Life and Fate Read Along, Part 2 Chapter 14

This post, covering Part 2, Chapter 14 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.

After being taken by the SS guards, Mostovskoy spends weeks in isolation. Fed well and visited by doctors, his expectations of torture and interrogation morph into a sort-of self-flagellation. This stress, at one point, induces a heart attack. 

And then, finally, they come for him. Only — instead of an interrogation room, they bring him to a warm, handsomely-decorated office. There he meets a short, unassuming man in an SS uniform: Obersturmbannführer Liss. 

Liss greets Mostovskoy warmly and asks him to sit. As the old Bolshevik sits in silence and confusion, Liss begins to speak with him with fondness. More than that — he speaks to Mostovskoy as if they were equals, comrades from parallel struggles

The terrible thing about Liss, Mostovskoy comes to understand, is that he seems to admire the power of the USSR. The years of Yezhovshchina inspire various feelings among our Soviet characters: fear, disgust, sadness, resignation, a weak insistence that it had to be done. 

In Liss, however, we find enthusiastic understanding. In fact, his ideology is a terrible evolution of Bach’s — he worships at the altar of greatness, which can only be embodied in the state. Fascism, Communism, those are irrelevancies. He asserts that the communists imprisoned by the Nazis are the same as those victims of 1937 — that is to say, a common enemy. 

To Mostovskoy’s growing horror, Liss glows with pride as he says, “What tortures me, though, is the thought that your terror killed millions – and we Germans were the only ones who could understand, the only men in the world who thought, ‘Yes, that’s absolutely right, that’s how it has to be!’ ” (p. 399)