September 8, 1941-January
On the eighth of September 1941 the Germans began their attack on the city of Leningrad. It was during this time that the citizens of Leningrad were virtually sealed off from the world, for there was only one road out of the city, over the frozen Neva River. With the commencement of the invasion on Leningrad, the citizens united and grouped together in hope of a quick defeat of the Germans. Suny in his work comments that a wave of patriotism spread throughout the city; “Over two hundred thousand people volunteered for military duty in the first week” (Suny 318). Ironically, the desire to fight for Mother Russia stimulated by the invasion of Leningrad increased Soviet patriotism, and this increased patriotism was portrayed by a variety of different people. For example, one Komsomol soldier in Leningrad commented, when a Finnish officer criticized the Soviet system, “Hitlerite baboons! I spit on you. Go ahead. Shoot” (Suny 318).
During World War Two, Soviet literature was affected in a variety of ways and assumed many new forms; for example, literary works in general were shortened, and poetry and short stories monopolized the scene (Sartorti 179). Another significant change in the literary world occurred because the censors relaxed their grip on literature. This change in censorship allowed some authors to address the sufferings and hardships that the Soviet people endured throughout the war and under Stalin’s control (Brown 245). This new frankness was exemplified as many members of the literary circles devoted their attention to documenting the events that were occurring on the front (Brown 243). Indeed, Russian writers understood their importance and the role that they played in fighting the Nazis. For example, Zharov wrote; “Together we lived and served the Motherland, / the sharp pen and the machine gun, / we struck up a “front friendship.”/ The journalist, the writer, and the soldier” (McReynolds 28).
In the early stages of the siege the citizens of Leningrad went to great lengths to fortify the city by digging trenches and taking control of the factories (Inber 7). However, these action were not the only precautions that Leningrad took against the Germans. For example, authorities evacuated much of the population, including woman and children. Those who were not evacuated, such as the poet Anna Akhmatova, were left to witness the harshness and ferocity of the war. Akhmatova then created an image of herself and of the heroes of he city through her poetry. Her poem "Courage," written in February 1942, is a prime example of the mentality of the people of the city during the siege. It is in this poem that she depicts the importance of never giving up hope in the fight against the Germans; "may courage not abandon us! / Let bullets kill us – we are not afraid, /…We will preserve you, Russian speech, /from servitude in foreign chains, /keep you alive, great Russian word…”
Not only did Soviet literature preserve the realities of the war for subsequent generations and build on national pride, the literature became a rallying cry for the people themselves. Throughout the course of the war, Soviet literature itself experienced radical changes. In the early years, authors concentrated their efforts on presenting an image of destruction and the need for all people to unite in the effort to destroy the Germans. Constantine Mikhailovich Simonov, in his poem "Kill Him," presents the early ideology of masses uniting to overcome the Germans. It is in this poem that Simonov reiterates the theme of killing the German soldiers; “…No one will kill this foe,/ If you don’t kill him first/…So kill at least one of them/ And as soon as you can. Still/ Each one you chance to see!/ Kill him!/ Kill him!/ Kill!”
Like any nation in war, the Soviet people relied heavily on radio broadcasts for information on the USSR’s status in the war. The radio in the Soviet Union was as important as the radio in the United States with President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressing the American people. James von Geldern in his article, “Radio Moscow: The Voice from the Center,” comments about the necessity of the radio, especially in cities like Leningrad who were actively fighting the Nazi powers. Geldern discusses how in January of 1942, the people of Leningrad lost the “sacred” radio single, and even the desperate citizens of the city placed their lives in jeopardy to restore the lines (von Geldern 44). Many people used these forms of communication as a method of hope, one that would announce the defeat of the Germans, the end of the blockade, or simply the end of the war. Furthermore, radio broadcasts were used to boast the morale of the people of the USSR. Geldern comments that the most important goal of the radio was “to create intimate ties over a span of miles” (Brooks 21).Similarly, the newspaper Pravda took on the same role as the radio, for like the radio, the newspaper increased patriotism and nationalism throughout the vast empire of the Soviet Union, a very important feat considering the size of the Soviet Union. Articles were published glorifying Soviet victories. Brooks, in his article “Pravda Goes to War,” argues that the war effort contributed by the female population was often overlooked in all aspects of propaganda: “The war as portrayed in Pravda was largely a male experience, despite the enormous role of woman in the struggle” (Brooks 21). However, realistically the Soviet Union would have been easily defeated without the silent sacrifice of women.
