On the Road - Stockholm to Beijing travel blog


We had our tour cancelled this morning due to our tour guide unexpectedly having to go to Moscow. Instead we had a graduate uni student take us out, which was quite pleasant. Valentine had great enthusiasm for his history and pride of the strength of the people. It was a great insight to the way of life, the struggle of old and new. He focused of the siege taking us to a memorial to those who fell, it lasted from September 1941 to 1944. By the end of the siege, some 632,000 people are thought to have died with nearly 4,000 people from Leningrad starving to death on Christmas Day, 1941. The city, one of the primary targets of 'Operation Barbarossa', was expected "to fall like a leaf" (Hitler). The Germans, flushed with the initial success of 'Barbarossa', deciding that they would not storm the city. Hitler had stated to his generals that once Leningrad had been surrounded and bombarded from the air and by artillery on the ground, the resolve of the city to continue the fight would disappear. German bombers also dropped propaganda leaflets on the city - claiming that the population would starve to death if they did not surrender. The ruling elite of Leningrad had imposed martial law in June - a reaction to the success of 'Barbarossa'. Authority to govern the city was handed to Lieutenant-General Popov and Zhdanov whom told the people of Leningrad: "The moment has come to put your Bolshevik qualities to work, to get ready to defend Leningrad without wasting words. We have to see that nobody is just an onlooker. The enemy is at the gate. It is a question of life and death." Many in Leningrad had expected the Germans to attack and occupy the city. However, a resolute Russian defence and inadequate German manpower, meant that the Germans could not successfully achieve this - hence the siege. The Germans continually bombarded the city, putting out of action power stations that supplied Leningrad with electricity. The city also quickly became short of food. The area that the city authorities controlled produced just 1/3rd of what was needed for grain, 1/3rd of what was needed for coal, 1/12th of what was needed for sugar and half of what was needed with regards to meat - if the supply lines could be kept open. On September 12th, those in charge of the city estimated that they had the following supplies: flour for 35 days cereals for 30 days meat for 33 days fats for 45 days sugar for 60 days The siege was to last for 900 days. Rationing had been introduced almost immediately. Soldiers and manual workers got the most of what was available, followed by office workers then by non-working dependents and children. The city authorities found it difficult to grasp just how serious their situation was. While certain food was rationed, restaurants continued to serve non-rationed food in their 'normal' way. The authorities also failed to inform people in Leningrad just how much food there was - this was probably done so as not to panic people, but if people had known the true situation, they could have planned accordingly. Winters in Leningrad are invariably extremely cold. The winter of 1941-42 was no exception. Lack of fuel meant that the use of electricity in homes was banned - industry and the military took priority. Kerosene for oil lamps was unobtainable. Wood became the major source of heat in homes with furniture and floor boards being burned in most homes. The food needed to fight the cold was simply not available. If bread was obtainable, people had to queue in the bitter cold in the hope that some might be left by the time they got to the front of the queue. Dogs and cats were hunted for food and stories emerged of cannibalism - freshly buried bodies were, dug up in the night. The city developed ingenious ways to produce 'food' - cats and sheep intestines were stewed, flavoured with oil of cloves and the resulting liquid became a substitute for milk; seaweed was made into broth and yeast was made into soup. Regardless of all the work done by the experts in Leningrad, food remained in very short supply and people were only getting 10% of the required daily calorific intake - despite the fact that most of their work was labour intensive. One writer in the city, Tikhonov, wrote about workers who ate grease from bearings in factory machines and drank oil from oil cans such was their hunger. People collapsed in factories and on the streets - and died. The city organised mass burials to cope with the number who died. When not enough grave diggers could be found, explosives were used to blow a hole in the ground and the bodies were simply thrown in with the expectation that snow would simply cover them up. Where people died in the street, there was a scramble for their ration card. "If this happened, there was an immediate scrabbling for the dead one's ration card - not because anyone wanted to steal it but because everyone realised that a ration card handed in to the authorities meant an infinitesimal portion more food for all. Such were the indignities we suffered." "I watched my father and mother die - I knew perfectly well they were starving. But I wanted their bread more than I wanted them to stay alive. And they knew that about me too. That's what I remember about the blockade: that feeling that you wanted your parents to die because you wanted their bread." This is what our guide told us of his fathers experience.... sad so very sad... To give you an idea of how bad the rations got, people were given all but 125g of bread, that's all they had access to. The city's records show that 52,000 died in December 1941 alone - lack of food and the cold accounted for over 1,600 death a day. However, the figures collected by the city were for those who were known to have died and been buried in some form or another. They do not include people who died at home or on the street and whose bodies were never found. The official death total for the whole 900 day siege is 632,000. However, some believe that the figure is likely to be nearer 1 million. The siege was only lifted after the Germans, as part of their general retreat, withdrew in the face of the advance of the Red Army. Then in one of the great ironies of the war, those who had led the city in its time of need were arrested by the KGB (presumably on the orders of Stalin). Their crime was that they had failed to contact Moscow frequently enough during the siege to ask for support and guidance and that this policy of acting alone like mini-tsars could not be tolerated. Those arrested, after 900 days of being besieged, now had to face Stalin's gulags. A very disheartening story was shown and told to us today, giving us a new found respect of a countries history we hear little about.... not as the historical archives tell the story, but as the people tell their story. Some rain settled in so we headed back to our accommodations, rested then walked through the streets for 'Fasol' a recommendation for dinner. The outward appearance was a little shady, however inside was very modern. The details of interior design were quirky with green lamps under the steps and white gumboots on the sills with flowers in them. The only English that was spoken was menu and bill! I had the best stroganoff, mashed potatoes, 'flaky aple' pie and biever (beer) yet, simply delicious. It's now 11.20pm, yes still daylight outside, but time for bed as we have a big day of sightseeing tomorrow....



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