Vasily Grossman

Vasily Grossman

Infobox Writer
name = Vasily Grossman

imagesize = 200px
caption =
pseudonym =
birthdate = birth date|1905|12|12|mf=y
birthplace = Berdychiv, Russian Empire
deathdate = death date and age|1964|9|14|1905|12|12
deathplace = Moscow, USSR
occupation = writer, journalist
nationality =
period =
genre =
subject =
movement =
notableworks = Life and Fate (novel)
influences =
influenced =
website =

Vasily Semyonovich Grossman (first name alternatively spelled as Vassily or Vasiliy, _ru. Василий Семёнович Гроссман), December 12 1905 – September 14 1964, was a prominent Soviet-era writer and journalist.

Early life and career

Born Iosif Solomonovich Grossman in Berdychiv, Russian Empire (today in Ukraine) into an emancipated Jewish family, he did not receive a traditional Jewish education. A Russian nanny turned his name "Yossya" into Russian "Vasya" (a diminutive of "Vasily"), which was accepted by the whole family. His father had social-democratic convictions and joined the Mensheviks. Young Vasily Grossman idealistically supported the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Grossman began writing short stories while studying at Moscow State University and later continued his literary activity working as an engineer in the Donbass. One of his first short stories, "In the town of Berdichev" (В городе Бердичеве), drew favorable attention and encouragement from Maxim Gorky and Mikhail Bulgakov. The movie "Comissar" (director Aleksandr Askoldov), made in 1967, suppressed by the KGB and released only in October 1990, is based on this four-page story.

In the mid-1930s Grossman left his job as an engineer and committed himself fully to writing. By 1936 he had published two collections of stories, and in 1937 was accepted into the privileged Union of Writers. During the Great Purge some of his friends and close relatives were arrested, including his common-law wife. For months he petitioned the authorities to release her, which happened in 1938.

War reporter

When the Great Patriotic War broke out in 1941, Grossman's mother was trapped in Berdichev by the invading German army, and eventually murdered together with 20,000 to 30,000 other Jews who did not evacuate Berdychiv. Grossman was exempt from military service, but volunteered for the front, where he spent more than 1,000 days. He became a war reporter for the popular Red Army newspaper "Krasnaya Zvezda" (Red Star). As the war raged on, he covered its major events, including the Battle of Moscow, the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk, and the Battle of Berlin. In addition to war journalism, his novels (such as "The People are Immortal" (Народ бессмертен)) were being published in newspapers and he came to be regarded as a legendary war hero. The novel "Stalingrad" (1950), later renamed "For a Just Cause" (За правое дело), is based on his own experiences during the siege.

Grossman's descriptions of ethnic cleansing in Ukraine and Poland, and the liberation of the Treblinka and Majdanek extermination camps, were some of the first eyewitness accounts —as early as 1943—of what later became known as the Holocaust. His article "The Hell of Treblinka" [ru icon [ Треблинский ад (Tryeblinski ad)] ] 1944) was disseminated at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal as evidence for the prosecution.

Conflict with the Soviet regime

Grossman participated in the assembly of the Black Book, a project of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee to document the crimes of the Holocaust. The post-war suppression of the Black Book by the Soviet state shook him to the core, and he began to question his own loyal support of the Soviet regime. First the censors ordered changes in the text to conceal the specifically anti-Jewish character of the atrocities and to downplay the role of Ukrainians who worked with the Nazis as police. Then, in 1948, the Soviet edition of the book was scrapped completely. The poet Semyon Lipkin, Grossman's friend, believed it was Joseph Stalin's post-war antisemitic campaign that cracked Grossman's belief in the Soviet system:

Grossman also criticized collectivization and political repressions of peasants that led to Holodomor tragedy. He wrote that "The decree [about grain procurement] required that the peasants of the Ukraine, the Don and the Kuban be put to death by starvation, put to death along with their little children" Robert Conquest (1986) [ "The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine"] . Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505180-7. ]

Because of state persecution, only a few of Grossman's post-war works were published during his lifetime. After he submitted for publication his magnum opus, the novel "Life and Fate" (Жизнь и судьба, 1959), the KGB raided his apartment. The manuscripts, carbon copies, notebooks, as well as the typists' copies and even the typewriter ribbons were seized.

With the "Thaw period" underway after the death of Stalin, Grossman wrote to Nikita Khrushchev: "What is the point of me being physically free when the book I dedicated my life to is arrested... I am not renouncing it... I am requesting freedom for my book." The Politburo ideology chief Mikhail Suslov told Grossman that his book could not be published for at least three hundred years:

"Life and Fate", as well as his last major novel, "Forever Flowing" (Все течет, 1961), were considered a threat to the totalitarian regime, and the dissident writer was effectively transformed into a nonperson. "Forever Flowing," in particular, is unique in its quiet, unforced, and yet horrifying condemnation of the Soviet totalitarian state, a work in which Grossman, liberated from worries about censors, spoke honestly about Soviet history. Grossman died of stomach cancer in 1964, not knowing whether his novels would ever be read by the public.