Music, like literature, also played a significant role in the Soviet society throughout the siege of Leningrad. For example, songs became a type of propaganda for the people, and they were therefore used to boast the country’s morale and increase patriotism. Rothstein, in his article “Homeland, Home Town, and Battlefield,” explains the genre of the Soviet war songs. He states: “Russian songs of World War II spoke of homeland, hometown, and the battlefield, addressing the emotions of millions of Soviet citizens. They did so, by and large from the point of view of the individual on the front lines…” (Rothstein 90). Indeed, Soviet authorities used the music of the era as a way of reinforcing patriotism and loyalty in the USSR. For example, Dmitri Shostakovich played his Seventh Symphony over the radio, the symphony that he wrote while he was trapped in the blockaded city of Leningrad.
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 (Inver 7). Vera Inber in her diary comments on the harsh condition in the city during the siege and describes the destruction that occurred in city from German bombs. She writes, “We could see smoke like burning crude oil pouring from the military hospital…” (Inber 23). However, this scene that Inber describes is becoming the dominant image of the city, reinforcing the theme that the city of Leningrad is unstable and unsafe.
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 (Inber 7). 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…” (Inber 39). 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” (Inber 36).
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” (Inber 53). 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” (Suny 318). However, people did not stop at eating cats and dogs, for those who were extremely desperate to survive resulted to cannibalism (Suny 318). 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”(Tumarkin 204).
Throughout the course of the nine hundred day siege of Leningrad, the people of the city united in hope of driving out the Nazi forces and save the Slavic race from being terminated. By uniting together, the Soviet people were able to endure the hardship and disaster that was inflicted upon them. Without the use of poetry, film, and radio as a form of propaganda it would have been difficult for the Soviet people to unite, which would have inevitably caused disaster and defeat for the USSR.
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Finkelshteyn, Josef. The Great Battle Has Begun. Trans. Kirill Finkelshteyn. 8 April2002 <http://kfinkelshteyn.narod.ru/Literat/Grianul_boy_Eng.htm>.
Ginzburg, Lidiya. Blockade Diary. Trans. Alan Meyers. London: The Harvill Press, 1995
Inber, Vera. Leningrad Diary. Trans. Serge Wolf and Rachel Grieve. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1971.
Linz, Susan ed. The Impact of World War II on the Soviet Union. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Allanheld, 1985.
McReynolds, Louise. "Decline Stalingrad: Newspaper Correspondents at the Front." Culture and Entertainment in Wartime Russia ed. Richard Stites. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.
Rothstein, Robert A. "Homeland, Home Town, and Battlefield: The Popular Song." Culture and Entertainment in Wartime Russia ed. Richard Stites. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.
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Sartorti, Rosalinde. "On the Making of Heroes, Heroines, and Saints." Culture and Entertainment in Wartime Russia ed. Richard Stites. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. <>Suny, Ronald Grigor. The Soviet Experiment. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
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Tumarkin, Nina. "The War of Remembrance" Culture and Entertainment in Wartime Russia ed. Richard Stites. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.
Virginia Newspaper - 900-Day Siege of Leningrad. 8 April 2002 <http://virginia.ru/newspaper/article.cgi?calendar&blokada>.
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World War II and the 900-day Siege of Leningrad. 8 April 2002 <http://petersburgcity.com/city/history/page18/>.
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