Anna Reid is a journalist and author and former Ukraine correspondent at the Economist. She began with a quote from a thirty year woman trapped in Leningrad during the siege “there’s a corpse for every family..altogether the library has lost at least 100 people…what saves you is bestial indifference to human suffering”.
Three quarters of a million civilians died of starvation or a related illness, or over a quarter of the population.
Germany invaded the USSR in June 1941 taking the Red Army completely by surprise. Their advance was swift. By September 8 they reached Leningrad. No food stocks had been made nor evacuation plans laid. The city fathers were in disarray.
The siege began. A month’s worth of food was all the city had. Health problems set in as a result of poor diet, gum disease, scurvy and oedema. By November people were collapsing in the street.
Fuel also ran low. Normal life collapsed. There was no sewerage. Public transport ceased and the snow arrived. As the winter progressed the death toll rose from 11,000 in November to 100,000 in January. Corpses were left where the died. Doorways and abandoned trams were filled with the dead.
Temperatures dropped to minus 40. People queued from 3am until lunchtime for 125 grams of bread. Forced abandonment became commonplace, people who secured permits to leave did so leaving family members to face certain death.
Rations weren’t equally allocated and your ration card was a likely indicator of your likelihood of survival,