Essays > The World of the Soviet Citizen > The Siege of Leningrad
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A brief account of the Siege of Leningrad.
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Early in World War II (in the USSR, the war began on June 22, 1941 and ended on May 9, 1945), Hitler's army surrounded Leningrad. Beginning in September 1941 and for two and a half years thereafter, the city was cut off from the remainder of the Soviet Union and, correspondingly, from all food supplies. During this time, the civilian population of the city suffered losses of over a million people, for the most part from starvation during the severe winter of 1941 to 1942. On some days in January and February of 1942, the mortality figures for Leningraders, most of whose rations consisted of 125 grams of poor-quality bread, exceeded 15,000. The city was subject to systematic bombarding and artillery fire. Part of the population was evacuated. The humanitarian catastrophe that befell the citizens of Leningrad resulted in part from mistakes made by the Soviet military command in the summer and fall of 1941. It was also a consequence of the Nazi employment of hunger as a tool of warfare. To survive, people ate whatever was available and many of those who had limited rations turned to normally inedible substances like waste from food and animal feed production, carpenter's glue, linseed oil (used as paint thinner), grasses, and tree bark.

In the winter of 1941-42 water and electricity were cut off. Water had to be drawn from the river and canals—with difficulty through the ice in winter—and carried home. The normal methods of heating (see the essay about firewood) were beyond the means and the strength of the starving and exhausted population. Instead of using the old stoves in their rooms, which used too much wood, people installed small, metal stoves called "burzhuiki" (from the word "bourgeois") with flues sticking out through the ventilation windows. You can see traces of coal from a "burzhuika" in this photo.) These little stoves, on which it was possible to heat water for tea and prepare food, were stoked with whatever fuel was at hand: books, furniture, parquet flooring. In place of firewood, citizens were given permission to help clean up the bombed-out wooden structures and take away a fixed amount of wood for fuel.

Memories of everyday life during the Siege—and during the Great Patriotic War more generally—are still quite alive in St. Petersburg at this writing (2008). Although their vividness diminishes as the older generations pass away, museums, memorials, public rituals, and educational programs insure that even young residents retain a sense of Siege as a crucial aspect of their "Hero-City."

expand/collapse this text box Further Study

Inber, Vera (1971). Leningrad Diary. Translated from Russian by Serge M. Wolff and Rachel Grieve. London: Hutchinson and Co.

Skrjabina, Elena (1971). Siege and Survival: The Odyssey of a Leningrader. Translated from Russian by Norman Luxemburg. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Historical Studies in English

Barber, John, and Mark Harrison (1991). The Soviet Home Front, 1941-1945: A Social and Economic History of the USSR in World War II. London; New York: Longman.

Bellamy, Chris (2007). Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Bidlack, Richard (2000). "Survival Strategies in Leningrad." In The People's War: Responses to World War II in the Soviet Union, Thurston, Robert W. and Bernd Bonwetsch, eds. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Glantz, David M. (2002). The Battle for Leningrad: 1941-1944. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Goldstein, Darra (2005)."Women under Siege: Leningrad 1941-1942." In From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies: Critical Perspectives on Women and Food. Arlene Voski Avakian and Barbara Haber, eds. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Kirschenbaum, Lisa A. (2006). The Legacy of the Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1995: Myth, Memories, and Monuments. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Moskoff, William (1990). The Bread of Affliction: The Food Supply in the USSR During World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Salisbury, Harrison E. (1985). The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad. New York, N.Y.: Da Capo Press.

Thurston, Robert W., and Bernd Bonwetsch (2000). The People's War: Responses to World War II in the Soviet Union. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

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