A Russian Journal: John Steinbeck and Robert Capa

A Russian Journal John Steinbeck and Robert Capa

Steinbeck and Capa embarked on a six week Soviet Union tour through the early stage of the Cold War era. During their short trip, they visited Soviet Georgia, Moscow, Stalingrad and Kiev, in an attempt to meet the people living under Soviet rule.

“We seemed to go on endlessly across the steppe, until at last, over a little rise, we saw Stalingrad below us and the Volga behind it,” wrote Steinbeck.

The report they created on life under Joseph Stalin’s command, is a highly valuable historical document. The people portrayed in their literary and photographic archive, are seen living in totally different conditions from those in the West. Steinbeck noticed the fact the Russians, especially civilians, weren’t afraid of Stalin. There was something else that worried them at the time. What they fared was another World War.

Steinbeck and Capa tried as much as they could to avoid meeting officials and ministers, but to find time to travel across the cities, to speak to people and to understand the way they were living, the Russia Beyond The Headlines reports.

The two journalists were also living different then how they used to, back at the elegant Metropole Hotel in Moscow, where they started their trip.

Stalingrad looked different for Steinbeck who wrote: “our windows looked out on acres of rubble, broken brick and concrete and pulverized plaster and in the wreckage the strange dark weeds that always seem to grow in destroyed places.” But they liked it; the place, the ruins, the city, the people who had gone back to their lives and were now working for a living.

In a short observation on how women used to live at the time, Steinbeck recalled seeing a young woman coming out from behind a large pile of rubble. She was going to work, but not before putting the “last little touches to her hair with a comb”. He remembered her neatly dressed, although he didn’t understand how could women live underground and still look good and feminine and proud. “We had no idea. …It was a strange and heroic travesty on modern living,” said the writer.

They also spent time with farmers and their families. The two journalists published “A Russian Journal” 65 years ago and according to Steinbeck, it was just “honest reporting without drawing conclusions”.

“A Russian Journal” was published with Viking Press and reprinted in 2000 by Penguin Classics.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE