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Vasily Grossman quotes (showing 1-30 of 163)

“Good men and bad men alike are capable of weakness. The difference is simply that a bad man will be proud all his life of one good deed - while an honest man is hardly aware of his good acts, but remembers a single sin for years on end.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never by conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man’s meaning. Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil, struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“And the greatest tragedy of our age is we don't listen to our consciences. We don't say what we think. We feel one thing and do another.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“In the cruel and terrible time in which our generation has been condemned to live on this earth, we must never make peace with evil. We must never become indifferent to others or undemanding of ourselves.”
Vasily Grossman
“Human groupings have one main purpose: to assert everyone’s right to be different, to be special, to think, feel and live in his or her own way. People join together in order to win or defend this right. But this is where a terrible, fateful error is born: the belief that these groupings in the name of a race, a God, a party or a State are the very purpose of life and not simply a means to an end. No! The only true and lasting meaning of the struggle for life lies in the individual, in his modest peculiarities and in his right to these peculiarities.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“There's nothing more difficult than saying goodbye to a house where you've suffered.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“In great hearts the cruelty of life gives birth to good.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“Ivan tells Anna: "I used to imagine that being embraced by a woman . . . as something so wonderful that it would make me forget everthing . . . [But] happiness, it turns out, will be to share with you the burden I can't share with anyone else.”
Vasily Grossman, Everything Flows
“I don't want you to be young and beautiful. I only want one thing. I want you to be kind-hearted - and not just towards cats and dogs.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“Don't you remember how you once answered a question of mine? Me - I shall never forget your words. Those words of yours opened my eyes; they brought me the light of day. I asked you how the Germans could send Jewish children to die in the gas chambers. How, I asked, could they live with themselves after that? Was there really no judgement passed on them by man or God? And you said: Only one judgement is passed on the executioner - he ceases to be a human being. Through looking on his victim as less than human, he becomes his own executioner, he executes the human being inside himself. But the victim - no matter what the executioner does to kill him - remains a human being forever. Remember now?”
Vasily Grossman, Forever Flowing
“Man and fascism cannot co-exist. If fascism conquers, man will cease to exist and there will remain only man-like creatures that have undergone an internal transformation. But if man, man who is endowed with reason and kindness, should conquer, then Fascism must perish, and those who have submitted to it will once again become people.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“I don't believe in your "Good". I believe in human kindness.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“There are people whose souls have just withered, people who are willing to go along with anything evil - anything so as not to be suspected of disagreeing with whoever is in power.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“I used to think freedom was freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of conscience. But freedom is the whole life of everyone. Here is what it amounts to: you have to have the right to sow what you wish to, to make shoes or coats, to bake into bread the flour ground from the grain you have sown, and to sell it or not sell it as you wish; for the lathe operator, the steelworker, and the artist it’s a matter of being able to live as you wish and work as you wish and not as they order you to. And in our country there is no freedom – not for those who write books nor for those who sow grain nor for those who make shoes.” (Grossman, p. 99) He noted that “In people’s day-to-day struggle to live, in the extreme efforts workers put forth to earn an extra ruble through moonlighting, in the collective farmers’ battle for bread and potatoes as the one and only fruit of their labor, he [Ivan Grigoryevich] could sense more than the desire to live better, to fill one’s children’s stomachs and to clothe them. In the battle for the right to make shoes, to knit sweaters, in the struggle to plant what one wished, was manifested the natural, indestructible striving toward freedom inherent in human nature. He had seen this very same struggle in the people in camp. Freedom, it seemed, was immortal on both sides of the barbed wire.” (Grossman, p. 110)”
Vasily Grossman, Forever Flowing
“Why do people have memories? It would be easier to die - anything to stop remembering.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“The history of humanity is the history of human freedom...Freedom is not, as Engels thought, "the recognition of necessity." Freedom is the opposite of necessity. Freedom is necessity overcome. Progress is, in essence, the progress of human freedom. Yes, and after all, life itself is freedom. The evolution of life is the evolution of freedom.”
Vasily Grossman, Forever Flowing
“Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness.”
