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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 6.3 (2005) 657-664

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I. A. Ioffe and N. K. Petrova, eds., "Molodaia gvardiia" (g. Krasnodon): Khudozhestvennyi obraz i istoricheskaia real´nost´. Sbornik dokumentov i materialov [The "Young Guard" (Krasnodon): Artistic Image and Historical Reality. A Collection of Documents and Materials]. 368 pp. Moscow: Veche, 2003. ISBN 595330160X.

The city of Krasnodon is a former workers' settlement located on the easternmost side of Ukraine, bordering Russia (Lugansk oblast´ in Russian, Luhans´k in Ukrainian).1 It is a small city (in 1939, its population was 22,220), one of many that dot the Donbas coal-and-steel industrial region. Krasnodon has no special claim to fame, except that it has become well known as a result of the celebrated case of the youth partisan group Molodaia gvardiia (Young Guard) under the German occupation. Soon after the liberation of Krasnodon in 1943, the Young Guard was made famous by Soviet authorities and the publication in 1945 of the namesake novel by the writer A. A. Fadeev. The case of the Young Guard, one of the most famous in the Soviet partisan movement, is all the more remarkable given that the steppe land of the Donbasunlike, say, the thickly wooded areas of the western borderlandswas not a stronghold of the partisan movement, and the partisan group was largely massacred by the occupation forces without scoring any major military success. Without the intervention of the highest Soviet authorities, the Young Guard would have acquired only local notoriety. There were political reasons for the Soviet authorities to promote this case. Fadeev himself may have had a professional or personal incentive to take up the story of the Young Guard,2 but he adopted an official Soviet version of its history [End Page 657] more or less loyally and published his novel, only to be forced by pressures from the highest political authorities to rewrite it extensively for the sake of political propaganda and political education.3 Generations of Soviet youth were educated by Fadeev's work. What is generally known about the Young Guard comes from Fadeev's Molodaia gvardiia, but the book, like the official Soviet history of the Young Guard, is replete with fiction. The present collection of documents helps distinguish fiction and fact and understand the mechanisms behind the political manipulation of history.

Krasnodon was occupied by German, Italian, and Romanian forces on 20 July 1942 and liberated on 15 February 1943. The Young Guard may have consisted of well over 100 partisans, far from all of whom have been identified, but many of whom are known to have been Komsomol members; some leading members had been trained in special intelligence schools of the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD). During the relatively short period of occupation, the group staged a number of operations, the most successful of which, it is claimed, included the hoisting of red flags atop several buildings to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the October Revolution on 7 November 1942 and the burning of the Krasnodon labor bureau (birzha truda) in December 1942 on the eve of a planned labor conscription. Yet by January–February 1943, the Young Guard was decimated by Nazi counterintelligence, which arrested, savagely tortured (including the gouging of eyes), and executed more than 70 of them by shooting or by throwing them alive down mine shafts. The heroic deaths of so many youngsters (most of whom were teenagers) naturally attracted the attention of the Soviet authorities.

Immediately after the liberation of Krasnodon, the head of the Ukrainian NKVD outlined the reason for the decimation of the Young Guard: treason by some of its members (17–19). By late July 1943, a special commission of the Komsomol Central Committee, headed by A. V. Toritsyn, concluded its investigation and wrote a report on the Young Guard affair (37–72), an outline of which was published in September. This report was influenced inordinately by E. N. Koshevaia, the mother of one of the...


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