Lifting the blockade on the blockade: new research on the Seige of Leningrad.
A. R. Dzeniskevich, ed., Iz raionov soobshchaiut ...: Svobodnye or okkupatsii raiony Leningradskoi oblasti v gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny, 1941-1945. Sbornik dokumentov [Reports from the Regions: Raions Liberated from Occupation in Leningrad Oblast during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45. A Collection of Documents]. 628 pp. St. Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 2006. ISBN 5860075081.
P. F. Gladkikh, Zdravookhranenie i voennaia meditsina v bitve za Leningrad glazami istorika i ochevidtsev, 1941-1944 gg.: Ocherki istorii otechestvennoi voennoi meditsiny [Health Care and Military Medicine in the Battle for Leningrad as Viewed by a Historian and Eyewimesses, 1941-44: Essays in the History of Soviet Military Medicine]. 520 pp. St. Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 2006. ISBN 5860075294.
Michael Jones, Leningrad." State of Siege. 309 pp. New York: Basic Books, 2008. ISBN 0465011535; ISBN-13 978-0465011537. $27.95.
Lisa Kirschenbaum, The Legacy of the Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1995: Myth, Memories, and Monuments. 309 pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521863260. $88.00.
Marina Loskutova, ed., Pamiat" o blokade: Svidetel'stva ochevidtsev i istoricheskoe soznanie obshchestva. Materialy i issledovaniia [Memories of the Blockade: The Testimony of Eyewimesses and the Historical Consciousness of Society. Materials and Research]. 390 pp. Moscow: Novoe izdatel'stvo, 2006. ISBN 5983790501.
Svetlana Magayeva and Albert Pleysier, Surviving the Blockade of Leningrad, trans, and ed. Alexey Vinogradov. 123 pp. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2006. ISBN 0761834214; ISBN-13 978-0761834212. $20.00.
Scholarly research on the 872-day blockade of Leningrad commenced in the late 1950s after Soviet historians gained limited access to state and communist party archives and were encouraged by Khrushchev to write histories that highlighted the heroic contributions of the Soviet people to the nation's victory in the "Great Patriotic War." By the end of the Soviet era, the number of important studies on the blockade, which claimed the lives of close to one million civilians and several hundred thousand Soviet military personnel, not to mention Germans and Finns, was very small. They included the pioneering studies of D. V. Pavlov (who was in charge of the food supply in the city from the beginning of the siege in September 1941 to the end of January 1942) and A. V. Karasev, a multi-authored volume produced by the Academy of Sciences (which for many years served as the official Soviet summary statement on the blockade), a couple of document collections from the 1960s, and a few studies on specific aspects of the siege from the 1970s. (1) These works uniformly characterized Leningrad's military and civilian defenders as "heroic," but they also noted the tragedy of Leningrad's predicament as they tried to estimate the number of civilian deaths. The factual information they revealed was accurate (as verified by recent archival disclosures) but severely restricted, because discussion of many important topics--such as conflicts between Smolnyi's leaders and the Kremlin, the role of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), and the presence of "defeatist" morale and self-serving opportunists within the city--was banned. A collection of firsthand accounts by Ales" Adamovich and Daniil Granin, entitled Blokadnaia kniga ([The Blockade Book], first released in 1979 and revised in 1982) shed some pre-glasnost' light on the blockade by showing that not all Leningraders acted in a heroic manner. (2) Soviet scholarship was supplemented by only two prominent Western accounts: Leon Goure's The Siege of Leningrad (1962), which drew heavily on Karasev and Pavlov as well as on German records located in the U.S. National Archives and several anonymous survivors of the blockade, and Harrison Salisbury's bestseller from 1969, The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad, which was based on published Soviet works and many interviews that the famous correspondent conducted with Soviet military, political, and cultural figures from the blockade period. (3) Salisbury's richly detailed tome with its theme of Leningraders' love of their native city, balanced by a recognition that "not all were brave" (the title of chapter 29), remained an unsurpassed and comprehensive account of the blockade, as long as access to archives remained severely limited and Soviet censorship rigorous. When I commenced my study of the blockade over two decades ago, Salisbury asked me: "What do you hope to find?"
Many recent books, in fact, have broadened and deepened out knowledge of history's most deadly siege. Michael Jones, who &scribes himself as % military historian ... [who] concentrate[s] more on the inner battlefield of the psyche" (xv), has written the latest general history of the blockade, intended for a wide audience, which follows the publication in the autumn of 2007 of his account of the battle for Stalingrad. (4) He claires that his "understanding of the siege is informed not by official Soviet records of the people's valour but by actual accounts of those trapped in the city" (xiii) and contends that diaries "allow us to hear the real voice of Leningrad" (92). Indeed, he has made good use of siege diaries and letters housed in the State Memorial Museum of the Defense and Blockade of Leningrad and has extensively mined the diaries of, among others, Elena Skrjabina and Elena Kochina, which were originally published in English translation many years ago and, incidentally, make for excellent supplementary reading in Soviet history courses. (5) He also, however, relies on published studies of the blockade (including two articles of mine) that are in turn based on state and party archival documents. (6) The structure of his book is similar to Salisbury's longer study in that he pieces together small fragments of firsthand accounts with official records and alternates between military (five chapters) and civilian narratives (six chapters). At times, Jones lapses into colorful prose, as when he uses Khrushchev's characterization of Marshal Kliment Voroshilov ("the biggest bag of shit in the army") as the title of chapter 2 on Leningrad's defense prior to the start of the siege. Interestingly, though, he cites relatively little specific evidence of Voroshilov's military incompetence beyond the assertion that he failed to construct defenses in-depth between the Luga River Line and Leningrad in the summer of 1941. Another similarity between Salisbury and Jones is that neither cites sources in individual footnotes, preferring to include brief summaries of the sources used for each chapter. Even lengthy direct quotes are not footnoted in Jones's study.
