Life and Fate Read Along, Part 2 Chapter 43

Life and Fate Read Along, Part 2 Chapter 43
Photo by Wesley Tingey / Unsplash

This post, covering Part 2, Chapter 43 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.

One of the throughlines of Life and Fate is the question of responsibility. The power of the State — either the overwhelming power of the Bolsheviks or the all-encompassing totalitarianism of Fascism — rolls over people in the millions in its quest.

Of course, it is not the State rolling over those millions. It is the people who comprise the State who do that. It is not the German State who murdered Jews in their millions in the Second World War; it was Private Roze, Khmelkov, Zhuchenko and the subject of this chapter Sturmbannführer Kaltluft. It was many more people like them besides. 

The narrator poses to us a theoretical, celestial trial of Kaltluft. How did he become such an unparalleled butcher of mankind? Well,  it was merely fate, he might say. “What else could have been done in the face of such powerful forces – the war, fervent nationalism, the adamancy of the Party, the will of the State? How could he have swum against the current?” (p. 536)

There is no heavenly court to judge Kaltluft. Or — if there is, it will have come far too late to matter. But there are other judges like the State or society. If Kaltluft survives to the end of the war, it will be these judges who decide if he swings or not.