Hitler and Stalin signed a “Non-Aggression Pact” in 1939, although both probably realized that this would only delay, not prevent war between Germany and Russia. During that same year, Hitler told a Swiss diplomat:
Everything I undertake is directed against Russia. If those in the West are too stupid and too blind to understand this, then I should be forced to come to an understanding with the Russians to beat the West, and then, after its defeat, turn with all my concentrated force against the Soviet Union.
(quotation from Kishlansky, p. 902)
In June of 1941, Hitler launched his attack on the Soviet Union. The Soviet army was not well prepared. Stalin had “purged” (executed or sent to gulags) many of his top officers, so the Soviets lacked competent military leaders. Stalin had not expected an invasion until 1942.
Hitler sent three million soldiers to Russia, the largest invasion force in military history. The Germans targeted Leningrad in the North, Moscow, and the Southern oil- rich Caucasus region.
Leningrad was besieged for 900 days, from September 8, 1941 until January 27, 1944, but refused to surrender. Thousands of civilians died.
Siege and Survival Skrjabina
“People are being sent away by the thousands and by the tens of thousands to dig trenches.” (Skrjabin 12)
“The workers must sleep wherever they can, often under the open sky. As a result, many catch a chill, get sick, but absolutely no one is excused from duty.” (Skrjabin 13)
“July 18, 1941…The quota for bread is 400 grams a day, for butter, 600 grams a month. “ (Skrjabin 15)
“I tried to visualize the grisly scene—a mother pleading with her son to commit suicide. Can it be possible that the Germans will kill someone just because he is a Jew? (Skrjabin 15)
“August 23,1941…This fever to get good has reached an unbelievably high degree. Everything is virtually disappearing… The stores are all but empty. Everywhere there are enormous lines. And the crowds grow whenever sugar or butter appears in the commercial stores.” (Skrjabin 23)
“September 5, 1941… We have returned to prehistoric times: life has been reduced to one thing—the hunt for food.” (Skrjabin 24)
“September 8, 1941… In the city they talk about the large number of leaflets scattered by the Germans. The content of these leaflets is an ultimatum. If the city has not surrendered by September 9, there will be massive bombardment.” (Skrjabin 25)
“September 9, 1941…With each new explosion, the women, many of whom are Communist, compulsorily cross themselves and whisper prayers. In such moments, anti-religious propaganda is
forgotten.” (Skrjabin 26)
“September 12, 1941… And all the time they told us that Leningrad was inaccessible, that there would be no air raids. This is how inaccessible it is! The antiaircraft defense might just as well be soap bubbles. Guarantee of safety? A shallow phrase.” (Skrjabin 27)
“September 15, 1941… The destruction of the Badayevski warehouses can already be felt. The daily ration of bread has been lowered to 250 grams.” (Skrjabin 28)
“October 2, 1941… The new bread ration: 125 grams for white-collar workers and dependents, 250 for manual laborers.” (Skrjabin 30)
“October 2, 1941… No changes at the front. The Germans have surrounded the city. They bomb daily with Germanic precision at exactly seven o’clock every morning.” (Skrjabin 30-31)
“November 6, 1941… He has lost interest in everything. He won’t read or talk. It is hard to believe but he is even indifferent to the bombings. The only thing that can bring him out of it is food.” (Skrjabin 35)
“Not just rumors, but reliable sources, i.e., news from militia sectors, tell us that a loot of sausage has appeared at the marketplace—jellied meat and such –made of human flesh.” (Skrjabin 38)
“November 26, 1941…They say that as many as 3,000 people die daily. I don’t think this is an exaggeration. The city is literally flooded with corpses.” (Skrjabin 41)
“November 29, 1941…She is not at all a citizen of a hungry, embattled city. I asked why. It turns out that the reason is very simple. She works in a food warehouse. The director of the warehouse is in love with
her.” (Skrjabin 42)
“December 29, 1941…Dependents will get 200 grams; workers will get 350.” (Skrjabin 49)
Corruption in the city, people in higher status have access to food (Skrjabin 52)
“January 24, 1942…Again there are rumors of evacuation. Many set off on foot across frozen Lake Ladoga. Mostly adolescents try it. Many die on the lake. The emaciated, weaken organisms cannot withstand the terrible cold.” (Skrjabin 58)
“January 27, 1942… Getting dinner from the mess hall takes up half the day.” (Skrjabin 60)
“For the hundredth time you reflect on how different can be the situation of people who have power or advantages from that of ordinary people who have nothing but their bread ration cards.” (Srjabin 62)
The Battle for Leningrad
“Stalin himself chimed in, directing Zhukov and his other council member to rid Leningrad ruthlessly of disloyal elements” (Glantz 85)
“We propose to closely blockade the city and erase it from the earth by means of artillery fire of all caliber and continuos bombardment from the air” (Glantz 86)
“22 June 1941 order of the Leningrad City Council’s Executive Committee… To enlist the services of able civilians of both sexes between the ages of 16 and 50 for men and between 16 and 45 for women, excluding workers working in defense industries, in (defensive work)…To establish the following work routine for the fulfillment of work obligations:
Nonworking able-bodied civilians of both sexes—eight hours per day.
