Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nazi Siege of Leningrad

We suffered….
(Мы страдали)

Poster, “We Defend the City of Lenin

One of the things that stands out in my memory is the midnight train from Moscow to Leningrad.  During my two years in the USSR, I visited Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) 53 times. 
            Before daylight the old Russian woman on the train would knock on our cabin door, and hand each of us a glass of steaming tea. 
            As we rolled through the train yards enroute to the station, we got dressed, and when we arrived, we were ready for a couple of days of traveling around the industrial areas of this huge city. 
            Our job was to check on the various shipyards around the city to monitor the progress of building new ships for the Red Fleet. 
            During part of the year, darkness started to gather after 2 p.m., and since we couldn’t see shipyards, we’d visit the magnificent museums and other cultural sights. 
Once when we visited the Peter and Paul cathedral that is a part of the 18th Century Fortress, to see the sarcophagi of Russian czars, I talked with the older woman guide, and she told me, in Russian, that during “The Great Patriotic War”, which is the Russian name for World War II, she was part of an antiaircraft gun crew right there in the fortress.
“Miy stradali,” (Мы страдали) (We suffered), she said. 
            Russians old enough to have lived through World War II often told us how they suffered.

Peter and Paul Fortress with Neva River in foreground

Indeed, Americans cannot imagine the suffering that Leningraders endured during the 900 days that the Nazis held the city under siege during World War  II.

            Two books give English-language readers a better feeling of this horrible tragedy, as Leningraders were squeezed to death in a standoff between Hitler and Stalin.  Harrison Salisbury produced his landmark book about the Siege in 1969; a Russian-language version did not appear until 1994, two years after his death. 
Here is my review of Harrison Salisbury’s fascinating story of that siege:
The 900 Days; The siege of Leningrad by Harrison E. Salisbury, 1969. New York:
Harper & Row, 635 pp. 8vo.

Salisbury was an old Russia hand. His first assignment was as head of the United Press bureau in Moscow in 1944. Five years later he joined the New York Times and was its Moscow correspondent through 1954.

The 900 Days tells the incredible story of how this huge country—the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was so crippled by wishful thinking that Stalin and its other top leaders refused to believe that those Hitlerites would attack them. 

Leningrad on Saturday, June 21, 1941—the longest day of the year, when the White Nights of this northern city are at their peak.  People are enjoying meals and drinking, dancing and strolling all night along the streets and boulevards of the city by the Neva

At around 3 am on Sunday, June 22, German bombers attacked Sevastopol in the Crimea, and also bases at Kronstadt, Liepaja, Kovno, Rovno and Odessa.  Stalin was nowhere to be found—his generals and admirals could not reach him.

German forces soon began a march toward Leningrad; the Red Army and Soviet Navy set up defenses. The Germans formed an iron circle around the city.  The Soviets used Lake Ladoga, to the north, as a means of supply and escape.  Over a million people were moved out to safer parts of the country, and supplies were shipped in the same way.  However, it soon came to pass that this path was only usable across the ice of the frozen lake, and until it froze hard enough for trucks to pass, the city starved. 
Leningrad Blockade by Sergey Nemenov, 2006

Rations were reduced to the equivalent of two slices of bread a day, as the city’s leaders attempted to save dwindling supplies of food until the Lednaya Magistral’ (Ice highway) was operating. Even at this starvation level, they were using 30 carloads of flour a day.  They ate cats, sparrows, crows.  As flour supplies continued to dwindle, they “augmented” the bread recipe with so-called “edible” pine bark and other cellulose products.

