Life and Fate is for me one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, chronicling unflinchingly the horrors it inflicted, and written by a journalist who reported from the front line of Stalingrad, who was at the liberation of Treblinka and who lost his own mother in a ghetto in the Ukraine.  It was allegedly the only book the KGB ever actually arrested, and Grossman died knowing if it would ever see publication.

Among the many hellish realities he evokes, he comments on the impact of music on people in concentration and other camps, including those who heard an orchestra playing for them on their way to the gas chambers.

‘Perhaps music was just the key to a man’s feelings, not what filled him at this terrible moment, but the key that unlocked his innermost core.’

‘People in camps, people in prisons, people who have escaped from prison, people going to their death, know the extraordinary power of music.  No one else can experience music in quite the same way.’


Source: Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate, trans. Robert Chandler (New York: New York Review Books, 2006 (1985)), p. 539-40

Photo credits: Simon Wijers at; Paul Morris at

Vasily Grossman - Life and Fate


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