This article is about those few fellow humans who dedicated their lives to resistance and who never gave up their fight for human freedom and dignity. Some of them were murdered, some died at an early age from incurable diseases, others reached old age. I am reminded of Ghandi, George Orwell and Vasily Grossman, Leon Tolstoy… Here however, I will briefly explain how one of these bold men, -Vasily Grosmann- endured resistance and expressed it empirically in his own lifetime and his novels.

According to Chris Hedges 1 “resistance entails suffering. It requires self-sacrifice. It accepts that we may be destroyed. It is not rational. It is not about the pursuit of happiness. It is about the pursuit of freedom. (…) To resist evil is the highest achievement of human life.” 2

In Vasily Grossman’s life, evil manifested itself in the Nazi invasion of the Ukraine in September 1941, were 30 000 jews were slaughtered in the town of Berdechev; in the battle of Stalingrad, in Stalin’s totalitarian state; the KGB, the NKVD 3, and the horror he witnessed at Treblinka concentration camp towards the end of the Second World War. According to Robert Chandler, Grossman’s translator, “Grossman’s evocation of Stalingrad is at least as vivid as Tolstoy’s evocation of Austerlitz.”4 Grossman’s direct experience and first hand observation of death and suffering, in the battle of Stalingrad and in the Nazis death camps shows a man capable of the greatest suffering and yet able of keeping a clear mind among so much violence and cruelty, reporting his experiences as a journalist and a novelist as testified in his notes, letters and novels: “Grossman felt it was his duty to speak on behalf of the dead “on behalf of those who lie on the earth”. He also felt sustained by the dead; he believed that their strength could help him fulfil his duty towards the living.” 5

In “Good Day, Mr. Shtrum” in the London Review of Books, John Lancaster also comments on the vivacity and intensity of the Soviet novelist’s accounts of cruelty and death: ” His writing about the Holocaust has a rare freshness , because he was writing at the same moment he was finding out what had happened” and “He interviewed witnesses and survivors and published the first account of the (concentration) camp in any language” 6

Here is a man enduring the suffering of a great many people, in Soviet Russia and Ukraine and in Nazi Germany. Yet he moves forward and is able to resist the forces of darkness in many of its most violent manifestations. Although Grossman is deeply affected by his direct experiences with evil -just as any other human being would- he remains human, compassionate, helpful within the impossible, and never loses his belief in human beings; Vasily’s own daughter Ekaterina Korotkova Grossman wrote that “He believed that even in the most terrible person you can find something bright.” 7 The author of ‘Life and Fate’ had his own personal problems too, his own suffering to overcome – his mother and other members of his family had been murdered by the Nazis in the Ukraine-. Moreover, at an individual level he was been looked closely by the NKVD and was lucky not to have been arrested and sent to a Gulag. The publication of his greatest novel and lifework ‘Life and Fate’ had been blocked by Soviet censorship; feeling desperate and unsettled “Grossman appealed directly to the First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist party of the Soviet Union: “I am physically free, but the book to which I have dedicated my life is in jail,” he wrote to Nikita Khrushchev. “But it is I who wrote it, and I have not repudiated and am not repudiating it… I continue to believe that I have written the truth and that I wrote it loving, empathizing with, and believing in the people. I ask for freedom for my book.8

Although Vasily was physically a free man, freedom for his historic literary work “was not an option” 9. I can imagine that in the last years of his life he did not feel intellectually free either and would die from cancer years later. As tragic as his life was, the master chronicler endured and never lost his capacity to love his fellow human beings. If endurance and resistance mean anything “it is about the capacity to love. It is about honoring the sacred. It is about dignity. It is about sacrifice. It is about courage. It is about being free” 10 And I cannot think of a better example of a man who possessed all these virtues -under the most extreme existential circumstances- than Vasily Grossman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes:

  1. Pullitzer Prize winning journalist, New York Times best -selling author and former professor at Princeton University.
  2. Chris Hedges, “The Cost of Resistance”, Truthdig, November 5, 2017
  3. NKVD, People’s Commissariat for Internal Affair
  4. Vassily Grossman, by Robert Chandler, Prospect Magazine, September 2006
  5. Idem
  6. John Lancaster, “Good day. Comrade Shtrum”, London Review of Books, October 2007.
  7. Luke Harding, “Vasily Groosman, Russia’s Greatest Chronicler Awaits Redemption”, The Guardian, Moscow, May 2010
  8. Liel Liebovitz, “The Secret of Nationalism: Vasily Grossman’s Armenian Sketchbook”, www.creativemedia.org, May 2017
  9. Idem
  10. Chris Hedges, “The Cost of Resistance”, Truthdig, November 5, 2017