Like most recent historians of the blockade, Jones endeavors to describe popular mentality during the worst of the ordeal. He observes that extraordinary acts of selfishness coexisted with feats of selfless heroism during the starvation winter of 1941-42: "The mood of the city's population lay on a knife edge. On one side were the finest human qualities, stoic co-operation and heroic endurance. On the other lay the basest, cruelest indifference and the predator's instinct for survival, regardless of the cost to others" (187).
On balance, Jones puts more emphasis on the collective will to survive. In a chapter titled "The Symphony," he seems to endorse the statement of Karl Eliasberg, the famous conductor of the city's symphony orchestra, that through the performance of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony on 9 August 1942, "the whole city had found its humanity ... in that moment, we triumphed over the soulless Nazi war machine" (261). In the book's final paragraph, he concludes: "The heroism of the city's beleaguered inhabitants is so extraordinary it is difficult even to grasp" (296).
At the same time, Jones exaggerates the authorities' loss ofcontrol during the first blockade winter. He asserts that "parts of the city fell under the control of gangsters and cannibals. Leningrad was teetering on the very edge of the abyss" (5). The city's inhabitants were "[e] ffectively abandoned by their own government" (215) and "If]or two weeks in February the authorities were in danger of completely losing control" (216-17). The situation in late January and early February, when perhaps as many as 10,000 died on individual days, was surely exceedingly grim; however, once defense plants had to shut down due to lack of electrical power by mid-December 1941, state and party officials gave top priority to assisting the civilian population with what few resources remained, and the militsiia and NKVD maintained a firm grip on all city districts, although bread shops were occasionally looted.
Jones derived his analysis of Leningrad's military defense from a number of scholarly works, including the formidable studies of the German historian Jorg Ganzenmiiller and David Glantz, the founder and former director of the U.S. Army's Foreign Military Studies Office. (7) Ganzenmiiller's most important and thought-provoking thesis, which is based on meticulous analysis of German and Russian archival documents and is clearly intended for a German readership, is that German policy toward Leningrad was explicitly genocidal. It has long been known that at some point prior to the start of the blockade on 8 September, Hitler decided to surround Leningrad with the assistance of Finland rather than seize the city. Ganzenmiiller further asserts convincingly (and Jones repeats) that Hitler refused to allow Leningrad to be occupied even if it surrendered. Ganzenmiiller showed that Field Marshal von Leeb, commander of Army Group North, noted in his diary on 5 September that he received such an order from Wehrmacht commander-in-chief von Brauchitsch, although von Leeb protested that he could take the city. Hitler realized that the Wehrmacht had nowhere near the resources needed to feed the city's inhabitants, and he had no qualms about forcing such Untermenschen to starve to death. The onset of starvation was hastened by targeting artillery tire on food warehouses and bakeries, and on 29 September, the Luftwaffe was ordered to concentrate its tire on shipping on Lake Ladoga. High-ranking German officers occasionally suggested creating a gap in the siege ring to let refugees flee eastward (and in fact, the failure to surround Ladoga entirely unintentionally produced that effect), but Ganzenmtiller argues that Germany lacked the means for such an operation and the Soviets would never have cooperated. He does not explore in any detail the possibility that Hitler might have changed his mind on not accepting Leningrad's surrender if Soviet defenses had rapidly disintegrated or if there had been a popular revoit within Leningrad prompted by a widespread perception that the city was not to be defended. The possibility of quickly seizing intact many war industries might have lured Hitler into Leningrad, even though the German command was aware that important defense plants had been mined in early September. Hitler was not against seizing any large Soviet city in 1941; Germany did occupy Kiev in September, although food resources admittedly were more plentiful in Ukraine than in northern Russia. A year later, German misgivings over attempting to occupy large cities disappeared with the prolonged battle for Stalingrad.
Glantz contends that Hitler finally gave up on trying to seize Leningrad only after "the Red Army halted the German juggernaut on Leningrad's doorstep." (8) Using archival-based Soviet and post-Soviet publications and German war records in the U.S. National Archives, Glantz also puts to rest any suspicion that Stalin was unconcerned about Leningrad's fate by detailing numerous attempts by the Red Army to liberate the city in 1942 and 1943. Glantz did not directly address an assertion that I ruade that the siege might have been broken along the southern coast of Lake Ladoga in late 1941, if Leningrad had been allowed to keep more of the munitions it produced instead of sending them to Moscow and to Soviet strategic reserves. (9) Ganzenmuller criticizes my view by claiming that the Red Army did not possess the strategic initiative in the rail of 1941, as shown by the German capture of Tikhvin in early November, and that the amount of war materiel sent out of Leningrad was not substantial. (10) I would, nevertheless, contend that if the Leningrad Front had been able to use the bulk of the weaponry that the city's factories produced during the latter hall of 1941 and had received additional assistance from Moscow, it probably could have "punctured" the blockade and partially liberated Leningrad in December 1941 or January 1942. Prior to the Soviet counter-offensive that commenced on 5-6 December, the Red Army's strategic reserves were huge. Soviet forces proceeded to push back the Wehrmacht up to 200 miles in some areas along a 560-mile front, such that by late January 1942, no German troops were within 100 miles of Moscow. Germany kept the blockade of Leningrad in place by controlling a strip of territory only about ten miles in length along the southern coast of Ladoga. It seems reasonable to conjecture that if more attention during the counter-offensive had been focused on smashing through German defenses in a narrow corridor just along the Ladoga shoreline, as was successfully done in January 1943 in Operation Spark, the blockade might have been pierced. Construction of a railroad along the shoreline could have saved untold thousands of lives during the hungry winter and supplemented the evacuation route over frozen Lake Ladoga, which did not function in earnest, as Jones notes, until February 1942 (224). Jones appears to concur with my assessment. He criticizes Soviet futile and wasteful attempts to break out of the siege farther to the south of Ladoga in the area known as the "Neva Nickel" along the river's left bank. He asserts that in September "closer to Shlisselburg [along Ladoga's shore] ... conditions for breaking the enemy's ring of encirclement were most favourable" (125). In November, high losses suffered in the Neva Nickel "robbed Leningrad of a fleeting chance to break the German ring ... near Shlisselburg" (140).