"Life and Fate" was published in 1980 in Switzerland, thanks to fellow dissidents: physicist
Andrei Sakharov secretly photographed draft pages preserved by Semyon Lipkin, and the writer Vladimir Voinovich managed to smuggle the photographic films abroad. The book was finally published on Russian soil in 1988 after the policy of glasnost was initiated by Mikhail Gorbachev. "Forever Flowing" was published in the Soviet Union in 1989.

"Life and Fate" is considered to be an autobiographical work. Robert Chandler, the novel's English translator, has written in his introduction to the Harvill edition that its leading character, Viktor Shtrum, "is a portrait of the author himself," reflecting in particular his anguish at the murder of his mother at the Berdichev Ghetto. Chapter 18, a letter from Shtrum's mother, Anna, has been dramatized for the stage and film "The Last Letter" (2002), directed by Frederick Wiseman, and starring Catherine Samie. Chandler additionally suggests that the character of Shtrum is based on the physicist Lev Landau.

Some critics have compared Grossman's novels to Leo Tolstoy's monumental prose. ["Tolstoy Studies Journal": Ellis, Frank. "Concepts of War in L.N. Tolstoy and V.S. Grossman." Volume II, 1989, pp. 101-108.] [ [ Biography of Grossman] (PDF) by Gregory Freidin, Stanford University]



*...there is no higher happiness than to be able to crawl on one's stomach, out of the camp, blind, one's legs amputated, and to die in freedom, even if only ten yards from the cursed barbed wire.

*...only one form of retribution is visited upon an executioner — the fact that he looks upon his victim as something other than a human being and thereby ceases to be a human being himself, and thereby executes himself as a human being. He is his own executioner... ("Forever Flowing")

* "Man never understands that the cities he has built are not an integral part of Nature. If he wants to defend his culture from wolves and snowstorms, if he wants to save it from being strangled by weeds, he must keep his broom, spade, and rifle always at hand. If he goes to sleep, if he thinks about something else for a year or two, then everything's lost. The wolves come out of the forest, the thistles spread and everything is buried under dust and snow." ("Life and Fate")

ee also

*History of the Soviet Union
*History of the Jews in Russia and Soviet Union
*Ilya Ehrenburg
*Varlam Shalamov
*Solomon Mikhoels
*Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee
*Doctors' plot


*"Life and Fate" (ISBN 0-00-261454-5 - first English translation edition, other editions ISBN 0-09-950616-5; ISBN 1-59-017201-9; ISBN 1-86-046019-4)
*"Forever Flowing" (European Classics - ISBN 0-8101-1503-4)
*"The Black Book: The Ruthless Murder of Jews by German-Fascist Invaders Throughout the Temporarily-Occupied Regions of the Soviet Union and in the Death Camps of Poland during the War 1941–1945." by Vasily Grossman and Ilya Ehrenburg (ISBN 0-89604-031-3)
*"Commissar" (ISBN 6301884345)
*ru icon [ Grossman's publications] at


*"The Bones of Berdichev: The Life and Fate of Vasily Grossman" by John Gordon Garrard, Carol Garrard (ISBN 0-684-82295-4)
*"Vasiliy Grossman: The Genesis and Evolution of a Russian Heretic" by Frank Ellis (ISBN 0-85496-830-X)
* "A Writer at War: Vasily Grossman with the Red Army, 1941-1945" by Anthony Beevor and Luba Vinogradova (Pantheon, 2006 - ISBN 0-375-42407-5 ) - Based on Grossman's notebooks, war diaries, personal correspondence and articles.

External links

*ru icon [ 100th anniversary of Vasily Grossman's birthday] Interview with Yekaterina Korotkova (Grossman)
* [ "Under Siege"] , from The New Yorker, March 6, 2006.
*ru icon "The one who said the forbidden words. To centennial anniversary of Vasily Grossman", an article in Zerkalo Nedeli "(Mirror Weekly)", Kiev, available online [ in Russian] and [ in Ukrainian] .
*Chandler, Robert. [ "Vasily Grossman" (HTML)] [ (PDF)] , "Prospect", Issue 126, September 2006
* Eli Shaltiel: " [ Eyewitness to hell] " (Ha'aretz, 30 October 2006)
* [ Introduction from "Life and Fate"]
*ru icon [ Святой Василий, не веривший в Бога] (St. Vasily Who Did Not Believe in God) by Antonina Krishchenko. 20 September 2002

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