Soviet Writers at War!
by Ilya Ehrenburg

During the Great Patriotic War, Ilya Ehrenburg was one of the most prolific of the Soviet writers, putting his pen to the service of victory. He alone composed over 300 reports for the SovInformBuro and more than a thousand articles, sketches, commentaries, and feuilletons. Later, when recalling the early days of the war, Ehrenburg wrote:
"Never in my life had I worked so much. I wrote three or four articles a day. I sat on Lavrushensky Lane (headquarters of SovInformBuro--Trans.) and pounded on the typewriter; in the evening I went to Red Star (the army newspaper--Trans.), wrote an article for the next day's edition, read German documents and radio intercepts, edited translations, composed photo captions.... Telegrams began to arrive from abroad; different newspapers requesting that I write for them: the Daily Hearld, New York Post, La France, Swedish newspapers, the American news agency United Press. I had to change more than dictionaries--Red Army soldiers and neutral Swedes require different arguments."
"Freedom or Death" is a short agitational/propaganda piece written in the first weeks of the war.

In the life of a people, in the life of every man, there are bleak times. One must be able to look truth in the eyes. A great danger hangs over our motherland. Hitler is bringing us destruction, the yoke, a life on our hands and knees.

They are coming for us, the barbarian SS, the Pomeranian landowners, officers with monocles, sergeant-majors fat with beer, executioners who torture with the latest technologies, arrogant foreigners; they want to turn our people into cattle, serfs, machines.

They want to Germanize us, force us to forget Pushkin and Shevchenko. They want to post policemen in our cities to bawl in German at intersections. They want to arrange Belorussians, Armenians, Tadzhiks, and Georgians in rows and bark out, "Eins, zwei!"

The despicable Hitler has called Lev Tolstoy "a mongrel". They want to burn the books of Tolstoy and Gorky. They want to name our city streets after bandits--"Goering Prospect", "Goebbels Lane".

They want to remind us a hundred times a day that we are a "low race", that we should pray to their filthy "vons"--von Kleist and von Ribbentrop.

They want to settle their colonists on our land, to divide up our grain and gardens among Schmidts and Muellers. Our kolkhoz workers are to become laborers for German land-owners. They have already worked out a plan for the colonization of our black-earth region.

They want our workers to work for them. Herr Vogler has already declared that his Stahlverein will take Russian ore. They sit in bomb shelters, over which English bombers are circling, and discuss who will receive shares of Magnitogorsk and Yuzovka. They dream of a German trust that will exploit the oil industry of Baku.

They want our intelligentsia to disappear. They send teachers out to do field work, engineers to pave their roads, doctors to care for their swine. They say that there's enough of German intelligentsia for all of Europe.

That want us to live for them and thanks to them, for us to speak in whispers and breathe on command.

Soviet people value culture. For them, books, paintings, and songs are the air they breathe. Access to our schools is open to all. Among us, knowledge is for everyone, just as the sun is for everyone. We are proud of Tolstoy. We cherish our children for they are the Pushkins and Tolstoys of tomorrow.

Russia is centuries old. We value its history, its culture, its fame. The Soviet government is 23 years old. We value its youth and its air, the air of fraternity and freedom. Pilots, tankists, infantry men--all the same age as October--breathe the heroism of the Revolution, the spirit of the Red Army men and the partisans of the past.

We know what is at stake now: our freedom, our life, our future. We are defending the right to breathe freely. We are defending the peace and happiness of our children.

The Soviet people shall never, never, never become slaves! Women tell our fighters: "Defend us from shame!" Children are beseeching: "Win back a free life for us!" The Russian birch and Ukrainian cherry trees rustle with their branches: "We do not wish to grow green for aggressors!" And the fighters of the Red Army enter the mortal battle with one feeling--freedom or death!

5 July 1941

See also:
Soviet Writers at War! More war-time reporting by Soviet writers.
Biography of Ilya Ehrenburg
The Thaw by Ilya Ehrenburg, a detailed summary.
Ilya Ehrenburg's Speech to the 2nd Congress of Soviet Writers, 1954

Translated by Eric Konkol

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