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A great Russian director brings history to life on stage

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ON SEPTEMBER 9th 1944, not long after the siege of Leningrad was lifted, a regional committee of Soviet deputies issued an order establishing a theatre, “to raise the spirits of the people and the army” and “inspire confidence in the future”. The result was the Maly Drama Theatre of what is now St Petersburg. In the same week Vasily Grossman, a Soviet war correspondent, entered the Nazi extermination camp of Treblinka with the Red Army.

Grossman meticulously documented what he saw, down to the colour of children’s discarded shoes. “How can all this have happened?” he asked in his article, “The hell called Treblinka”. “Was it a matter of heredity, upbringing, environment or external conditions?” In his magnificent novel “Life and Fate”, Grossman pursued that inquiry into both the gas chambers and the gulag, bravely setting out the kinship between Hitler’s totalitarianism and Stalin’s. In 1961 Soviet censors not only banned the book but seized the manuscript and all…Continue reading

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