Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944

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Overview

On 8 September 1941, eleven weeks after Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, his brutal surprise attack on the Soviet Union, Leningrad was surrounded. The siege was not lifted for 2 1/2 years and during the 872 days of blockade and bombardment some two million Soviet lives were lost. Had the city fallen, the history of the World War II - and of the twentieth century - would have been very different.

Anna Reid's Leningrad is a gripping, authoritative narrative history of this ...

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Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944

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Overview

On 8 September 1941, eleven weeks after Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, his brutal surprise attack on the Soviet Union, Leningrad was surrounded. The siege was not lifted for 2 1/2 years and during the 872 days of blockade and bombardment some two million Soviet lives were lost. Had the city fallen, the history of the World War II - and of the twentieth century - would have been very different.

Anna Reid's Leningrad is a gripping, authoritative narrative history of this dramatic moment in the 20th century, interwoven with indelible personal accounts of daily siege life drawn from diarists and memoirists on both sides. They reveal the horrific experience of being on the Russian and German front lines; the disorganization among the Soviet leadership and messianic miscalculation of Hitler; and, above all, the terrible details of life in the blockaded city: the all-consuming daily search for food; a woman who has just buried her father noticing a frozen corpse with outstretched arm and cigarette between its teeth used as a signpost to a mass grave; another using a dried pea to make a rattle for her evacuated grandson's first birthday, only to hear, six months later, that he has died of meningitis.

Placing it in full historical context, Anna Reid answers many of the previously unanswered questions about the siege. How good a job did Leningrad's leadership do - would many lives have been saved if it had been better organised? How much was Stalin's wariness of western-leaning Leningrad (formerly the Tsars' capital, St Petersburg) a contributing factor? How close did Leningrad come to falling into German hands? And, above all, how did those who lived through it survive? Impressive in its originality and literary style, Leningrad will rival Anthony Beevor's classic Stalingrad in its impact.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Former Ukraine correspondent for the Economist and Daily Telegraph, Reid brings to this narrative a comprehensive background in Russian affairs, an eye for the telling anecdote, and an approach that integrates the everyday horrors of the three-year Nazi siege of Leningrad into wider contexts of operations and policy. Reid uses recently available material to, in another historian's words, "wip off the syrup" of Communist mythology. Stalin's government barely held the city and sustained it. It also bungled military operations, imprisoned and executed thousands for no reason, and took care of Party bigwigs while ordinary men and women died in misery. Leningrad's citizens showed courage and endurance. "Svyazi... string-pulling, exchange of favors, and bribery" made the difference between life and death. By June 1943 almost 2,000 cases of cannibalism had been processed by military tribunals. The Soviet system displayed stupidity, corruption, and callousness as the Nazis waged a war of annihilation, in which starving Leningrad was an end in itself. Leningrad's citizens endured, rebuilt, hoped for a communism with freedom and true civic life. What they received was a series of crackdowns and continued repression. Reid (The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia) makes a major contribution to lifting the curtain on that terrible siege. 16 pages of b&w photos; 6 maps. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Some 750,000 people of Leningrad died, primarily of starvation, during Hitler's two and a half year siege of the city, the deadliest siege in history. For the core of her book, Reid (The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia) accesses diaries of and interviews (many previously unavailable) with those who suffered. She focuses on the coldest and deadliest months of the winter of 1941–42 and also includes select German accounts for a view from the other side. Reid shows how human willpower triumphed in a desperate situation. Leningrad did not collapse, despite Hitler's desire to erase it and cruel Soviet mismanagement and oppression. The mental strain among the survivors was perhaps greater than the physical toll. VERDICT Especially well researched in Russian sources, this is an agonizing tale that belongs alongside Harrison Salisbury's classic The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad. (Maps, photos, and index not seen.)
Library Journal
Seventy years ago this September, Hitler's armies surrounded Leningrad and laid down a siege that lasted for two and a half years. When it was over, three quarters of a million Leningraders had died. A former Ukraine correspondent for the Economist with a master's in Russian history, Reid uses newly available diaries and other materials to get past Soviet mythology and ask pertinent questions, e.g., Was Stalin as much to blame as Hitler? A three-city tour to New York, Boston, and Washington, DC; big promotion tied to an anniversary that should be discussed.
Kirkus Reviews

An illuminating chronicle of the greatest siege of World War II.

