Life and Fate Read Along, Part 2 Chapter 28

This post, covering Part 2, Chapter 28 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.

It seems almost impossible to speak about atrocity without in some way lessening it. We often conceptualize mass murder in terms of its numbers. Thirty people are killed by a gunman. Nine hundred cult members ingest cyanide. Two million people are liquidated in revolutionary fervor. 

Of course, it would be ridiculous to have such a conversation without emphasizing the scale of the dead. Yet all too often, such events are reduced only to numbers. Genocide and mass murder are bad; and the higher the number is, the worse they are. Tens, hundreds, millions of irreplaceable peoples, traditions, family secrets — all gone forever, remembered only as a package deal. 

Grossman often reminds his readers that these people are not simple statistics. When he re-introduces Sofya Levinton to Life and Fate, the following chapters highlight the individual human lives lost. That mini-arc comes to a head in a brief chapter on the depthless complexity of the individual before the narrator reminds us, “Fascism annihilated tens of millions of people.” (p. 273)

Grossman takes this same technique to several aspects of the Holocaust. Another example: the very method by which it was carried out. We may speak of a “machinery of death,” but Liss’ mundane project management feels truly and horribly industrial.