Western historians have based their general studies of the blockade in part on the research of Russian siege historians, almost all of whom reside in St. Petersburg. The Russian scholars have concentrated on publishing document collections and specialized studies. (11) Two recent works focus on health care during the blockade and the medical effects of the prolonged malnutrition it produced. Pavel Gladkikh's Zdravookhranenie i vaennaia meditsina v bitve za Leningrad expands upon his initial study from 1980 of public health care during the blockade and represents the crowning scholarly achievement for this medical doctor, professor, and retired colonel. Akogether, he has published five books of his own and co-authored some ten others, all of which are in the field of military medicine. In 2002, President Vladimir Putin, whose father was badly wounded in the "Neva Nickel" meat grinder and recovered in a military hospital, conferred on Gladkikh the title of "Honored Worker of Higher Education of the Russian Federation." The award is probably a large part of the reason why no expenses were spared in producing Gladkikh's latest book, which includes 240 glossy photos with captions, 42 tables of statistical data, and a 37-page chronology of events. This lengthy volume also reflects the extent to which the Russian book publishing industry generally recovered from its severe impoverishment of the 1990s. The book covers medical services at the front, in the navy, in partisan units, and among the civilian population; measures taken to counteract hunger and epidemics and to protect mothers and children; and medical research projects. The tables and data within the text chart change throughout the blockade on such things as the number of doctors in the city, number of health-care workers who perished, number of cases of infectious diseases, and average caloric intake for different ration categories. The data come from the state and former party archives in St. Petersburg (TsGA SPb and TsGAIPD SPb), the city's Archive of the Military-Medical Museum (AVMM) and Central Archive of Scientific-Technical Documentation (TsGA NTD SPb), as well as the Ministry of Defense Archive (TsAMO). Gladkikh has also included several firsthand accounts, most of which have been previously published, at the end of 10 of the book's 11 chapters.
This work is essentially an extremely detailed statistical tally sheet of the feats of those employed in health and medical services. It shows that the Soviet-prescribed emphasis on heroic defense has endured. In fact, in some ways that theme has become accentuated as the last surviving blakadniki are in their twilight years and seek an affirmation of the meaning of their lives at the same time that pride in rodina (motherland) has occupied the void left by the demise of communism. Gladkikh concludes his work with a list of every military doctor of the Leningrad Front and Baltic Fleet who received a Lenin or Red Banner Order and states:
The defense of Leningrad excels in all the most outstanding examples of courage, heroism, endurance, and steadfastness.... Medical personnel of the city and front steadfastly and courageously overcame innumerable difficulties and deprivations ... and displayed in their actions exceptional self-sacrifice, steadfastness, and heroism.... The memorial to the victims, to all the defenders of blockaded Leningrad who were killed or died, is eternal. We now bow low to the living inhabitants of the city-front among us. (451-55)
This emphasis on heroism obviously skews interpretation. For example, Gladkikh contends that during the starvation winter of 1941-42, when the large majority of siege victims perished, "saving child orphans acquired a first-rate significance" and that "all party, state, and social organizations took upon themselves caring for the orphans" (101-2). In fact, attention to this huge problem developed slowly, and only roughly hall of the children who were parentless during the winter were cared for by city authorities. At the end of the book, Gladkikh excoriates a "number of foreign authors" for their "defamatory character of assertions" regarding supposed lack of medical care for civilians because services were redirected toward the military. Only two of the footnotes in his book, however, cite any foreign research. In both cases, he merely acknowledges factual information obtained from Salisbury's The 900 Days, which was translated into Russian in the early 1990s.
The other recent study on health and medical aspects of the blockade is the collection of essays edited by the British historian John Barber and Andrei Dzeniskevich of the St. Petersburg Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences. This work is a translation, by David Fry, of a book of nine essays by Russian scholars, which was published in 2001 in St. Petersburg. (12) The British Wellcome Trust's History of Medicine Programme funded the project, and Barber wrote the book's brief introduction, which situates the blockade within the history of world famine. The archival-based essays focus largely on the struggle to survive the hungry winter. In one essay Nadezhda Cherepenina, a senior archivist at TsGA SPb, stresses the lack of planning for the massive civilian evacuation; and in a second, longer piece she traces the course of the mass starvation of 1941-42. She concludes that probably about 700,000 perished within the city during the entire siege, while acknowledging that a corresponding figure for blockaded territory outside the city remains uninvestigated and the number of servicemen who died in Leningrad hospitals and were buried in the city has never been published. Boris Belozerov describes food-related crimes that people committed, including cannibalism, to survive starvation and even profit from it. Mikhail Frolov studies refugees who escaped the blockade zone. He attempts to quantify how many traveled eastward toward Kostroma and how many died in the process. This volume also sheds considerable light on the long-term effects of starvation on the survivors. The findings of Igor Kozlov and Alla Samsonova that the growth of children and adolescents was stunted by the siege are hardly surprising, and Lidiya Khoroshinina shows that siege survivors on average have had their lives shortened by up to two years.
