Fortress Dark and Stern: The Soviet Home Front During World War II

Oxford Univ. May 2021. 504p. ISBN 9780190618414. $34.95. HIST
Goldman (Paul Mellon Distinguished Professor of History, Carnegie Mellon) and Filtzer (emeritus, Russian history, Univ. of East London) take their book’s title from a wartime poem by Nikolai Tikhonov that describes a factory in a bombed Russian city as a “fortress dark and stern.” This book describes the extraordinary experience of people on the Soviet home front during World War II; specifically the devastating anguish of the war, and Soviet citizens’ grim determination to prevail. Some readers will recall a comparable account in Harrison Salisbury’s epic The 900 Days, which describes the wartime siege of Leningrad and its horrific suffering. Goldman and Filtzer argue that moving the Soviet industrial base eastward was the “single most significant factor in the Soviet victory” in the Second World War. Although moving strategic factories away from the battlefront was relatively successful, the USSR’s agricultural production was not; Soviet citizens lost 58 percent of processed food production within a year of the Axis invasion of the western Soviet Union Besides Nazi war atrocities, the Holocaust in particular, as well as malnutrition and epidemics help explain the extraordinary number of Second World War civilian deaths in the USSR.
VERDICT Much has been published about the wartime Soviet Union since 1991, but this book’s forceful style and its use of Soviet sources ensure it will have lasting value in World War II scholarship. The use of personal anecdotes and statistical evidence is laudable.
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