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  • Through the Maelstrom: A Red Army Soldier’s War on the Eastern Front
  • Lee Baker
Through the Maelstrom: A Red Army Soldier’s War on the Eastern Front. By Boris Gorbachevsky. Translated and edited by Stuart Britton. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008. ISBN 978-0-70061605-3. Illustrations. Notes. Selected bibliography. Index. Pp. xix, 453. $36.95.

There is an enormous amount of material upon which historians of the Second World War can rely when researching and writing. In addition to official documents there are numerous memoirs. Those written by German veterans of the Second World War have been published ever since the end of the war, but until fairly recently there were no memoirs from Soviet veterans, and those which did exist could not be [End Page 1379] read without great care as to intent, censorship, and a host of issues which made them problematic (some of the same problems can be seen in German memoirs). While still requiring careful reading, many of the memoirs coming from the Soviet veterans of the east have proven to be very valuable in understanding the war.

This memoir is an addition to the Modern War Studies series put out by Kansas over the last few years. It is an excellent addition to the literature, in this case the memories of Red Army veterans. While no memoir can satisfy everyone, this one goes a long way towards answering the questions most historians would pose if given the chance to interview a veteran of the fighting in the east. This inclusiveness makes the book not only lengthy for a memoir but also one of the best available because it addresses so many issues. It begins, as usual with this genre, with some background family information (Jews from the countryside outside of Moscow) and then continues with the author’s training experiences. The remainder of the book segues back and forth between the war years and the immediate pre-war years. This allows the author to weave both his personal and professional life into the narrative. His initial engagement, and the bulk of his combat experience, came near Moscow in the great battle at Rzhev during the summer of 1942 and lasted until March 1943, during which time entire Soviet armies disappeared into this meat grinder. The author then participated in the battles which drove the Germans from Moscow and Smolensk and on to Orsha, where the Soviet summer offensives of 1944 smashed the entire central front. His unit then drove westward into Poland and Prussia, finally ending up in Silesia by the war’s end. The author thus participated in some of the largest and most important battles in the east, but instead of focusing too heavily on fighting, which in memoirs tends to become the mere description of local events (think of Guy Sajer’s memoir), he focuses on Soviet fighting techniques and the inanities of army life, including both its highlights and low lights. He is especially careful to point out the stupidities of army leaders and the pointlessness of much of their effort to stop the Germans. His criticisms form a large part of the narrative, which makes it both useful and an interesting addition to memoir literature. But the descriptions of the various battles, of which the battle for Rzhev forms the bulk of the book, are worthy of being read by both specialists and the general reader.

Lee Baker
University of Cincinnati, Raymond Walters College
Cincinnati, Ohio