Vasily Grossman’s translator, Robert Chandler, describes Grossman’s letters to and from his mother, all written by himself, in a heart-rending response to the grief of losing her when she died in a ghetto,  Although I have come across letters written but not sent, or sent but not received, this is the first time I’ve heard of someone writing a letter they wish they could have received, and then responding to it.

Grossman not only wrote the farewell letter he wished he had received from his mother; he also replied to it. After his death, an envelope was found among his papers; in it were two letters he had written to his mother on September 15, 1950, and September 15, 1961, on the ninth and twentieth anniversaries of her death, along with two photographs. One photograph shows his mother with Grossman when he was a child; the other, taken by Grossman from the pocket of a dead SS officer, shows hundreds of naked dead women and girls in a large pit. We have included the first of these photographs but not the second. In both his fictional and his journalistic treatments of the Shoah, Grossman always does all he can to restore dignity to the dead and to enable the reader to see them as individuals.

See Chandler’s essay on Grossman’s mother and her influence on his life.  It also features a photo of them together.

Source: Robert Chandler, Introduction to Three Letters, The Road: Stories, Journalism, and Essays, trans. Robert and Elizabeth Chandler with Olga Mukovnikova, afterword Fyodor Guber (New York: New York Review Books, 2010), pp. 263-64


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