Historian and journalist Reid (The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia, 2003, etc.) turns her considerable investigative powers to Germany's 872-day siege on Russia's important Baltic port, "the deadliest blockade of a city in human history." The author recounts a woefully unprepared defense that would cost upwards of 800,000 lives inside Leningrad. The history of the siege has suffered from many revisions, with misinformation beginning as soon as the German army moved against Russia, when Stalinist propaganda was substituted for news. Even after Germany's defeat, the narrative of Leningrad's siege was rewritten by a victorious Stalin, declared one of the greatest victories of the Russian people, the atrocities of starvation, cold and war effectively whitewashed. Since the fall of Stalinism, different political factions have claimed the story as their own. Reid corrects this by allowing the people of Leningrad to tell the story in their own words, pulling information from a wide range of sources: the bleak diaries left by those who died inside the city, journals kept by members of the advancing German army and interviews with the remaining survivors. The political intricacies of Russia can often be overwhelming, and the shifting alliances inside and outside the city are easily confused. However, the personal histories Reid brings to life make the insufferable conditions in the city all too clear and correct the great injustice of the siege: the silencing of its many voices. They are all here, unearthed and brought back to life to tell the story of citizens caught inside the siege ring, reduced to the most desperate means of survival as they waited for spring.

A pleasing combination of assured prose and firsthand accounts from inside the city's walls.

The Barnes & Noble Review

In September 1941, as the German Wehrmacht sped east toward Leningrad, Josef Stalin struck a blow against sentimentalism in warfare. His advisers told him that the Germans were putting Russian children and elderly at the front line and ordering them to beg the Red Army to surrender the city. Soviet troops recoiled from orders to fire on their most vulnerable countrymen, but Stalin would have none of it. "No sentimentality," he wrote in a memo to his generals. "Beat the Germans and their creatures, whoever they are. It makes no difference whether they are willing or unwilling enemies. Smash the enemy and his accomplices, sick or healthy, in the teeth."

During the same month Hitler expressed a similar disgust with the scruples of his own top brass. In June 1941 he had suddenly renounced the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and invaded the Soviet Union, opening the eastern and decisive front of World War Two. He intended to raze Leningrad and Moscow, expel or exterminate their occupants, and establish a vast settling ground for the German people. An officer protested that killing Leningrad's inhabitants outright would "let loose a worldwide storm of indignation, which we can't afford politically." Hitler unwittingly channeled Stalin by rejecting this "sentimentality." Permitting himself the liberty of the third person as he invoked the city's pre-revolutionary name, Hitler wrote, "The Führer is determined to erase the city of Petersburg from the face of the earth."

Anguished comparisons between the moral depravity of Hitler and Stalin abound, but Uncle Joe occasionally gets a pass when it comes to the Soviets' famous stand at Leningrad. That chapter in what Russians call the Great Patriotic War remains a solemn source of pride: 800,000 civilians alone starved to death during the 900-day siege, but the city held and the Germans were pushed back. Stalin and communism emerged stronger than ever.

In her devastating book Leningrad, journalist Anna Reid admires the sacrifice and resilience of the Soviet people but challenges the myth—popularized by Brezhnev and inflated by Putin—of "selfless, disciplined heroes" who starved "nobly, in a sort of ecstatic trance." Assembling a pastiche of newly discovered siege diaries, Reid tells a story of Soviet incompetence and cruelty, and establishes that mass starvation is a nightmare wherever it occurs. While Hitler was unquestionably the aggressor and deserves the most blame, Reid demonstrates that "under a different sort of government the siege's civilian (and military) death tolls might have been far lower."