This is a story of incredible strength, incredibly incompetent military and civilian leaders, heroic, wonderful leaders and ordinary people.  We talk of terrorism today—3000 killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.  Still more killed every day in Afghanistan and Iraq, Chechnya and Spain, and elsewhere.  We cannot imagine the bitter, sub-zero cold and starvation of Leningrad.  Three thousand people were dying each day. Then, there were the daily bombings and artillery attacks that killed still more.  Some 800,000 Leningraders are believed to have died in the 900 days.

p. 376: “The first day or two or three were the worst…If a man had nothing but a slice of bread to eat, he suffered terrible hunger pangs the first day. And the second. But gradually, the pain faded into quiet despondency, a gloom that had no ending, a weakness that advanced with frightening rapidity. What you did yesterday you could not do today. You found yourself surrounded by obstacles too difficult to overcome. The stairs were too steep to climb. The wood was too hard to chop, the shelf too high to reach, the toilet too difficult to clean. Each day the weakness grew. But awareness did not decline. You saw yourself from a distance. You knew what was happening, but you could not halt it.”


            Anna Reid was Ukraine correspondent for the Economist and The Daily Telegraph from 1993 to 1995.  She lives in London, where she is an advisor to Her Majesty’s Government.  She has written an excellent book which takes advantage of much information that has been revealed since the fall of the Soviet Union.

            Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944, by Anna Reid, 2011 New York: Walker and Co. 492 pp. 8vo.

            Ms. Reid’s Leningrad paints a far more graphic picture of the criminal behavior of Marshal Stalin, Voroshilov, Zhdanov, and many more Soviet leaders which led to the deaths of some 750,000 in Leningrad during the brutally cold winters of 1941-1943.  Their cruelty and colossal mismanagement made this the deadliest siege in modern history. 
            Using a collection of diaries and journals from prominent Leningrad literary figures and plain citizens, she gives a grim and very personal view of the Siege from inside the city as members of a family died, one by one, while others struggled to exist on ever-diminishing rations of bread made with sawdust and wallpaper paste.
            Why weren’t the Nazis able to smash the ring around Leningrad and take the city?  They could have, but they pulled away troops and tanks to attack other targets in the USSR, and they thought, rather than having to deal with feeding over two million Russians, it was better to let them all starve to death.


World War II sign on Nevsky Prospekt

One particularly poignant reminder of the daily shellings of the city that Leningraders endured is a sign that we saw in 1981 on Nevsky Prospekt “During artillery shelling this side is more dangerous.”  That sign is still in place.

After the siege was lifted and the tremendous job of rebuilding lives and homes began, Stalin lined up his top leaders from Leningrad and had them shot.  Stalin was always jealous and envious of this beautiful city on the Gulf of Finland.  He never trusted Leningraders or their leaders.  During the whole conduct of the war, nothing was as important to Stalin as his ongoing struggle for supremacy.  His life was filled with jealousy, plotting and scheming.  Yet, when he died in 1953, millions of regular, average Soviet citizens wept at his funeral.

We lived in Moscow when Soviet Premier Brezhnev died in 1982.  Russians told us that the mourning for Stalin 29 years earlier was much more profound.   His death to the average Soviet marked a major milestone in the lives of a people who suffered greatly.


The Personal Navigator offers these books and papers:

