The Soviet Union’s Great World War II Novel—and the Great Novel of Soviet Jewry

Vasily Grossman’s epic novel Life and Fate was first published in the Soviet Union 30 years ago—24 years after its author’s death and 27 years after the KGB seized the manuscript for its subversive content. Fortunately, the book had been smuggled out of the country in the 1970s and made its way to Western audiences. Among the once-forbidden subjects of this sweeping tale of Stalinism and World War II are the Holocaust and Soviet anti-Semitism. As a journalist, Grossman had reported extensively on the first and as a Jew he had experienced the second, which claimed the lives of his mother and other family members. Jacob Howland revisits the book and its moral and philosophical message:

Physics . . . furnishes a rich fund of images in Life and Fate. Viktor Shtrum, the book’s central character, struggles to work out the mathematics of the disintegration of atomic nuclei; Grossman’s narrative, densely populated with characters displaced by enormous acts of aggression, simultaneously records a kind of massive nuclear reaction.

Like energized, destabilized atoms, individuals violently collide, clump together, split apart, and experience various degrees of psychological fission. A kindly German governess is denounced by a Russian neighbor who covets her room. A Jewish doctor in a Ukrainian town occupied by the Wehrmacht finds her door smashed and women arguing over her furniture. . . . A Jewish commissar is made to “frown, twitch, and turn away” on seeing the look of a Jewish airman he has publicly reprimanded for “nationalist prejudices” when he defends himself against anti-Semitism. A comrade of Trotsky’s learns in the Lubyanka prison “how a man could be split apart” by the state he had helped to found. . . .

The Soviet victory [in World War II] meant that the peoples of Nazi-occupied Europe would be liberated from ideological tyranny. Yet the final defeat of Hitler cut off only one of the monster’s two heads—and anyway, both grew back. [The battle of] Stalingrad also saved Stalin, which meant that the peoples of Eastern Europe and the northern half of the Korean peninsula would be shoveled into the maw of Communism. And it fed an ugly Russian nationalism that picked out fresh targets of state oppression, including Tatars and Jews—the very people Vladimir Putin would blame for alleged interference in the 2016 election, dismissing them as “not even Russian . . . just with Russian passports.” . . .

When Viktor returns to Moscow, he is persecuted by detractors who regard his theoretical [scientific] work as an anti-Soviet piece of “talmudic abstraction,” and his Jewish laboratory assistants are fired. In Stalingrad, the victorious state’s cannibalization of the victorious people commences while the guns are still hot.

Read more at New Criterion

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Holocaust, Jewish literature, Joseph Stalin, Soviet Jewry, Soviet Union, Vasily Grossman, World War II

Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security