Thought to be the largest loss of life in any modern city, the Siege of Leningrad was an incredibly devastating event for Russian society. Beginning in August of 1941, German Army Group North had begun to put Leningrad under siege (Freeze, p.375). The German army cut off the city’s main railway to Moscow, which severed supply lines into the city. The Germans’ goal was to starve Leningrad’s population into surrender. Residents of the city banded together into volunteer groups to help fortify the city and build trenches to halt the potential advancement of the Germans into the city.
As the Russian winter approached, modes of public transportation shut down, and electricity and heat were cut off throughout the city. Residents began to chop down trees and demolish wooden houses to produce fuel supplies to stay warm. By this time, the only supply line to the city was across the frozen Lake Ladoga. Food rations designated to the people slowly started to diminish, increasing the chances of starvation. Almost anything became a food source: mice, rats, cats, dogs, glue, and some individuals even resorted to cannibalism.
Government officials tried to keep morale high even amidst the incredibly harsh conditions. Competitions at work for extra rations were common. Concerts and poetry recitals were broadcasted over the radio, and video clips depicting healthy and happy individuals playing sports were broadcasted to the population. Unfortunately, even morale could not stop the toll that the siege took on the city. By the end of siege, approximately 1,000,000 residents of Leningrad had perished. Close to 800,000 of these deaths were contributed to starvation, and the remaining deaths occurred trying to defend the city from the Germans. Interesting, firsthand photos of the siege can be found here.
“Russia: A History” Gregory L. Freeze