Office workers, other workers, and laborers—three hours per day after work
Students of functioning educational institutions—three house per day after class
They would be building trenches, bunkers, pillboxes, concrete pyramids to deter tanks, artillery firing positions… (Glantz 120)
“The only routes by which supplies could reach the city were by water across Lake Ladoga and by air. The Lake Ladoga route relied on flimsy and slow barges and cutters to cross the lake around the clock, in stormy weather, and under constant German air attack.” (Glantz 132-133)
In a horrible winter of 1941-1942, it became very difficult to get supplies into the starving city. The ice road could not handle the amount of supplies need to sustain the citizens. “In addition, forage was also in short supply, and this shortage exhausted the horses, reduced their capability for work, and finally led to cattle plague.” (Glantz 134)
“Spreading disease was a natural outgrowth of the famine. The percentage of the population ill with scurvy and malnutrition (dystrophia increased dramatically, and the death toll rose inexorably and catastrophically… After the famine began in November, the monthly death toll rose from 10,000 in November to more than 50,000 in December and to more than 120,000 in January. “ (Glantz 135)
“My prewar weight of 60 kilograms [132 pounds] fell to 39 kilograms [86 pounds] by July 1942.” (Glantz 136)
“We did not wash our hair and bodies for several months. The public baths opened I spring 1942. Men, women, and children washed in one room. They were skeletons covered with skin—what a shame it
was.” (Glantz 137)
“When the ice road was first opened it could not keep up with the demands of the citizens, but as the ice thickened more and more traffic entered the city via the ice road. By December 22 was the first time the supply trucks could bring more than enough supplies than the daily”
consumption rates of Leningrad. As a result the ration table was adjusted and each tier was increased. (Glantz 142)
“The front ordered all movement across the ice halted, effective 1200 hours on 21 April. “ (Glantz 144)
“As soon as the ice road opened, the Leningrad Front began a massive evacuation of those who were not capable of working, in particular, women, children, and the disabled. “ (Glantz 144)
“The report identified malnutrition [emaciation] and what he called “elementary dystrophy” as the cause of about 70 percent of the deaths in the city” (Glantz 237)
“March 27 – April 15 1942…During the massive cleanup operation, more than 300,000 people cleaned 16,000 buildings and 3 million square meters of streets, squares, and alleys and removed about 1 million tons of refuse and garbage.” (Glantz 238)
“It (city government) exploited every park and vacant area in the city to assign plots of land to the population on which to grow vegetables. Ultimately, more than 200,000 Leningraders planted 2,000 hectares (4,942 acres). (Glantz 241)
“Since coal and other fuels were still in short supply, factories and other enterprises used only wood and peat as fuel. Once again, the authorities mobilized the entire population in the effort, and they gathered 1 million cubic meters of fuel during the summer. Since this amount was still insufficient, the authorities ordered all buildings not suited for occupancy to be torn down for use as fuel.” (Glantz 242)
Total Losses in the Battle and Siege of Leningrad 641,000 civilians in the siege proper….1,000,000 in siege and during the Evacuation Russian Military Encyclopedia (Glantz 547)
Study/Discussion Questions on the “Blokoda” (Siege) of Leningrad
Using the information from http://www.saint-petersburg.com/ history/siege.asp
And http://www.saint-petersburg.com/history/reconstruction.asp, answer the following questions:
The 900-day Siege of Leningrad
“This was undoubtedly the most tragic period in the history of the city, a period full of suffering and heroism. For everyone who lives in St. Petersburg the Blokada (the Siege) of Leningrad is an important part of the city’s heritage and a painful memory for the population’s older generations.”
“Less than two and a half months after the Soviet Union was attacked by Nazi Germany, German troops were already approaching Leningrad. The Red Army was outflanked and on September 8 1941 the Germans had fully encircled Leningrad and the siege began. The siege lasted for a total of 900 days, from September 8 1941 until January 27 1944. The city’s almost 3 million civilians (including about 400,000 children) refused to surrender and endured rapidly increasing hardships in the encircled city. Food and fuel stocks were limited to a mere 1-2 month supply, public transport was not operational and by the winter of 1941-42 there was no heating, no water supply, almost no electricity and very little food. In January 1942 in the depths of an unusually cold winter, the city’s food rations reached an all time low of only 125 grams (about 1/4 of a pound) of bread per person per day. In just two months, January and February of 1942, 200,000 people died in Leningrad of cold and starvation. Despite these tragic losses and the inhuman conditions the city’s war industries still continued to work and the city did not surrender.”
“Several hundred thousand people were evacuated from the city across Lake Ladoga via the famous “Road of Life” (“Doroga Zhizni”) – the only route that connected the besieged city with the mainland. During the warm season people were ferried to the mainland, and in winter – carried by trucks that drove across the frozen lake under constant enemy bombardment.”
“Meanwhile, the city lived on. The treasures of the Hermitage and the suburban palaces of Petrodvorets and Pushkin were hidden in the basements of the Hermitage and St Isaac’s Cathedral. Many of the city’s students continued their studies and even passed their finals exams. Dmitry Shostakovich wrote his Seventh “Leningrad” Symphony and it was performed in the besieged city.”
“In January 1943 the Siege was broken and a year later, on January 27 1944 it was fully lifted. At least 641,000 people had died in Leningrad during the Siege (some estimates put this figure closer to 800,000). Most of them were buried in mass graves in different cemeteries, with the majority in the Piskariovskoye Memorial Cemetery, resting place to over 500,000 people and a timeless reminder of the heroic deeds of the city.”
How soon after the Nazis began their attack on the Soviet Union did they reach Leningrad?
How many people lived in Leningrad at the time?
Describe the general conditions of the city during the Siege.
How many died during the months of January and February 1942?
Did the city shut down during the Siege? Why not?
What was the “Road of Life,” and how did it get its name?
How did people protect many of their treasured works of art?
How did the composer Dmitry Shostakovich honor the city during the Siege?
How many people died during the Siege? What percentage of the original population was lost?
Where are most of the victims of the Siege buried?
Describe the problems Leningrad and the rest of Russia experienced just after the war.
What might have been left out, and why?