In this third and final part of Siege Fatigue we will examine more of the privations suffered by the embattled residents of Leningrad, plus a few merciful rays of light and hope.
Although the ghastly phenomenon of cannibalism existed during the siege of Leningrad (as discussed last week), it is important to emphasise its relative rarity and the desperation which forced such extremity. Examining some of the reported statistics, it is revealed largely as the acts of those who ran out of choices – not the will of psychopathic monsters.
Almost half of the perpetrators were unemployed, nearly all were illiterate, over half were women; often with no means of support whilst struggling to feed their starving children.
Significantly, only the tiniest minority (roughly 2%) had prior convictions of any kind. In short; these were just, simply “people”. Perhaps similar choices await us at the extremity of our existence?
It is a testament to the resilience and dignity of the Russian people, that most clung to some semblance of the lives they had before, maintaining humanity against a backdrop of atrocity. The strange juxtaposition of is revealed in photographs taken during the siege.
Here, the uniformed police, a few ambling motor vehicles, rows of pedestrians filing along pavements. There, the scattered dead, the pounded debris of an artillery barrage, huddled strangers stooping to gather water from bomb-crater pools.
More equal than
Corruption, legalised or not, blossomed in adversity. At ground level, those engaged in food supply and distribution had ample opportunity to siphon off a little (or a lot) here and there. Many did: incongruously healthy in clothes they hadn’t needed to exchange for crumbs, whilst serving burgeoning lines of the skeletal near-dead.
The upper party members and those who had found special favour remained similarly plump. One senior party official was even hospitalised through overeating! Prior to the blockade’s completion, Leningrad’s Communist Party Chief Andrei Zhadanov, had declared to Stalin that city stores were full! Just to appear prepared and in control for his leader’s approval. Precious supply trains were sent elsewhere as a result. Those who practiced such self-serving acts were reviled, of course.
In spite of the blockade’s tightened grip; German force Osinovets to Leningrad could not shut down the last supply line: passage across Lake Ladoga, then a local rail link from. Those traversing this precarious route were subject to attack at any time and many perished as a result.
Christened the “Road of Life”, it permitted ingress for supplies via watercraft during the summer, before freezing hard enough to allow vehicular access across its surface during the winter.
Being the only link to the outside, it also served as the sole evacuation route for nearly 1,750,000 citizens of Leningrad, an impressive figure in the face of all adversity. Although not compensating for the full effects of the blockade, its existence was essential in the preservation of Russian lives.
Hold out for Spring
The first blockade-winter of 1941 – 42 was the worst of the whole siege, although two more winters would follow, before the German offensive was broken on 27th January 1944.
The Spring of 1941 saw a thaw that permitted a new initiative in self-preservation, the planting and tending of crops on all suitable land within the city boundaries: parks, gardens, reclaimed grounds, and more, all in a bid to boost any chance of survival as the assault raged on.