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  • The Hunt For Food

    Posted on October 20th, 2014 katiewells9 No comments

    In September 1941, the city of Leningrad was under seige by the German which lasted until January 1944. According to one Leningrader’s diary, “We have returned to prehistoric times: life has been reduced to one thing — the hunt for food.”

    Upon seizing the city, the Army Group North under General Ritter von Leeb severed the main rail line to Moscow; cutting off necessary supplies. The main goal of the Germans was to “terrorize and starve the population into surrender.” And their goal was working.

    “September 11: The siren is howling again like a dog when someone is dying. This is the twelfth time today … the antiaircraft guns are pounding and just now a bomb screamed overhead, there was a dull thud and then a terrific explosion, and then came the usual shattering of windowpanes. Then another thud, and another and another. Well, so far Elizaveta and I have escaped harm, In the last three days ninety-one enemy planes were downed over Leningrad.”  – Petr Kotelnikov, Diary. 1941-1943

    The people of Leningrad began to do what was necessary to survive, including dismantling wooden houses to burn for warmth. Soon the only route left to receive food and supplies was across the frozen Lake Ladoga and then by rail spur through German-held territory. This route was not always reliable and food rations were continually reduced week by week.

    water mine

    Image 1 of 5 – Getting water from a broken main (1942) Water was precious during the siege and women and children made daily trips to dip it from water mains. Source: Boris Skomorovsky and E. G. Morris: Siege of Leningrad. New York: Books, Inc.. 1944.

    This image depicts the citizens of Leningrad using a broken main to drink water. Along with struggling to find drinking water, people were forced to eat what they could get their hands on, including mice, rats, cats, dogs, birds, bark, tooth powder, glue, and even human flesh when given no other option. (900 Days)

    In January 1944, the seize finally ended with approximately 800,000 dead of starvation and 200,000 killed by bombings.

    The people of Leningrad fought for their lives during the two-and-a-half year seize. They attempted to keep the morale up by creating competitions with extra rations as the prize, young healthy looking men and women were filmed performing in athletic events, and many other events were broadcasted by radio. The goal of the government and activists was to keep life as normal as possible so that people had a reason to keep hope and continue on each day.

    July 28: I visited an exhibition of paintings done by Leningrad artists. We are besieged yet we organize exhibitions. It is snug and clean at the exhibit with rugs and flowers and the paintings themselves. I do not dare to judge of the artistic merits of the paintings but I dare say this; that there has never been such an exhibition before in the entire world. I do not think Troy or Carthage or the cities besieged by Attila and Alaric held painting exhibitions!” – Petr Kotelnikov, Diary. 1941-1943

    The people of Leningrad were memorialized in monuments, poetry, music, art, and many other forms.

    Leningrad is a prime example of the determination the Russian people exhibited during World War II. The citizens of Russia all saw it as their responsibility to do whatever it took to win the war; whether that meant fighting for their country on the front line or plowing the fields back home.


    The Russians were able to win the war because of this perseverance which was a direct result of the Stalinist system in place. According to William C. Fuller, “Paradoxically the USSR won the war both because of and despite the Stalinist system.” (Frost, p. 385) Stalin made poor decisions at the beginning of the war, but was able to pull it together and become a symbol of national unity by the end.


    5 responses to “The Hunt For Food” RSS icon

    • I thought this post did a really good job of detailing and describing the extreme hardship which the people of Lenningrad had to survive. The death tolls were so incredible, it is amazing that the city withheld for so long. I also find the notion of these clearly staged or faked parades and videos of healthy young Russians holding pride festivals seems sort of ridiculous considering the fact the 800,000 people starved to death in Lenningrad.

    • National unity was arguably the most powerful tool in the Soviet arsenal. Being able to utilize the collectivist model proved useful in being able to control the rationing and distribution of food. Even when a city was cut off from supplies, the regime was able to maintain control and boost moral by issuing Soviet propaganda and keeping the citizens empowered with the notion that it is a struggle that even they can be a part of in repelling the Nazis.

    • I think national unity did more harm than good. Much of the problems that Stalin and the Soviets faced early in the war was due to their focus on nationalism; they replaced competent professionals with Soviet leaders with less than 1 year’s experience by the time WWII started.
      If I recall correctly, the Soviets gimped their own military by removing the military leaders because they feared an uprising from the military.
      Though I admit that in the end, the Soviets were able to change and mobilize quickly in response to the circumstances and turned the tide of war to their favor.

    • Good post! Fix spelling of siege? (seize?)

    • I am not real fantastic with English but I line up this very easygoing to understand.

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