Vasily Grossman
“And it was not merely tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, but hundreds of millions of people who were the obedient witnesses of this slaughter of the innocent. Nor were they merely obedient witnesses: when ordered to, they gave their support to this slaughter, voting in favour of it amid a hubbub of voices. There was something unexpected in their degree of obedience... The extreme violence of the totalitarian social systems proved able to paralyse the human spirit throughout whole continents.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“My faith has been tempered in Hell. My faith has emerged from the flames of the crematoria, from the concrete of the gas chamber. I have seen that it is not man who is impotent in the struggle against evil, but the power of evil that is impotent in the struggle against man. The powerlessness of kindness, of senseless kindness, is the secret of its immortality. It can never be conquered. The more stupid, the more senseless, the more helpless it may seem, the vaster it is. Evil is impotent before it. The prophets, religious teachers, reformers, social and political leaders are impotent before it. This dumb, blind love is man's meaning.
Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“When a person dies, they cross over from the realm of freedom to the realm of slavery. Life is freedom, and dying is a gradual denial of freedom. Consciousness first weakens and then disappears. The life-processes – respiration, the metabolism, the circulation – continue for some time, but an irrevocable move has been made towards slavery; consciousness, the flame of freedom, has died out.
The stars have disappeared from the night sky; the Milky Way has vanished; the sun has gone out; Venus, Mars and Jupiter have been extinguished; millions of leaves have died; the wind and the oceans have faded away; flowers have lost their colour and fragrance; bread has vanished; water has vanished; even the air itself, the sometimes cool, sometimes sultry air, has vanished. The universe inside a person has ceased to exist. This universe is astonishingly similar to the universe that exists outside people. It is astonishingly similar to the universes still reflected within the skulls of millions of living people. But still more astonishing is the fact that this universe had something in it that distinguished the sound of its ocean, the smell of its flowers, the rustle of its leaves, the hues of its granite and the sadness of its autumn fields both from those of every other universe that exists and ever has existed within people, and from those of the universe that exists eternally outside people. What constitutes the freedom, the soul of an individual life, is its uniqueness. The reflection of the universe in someone's consciousness is the foundation of his or her power, but life only becomes happiness, is only endowed with freedom and meaning when someone exists as a whole world that has never been repeated in all eternity. Only then can they experience the joy of freedom and kindness, finding in others what they have already found in themselves.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“The true champions of a nation's freedom are those who reject the limitations of stereotypes and affirm the rich diversity of human nature to be found.”
Vasily Grossman, An Armenian Sketchbook
“...neither fate, nor history, nor the anger of the State, nor the glory or infamy of battle has any power to affect those who call themselves human beings. No, whatever life holds in store --- hard-won glory, poverty and despair, or death in a labor camp --- they will live as human beings and die as human beings, the same as those who have already perished; and in this alone lies man's eternal and bitter victory over all the grandiose and inhuman forces that ever have been or will be...”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“He was endowed with the extraordinary powers of endurance characteristic of madmen and simpletons.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“Good is to be found neither in the sermons of religious teachers and prophets, nor in the teachings of sociologists and popular leaders, nor in the ethical systems of philosophers... And yet ordinary people bear love in their hearts, are naturally full of love and pity for any living thing. At the end of the day's work they prefer the warmth of the hearth to a bonfire in the public square.
Yes, as well as this terrible Good with a capital 'G', there is everyday human kindness. The kindness of an old woman carrying a piece of bread to a prisoner, the kindness of a soldier allowing a wounded enemy to drink from his water-flask, the kindness of youth towards age, the kindness of a peasant hiding an old Jew in his loft. The kindness of a prison guard who risks his own liberty to pass on letters written by a prisoner not to his ideological comrades, but to his wife and mother.
The private kindness of one individual towards another; a petty, thoughtless kindness; an unwitnessed kindness. Something we could call senseless kindness. A kindness outside any system of social or religious good.
But if we think about it, we realize that this private, senseless, incidental kindness is in fact eternal. It is extended to everything living, even to a mouse, even to a bent branch that a man straightens as he walks by.
