Russia this week remembered the 75th anniversary of the end of the Nazi siege of Leningrad, present day St. Petersburg. You should remember the siege also.
Our present challenges with Russian President Vladimir Putin aside — and there are many — what Leningrad experienced between Sept. 8, 1941 and Jan. 27, 1944 was truly horrific. With at least 1 million casualties, the siege of Leningrad cost twice as much Soviet life as its more famous Second World War Soviet siege sister, Stalingrad.
The particular measure of Leningrad's horror was the particular brutality that its civilian population endured. Cut off from anywhere near sufficient basic supplies of food, fuel, and other living needs, the population slowly rotted away. While most historians suggest the incidence of cannibalism is exaggerated, it did occur. And it was not the Soviet garrison's fault — they fought hard to maintain basic supply lines against withering Nazi constraint. Those supply efforts were also assisted by the allies.
But the best testament of the siege comes from the child diarist and city resident, Tanya Savicheva. Between December 1941 and May 1942, and at just 11-12 years of age, Tanya recorded the various members of her family dying one-by-one from starvation. Just after her mother died in May 1942, Tanya entered a final entry, "The Savichevs are dead." "Everyone is dead." "Only Tanya is left." Tanya was saved and evacuated from Leningrad, but she never recovered. She passed away at age 14 in 1944.
During and following the war, the Soviet Union found heroes in Leningrad's survival against the odds. Regardless, the city reminds us of that most truthful of all war's descriptors: horror. If nothing else, those who lived and died in the city deserve our memory.