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Forgotten Ivan

July 31, 1994

I read with interest William Gass' review of "The Wages of Guilt" by Ian Buruma (June 26). However, I am surprised by the implicit disregard for Slavs. At least three times as many Slavs as Jews died as the result of Hitler's aggression. Yet there is no mention of Nazi atrocities in Russia and other Slavic countries east of Poland. One should at least expect a discussion, for the historically sensitive, of why Germans do not feel as much guilt about what they did to the Slavs: because Stalin was as evil as Hitler, or because the Red Army has been an obnoxious occupier?

This disregard is typical of the American press, which ignored the two most important anniversaries of World War II-- if you count as "important" defeating the Nazis. These were June 22, 1941, when Hitler invaded the USSR; and Nov. 23, 1942, when the ring around Stalingrad was closed at Kalach, never to be broken. But the press also ignored the turning point of the war in the Pacific: June 3, 1942: Midway.

I am an American who turned 18 in 1944. So far as I'm concerned, the guys to whom I most owe the fact that 50 years later I'm still walking, I'm still talking, are the Red Army soldiers who resisted the Nazi invasion in 1941-42. The British historian Alan Clark put it best, in the preface to his "Barbarossa" (1965): "This book has its heroes. . . . Foremost must come the ordinary Russian soldier; abominably led, inadequately trained, poorly equipped, he changed the course of history by his courage and tenacity in the first year of fighting." Without this resistance, it is quite unsure whether the Normandy Invasion could have taken place, let alone succeeded; it is important mainly, in retrospect, for stopping the USSR from dominating all of Europe.

Perhaps the press is right to assume that significant history is only those parts remembered by its constituency (the survivors of Midway must number less than 1% of those of Normandy). But such obliteration seems not excusable in a book purportedly about people's attitudes toward the past.

Here's to you, forgotten Ivan.

WILLIAM M. KAULA, LOS ANGELES

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