Guinea Gold, American Edition, Saturday, December 30, 1944                Port Moresby, Papua-New Guinea: U.S. Army/Royal Australian Army. This unique World War II newspaper, published in New Guinea and flown daily to U.S. and Australian troops all over South West Pacific command, often scooped the world, since General MacArthur released his communiques to them 20 hours before they were released to the world press.  This issue's lead story:  "New Hungarian Government Declares War on Reich, Says Moscow." New provisional Hungarian government is set up in Debreczen in east Hungary. German troops in Budapest have been ordered to hold out to the last man. "Churchill, Eden Leave Athens: Will Recommend Regency to Greek King" Sides (left wing ELAS and right wing EDES) agree on formation of a Regency. Report from SEAC HQ in Kandy, Ceylon: British forces striking through Arakan, southwest Burma, towards main Japanese port of Akyab have reached the tip of Mayu peninsula and are now bombarding island positions.  Report from GHQ SWPA in Brisbane: The heavy toll of Japanese annihilated on Leyte was increased further yesterday when 912 of the enemy were killed by U.S. forces mopping up in the west part of the island. Noted Berlin Bookseller hunted by Gestapo for using bookstore to distribute millions of anti-Nazi leaflets. 4 pp.                26.2 x 39 cm. Newspaper,  small tears in folds, fair. (8207)             $39.00. World War II          
Der Grosse Deutsche Feldzug Gegen Polen, [The Great German Campaign in Poland] Eine Chronik Des Krieges in Wort und Bild; Herausgegeben im Einvernehmen mit dem Reichsbildberichterstatter der NSDDAP, Prof. Heinrich Hoffman, Geleitwort Generaloberst Von Reichenau [Text in German] ca. 1940 Vienna, Austria:  Verlag Für Militär Und Fächliteratur A. Franz Göth & Sohn.  Triumphant book of pictures and German text extolling German march into Poland in 1939, with many references to the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919. Geleitwort [Preface by] Generaloberst Von Reichenau. [Many photos of Adolf Hitler and his generals, happy “liberated” Germans in Danzig and other cities in Poland greeting Hitler and his troops with enthusiastic "heils".  Many spirited exhortations from A. Hitler, General von Brauchitich, Field Marshal Hermann Göring, Admiral Raeder. Pictures of children presenting flowers to troops. Picture of truckload of Jews, text notes that a million Jews live in Poland. This is one of many propaganda pieces created by the Nazis to "explain" their attack against the “aggressive” Poles to "rescue" the beleagured Germans in the City of Danzig. Der Feldzug in Polen; Zusammenfassende Darstellung, Die polnische Wehrmacht; Der polnische Angriffsplan; Ziel und Anlage der deutschen Operationen.  Maps show how German troops stormed across Polish border, with attacks from Czechoslovakia, Germany and East Prussia; Drives on Lodz, Warsaw and Krakow. Maps show attacks as of 2, 6, 11, 14, 18 and 19 September. Last two maps show attacks from East by Soviet troops. Full-page portrait photos of Göring, Von Brauchitsch, Halder, von Rundstedt, von Bock, List, von Reichenau, von Kluge, von Küchler, Keitel, Guderian, Hoepner, Strauss, Hoth, Schmidt, von Briefen, Reinhardt, Kübler, Olbricht, Admirals Albrecht, and Schniewind. 344 pp. 22 x 32 cm.Green cloth on board, front and back hinges cracked, inside front hinge mended with black plastic tape, but front board loose; frontispiece of Hitler loose, top 6 cm of each page warped from moisture.  On front free endpaper is inscription: "Sgt. H. White, Salzburg '45". All pictures and text completely readable, clear. Poor. (7697) $95.00. World War II/Propaganda

 Richard's Photo Scrapbook of World War II

Richard's Photo Scrapbook with World War II Navy pictures, trip to Canada, life in affluent New York home after the war  1945 Mill Neck, NY; ephemera.  Lieutenant Commander Richard Tucker commanded USS Brister (DE-327) and was commended for his leadership in rescuing survivors after a collision between two oil tankers. Photos show an affluent, upper class family enjoying trip to Canada just after Richard came home, at war's end.  ~80 pp. 29 x 25 cm. Photo album with many postcards and other memorabilia pasted in. Very good. (6143) $62.00.  World War II/Ephemera

