Life and Fate Read Along, Part 1 Chapter 46

This post, covering Part 1, Chapter 46, is part of The Slavic Literature Pod’s chapter a day read along of Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. Learn more about our project here.

The Holocaust did not start at the 1942 Wannsee Conference, which led to the creation of the extermination camps. In the years prior, einsatzgruppen (assisted by the SS and local collaborators) also carried out what’s called the Holocaust or Shoah by bullet, wherein over 1.5 million Jews were shot and killed. 

This is how the Nazis killed Grossman’s mother, Yekaterina Savelyevna Grossman. Whether or not her experiences informed his writing in this chapter is impossible to say for sure, but it is difficult to imagine the thought never crossed his mind. 

Similar to the previous two chapters, Grossman continues his exploration of this holocaust with an eye towards returning life to its victims — perhaps this Natasha is based off a story he heard or a record he read, perhaps she is an amalgamation, or perhaps she is an invention to let the reader experience this horrible moment without forgetting the human life lost. 

Robert Chandler includes in The Road, a collection of Grossman’s stories, two letters written to his mother after her death. Those letters were found along with a pair of photos: “One photograph shows his mother with Grosman when he was a child; the other, taken by Grossman from the pocket of a dead SS officer, shows hundreds of naked dead women and girls in a large put. We have included the first of these photographs but not the second … Grossman does all he can to restore dignity to the dead and to enable the reader to see them as individuals” (p. 264)