of 1941, at Stalingrad and Kursk, until the allied victory in Berlin in 1945. The above extract was written just after the immense battle of Kursk when the Soviet Forces began winning back their territory that had been occupied for 3 years by the German regular Army and the SS.
Beevor is the writer of two important books relating to WW2; Stalingrad; and The Fall of Berlin - the latter being nothing less than the Bumper book of Rape. He came across Grossman while researching these books and decided to collect his notebooks and publish them almost verbatim, albeit in translation. I can only offer my gratitude to him for having done so, thus bringing one of the most important journalists and writers of the 20th century to my (and I hope many other people's)attention.