Ilja Ehrenburg
Wassili Grossman

Vasily Semyonovich Grossman (1905–1946) and Ilya Grigoryevich Ehrenburg (1891–1967) published The Black Book, the most comprehensive documentation on the extermination of Soviet Jews in the German-occupied regions.

© US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Irena Ehrenberg
Ehrenburg (front left) and Grossman (front right) during a visit at the front near Kiev in order to collect evidence of German war crimes, 1944.

Grossman and Ehrenburg both originated from assimilated Jewish families from the Ukrainian part of the Tsarist Empire. Before the war, they were already successful writers. During the war, they worked for the army newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star).

© fine art images
Grossman in Schwerin, 1945. As correspondent for the newspaper of the Red Army he documented the war.

Beginning in 1943, while working on behalf of the historical commission of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC), Grossman and Ehrenburg collected evidence of German crimes. Publications of diaries, letters and reports appeared as early as 1944. These descriptions of the ethnically “cleansed” Ukraine, Belarus and Poland as well as of the Treblinka extermination camp and the Majdanek concentration and extermination camp are among the first eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust.

Ilja Ehrenburg, place and date unknown
© Tallendier/Bridgeman Images
Ilja Ehrenburg, place and date unknown
Vasily Grossman, place and date unknown.
© Private Collection/Sputnik/Bridgeman Images
Vasily Grossman, place and date unknown.

In 1946, they wrote a comprehensive account of the Holocaust in the Soviet Union, which became known as The Black Book. However, it was not printed since anti-Semitism was gaining momentum in the Soviet Union. The JAC was dissolved, and numerous members were arrested and murdered. Grossmann and Ehrenburg were spared because of their prominence. In 1948, a first edition of The Black Book was published, but it was heavily censored.
It was not until 1994 that the original uncensored manuscript was published in German translation. The book testified to the mass murder of about 1.5 million Soviet Jews.

Ilja Ehrenburg and Wassili Grossmann by Lea Feibusch

Extract from the online event for the special exhibition "Crimes Uncovered. The First Generation of Holocaust Researchers"