The philosopher, writer, and dissident Grigorii Pomerants was born in 1918 in the city of Vilna (now Vilnius in Lithuania) into a Jewish family. His father was a bookkeeper and his mother – an actress. In 1922 his father Shloime (Solomon) moved from Vilna (then known in Polish as Wilno) to Moscow. Grigorii lived with his mother until 1925, when his parents reunited in Moscow. Later, his parents divorced. Grigorii's mother Polina Ginzburg moved to Kharkov, where he was an actress with the State Jewish Theater, which was based there but later transferred its main activity to Kiev. Grigorii remained with his father in Moscow, where he graduated from high school and the entered the elite Moscow Institute of Philosophy, Literature, and History. On finishing the Institute, he began writing a dissertation on the works of Dostoevsky.
After the Soviet-German War broke out, at the end of June 1941, Pomerants volunteered to join the Red Army, but he was not accepted due to problems with his eyesight. In October 1941, Grigorii was, however, accepted into the ranks of the People's Guard. Then, in January 1942, he was accepted into a division that was originally for volunteers but had already become the 130th Rifle Division. Pomerants was assigned to the North-West Front, near Staraia Russa (in northwest Russia). In February 1942, he was shell shocked and seriously wounded in the leg, as a result of which he limped for the rest of his life. In the summer of the same year, having recovered from his wound and returned to the front lines, Pomerants was assigned to a different rifle division, but this time as a writer. He then became the Komsomol (Young Communist League) organizer (a so-called "komsorg") of the division. His division fought at Stalingrad and on other fronts. In October 1944 Grigorii was wounded again, this time in the arm, but after being treated, he again returned to the front as a writer. He published a great deal in the front-line press but also took part in combat operations. In the course of the war Pomerants received an Order of the Red Star, an Order of the Patriotic War, 2nd Class, and several medals.
After being demobilized from the Red Army, he returned to Moscow, where he took up again his work on Dostoevsky. In 1949, Grigorii was arrested and falsely accused of anti-Soviet activity. As a result, he was sent to the GULAG for five years. After the death of Stalin, Pomerants was amnestied in 1954. He became a village teacher in the Krasnodar Territory. After he was "rehabilitated" in 1956, he returned to Moscow, where he worked at one of the academic libraries in the city.
In the mid-1960s philosophical essays by Pomerants began to appear in samizdat. His speech on Stalinism, which was delivered at the Institute of Philosophy in December 1965, after the end of Khrushchev's "Thaw," aroused great enthusiasm among the Soviet intelligentsia and typewritten copies of the speech circulated in large numbers in the USSR.
From the mid-1970s Pomerants could not be mentioned in public while, at the same time, he was widely published abroad. For example, his books appeared in Paris, New York, and Munich. During this period, he converted to Christianity.
Pomerants twice attempted to defend his dissertation but unsuccessfully. The second attempt took place after he signed a letter defending participants in a demonstration on Red Square who were protesting the send of Soviet troops into Czechoslovakia in 1968.
In 1984 he was warned by the authorities that he might be going to be accused of "slandering Soviet reality." This was clearly a threat. Only after the ascent to power of Mikhail Gorbachev and the beginning of perestroika where the articles of books of Pomerants allowed to be published freely.
In 2003, Grigorii Pomerants published a memoir, in which he touched upon Jewishness. His treatment of this topic reflect the views of a specific part of young people in Moscow of Jewish origin who were embarrassed at the traditionalist past of their families and attempted to distance themselves as far as possible from it.
Despite the fact that his mother was an actress in the Yiddish theater or, perhaps, just because of that, he related quite distantly to the Holocaust, assuming that the majority of educated Jews, like him, had succeeded in being evacuated and thus saved. Later, he reconsider that view and even dared to point this out in his memoir.
What he wrote about heroism at the front enable the reader to better understand the feelings and thoughts that the soldiers and officers experienced in combat.
Grigorii Pomerants died in February 2013. He is buried in the Danilovsky cemetery in Moscow.
From the Grigorii Pomerants's book "Zapiski gadkogo utenka"
"The [attitude of the] Russian army [in its use of the term] 'we' also could be seen in my initial attitude toward the [Jewish] genocide. It was spoken of [by Russians] as if it related to someone else's grief. And I too viewed it as someone's else's grief. I thought about the victims as "shtetl" Jews, i.e., as Jews who were not like me. Of course, I was sorry for them but they were alien to me. 'Shtetl-like' was a negative word in my house. 'From the shtetl' or 'from Podol' [a Jewish quarter of Kiev] meant something small-minded or vulgar. So when I heard about the destruction of a Jewish shtetl, I consoled myself with the idea that the majority of urban, Jews of the intelligentsia, undoubtedly had succeeded in being evacuated. As for the shtetl… Well, when a forest is cut down, the chips fly. If many millions are perishing during this war, so they [also] perished previously: during the Revolution, during collectivization. History does not respect gender, age, or nationality.
But if I looked closer, I saw that the shadow of the shtetl still did fall on me. I was not pleased that an outsider might take me for one of those shtetl Jews. But then I laughed when I noted that after a lecture I delivered in Leningrad, in the corridor my ear caught the remark 'He only a shtetl philosopher and just see how they listen to him!'
But that was only then when I stopped looking at myself through others' eyes, but when I was young, I was afraid that people would confuse me with someone else. Then suddenly, at Majdanek, near a pile of children's shoes (we had come upon Majdanek when we were returning as victors over Germany) I felt that the victims were my own children and, for the first time, fully understood the words of Ivan Karamazov [in Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers Karamazov] about [the suffering of] completely innocent children. Until then, I had grasped "sweet children only in a literary way, as a rhetorical trope. Now I was standing and feeling the horror that I had not responded immediately."
Grigorii Pomerants, Zapiski gadkogo utenka (Moscow, 2013), p. 153.