Wednesday, October 5, 2016
Stalin's Commandos: Ukrainian Partisan Forces on the Eastern Front by Alexander Gogun
"Stalin's Commandos" is in some sense a treasure trove of information. But western readers need to be aware of a few issues when attempting to tackle this monograph. First, Gogun is a Russian academic, he was trained in Russia and has a grasp of quite a few languages which makes this case study that much more impressive than those that have come before. Secondly, because he is trained in Russia the usual academic work one would expect from a western academic is not readily visible in these pages. There is much less attention paid here to theory and methodology (which, in all honesty, does happen in western academia often enough as well), rather, Gogun concentrates on letting the sources speak for themselves with limited additional commentary. But where that commentary is encountered he does make important points and takes on some greater themes/topics that might be in need of a re-evaluation. Thirdly, this is a text on the Soviet Ukrainian partisan "movement," so it discounts to a large extent the partisan movement in Belorussia, Russia, but it does touch on activities of partisans that belonged to the OUN/UPA and the Polish AK, in fact some of his concluding thoughts that include comparisons between all of these organizations make this book that much more important in the greater catalog of Eastern Front literature. Additionally, this is a book that is not always as readable as I'd have liked it to be. A lot of the text is full of quotes from primary source material that is rather bland and formulaic, it makes for tedious reading but much of it is important for those interested in primary source material since much of this monograph is based on just such material. Finally, this leads to a weakness that the author doesn't stress perhaps as much as he should. Much of what is presented comes from eye-witness accounts and memoirs/reminiscences. Those are not always accurate or representative of the greater "truth" of the events/people/places in question. Where and when he can, Gogun presents as much evidence as is available, even if it contradicts previous information to show what previously "heroic" events might in reality have been myths or misrepresentations (and why they were invented in the first place). Thus, in general, the reader has to keep in mind the material that Gogun is working with. Much of it is really enlightening with respect to the partisan war in the German rear with facts, dates, personalities, and details that the western reader will simply never come across in any other monograph in print today. For that, I am extremely thankful that this text was translated and for the tremendous job the author has done in compiling so much primary source material for a western audience.