Several essays focus on medical research carried out during the blockade. Vadim Chirsky chronicled the work of Leningrad's wartime pathologists. Because it was standard practice to perform autopsies on everyone who died in many of the city's hospitals, there exist to this day enormous data on the blockade's starvation victims, and these reports are an extremely valuable source for research on the effects of extreme malnutrition and for making comparisons to other lamines. Dzeniskevich contributed a lengthy essay on research institutes, and like Gladkikh and Chirsky he highlights and admires the tenacity, endurance, and ingenuity of the medical researchers. Among other things, Dzeniskevich notes that the city's Blood Transfusion Research Institute used up its supply of vials for storing blood during the starvation winter and had to rely on donated wine and vodka bottles and devise special stoppers for them.
The most intriguing of the medical essays is that of Svetlana Magaeva, who was practically given up for dead in a children's home during the siege and is now a leading researcher at the Institute of General Pathology and Pathophysiology at the Academy of Medical Sciences in Moscow. (13) She argues that differences in the ability to manage extreme psychological stress partly explain why apparently "some extremely emaciated people survived when less emaciated ones died" (149). Fear and resignation weakens the individual, she contends, whereas having a reason to endure can release "latent reserves" that help one resist the effects of starvation.
Magaeva's memoir, Surviving the Blockade of Leningrad, suggests original inspirations for her theory. (She wrote her account at an undisclosed time "years later" , with the assistance of the Dutch-born American historian Albert Pleysier.) She describes two sisters with whom she lived in a children's home in the spring of 1942. The sisters were well fed, as they often received food packages from military officers. During an artillery raid, however, both girls died, though they were not hit by enemy tire. "I believe they died from fright. The sisters appeared healthy physically but were weak mentally, and thus fear and terror killed them" (85). Her model of optimistic endurance and self-sacrifice was her mother, a biology teacher, who encouraged her daughter to "remain healthy mentally ... to read good books and dwell on the happy experiences of pre-war times" (61). She recalled her mother as someone who was "selfless and always ready to defend others without consideration for her own welfare" (36).
Magaeva shows that children could act as responsibly and resourcefully as adults in caring for starving younger siblings and removing on a sled the bodies of deceased patents to some collection point for corpses. Children could also be very cruel. She describes a boy who was beaten by her playmates because he was German, and whom she repeatedly tried to defend. She notes that people with German surnames "were ostracized and a number of them were attacked verbally and physically" (77), although she appears to have been unaware that ethnic Germans and Finns were forcibly resettled to the East in August 1941 and in Match 1942.
Like Magaeva, Dzeniskevich was a child in Leningrad in 1941 (each was nine or ten years old), and he has emerged as the blockade's most prolific historian. He is also one of a very small number of Soviet-era siege historians who has eagerly utilized the opening of archives and the lifting of censorship to make major discoveries. In 1983, he published a history of Leningrad's factory workers from 1938 to 1941 that contained no references to the purges and barely mentioned the Winter War with Finland; yet since 1991, he has uncovered and published documents on such formerly forbidden topics as cannibalism and popular opinion that was critical of Leningrad's leaders during the blockade. His collection of 228 annotated archival documents on the siege, published in 1995 as Leningrad v osade, has been a major source for ail subsequent histories of the blockade. Iz raionov soobshchaiut is a companion volume of 244 documents that cover a wide range of events occurring in parts of Leningrad oblast that in Dzeniskevich's words were "liberated from occupation," which includes areas inside and outside the blockade zone, as well as places that were subsequently occupied by Germany (Tikhvin before November 1941) and territory that was freed after the end of the blockade. The collection is a rich treasure trove for historians, because little was previously known about Leningrad oblast during the war. It had a population about as large as the city of Leningrad and included Pskov and Novgorod, which were designated as centers of their own oblasts after they were re-taken by the Red Army in 1944. The documents come mainly from the state and former party archives, although Dzeniskevich used four other archives, including that of the Federal Security Service (FSB). (He did not have access to the "Big House" when he published Leningrad v osade but cleverly accessed NKVD correspondence to party leaders in the former party archive for that book.)
An important theme that emerges from the documents is that there existed considerable desperation, disorganization, chaos, and panic as German forces first approached the oblast, the southwestern edge of which they reached by the tenth day of the war, on through the hungry winter. On 6 July 1941, the NKVD was given the impossible task of completing construction on 15 airports within 20 days (document 19). In mid-July the head of the oblast executive committee, N. V. Solov'ev, ordered livestock sent to Leningrad to be slaughtered (document 21) consistent with a resolution from the State Defense Committee, but a month later he directed that cattle be sent away from collective farms around Leningrad to eastern districts of Vologda and Kirov oblasts (document 37), which worsened Leningrad's food shortage in the months to come. On 11 July, the evacuation of Leningrad's children began. (Dzeniskevich was one of the early evacuees, and Magaeva's mother accompanied the exodus.) The children were sent, however, into territory patrolled by German aircraft. In an air raid on 18 July, 28 children were killed in two railroad cars; the survivors were returned to their horrified families in Leningrad (document 28). At least three of the documents contain reports of panicking authorities who deserted their posts and fled in the face of the enemy's advance. For example, in the western part of the oblast near Pskov, an NKVD raion head loaded his family and personal possessions into a truck and drove off in an unknown direction (document 24). On 20 August in the city of Krasnogvardeisk, another NKVD raion head gave unauthorized orders to blow up three bakeries, a factory, and an electric-power station, which deprived the city of bread, running water, and electricity. He was executed (document 44).
