The Names of the Unknown Soldiers. Soviet War Literature and Journalism, or Verisimilitude and Truth: Two Case Studies
- Vasilij Subbotin,
- Aleksandr Krivickij,
- War Literature,
Copyright (c) 2022 Duccio Colombo
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Vasilij Subbotin’s We Stormed the Reichstag is a typical specimen of the wave of non-fiction prose about World War II which sprang up in the wake of the 20th Congress. The search for the unjustly forgotten war hero, one of the major themes of this kind of literature, is represented here by the story of Pëtr Pjatnickij, a soldier who fell on the steps of the Reichstag entrance with a red flag in his hand and was then forgotten.
If, hypothetically, this story was false, it would echo the (probably false) story of the 28 ‘panfilovcy’ who purportedly fell at Dubosekovo during the battle for Moscow. In that case, Subbotin’s text would embody a characteristically literary device: giving a name to an anonymous character, the anonymous figure, for example, carrying the flag in Vladimir Bogatkin’s well-known painting, as a way to give life and credibility to the image. The Dubosekovo story, as developed by journalist Aleksandr Krivickij, appears to employ the same mechanism for achieving credibility. In this case the operation was twofold: Krivickij gave his heroes first a number, and only later names. The second move was the most hazardous. A story that pretends to be true must be verifiable in real life; this is where Krivickij failed and where Subbotin may have succeeded.
Stalinist culture fundamentally refused to separate fact from fiction. The non-fiction literature from the Thaw is exactly the opposite: an attempt at reinstating the separation.