Even at the most terrible times, through all the mad acts carried out in the name of Universal Good and the glory of States, times when people were tossed about like branches in the wind, filling ditches and gullies like stones in an avalanche – even then this senseless, pathetic kindness remained scattered throughout life like atoms of radium.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“Good men and bad men alike are capable of weakness. The difference is simply that a bad man will be proud all his life of one good deed – while an honest man is hardly aware of his good acts, but remembers a single sin for years on end.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“He had lived without her before. He could get over it! In a year or so he'd be able to walk straight past her without his heart so much as missing a beat. He needed her as much as a drunk needs a cork! But he understood all too quickly how vain these thoughts were. How can you tear something out of your heart? Your heart isn't made out of paper and your life isn't written down in ink. You can't erase the imprint of years.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“A wife! No one else could love a man who had been trampled on by iron feet. She would wash his feet after he had been spat on; she would comb his tangled hair; she would look into his embittered eyes. The more lacerated his soul, the more revolting and contemptible he became to the world, the more she would love him. She would run after a truck; she would wait in queues on Kuznetsky Most, or even by the camp boundary fence, desperate to hand over a few sweets or an onion; she would bake shortbread for him on an oil stove; she would give years of her life just to be able to see him for half an hour...

Not every woman you sleep with can be called a wife.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“This kindness, this stupid kindness, is what is most truly human in a human being. It is what sets man apart, the highest achievement of his soul. No, it says, life is not evil!
This kindness is both senseless and wordless. It is instinctive, blind. When Christianity clothed it in the teachings of the Church Fathers, it began to fade; its kernel became a husk. It remains potent only while it is dumb and senseless, hidden in the living darkness of the human heart – before it becomes a tool or commodity in the hands of preachers, before its crude ore is forged into the gilt coins of holiness. It is as simple as life itself. Even the teachings of Jesus deprived it of its strength.
But, as I lost faith in good, I began to lose faith even in kindness. It seemed as beautiful and powerless as dew. What use was it if it was not contagious?
How can one make a power of it without losing it, without turning it into a husk as the Church did? Kindness is powerful only while it is powerless. If Man tries to give it power, it dims, fades away, loses itself, vanishes.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“Why had he committed this terrible sin? Everything in the world was insignificant compared to what he had lost. Everything in the world is insignificant compared to the truth and purity of one small man – even the empire stretching from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean, even science itself.
Then he realized that it still wasn't too late. He still had the strength to lift up his head, to remain his mother's son.
And he wasn't going to try to console himself or justify what he had done. He wanted this mean, cowardly act to stand all his life as a reproach; day and night it would be something to bring him back to himself. No, no, no! He didn't want to strive to be a hero – and then preen himself over his courage.
Every hour, every day, year in, year out, he must struggle to be a man, struggle for his right to be pure and kind. He must do this with humility. And if it came to it, he mustn't be afraid even of death; even then he must remain a man.
'Well then, we'll see,' he said to himself. 'Maybe I do have enough strength. Your strength, Mother...”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
“The travelers emerged into a spacious square. In the middle of this square were several dozen people on a wooden bandstand like in a public park. They were the members of a band, each of them as different from one another as their instruments. Some of them looked round at the approaching column. Then a grey-haired man in a colorful cloak called out and they reached for their instruments. There was a burst of something like cheeky, timid bird-song and the air – air that had been torn apart by the barbed wire and the howl of sirens, that stank of oily fumes and garbage – was filled with music. It was like a warm summer cloud-burst ignited by the sun, flashing as it crashed down to earth.
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.
What music resurrects in the soul of a man about to die is neither hope nor thought, but simply the blind, heart-breaking miracle of life itself. A sob passed down the column. Everything seemed transformed, everything had come together; everything scattered and fragmented -home, peace, the journey, the rumble of wheels, thirst, terror, the city rising out of the mist, the wan red dawn – fused together, not into a memory or a picture but into the blind, fierce ache of life itself. Here, in the glow of the gas ovens, people knew that life was more than happiness – it was also grief. And freedom was both painful and difficult; it was life itself.
Music had the power to express the last turmoil of a soul in whose blind depths every experience, every moment of joy and grief, had fused with this misty morning, this glow hanging over their heads. Or perhaps it wasn't like that at all. 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.
In the same way, a child's song can appear to make an old man cry. But it isn't the song itself he cries over; the song is simply a key to something in his soul.”
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate
tags: music

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