The approximate number of people who died in the oblast during the winter of 1941-42 and the early spring may never be known; if that number existed in a single document, Dzeniskevich likely would have found it. He includes a gruesome description of the activities of a cannibal ring in Vsevolozhskii raion, inside the blockade zone north of Leningrad (document 72). He also shows that people on collective farms starved to death in the remote, northeastern part of the oblast, between liberated Tikhvin and the Svir' River, outside the blockade zone (document 86), because much of the food there had been sent to Leningrad or the army. This fact demonstrates that the difference between life inside and outside the siege area may not have been as great as previously thought, although the starvation rate was considerably lower on the outside. An influx of evacuated refugees from Leningrad into this area added to the food supply problem.
Dzeniskevich also sheds new light on the forced relocation eastward of ethnic Finns and Germans from Pargolovskii raion, just north of Leningrad, in March 1942 (document 80), which completed the process started in late August, when the NKVD had ordered the expulsion of more than 100,000 Finns and Germans from the Leningrad area (although that quota was never attained). Between 26 and 28 Match, 13,875 people from Pargolovskii raion were sent over Lake Ladoga. Most were given 24 hours to pack up, though some were notified as little as 6-8 hours before they were forced to leave. Their personal livestock, fodder, and potatoes were confiscated. In the autumn of 1944, Solov'ev wrote to Molotov asking him to deny requests from Finns to be allowed to return to their homes and proposed that ethnic Russians should be settled in Leningrad's suburban districts (document 215). Another interesting document from the post-blockade period indicates that the party secretary of Volosovskii raion in March 1945 was deeply concerned about a petition drive by believers to reopen churches. He requested that Solov'ev deny such requests and increase anti-religious propaganda (document 236).
The further the events of the blockade recede into the past, the more historians have begun to study how memory and representation of the blockade have been formed. One can trace the beginning of official Soviet representation of the blockade to a specific day--17 April 1942, when Leningrad's party chief Andrei Zhdanov, his deputy Aleksei Kuznetsov, and others privately screened a documentary film on the siege that was intended for wide distribution. They criticized it for showing lines in front of bread shops, frozen cars stalled on the ice road, and snowed-in trolley cars. In the words of ispolkom chairman Petr Popkov, the film displayed "our complete disorder." The leaders prescribed instead scenes portraying enthusiastic workers, successful production, and tanks rolling straight from the factory. (14) When the film was released the following July as Leningrad v bor'be (Leningrad in Struggle), secret informants overheard viewers complain that it failed to portray the depths of human suffering. There were no "people black from soot and dirt" or "corpses lying in the street," although the smallest of bread rations and Leningraders dragging the shrouded bodies of their deceased loved ones to cemeteries were shown. (15) Thus here we see the initial divergence between popular memory and official presentation. The two were not entirely separate; in fact, they overlapped to a large extent. The popular view, however, stressed the extreme hardship (which resulted in part from failed Soviet policies) and the massive death toll, whereas the official view downplayed these obvious aspects of the hungry winter in favor of emphasizing popular loyalty to the state and successful military defense of the city. Generally speaking, these differences remained throughout the Soviet era.
Lisa Kirschenbaum's The Legacy of the Siege of Leningrad, 1941-1995: Myth, Memories, and Monuments is the only monographic study of official representation and popular memory of the blockade. Although it has become conventional to refer to propagandized interpretations as "myths," and even though Kirschenbaum states at the outset that she does not equate myth with "state-manufactured falsehood" (7), the usage is still confusing because in common parlance, myth often means an untruthful fabrication. That semantic quibble aside, the thesis of her innovative study--which is expressed in lucid, erudite, and very articulate prose--is that the myth and memory of the blockade each evolved over time and influenced each other: "Myth structured memory, but it also relied on memory to lend it moral and emotional authenticity" (17). The book's most important contribution is a delineation of changes in the blockade myth through description and analysis of Soviet newspaper reportage, documentary film, propaganda posters, scholarly publications (but few historical accounts), published fiction, museum and library exhibitions, building reconstruction, cemeteries, and war monuments (which are shown in many photographs). Although the precise origins of the postwar purge known as the Leningrad Affair (1949-51) remain unknown, Kirschenbaum argues convincingly that the Kremlin "aimed not only to discipline local leaders but also to erase the memory and the myth of the blockade" (146). (16) The myth then changed to crediting Stalin and the Party for defending Leningrad. From the late 1950s through the 1970s, the myth "dethroned Stalin" (160) and "co-opted local stories and local loyalties" (218) of individual heroism in defense of the rodnoi, culturally unique city of Peter and Lenin, into the official narrative. The publication of Adamovich's and Granin's Blokadnaia kniga signaled broader acceptance into the myth of "the tragedy of the war ... stories that to an unprecedented extent confronted its horrors" (181).
