- Victims, Victors: From Nazi Occupation to the Conquest of Germany as Seen by a Red Army Soldier
This work traces the life beginning in the 1930s of the son of a World War I officer in the Russian Imperial Army living in eastern Poland . Two thirds of the book is a translation of the author's diary, kept almost on a daily basis from 1941 to 1944. Each entry is followed by the author's recent evaluations and copious notes added by the translator and editors. During this period the Germans killed about 8,000 of his hometown's 30,000 inhabitants to systematically rid the area of Jews. In addition thousands of young men and women were sent to Germany to work on farms and in factories to replace Germans in the armed forces.
The last third of the book is a series of anecdotes with two objectives: to relate the author's experience in the Red Army in 1945 and his life as a veteran during the changes that occurred in the Soviet Union after the war. The author's main objective was to reveal the impact of the Holocaust on a small town in the Ukraine where his friends were loaded on trucks, taken to a ditch outside of town, shot down by the hundreds, and covered with lime and dirt. His diary, a chilling first-hand account, was used as evidence against the Nazi party at the Nuremberg trials. His second objective in his life as a veteran is achieved, not because of the extensive detail, but from the use of minor events to illustrate the vast changes that occurred in Russia and their impact on individuals.
The author's home town of Kremenets passed from Russia to Poland in 1918, to the Soviet Union in 1939, was occupied by the Germans in 1941, finally occupied by the Russians in 1944, and later became part of the independent nation of Ukraine. As the town changed hands, the family was constantly harassed by authorities because of his father's role in World War I. Under Polish rule the father was suspect as a representative of the hated Russians. The Ukrainians, most of the population, disliked the family for the same reason. The Russians suspected the father as a representative of the "Whites," who had opposed the Communists in the revolution and the civil war. Under German rule, the family was harassed because they represented the hated Communist Russians. In his youth the author was bullied because [End Page 1291] he was a Russian in a Polish school. The Germans suspected the father because he was a reserve officer in the Polish army, and the Russians finally questioned why he had remained in the German occupied zone. As a result the author lived in constant fear and was repeatedly denied opportunities despite his qualifications.
The major influence on the author's life was his father; his mother is rarely mentioned. Suffering from the supposed sins of his father, he never wavered in his respect for his father's integrity. He inherited from his father the belief that evil is the result of fanaticism, religious, political, and social, and that toleration of others was absolutely essential. During his life he had ample examples of the harm inflicted on others by fanatics; this forms the major thread of this book, that fanaticism by any group leads to evil and that toleration is the basis of good.
This very intelligent author earned the nickname in the army of "Mr. Intellectual." Disregarding his intelligence, he was repeatedly denied admission to schools because of his father's position, time that he put to good use through self study. On this own he learned to speak German, Ukrainian, Polish, and Yiddish in addition to his native Russian. As a school boy on a daily basis he followed the events leading to World War II and the battles that followed. He learned the...