Die Geschichte der Zerstöring Moskaus im Jahre 1812 (The history of the destruction of Moscow, 1812)

Author(s) : NORDHOF Anton Wilhelm
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According to the Bulletin de la Grande Armée, no. 20, 17 September, 1812, the governor of the city of Moscow, count Feodor Vassilievich Rostopchin, gave the order for three to four hundred brigands to set fire to the city. In the subsequent fire that raged, almost three-quarters of the old wooden city of Moscow was destroyed. Eleven years later and in another capital, Paris, the debate was still raging as to whether governor Rostopchin was really responsible for this act which it was said had (in addition to causing untold damage to Moscow) destroyed the Grande Armée, caused the fall of Napoleon, saved Russia and liberated Europe. Rostopchin energetically denied his 'saving' role, but the controversy rumbles on still today, most notably with the publication in Germany of one of the key sources for the study of the subject, namely this account by the German doctor Anton Wilhelm Nordhof, entitled Die Geschichte der Zerstörung Moskau's im Jahre 1812 (The history of the destruction of Moscow, 1812). Dr. Anton Wilhelm Nordhof lived in Russia from 1806 to 1819 and from 1822 until his death in 1825. He was in Moscow in 1812 and lived through the terrible experience of the siege by the French army, the taking and burning of the city and the French departure in the October. In 1815 he wrote his memoirs of the time and recorded the eyewitness reports of Russians, French and Germans present in the city. The work itself was translated into French and published under the title Histoire de la destruction de Moscou en 1812, par A. F. de B….. Ch. (pseudonym for Nordhoff), translated from the German by M. Breton, Paris: Ponthieu, 1822. This translation was followed immediately (in 1823) by Rostopchin's denial of his involvement in the fire, his title being La Vérité sur l'incendie de Moscou, par le Cte Rostopchine' (The truth about the fire of Moscow, by Count Rostopchin), published in Paris also by Ponthieu (republished 2000, by Editions Historique Teissedre). On surface it might appear that Rostopchin's 'La vérité' was a rebuttal of Nordhof's work, the translation of which had been published a year earlier. Rostopchin however explicitly criticises not Nordhof's work but rather another study of the period (again published anonymously, but actually by Marquis G. de Chambray, entitled Histoire de l'expédition de Russie, par M***… (Marquis G. de Chambray), Paris: Pillet aîné, 1823.
Nordhoff's original remained in family possession until 1993, when a manuscript copy was sent to the director of the Historical Committee of the Bayern Academy of Sciences, Otto Mayr, who decided to publish it in the series”Historical Sources for the 19th and 20th century in Germany”. The original often has more than the French translation and is even more emphatic as to Rostpchin's guilt in starting the fire.

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Munich: Harald Boldt Verlag
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