Magazine article WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts

Stalingrad: The City That Defeated the Third Reich

Magazine article WLA ; War, Literature and the Arts

Stalingrad: The City That Defeated the Third Reich

Article excerpt

Stalingrad: The City that Defeated the Third Reich. Jochen Hellbeck. Trans. Christopher Tauchen and Dominici Bonfiglio. New York: Public Affairs, 2015, $29.99, hardcover, 500 pp.

As the Germans approached the city of Stalingrad in August of 1942, both the military and the political leadership confidently assumed a rapid victory. Unfortunately for the Germans, the steely Soviet resolve to hold the city defied all their assessments of the Soviet military and human endurance. Dr. Jochen Hellback's new book Stalingrad is a story of that battle told through previously unpublished, personal accounts of those who fought in this horrific conflagration. Previous publications by Dr. Hellbeck, a professor at Rutgers University, particularly his book Revolution on My Mind (2006), delve into themes reflected in his newest work on Stalingrad. Extensive use of autobiographical material and examination of the expression of self in a greater historical context are themes that permeate his previously published works as well as his course offerings at Rutgers University. His prolific work in this field clearly provided the framework and lens with which he approaches his analysis and presentation of the newly available transcripts. Although the book focuses on the Battle of Stalingrad itself, Hellbeck's extensive historical work on 20th century Russia helps provide context and depth to his book. Despite the plentiful works available on the battle, Hellbeck provides new material for those already familiar with the topic while also providing a riveting series of narratives for those new to the subject.

Stalingrad is truly an essential read for scholars of the Battle of Stalingrad, World War II on the Eastern Front, and 20th century Soviet history. Access to the relatively candid, first-hand accounts from the variety of individuals found in this book, presents a treasure trove of material to those who wish to deepen their understanding of the S oviet experience. Hellbeck's book is centered on the work of a delegation from the Commission on the History of the Great Patriotic War who arrived from Moscow in late December 1942, conducted interviews until 9 January and then returned in late February to complete the interviews. By the time they finished, the delegation had conducted 215 interviews with generals, staff officers, troop commanders, foot soldiers, commissars, sailors, female nurses and a number of civilians who worked and lived in the city. Isaak Mints, a professor at Moscow State University, had founded the Commission and led the team of historians. The historians focused their work on the following topics; how had the Red Army been able to prevail against an enemy considered to be superior, which resources had the Soviets brought to bear to achieve victory and what motivations drove the soldiers', sailors' and civilians' willingness to fight and die to defend the city and the homeland.

The first chapter ofthe book leads the reader through the relevant historical frame of reference, setting the stage for the interviews themselves. Clearly indispensable for those unfamiliar with the battle, it is also useful for those knowledgeable with the battle as it places these interviews in both a historical context and makes clear Hellbeck's approach to the interviews. The first chapter also addresses the Historical Commission itself along with its aims and mission. The second and third chapters contain the interviews themselves. Not all 215 are included, since this would be unwieldy as the book is already 500 pages long, but the author points out in the footnotes that he hopes in the future to publish them all online. The fourth chapter of the book contains accounts from German soldiers including transcripts from their POW interrogations as well as a diary of a German soldier written at the very end prior to surrender. The fifth and final chapter of the book addresses the aftermath of the battle and the fate of the Commission and its work. …

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