Describing the evolution of memory during the Soviet era is far more difficult, because uncensored recollections are scarce and extremely difficult to find. Aside from pre-1991 interviews with siege survivors, the best sources, which Kirschenbaum generally did not use, are unpublished diaries and memoirs as well as reports of secret informants in the Party and NKVD/ KGB. Diaries have recently become available in the State Memorial Museum of the Defense and Blockade of Leningrad, and others presumably remain in prosecution files (sledstvennye dela) at the FSB archive, because diaries were seized during arrests and later used as indicting evidence. During the latter part of the war, Leningrad party officials collected many short descriptive accounts from siege survivors; these mini-memoirs are kept in fond 4000, opis' 10 of the former party archive (TsGAIPD SPb). Kirschenbaum contends that the city's inhabitants "internalized state myths and incorporated the media's images and slogans into their own memories" (11), which explains the persistence of the myth following the collapse of the mythmaking USSR. One might be tempted to use this argument to explain Gladkikh's heroic view of Leningrad's medical establishment. Kirschenbaum's assertion is logical but not exactly proven, as examples of actual borrowing are generally lacking. It is possible that some similarities between myth and memory--heroism, steadfastness, and love of native city--were largely coincidental and not appropriated by memory from myth. (17)
Kirschenbaum notes that the number of blokadniki is rapidly dwindling. By one count, as of January 2003, only some 600 people who spent a few months in blockaded Leningrad still resided in St. Petersburg, including 50 who survived the entire siege (296). Between 2001 and 2003, the Center for Oral History at the European University in St. Petersburg interviewed 24 blokadniki and close relatives of blokadniki born after the war. Transcripts of six of those interviews have been included in Pamiat' o blokade together with six scholarly essays: three on memory formation and difficulties connected with the interviewing process and three others on the evolution of Soviet representations of the blockade. The European University derives much of its operating revenue from Western sources. (Indeed, it would appear that receipt of a 673,000 [euro] grant from the European Union to train election monitors was the real reason, rather than alleged tire-code violations, that the university was shut down for three weeks before and three weeks after Russia's presidential election in 2008.) Grants from the MacArthur Foundation and George Soros's Open Society Institute supported this most valuable interview project, and Indiana University's Center for the Study of History and Memory provided instruction in interviewing techniques. Transcripts of all 24 oral interviews are available for use by researchers at the European University; an appendix in Parniat' o blokade provides a brief description of each.
Four of the six interviewed survived the entire blockade, and three of those four were born in 1932. The other two, whose mothers were blokadnitsy, were born after the war. The eldest blokadnitsa interviewee, identified as "Irina Grigor'evna" (no surnames were used and all names and patronymics were changed) was 16 or 17 at the start of the blockade. Among other things, the interviews further inform out understanding of blockade heroism. With confirmation from other firsthand accounts, they have convinced this reviewer that at least one aspect of the heroism "myth" is in fact generally accurate. Because many recent accounts of surviving eyewitnesses of the blockade, like Magaeva's memoir, naturally enough derive from people who were children at the time, we have many descriptions of mothers. The predominant view is that they did whatever was necessary to feed and protect their children, including giving them their own life-sustaining food rations. (At the same time, the number of illegal abortions probably increased.) (18) Informant "Nikolai Viktorovich" relates that during the starvation winter he told his mother that he feared she would die as had his grandfather. She replied that she "actually was there and only your cry returned me" (42). Another male informant described his mother as acting "heroically" in her search for food (243).
The interview with "Irina Grigorev'na" sheds light on ways people survived. Her mother was an agronomist on a German kolkhoz. When the German colony "departed," her family received a cast-off sack of oats, which she said saved them. She also had the good fortune to obtain work at a hospital even though she had no training. There she ate comparatively well, receiving hot tea, thin soup, and bread on a regular basis. The hospital even had a pet cat, which would have been killed and eaten almost anywhere else in the starving city. (Her account of the hospital's relative abundance jibes with that of Kyra Petrovskaya Wayne, a Leningrad nurse whose hospital had a fat dog as a pet in February 1942.) (19)
Among the three essays dealing with memory formation, Tat'iana Voronina and Il'la Utekhin have explored different understandings of heroism. They note that the medal "For the Defense of Leningrad," introduced on 22 December 1942, was first awarded to members of the armed forces but was soon given also to civil defense units and workers in defense plants and hospitals. In 1989, an honorary badge (znachok) called "Inhabitant of the Blockaded City" was awarded to anyone who had endured at least four months of the blockade. Those receiving the znachok were considered heroes and given benefits identical or similar to those awarded to holders of the defense medal. From 2001 on, the znachok was given to anyone who had spent any length of time in the siege. Voronina and Utekhin contend that part of the older generation tends to view as heroes only those who served under tire at the front or factory, while others refuse to consider themselves heroes but apply that designation to the entire city. Those who were children during the war sometimes refer to their compliance with adults' requests as "involuntary heroism."
Of the entries focusing on Soviet representation of the blockade, Viktoria Kalendarova's essay on "Forming Memory" (what Kirschenbaum would call "myth") traces its development mainly through newspapers and documentary films and generally supports Kirschenbaum's periodization. Ol'ga Rusinova analyzes the same monument complexes that Kirschenbaum studied, including the Piskarovskoe Cemetery and Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad, but is more tightly focused on architectural form. She adds a brief description of the recently completed "Memorial to the Women Warriors of the Anti-Air Defense" and notes its emphasis on stubbornness (as opposed to steadfastness) and compassion, and a woman's solitary realization of her hopeless plight.
Nikita Lomagin (20) has contributed an astute and detailed summary of Russian and Western historiography of Stalinism generally and of political loyalties during the blockade. Lamenting the isolation of Russian scholars from the West during the Soviet era (and those officials who temporarily closed the European University would seem to favor some form of renewed isolation), he reveals an intimate familiarity with American and British historical research in tracing the development of interpretive schools of Stalinism that emphasized, in succession, totalitarian state control, active participation of society in building socialism, construction of a Soviet civilization, and persistence of alternative ideologies and opposition to Soviet power. Lomagin is skeptical of the thesis that a Soviet mentality became firmly established in the 1930s, because the official norms of communism and atheism significantly weakened during the war, and Nazi Germany round many sympathizers in the parts of the Soviet Union it occupied.
To reformulate Salisbury's question at the beginning of this essay: what has the new research on the Leningrad blockade uncovered? It has not produced stunning reversals of long-held Soviet interpretations, like the admission of responsibility for the Katyn' Forest massacre or acknowledgment that the 1939 nonaggression pact in fact had secret protocols. There is no evidence, for instance, of any attempt by Zhdanov or front commander Voroshilov to surrender the city or of a thwarted coup within the military; nor is there credible confirmation of reports of demonstrations larger than a few striking factory workers or of secret conspiracies extending beyond isolated expressions of anti-Soviet sentiment. Rather, the works under review here and other recent blockade histories fill in gaping Gorbachevian "blank spots."
