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This article is taken from PN Review 251, Volume 46 Number 3, January - February 2020.

‘The simple arithmetic of brutality’ David Herman
Alexandra Popoff, Vasily Grossman and the Soviet Century (Yale University Press) £25
Vasily Grossman, Stalingrad, translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler (Harvill Secker) £25
John & Carol Garrard, The Life and Fate of Vasily Grossman (Pen & Sword Military) £25

On 14 February 1961 three KGB officers entered Vasily Grossman’s apartment in Moscow and confiscated more than 10,000 pages of typescripts, including seven drafts of Grossman’s masterpiece, Life and Fate, one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.

Grossman was an outstanding war novelist and reporter. From 1941–45 he was attached to the Red Army. He wrote about two of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War, Stalingrad and Kursk, the greatest tank battle in history.

Grossman was also among the first to write about the Holocaust. As the Germans retreated, he saw what had happened to the Jews in the Ukraine and wrote his famous report, ‘Ukraine without Jews’ (unpublished in Russian during his lifetime). His mother was one of 12,000 Jews killed in one day at Berdichev, one of the first mass killings by the Einsatzgruppen. He never recovered from her death. As he continued west with the Red Army in 1944, Grossman entered Poland. In September they arrived at Treblinka. His report, ‘The Hell of Treblinka’, was one of the first published accounts of a Nazi death camp. It was widely translated and distributed at Nuremberg as part of the evidence against the Nazis. He brought back a child’s building block and a shoe ...

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