David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
by David L. Robbins on July 30th, 2014

From my research for The End Of War, I knew that,  upon FDR's death at the Little White House in Warm Springs, GA, in April of '45, his security chief gathered up all the food the president had eaten that day and had it checked for poison. Also, upon hearing that Roosevelt was dead from our U.S. ambassador, Marshall Stalin insisted the American State Department check his body for poison. So, I decided to tell a what-if story. What if FDR didn't throw an embolism, but was, indeed, poisoned? I designed the assassin, the way in, and the way out through all the layers of protection around him. I invented the reasons and the culprits, and the man trying to figure it all out, political science professor Lammeck. 

An interesting note: if you read the opening to the published script for Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, you will see I wrote the introduction. Tarantino credited The Assassins Gallery for inspiring his script; by killing FDR so plausibly, he said, he realized that he could murder Hitler in his film, another what-if of historic proportions. Kinda cool. 

Outside the Hyde Park, NY, home of the Roosevelts, where I reviewed the servants' and butlers' records, to capture FDR's comings and goings. 

The Little White House, in Warm Springs, GA, where FDR went regularly for the soothing natural springs. He died inside. 

Inside the Little White House; FDR passed away while sitting in this chair posing for a portrait. 

by David L. Robbins on July 30th, 2014

I set out to tell a story of men who served in WWI in the D-Day invasion forces who were not direct combatants. Liberation Road is about two men, black and white, both desperate to fight: one  prevented by his government, the other by his faith.

The novel centers around the Red Ball Express, the African-American truckers who moved the materiel and men from the Norman beaches to the fast advancing front lines. The book also features a Jewish chaplain, who has come back to France to serve his God, as well as find his missing son. In a rental car, I drove the Red Ball route, south then east from Omaha Beach, a circuit of 325 miles nonstop, at 35 mph,  rested 8 hours, then did it again.

The invasion site, the view from a German pillbox, on a windy day.

Omaha Beach, a peaceful image on a historical site.

One of the most powerful places any American can stand, the U.S. cemetery near Omaha Beach. I was touched to see so many Stars of David among the stones.

by David L. Robbins on July 30th, 2014

This was my third trip to Russia, having been also for two earlier books, War Of The Rats and The End Of War. I spent three weeks on the battlefields around Kursk. There I learned how late the sun goes down in July, the crops that were planted in 1943 (especially sunflowers, a major image in the novel), and the view across the endless fields, imagining them from a tank’s firing sight. I visited towns and villages, museums and memorials. I spoke with as many older folks as my interpreter and I could ingratiate ourselves to.

Back home, I spent days at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds Museum in Maryland with the curator, sitting in tanks of all kinds, handling firearms and learning ballistics. I flew in a bi-wing stunt plane to get the sense of acrobatics my Night Witch character  Katya would need to escape the swinging searchlights after her raids. I rode in a restored T-34 over dusty fields in rural Virginia, playing gunner and driver. I interviewed an old Russian found by a local rabbi. The man had been a partisan in the forests around Minsk, blowing up German troop trains. I sat for hours with a retired Green Beret who taught me how to handle C-3 and how to position the explosive clay to derail a train any number of ways. At Russian museums I watched video interviews with old Soviet and German tankers, hearing the battle for Kursk relived in their voices.

Here I'm checking out the optics and the headroom (I'm 6'6") in a Russian T-34 tank I found at a private museum outside Washington, D.C..

Playing the commander, getting used to the view from a turret.

My author photo for Last Citadel. Really, I felt cool.

The T-34 had a top overland speed of 35 mph. The German Tiger lumbered along at 20 mph. You do the math. The Russians won.
The striking memorial for the battle of Prokhorovka on the Russian steppe, where the Germans and Soviet armies fought a vicious battle with thousands of tanks, the pivotal battle in the fight for Kursk,  Operation Citadel.
Sprawling over the valley floor, filling it from the river villages to the foot of the bordering slopes, was an immense sea of bright, blossomed sunflowers. The valley walls cupped the gold like hands cradling a gigantic, shining medallion.

Luis gazed in wonder at the vast field of yellow. He did not forget this would be a battleground. But the omen was clear to him, the metaphor of the golden badge too plain to be ignored.

                                                             —Last Citadel

by David L. Robbins on July 30th, 2014

To desribe the fall of Berlin, I read 72 source books (the bibliography is available in the rear of the novel) and visited archive libraries and battle sites in Germany, Poland, and Ukraine. Among many locales, I dropped in on the Livadia Palace in Crimea, where I got to sit around the table used for the Yalta Conference, attended by Stalin, Churchill and FDR. Here are a few pics of my trip.

The Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. I imagined all the downed planes and burning tanks in the square, the scorched pillars and red banners flying from the chariot.

A Soviet cemetery above  the Oder plain, where 70,000 Red soldiers died in three days assaulting Seelow, across the Oder River, to finally enter the German homeland.

The entrance to Sachsenhausen, with the infamous exhortation "Arbeit Macht Frei." Work makes freedom.

The courtyard at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The cordons mark the place where the gallows stood.

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Yasha. Sachsenhausen is right outside Berlin, I believe. I'm going to take that damned city, I don't give a shit what the little Americans and British think they have up their sleeves. After I do, I'll string up a few Nazis for you right in their own camp. We'll take over Sachsenhausen and turn it on its masters. Would you like that?"

"Yes, father."

                                                         —The End of War

Me and a Russian school group at the Prokhorovka memorial.

by David L. Robbins on July 30th, 2014

I spent three months in the Soviet Union, interviewing veterans of the battle of Stalingrad. I visited the city, now called Volgograd, and its remarkable collection of memorials. In Siberia, I met an amazing collection of people, some of whom inspired characters in the book. Most importantly, I was the last western journalist to speak with famous sniper Vasily Zaitsev before he died the following year, of a heart attack in his 80's.  Here are a few photos from that incredible trip.

Vera Andreievna Michailovna, the physical model for Tania Chernova. I met Vera in Irkutsk, Siberia.

Peasants, thought Zaitsev, like me. We're all peasants. All the better. Accustomed to hardship. Zaitsev stepped before a tall, lithe blonde girl. He noted her stare. This, he thought, is no peasant.

"Chernova," she said.
                                                  —War of the Rats

Mameyev Kurgan, in modern-day Volgograd, better known as Stalingrad.

Two blocks of houses have been left in their battered state after the battle of Stalingrad. The museum with Zaitsev's sniper rifle is in the background.e your new text here.

Inside the Hall Of Fallen Heroes at Stalingrad. The red mosaic banners on the walls bear the names of the battle's Soviet dead, almost a million of them.

A craftsman and former political prisoner I met in Siberia, the inspiration for Yuri in War Of The Rats. At the top of his carved totem are Stalin and Levrenti Beria.

Tania looked at Yuri's hand shake Fedya's. His fingers were thick and powerful with blunt nails. The knuckles were gnarled from labor. She guessed he had worked on one of the millions of Soviet collective farms. In Fedya's smooth white grasp, Yuri's calloused hand looked more like a tan bag of chestnuts than flesh.