“Return to Traditional Values” in the Literature of World War II

The legacy of World War II in twentieth-century literature has been undeservingly neglected in the critical studies in the Western world. However, it is one of the most valuable parts of Russian writing, both artistically and ideologically.

One of the most paradoxical phenomena about the subject is found in its treatment of human values inevitably rooted in religion. These ever-present religious themes are found in works written by communists and anti-communists, patriots and immigrants, veterans and those who were born after the war. The authors displayed a return to both Orthodox Christianity and Judaism in the state which had become exclusively atheist by the beginning of the war.

What caused this return? How did Stalin react to this? Or was he the leading figure who authorized the reversal of traditional values by addressing his nation as “Brothers and Sisters” in his famous speech? And most interestingly: Why did the subject of war and religion become so essential for the future development of Russian poetics, culture and new forms of artistic expression long after the war was over?

In this paper, I will examine the writings of Konstantin Simonov (the official voice of the Communist Party), Varlam Šalamov (its nemesis), Viktor Nekrasov (a veteran and an immigrant), Anatolij Rybakov (and his treatment of Torah legacy), and Vladimir Vysotskij (who was too young to remember the war but nevertheless made it one of his essential themes).