Social Justice, Father Coughlin's National Weekly, March 14, 1938  Coughlin, Rev. Charles E., LL.D.  1938                Royal Oak, MI: Social Justice Publishing Co. 20 pp. 28 x 40 cm. "Fellow Citizens:" by Andrew Jackson--a farewell warning to the people of the United States by one of the Nation's greatest Presidents. Coughlin was a bitter opponent of President Roosevelt, and the free-wheeling fiscal policies of the New Deal. Coughlin holds up Jackson's fierce opposition to the Bank of the United States during his time in office (1829-1837)  to sound the alarm for FDR's monetary policy. "Innocents at Home and Abroad" --American Labor Needs to Remember That Charity Begins at Home, by Edward Lodge Curran, Ph.D. Another warning about American labor getting involved overseas. Social Justice fought involvement in the troubles in Europe and Asia. "The Garbage Man Who Became Mayor" by James F. Edwards. Social Justice writer finds Communism in Spain's Labor Unions. The Spanish Civil War, a proxy fight between Nazi-backed Fascists and Stalin-backed Communists, gave the world a preview of some of World War II."Child 'Slaves' in Missouri Mines" by Thomas L. McNamara. Tiny hands that should hold a kindergarten primer wield a pick in a murky mine. Magazine, large format, cover wraps loose.  Fair.  (8232) $25.00. History/World War II                                                                         
Social Justice, Father Coughlin's National Weekly, June 19, 1939  Royal Oak, MI: The Social Justice Publishing Co. Lead headline: "50,000 Spanish Reds Coming to U.S. Border"-- Del Vayo and Negrin arranging to settle refugees in Mexico. Delores Ibarruri; Leon Trotzky, self-appointed leader of the Fourth International; Rear cover shows Rep. Martin Dies, with headline: "Inquiry Seeks to Find Real Enemies of America." Criticism of New Deal, Roosevelt. "An Answer to Father Coughlin's Critics"-- among whom are the Jewish General Council. 20 pp. 28 x 40 cm. Newspaper,  very good. (6800) $29.00. World War II/Newspapers/Religious

United States Naval Institute Proceedings, November, 1942, Vol. 68 No. 477 Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute. World War II issue includes excellent photos, including Battle of Midway, June 4-6, 1942, sinking of carrier Yorktown after Midway, aerial view of convoy in South Pacific, , formation of VB-3's, modern Navy fighter, tail marking XF-4F-2, Navy Patrol Bomber by Glenn L. Martin Co., Cruiser USS Memphis.  "The Case for Aircraft-Carrying Oil Tankers" by B. Orchard Lisle. "Fox's Mission to Russia" by Commander L.J. Gulliver, USN (Ret.) writes of Civil War Mission of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Vasa Fox to Russia, and of Russian fleet visits to American ports during that war. "The Captain of the 'Whip' Pearl Harbor to Australia" by Lieut. Commander C.A. Ferriter, USN (16 p.). Professional Notes: USS Yorktown. Commander Irving Day Wiltsie, USN, ace aviator and formerly navigator of Yorktown describes the final hours of that ship. Ads for Kollsman, Bethlehem Steel Co., Foote Bros. Gear and Machine, Remler, Kellogg's Cereals, Electric Boat Co., Chicago Wheel & Mfg. Co., New York Shipbuilding Corp., Higgins Industries, Inc., Cramp Shipbuilding Co., Boeing, Douglas Aircraft Co., RCA, Alcoa, Nordberg Mfg. Co., and more. 152 pp. + adv. 17 x 25 cm. Paper periodical, minor nicks and soiling  in cover wrap, very good.      (7901) $28.00. Navy/World War II

Washington’s Death:         Ulster County Gazette, Published at Kingston, (Ulster County) Saturday, January 4, 1800  Kingston, NY: Samuel Freer & Son. 4 pp. 28 x 40 cm. This issue of Ulster county newspaper mourns the death of President Washingon on Dec. 14, 1799 in his 68th summer. Report of the funeral and interment from George Town, Dec. 20, 1799, description of military procession, pallbearers, and procession.  Poem "On the Death of General Washington" by a Young Lady, for the Ulster County Gazette.Exchange of speeches on December 10th, 1799 upon opening of Congress, by President John Adams and members of Congress. Foreign news obtained from latest ship arrivals: English account of the battle of Zurich; Buonaparte and Berthier are in France, at the very moment when the fame of their triumphs at Paris, they disembarked at Frejus. It appears they were afraid of being taken by the English when they attempted to land at Toulon. They have left the army of Egypt in a most satisfactory state. Letter from the U.S. Senate to the President on the death of General Washington, and answer from President Adams.  Advertisement for a Stout, Healthy Negro Wench. Any person inclined to purchase apply to John Schoonmaker, Jun at Rochester, Nov. 23, 1799.               Newspaper, fair. (8233) $58.00. History/American

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