We now know that Moscow was very well informed about events in Leningrad throughout the lengthy blockade, especially through the NKVD. Lavrentii Beriia and Georgii Malenkov were Zhdanov's rivals for Stalin's favor; however, no documentation has surfaced to support the conjecture that the Kremlin endeavored to discredit Zhdanov by intensifying or prolonging the city's suffering. Stalin was most concerned to preserve the army and navy and their weaponry inside the blockade zone. Safeguarding defense plants and skilled workers was of secondary importance; saving the rest of the population had the lowest priority. The desperate situation in turn produced extreme tension among Leningrad's party, military, and NKVD leaders.
Shortly after starvation rates subsided in 1942, city leaders projected their view of the blockade onto the silver screen for the masses. They exaggerated the people's loyalty and heroism and downplayed the immense tragedy of grim realities. This portrayal set a precedent for later representations of the blockade during Soviet times. Depths of despair and degradation were censored. No mention was made of the approximately 2,000 people, including many starving, unemployed mothers with no previous convictions, who were arrested for cannibalism.
The large majority of Leningrad's civilians, most of whom were female, did what they were told to do in massive mobilization campaigns. They worked overtime, put production on a wartime footing, underwent military training, fought in the opolchenie (reserve), built defense fortifications inside and outside the city, put out incendiary bombs during air raids, and evacuated to safer parts of the city or out of the blockade zone. The authorities tried to distribute limited food resources according to the caloric needs of different groups of the civilian population; nevertheless, mortality rates varied considerably. Infants, the elderly, and teenagers were the most vulnerable, whereas few who worked with or around food starved to death. Quiet, heroic self-sacrifice co-existed with acts of callous indifference and profiteering selfishness.
Through it all, blokadniki displayed basic political loyalty, although party and NKVD informants detected considerable suppressed anger toward the authorities for not defending the populace better. Pro-German sentiment was recorded most frequently when Leningrad's defense was most in doubt--shortly before and after the start of the siege. The available evidence suggests that many were secretly preparing themselves to adapt to life under enemy occupation. Party enrollments plummeted, candidate members failed to become full members, and members often quit paying party dues. As long as Leningrad's political and military leaders displayed a determination to defend the city and maintained a strong security presence, however, the rudimentary social contract of obedience in return for protection remained intact.
Finally, at least three topics remain on the research agenda for the Leningrad blockade, the first of which is to attempt to answer as completely as possible the question of whether (and if so, how) the Red Army at the end of 1941 or early in 1942 could have punched a hole through the blockade wide enough to construct and defend a railroad and thereby alleviated the city's massive suffering. Another topic that deserves further attention is the overall effect of NKVD policies. Lomagin has performed a very useful service in discovering and publishing a large collection of formerly classified documents on the blockade from the FSB archive. Among a small handful of historians who have been granted access to NKVD archives on the blockade, he, more than anyone else, has revealed the repressive nature of the NKVD, including the number of arrests and executions and other punishments meted out for alleged political crimes, an unknown number of which were figments of the NKVD's imagination. He has also argued that during the first few months of the blockade, when secret informants recorded increasing levels of anti-Soviet sentiment and when the Party was beginning to show signs of panic as it could not come close to replacing with new members the large numbers that were sent to the front, the NKVD held firm and took over important control functions from the Party. (21) Irina Reznikova, a researcher for the Memorial Society, contends that NKVD political "repression," especially arrests of academics and forced deportations of ethnic Finns and Germans, had a negative impact on the collective effort to defend Leningrad. (22) The views of Lomagin and Reznikova are not directly contradictory, as Reznikova briefly describes specific operations and Lomagin's major study attempts to portray the full range of NKVD functions, including political arrests. The essential question, however, is whether the NKVD's main legacy in besieged Leningrad was the maintenance of order in a situation that could have devolved into far greater chaos and loss of life, or was it one of widespread persecution of essentially innocent, patriotic people? To put it more succinctly, could order have been preserved without such liberal use of force and threats of severe punishment? Of course, the question is hypothetical and therefore cannot be answered completely. However, wider access to NKVD and party archival collections, including prosecution files, that would permit detailed study of the 5,360 Leningrad civilians who were executed for all capital offenses between the start of the war and 1 October 1942 and of the 3,799 who were convicted of counterrevolutionary crimes between 1 July 1941 and 1 July 1943 would go a long way toward resolving the question. (23) If it could be shown that a large percentage of those convicted of political crimes had not committed any act that would actually have harmed the city's security, that would bolster the "heroic" characterization of Leningraders' behavior.
Another fruitful area for research is the portrayal of postwar popular attitudes, as gleaned from party and NKVD secret-informant reports and perhaps unpublished diaries and memoirs, on a variety of topics, ranging from reflections on the meaning of the war and the blockade to reactions to the return of refugees, hopes for increased religious freedom following the re-establishment of the patriarchate in 1943 and opening of thousands of churches in the western part of the USSR, views on the emerging Cold War, and related opinions on whether Leningrad might function as a Soviet window to the West. A fourth topic for future research concerns trying to ascertain more clearly the relationship between the blockade years and the Leningrad Affair, which resulted in over 200 convictions of Leningraders on fabricated political charges, including the execution of 23 prominent leaders. The generally accepted interpretation is that the purge represented a victory in the early stages of the struggle to succeed an increasingly infirm Stalin by Malenkov and Beriia against a tightly knit cohort of upstart political rivals connected to Leningrad, who used various devices to boost that city's prominence. The siege is viewed as a background factor that burnished Leningrad's aura as a distinctive and heroic city. Conflicts between Smolnyi and the Kremlin from the siege years presumably exacerbated tensions between the camps and helped convince Stalin to support Malenkov and Beriia. David Brandenberger has suggested that the key issue may not have been factionalism per se but an underlying ideological dispute largely unrelated to the legacy of the siege. He contends that the Leningraders were promoting a strong version of Russocentrism, in the form of calling for creation of a Russian Communist Party. Such a move, Stalin feared, could precipitate a serious schism within the All-Union Communist Party. (24) Greater access to relevant materials in security and party archives for the postwar years should help unravel one of the last lingering mysteries of Soviet political history.
