The Siege Of Leningrad: WW2

Russian soldiers wait with their anti-aircraft gun for the German planes. 1943

(No sub-tiles, I am sorry. It is in German.)

It was horrific. The siege of Leningrad (the modern-day St. Petersburg) lasted almost two and one-half years and cost the lives of an estimated 1,000,000 city residents. It began on September 8, 1941 when German troops completed their encirclement of the city. As his blitzkrieg rushed towards Moscow, Hitler made the strategic decision to bypass Leningrad and strangle the city into submission rather than commit valuable resources to attacking it directly.

Training Russian women to be firefighters

Food supplies were cut. By November, individual rations were lowered to 1/3 of the daily amount needed by an adult. The city's population of dogs, cats, horses, rats and crows disappeared as they became the main course on many dinner tables. Reports of cannibalism began to appear. Thousands died - an estimated 11,000 in November increasing to 53,000 in December. The frozen earth meant their bodies could not be buried. Corpses accumulated in the city's streets, parks and other open areas.

Washing off the sign which says, "This side of the street is dangerous", after the German threat to the city receded in 1944

By January 1944, the Red Army had pushed the German army beyond Leningrad allowing the city to celebrate the end of its siege. Alexander Werth was a correspondent for the London Sunday Times and the BBC who accompanied the Soviet troops as they pushed the Germans from their soil. He interviewed a number of Leningrad residents shortly after the siege was lifted

Anna Andreievna - manager Astoria Hotel:

"The Astoria looks like a hotel now, but you should have seen it during the famine! It was turned into a hospital - just hell. They used to bring here all sorts of people, mostly intellectuals, who were dying of hunger. You just stepped over corpses in the street and on the stairs. You simply stopped taking any. It was no use worrying. Terrible things used to happen. Some people went quite insane with hunger. And the practice of hiding the dead somewhere in the house and using their ration cards was very common indeed. There were so many people dying all over the place authorities couldn't keep track of all the deaths..."

Captured German soldiers being marched through the streets of Leningrad. October 1942

Members of the staff of the Architects Institute:

A lot of our people stopped shaving - the first sign man going to pieces. . . Most of these people pulled themselves together when they were given work. But on the whole men collapsed more easily than women, and at first the death-rate was highest among men. The famine had peculiar physical effects on people. Women were so run down that they stopped menstruating... So many people died we had to bury them without coffins. People had their feelings blunted and never seemed to weep at the burials...It was all done in complete silence, without any display of emotion. When things began to improve the first signs were that women began to put rouge and lipstick on pale, skinny faces.

Nevsky Prospekt after the blockade, 1944

Major Lozak a staff officer in the Soviet Army:

"In those days there was something in a man's face which told you that he would die within the next twenty-four hours...I shall always remember how I'd walk every day from my house near the Tauris Garden to my work in the centre of the city, a matter of two or three kilometres. I'd walk for a-while, and then sit down for a rest. Many a time I saw a man suddenly collapse on the snow. There was nothing I could do. One just walked on. And, on the way back, I would see a vague human form covered with snow on the spot where, in the morning, I had seen a man fall down. One didn't worry; what was the good? People didn't wash for weeks; there were no bath houses and no fuel. But at least people were urged to shave. And during that winter I don't think I ever saw a person smile. It was frightful. And yet there was a kind of inner discipline that made people carry on. A new code of manners was evolved by the hungry people. They carefully avoided talking about food. The Battle of Moscow gave us complete confidence that it would be all right in the end.

"The Siege of Leningrad, 1941 - 1944" EyeWitness to History, (2006).

Nevsky Prospect during enemy shelling, 1942


During the Siege of Leningrad, Hitler concentrated on trying to starve the people out of the city.Indeed, Hitler was successful in maiming the population of Leningrad, killing over a million people .

As the siege dragged on in Leningrad, the living conditions worsened for the inhabitants of the city. For example, the winters of 1941 and 1942 are documented as one of the harshest winters ever to hit the city of Leningrad . With the installation of the blockade, the people of Leningrad were cut off from the influx of food, fuel, medical, and military supplies. The lack of supplies inevitably lead to disease and death, and reached levels where authorities were unable to dispose of all bodies properly.

Family members watched in horror as their friends and relatives died of malnutrition and from the cold as they stood about helplessly. Inber comments about this situation numerous times in her diary:“Long trenches are dug in the cemetery, in which the bodies are laid. The cemetery guards only dig separate graves if they are bribed with bread. There are many coffins to be seen in the streets. They are transported on sleighs…” . Furthermore, those individuals who were unable to escape from the city where playing a game of Russian roulette, for their lives were constantly threatened from bombs and other wartime threats. Inber comments about her numerous near death experiences. For example, she describes how the tram that she had just departed from exploded; “I can no longer remember how – but we managed to jump out of the tram, run across the street and into the baker’s shop on the corner. And at the very moment we entered the shop a shell hit our tram”.

However, those “lucky” enough to remain alive had to resort to demoralizing methods to sustain their lives and the lives of their family members. Many of Leningrad’s inhabitants resorted to stealing simple necessities such as firewood. Inber recounts one instance when people resorted to steal wood from a fence: “Our position is catastrophic. Just now a crowd destroyed the wooden fence of the hospital grounds, and carried it away for firewood”.

Although stealing of firewood was a common act during the siege, others resorted to more “barbarian” techniques of survival. Suny in his text discusses the solution that many hungry individuals came to; “Another woman spent an evening looking for a cat, not to pet, but to eat”. However, people did not stop at eating cats and dogs, for those who were extremely desperate to survive resulted to cannibalism. As conditions like these continued to escalate, it is a miracle that the people of Leningrad did not give up hope and allow their city to fall the Germans.

One survivor from the siege of Leningrad commented about his role in defending the city and nursing the wounded and ill in Leningrad: “Of course the work was horrible. I spent most of the war in a makeshift hospital along the Ladoga lifeline that supported Leningrad during the blockade. There was bombing all the time. I will never forget the incredible stench in the separate tent we had for the victims of gangrene”

Russian anti-aircraft battery in Leningrad. 1942.

Carting off the snow. March 1942

Carrying away those wounded by German shelling

Welcome spring. 1942

Anti-aircraft gun on the University Embankment, 1942

Leningrad citizens

Putting the dead onto the trucks