Vasily Grossman was a Soviet journalist keeping a notebook of his impressions of the campaign, undated vignettes of what he saw. Much of this material would find its way into his novels, including ‘Life And Fate‘ one of the masterpieces of literature to emerge from the war. But the original source material has also been published and paints the Russian perspective of the front line in graphic detail:
Severe frost. The snow is creaking. Icy air makes one catch one’s breath. The insides of one’s nostrils stick together, teeth ache from the cold.
Germans, frozen to death, lie on the roads of our advance. Their bodies are absolutely intact. We didn’t kill them, it was the cold. Practical jokers put the frozen Germans on their feet, or on their hands and knees, making intricate, fanciful sculpture groups. Frozen Germans stand with their fists raised, or with their fingers spread wide. Some of them look as if they are running, their heads pulled into the shoulders. They are wearing torn boots, thin shineliski [greatcoats], paper undershirts that don’t hold the warmth. At night the fields of snow seem blue under the bright moon, and the dark bodies of frozen German soldiers stand in the blue snow, placed there by the jokers.
Again, [frozen] Germans standing up. One of them is in his underwear, in a paper jersey.
In a village which has just been liberated, there are five dead Germans and one dead Red Army soldier lying in the square. The square is empty, there is no one to ask what’s happened, but one does not need this to be able to reconstruct the whole drama. One of the Germans was killed with a bayonet, another one with a rifle butt, third one with a bayonet, two were shot. And the soldier who killed them all was shot in the back.