Dept. of History
Washington and Lee University
Lexington, VA 24450 USA
I am grateful to the Advisory Committee of Washington and Lee University for supporting research for this essay.
(1) The first three mentioned are D. V. Pavlov, Leningrad v blokade (1941 god) (Moscow: Sovetskaia Rossiia, 1958, and several subsequent editions); A. V. Karasev, Leningradtsy vgody blokady (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Akademii nauk, 1959); and V. M. Koval'chuk, ed., Ocherki istorii Leningrada: Period Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny Sovetskogo Soiuza, 1941-1945 gg., 5 (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Akademii nauk, 1967).
(2) Blokadnaia kniga (1979; rev. ed., Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel', 1982).
(3) Leon Gourd, The Siege of Leningrad (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1962); Harrison Salisbury, The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad (New York: Harper and Row, 1969).
(4) Michael Jones, Stalingrad: How the Red Army Survived the German Onslaught (Drexel Hill, PA: Casemate Publishers, 2007).
(5) Elena Skrjabina, A Leningrad Diary: Survival during World War II, trans. Norman Luxenburg (Edison, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2000); Elena Kochina, Blockade Diary (Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1990). Kochina's account, sadly, is out of print.
(6) Richard Bidlack, "Survival Strategies in Leningrad during the First Year of the Soviet-German War," in The People's War: Responses to World War II in the Soviet Union, ed. Robert W. Thurston and Bernd Bonwetsch (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 84-107; and Bidlack, "The Popular Mood in Leningrad during the First Year of the Soviet-German War," Russian Review 59, 1 (2000): 96-113.
(7) Jorg Ganzenmuller, Das belagerte Leningrad, 1941-1944: Die Stadt in den Strategien von Angreifern und Verteidigern (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schoningh, 2005); David Glantz, The Battlefor Leningrad, 1941-1944 (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2002).
(8) Glantz, The Battlefor Leningrad, 1941-1944, 85.
(9) Richard Bidlack, "Workers at War: Factory Workers and Labor Policy in the Siege of Leningrad," (Pittsburgh: Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies, no. 902 [March 1991]), 16-20, 36-37.
(10) Ganzenmuller, Das belagerte Leningrad, 1941-1944, 162-73.
(11) See, for example, A. R. Dzeniskevich, ed., Leningrad vasade: Sbornik dakumentov o geroicheskoi aborone Leningrada v gady Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny, 1941-1944 (St. Petersburg: Liki Rossii, 1995); Nikita Andreevich Lomagin, ed., Neizve"tnaia blakada (Dakumenty, prilazheniia), 2 (St. Petersburg and Moscow: Neva and OLMA-PRESS, 2002); and N. L. Volkovskii, ed., Blakada Leningrada v dakumentakh rassekrechennykh arkhivov (Moscow and St. Petersburg: Poligon, 2004).
(12) Zhizn" i smert" v blokirovannom Leningrade: Istoriko-meditsinskii aspekt (St. Petersburg: Dmitrii Bulanin, 2001).
(13) Her surname is rendered as Magayeva in her memoir.
(14) Ganzenmuller, Das belagerte Leningrad, 1941-1944, 320-21.
(15) Tsentral'nyi gosudarstvennyi arkhiv istoriko-politicheskikh dokumentakh SanktPeterburga (TsGAIPD SPb) f. 24, op. 2v, d. 5761, 11. 137-40.
(16) See Benjamin Tromly, "The Leningrad Affair and Soviet Patronage Politics, 1949-1950," Europe-Asia Studies 56, 5 (2004): 707-29; David Brandenberger, "Stalin, the Leningrad Affair, and the Limits of Postwar Russocentrism," Russian Review 63, 2 (2004): 241-55; and my exchange with Brandenberger on the origins of the Leningrad Affair in Russian Review 64, 1 (2005): 90-97.
(17) A very recent dissertation, "'Healing the Wounds': War Commemorations, Myths, and the Restoration of Leningrad's Imperial Heritage, 1941-1950," by Steven Maddox at the University of Toronto is based on extensive archival research in St. Petersburg and Moscow and may shed light on these and related questions.
(18) For an uncorroborated recollection from a woman who was a child during the siege of a midwife who went over to performing abortions, see Pamiat' o blokade, 109. Jones used this account to title his sixth chapter, "The Abortionist."
(19) Kyra Petrovskaya Wayne, Shurik: A WWII Saga of the Siege of Leningrad (New York: Lyons Press, 2000), 150.
(20) Misidentified as "Nikolai" in the text.
(21) See Lomagin, Neizvestnaia blokada, 2nd ed. (St. Petersburg: Neva, 2004), esp. 1: 148-51.
(22) See Irina Reznikova, "Repressionen wahrend der Leningrader Blockade," Zeitschrift fur Sozialgeschichte des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts 15, 1 (2000): 117-41.
(23) Figures are from Dzeniskevich, ed., Leningrad v osade, 442, 461.
(24) See Brandenberger, "Stalin, the Leningrad Affair, and the Limits of Postwar Russocentrism,"
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