From Stalingrad to Pillau

A Red Army Artillery Officer Remembers the Great Patriotic War

Isaak Kobylyanskiy Edited by Stuart Britton

Strange sounds resembling the remote rumble of distant thunder were audible. Everybody understood: it was the echo of the battle for Stalingrad. . . . A heavy rain began falling.

Stalingrad's outskirts provided Isaak Kobylyanskiy, a 19-year-old ethnic Jew from Ukraine, with his first exposure to combat and initiated his long odyssey in the Great Patriotic War against Germany. It would be more than three years before he was finally reunited with his family and his sweetheart, Vera, the schoolmate he had promised to marry.

“The most important passages of this volume . . . focus on those aspects of military life that are typically ignored in the memoirs written by higher-ranking officers. Kobylyanskiy writes about endless night-time marches in freezing rain, the absence of sanitation and hygiene, heavy drinking, and sex. He also analyzes his feelings as a Jew in the Red Army. . . . A gutsy and interesting book.

—Russian Review

“A reader who seeks a ground’s eye view of the war on the Eastern front will be well served by reading this book. The author’s candid coverage of both the moral and military issues provides a critical missing piece to the literature of the war on the Eastern front.

—Military Review
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Kobylyanskiy started the war as a 76-mm infantry support gun crew commander for the 300th Rifle Division (and its later incarnations) and celebrated V-E Day as a battery commander. He took part in actions ranging from Stalingrad to the tip of the Zemland Peninsula at Pillau. His combat journey was a long process of exhausting marches punctuated by harrowing moments of intense combat. From the liberation of Sevastopol, through Lithuania's countryside, to the final storming of Knigsberg's heavy fortifications, Kobylyanskiy's memoir sweeps across the great expanses of the Eastern Front. His narrative is packed with dramatic details—including revealing depictions of forgotten or ignored aspects of certain battles—and insights into the daily life of the Soviet army: the relentless marches to locate and engage the enemy, the prejudicial treatment of female soldiers, and the plight of Soviet civilians.

Kobylyanskiy also discusses the role of military political officers (and his own conflicted views on communism), clarifies the place of Jews in the Red Army and discusses how his reaction to anti-Semitic utterances added a sense of responsibility to his fighting, and frames his account with personal glimpses into the stifling repression of Stalinist society, including the brutal collectivization program and resulting famine in Ukraine. But he balances such memories with warm recollections of some of his comrades and especially with an affecting portrait of his courtship of Vera, which sustained him in battle, and concludes with an emotional coda: their wedding ceremony in a war-ravaged but recovering Kiev.

By turns vivid, reflective, intense, and entertaining, Kobylyanskiy's narrative charts one warrior's epic journey and joins a select group of memoirs that deepen our understanding of what it was like for Russian soldiers on the Eastern Front.

About the Author

Isaak Kobylyanskiy earned a Ph.D. in radio engineering and enjoyed a successful career of more than four decades in Soviet industry. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1994 and now lives in Rochester, New York. Stuart Britton also edited and translated Nikolai Litvin's 800 Days on the Eastern Front: A Russian Soldier Remembers World War II.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series