The famous Soviet writer and journalist Boris Gorbatov was born in 1908, in a Jewish family living in the mining town of Petromaryevsk (present-day Pervomaisk in Lugansk Oblast). His childhood and adolescence passed in the shadow of the coal industry. As a boy, he was apprenticed to a planer at a factory in the Donbass. At the age of 15, he was already working as а reporter for a local newspaper. He made his literary debut with a short story titled "The Sated and the Hungry," which was published in the newspaper Vsesoyuznaia Kochegarka.
Boris Gorbatov moved to Moscow in 1926, and that move marked the beginning of his active literary career. However, Gorbatov was no "armchair" journalist. He traveled the length and breadth of the USSR, making repeated trips to the Donbass, the Urals, Bodaybo in Irkutsk Oblast, and the Kamchatka Krai. In the 1930s, he served as a correspondent of Pravda in the Arctic, wintering there for several years. His journalistic work in the Arctic resulted in a well-known short story collection titled The Ordinary Arctic (1940).
Gorbatov had an ardent faith in Communist ideology and the Soviet regime, and was an utterly sincere "bard" of socialism (e.g., in his novella The Cell (1928)) who idealized labor. Despite this, he always remained a thoughtful writer. His novella Our City, written in 1930, was based on the judicial records of the "Artyomovsk Affair". In it, he tried to think through the rigors of life of the Soviet countryside. The novella drew the ire of the authorities and remained unpublished. Gorbatov lost his job and the support of his friends. He was subjected to withering criticism, and lived in fear of imminent arrest and expulsion from the Party. The threat of persecution increased because of the fate of Gorbatov's siblings: His middle brother was shot on charges of having ties with Trotskyites, while his older brother was repressed in those same years. His acquaintances would later recall that, even when faced with the prospect of losing his liberty, Gorbatov offered to help repressed individuals and interceded on their behalf.
In the late 1930s, Gorbatov was drafted into the Red Army. Although he could have obtained an exemption on medical grounds, his conscience prevented him from taking this course. He served in the Caucasus and Western Belorussia, and took part in the Soviet-Finnish War of 1939-1940.
From the first days of the Soviet-German War, officer Gorbatov served as a reporter for frontline newspapers. During the war, he published hundreds of sketches, short stories, and novellas. His novel The Unvanquished, written in 1943, became the basis for an eponymous Soviet feature film released in 1945. That film, directed by Mark Donskoy, was the first depiction of the Holocaust in Soviet cinema. In August 1944, he published a sketch titled "The Camp in Majdanek" in the Soviet press. Boris had visited the camp shortly after its liberation by Soviet troops. In this sketch, he explicitly identified the Jews as victims of Nazism, describing them as a separate category of victims of the death camp and detailing their identification badges.In the course of the war, Boris Gorbatov was awarded the orders of the Red Star and of the Patriotic War, 1st class, as well as medals.
In 1947, Gorbatov was one of the screenwriters of The Judgment of the Nations (released in English under the title The Nuremberg Trials), a documentary about the Nuremberg Trials produced by the documentary filmmaker Roman Karmen.
Boris Gorbatov died in 1954, at the age of 45. He was buried at the Novodevichye Cemetery in Moscow.
An excerpt from Boris Gorbatov's sketch "The Camp in Majdanek"
"They would be murdered singly. They would be murdered in batches. Whole transports would be liquidated. Eighteen thousand persons at a time. Thirty thousand persons at another. Transports of Poles from Radom, Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto, Jews from Lublin were brought here. They would be driven through the camp at a run, surrounded by dogs and machine gunners. The guards would crack their whips: Faster! Faster!
Endless strings of Jews would be marched through the camp to the fifth field; in silent rows, holding hands; the children clinging to their parents. Silent. Silent. The Hitlerites hurried them along with cries of "Schnell!" ("Faster!"). The dogs were snarling. The whips were cracking. The rows of people quickened their pace. Those in the rear would catch up with those in front. They ran, stumbled, and fell, out of breath.
Suddenly, all the loudspeakers in the camp would come to life. Merry foxtrot tunes, the sounds of tango. The camp would freeze in terror. They knew that this was the sign of an imminent mass shooting. The tractor began to rumble. The foxtrot was replaced with a rhumba melody."
An excerpt from Boris Gorbatov's sketch "The Camp in Majdanek"
"I know of one other escapee, a Jew from Lublin named Davidson. He made his escape as the inmates were being taken out of the camp to work. He knew that the guards would shoot him in the attempt. But he also knew that they would shoot him in any case, so he had nothing to lose. He bolted and ran away, expecting a bullet in the back of the head at any moment. But the bullet missed him. He was saved.
He was sheltered by a Polish family of his acquaintance. For two years and thirteen days – until the arrival of our troops in Lublin – the Poles hid this Jew in their attic and fed him. He spent these two years and thirteen days lying down, since the sound of his footsteps could have betrayed him and his rescuers. Over this time, he saw nobody and spoke to no one. The Poles would throw food into his hiding place, and that was all. He lost the ability to speak and forgot the sunlight. But he survived. We saw him.
And the same dim hope that sustained him in the attic also sustained the thousands of inmates remaining in the camp..."
An excerpt from Boris Gorbatov's novel The Unvanquished
"Having passed the burned-out remains of the city theater, Taras came face-to-face with Dr. Fishman, who had treated all of his children and grandchildren. Out of habit, Taras doffed his cap to greet his friend. However, when he saw the yellow armband with the black, six-pointed star (the mark of a Jew) on Fishman's sleeve, he bowed lower than he had ever done before.
The doctor was taken aback by his bow. He quickly stepped aside and instinctively covered his face with his hand. Taras stood before him in silence.
- You... you bow to me? – asked the doctor finally in a whisper.
- Yes, Aron Davidovich, - replied Taras. – This bow was meant for you, and for your sorrows." (1943)