Grossman, Vasili Semyonovich

views updated


GROSSMAN, VASILI SEMYONOVICH (Joseph Solomonovich ; 1905–1964), Soviet Russian writer. Born to a traditional Yiddish-speaking family in the intensely Jewish town of Berdichev, he moved to Moscow as a young man and, after graduating from the university, worked for a time as a chemical engineer in the coal mines of Donbas. His short story V gorode Berdicheve ("In the Town of Berdichev," 1934), which described the Civil War in and around his home town, earned the praise of Maxim Gorki. Grossman's most important early work is Stepan Kolchugin (1937–40), a three-volume novel describing the Communist underground before the Revolution. He became famous as the author of Narod bessmerten ("The People Is Immortal," 1942), the first important Soviet novel inspired by World War ii. It was published in the Soviet army gazette Red Star, where he served as a war correspondent. The Holocaust of Soviet Jewry finds expression in the novels: Staryi Uchitel ("Old Teacher," 1943) and Treblinskii Ad ("The Inferno of Treblinka," 1945). His second war novel, Za pravoye delo, ("For the Just Cause"), the first part of which appeared in 1952, was never completed. It was found ideologically objectionable because of its underestimation of the Communist Party's role in the forging of victory over Nazism. Another cause of official displeasure probably was Grossman's emphasis on such "minor" traits of Nazism as the mass extermination of the Jews and its strong nationalism. Coming as they did at the height of Soviet antisemitic campaigns and the wave of glorification of everything Russian, Grossman's observations were against the official line. Somewhat earlier, fragments of the manuscript confiscated by the kgb were published in the West under the name Zhizn I Sudba ("Life and Fate," 1980). From 1956 until his death he worked on a book about the tragic Stalinist period, the anti-Jewish campaign, the persecution of intellectuals by the party apparatus, and the repression of any free thinking. It was published as Vsio Techot ("Everything Is Flawed") in the Samizdat in the 1960s and in Germany in 1970. Grossman and Ilya *Ehrenburg had tried to publish a "Black Book" of documentary evidence of Nazi crimes committed against the Jews on Soviet territory. The book was already set in type, but, as Ehrenburg pointed out in his memoirs, its publication was banned by the Soviet authorities, and the kgb destroyed the type frames. One volume was eventually published in Bucharest (1947) under the title Cartea Neagr, with a foreword by Grossman. A copy of the original manuscript is in the archive of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem and was published there in 1980.


V.M. Akimov et al. (eds.), Russkiye Sovetskiye pisateli prozaiki, 1 (1959), 609–25; D. Litani, in: Yedi'ot Yad Vashem, 23/24 (1960), 24–26 (on the Black Book).

[Maurice Friedberg /

Shmuel Spector (2nd ed.)]

About this article

Grossman, Vasili Semyonovich

Updated About content Print Article