But this book is not an academic argument: it's a relentless chronicle of suffering. It bypasses the military and strategic aspects of the eastern front to illuminate the experience of civilians. Most of the starvation occurred during the harsh winter of 1941- 42 as the Germans surrounded Leningrad and shelled it mercilessly. The Soviet government did not evacuate civilians early enough or protect food stores from the German blitz, and Stalin diverted grain and matériel to fortify Moscow. Cut off from the world, Leningraders ate whatever they could find: first their rations; then their pets; then belts, shoes, pine needles, glue, and motor oil; and eventually each other. Reid's most remarkable diarist, Dmitri Lazarev, captures the limp tedium of a day spent starving at the office:

We sat round the stove in silence, heads bowed. We sat for hours, not moving, not talking. When there was no more firewood the stove went out. Though there was a big pile of wood in the courtyard nobody had the strength to chop it and carry it up the stairs. Instead we sat out the wait until lunch in the cold. After lunch we went home.
The most striking passages of Leningrad explore Russians' ambivalence toward their government during the siege. Some bitterly welcomed any respite from Bolshevism—at least until they witnessed the Nazis exterminating Russian Jews, POWs, and civilians. Others felt a surprising surge of patriotism that hardened into resolve in the face of Nazi atrocities. Hitler's greatest mistake was to underestimate the determination of the Russian people not to be conquered. Yet if anything could dampen their solidarity it was the Soviet purges and terror that continued during the siege. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Germans, kulaks, intellectuals, and minorities were forcibly displaced or sent to the Gulag. Reid excerpts the diary of a soldier who tired of gnawing on horse bones and made an official complaint about ration levels. He was shot for "expressing disappointment at the food supply of the Red Army."

Leningrad is a major contribution to our understanding of the human side of one of the war's tragic episodes. Reid missteps only occasionally, as when she quotes passages from Solomon Volkov's book Testimony, which purports to be the dictated memoirs of the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich, whose Seventh Symphony, "Leningrad," became a wartime anthem for the city in 1942—but scholars have fatally undermined the authenticity of Volkov's book. Leningrad is also a grimly relevant book as headlines tell of the famine enforced at gunpoint that currently ravages Somalia. There are no winners when hunger is used as a weapon. There are only survivors.

Michael O'Donnell is a lawyer who lives in Evanston, Illinois. His reviews and essays appear in The Nation, the Washington Monthly, and the Christian Science Monitor, among other publications. Reviewed by Mark Athitakis

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802715944
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 8/30/2011
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 791,901
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Anna Reid is the author of The Shaman's Coat: A Native History of Siberia and Borderland: A Journey Through the History of the Ukraine. She holds a master degree in Russian history and reform economics from the University of London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies. She was Ukraine correspondent for The Economist and the Daily Telegraph from 1993-1995, and from 2003-2007 she ran the foreign affairs program at the think-tank Policy Exchange

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Table of Contents

Maps ix

Acknowledgements xiii

Introduction i

Part 1 Invasion: June-September 1941

1 22 June 1941 13

2 Barbarossa 25

3 '"We're Winning, but the Germans are Advancing' 51

4 The Peoples Levy 73

5 'Caught in a Mousetrap' 91

Part 2 The Siege Begins: September-December 1941

6 'No Sentimentality' 113

7 'To Our Last Heartbeat' 139

8 125 Grams 158

9 Falling Down the Funnel 174

Part 3 Mass Death: Winter 1941-2

10 The Ice Road 195

11 Sleds and Cocoons 208

12 'We Were Like Stones' 232

13 Svyazi 252

14 'Robinson Crusoe Was a Lucky Man' 268

15 Corpse-Eating and Person-Eating 280

16 Anton Ivanovich is Angry 293

17 The Big House 303

Part 4 Waiting for Liberation: January 1942-January 1944

18 Meat Wood 313

19 The Gentle Joy of Living and Breathing 331

20 The Leningrad Symphony 356

21 The Last Year 370

Part 5 Aftermath

22 Coming Home 389

23 The Cellar of Memory 406

Appendix I How Many? 417

Appendix II 419

Notes 421

Bibliography 459

Index 473

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 25 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 4, 2013

    History books so often articulate the dates, the events that for

    History books so often articulate the dates, the events that form the narrative of an event - often with an almost scientific precision. Yet few capture the story of an event. Anna Reid's book, "Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-1944" does exactly that. Remaining true to historical account, Reid goes beyond simple retelling of the dates and particularities of the siege of Leningrad and shares the story of those who lived through one of the 20th centuries most horrific and lesser-known events. 




    It is absolutely apparent that Reid analyzed this event from every perspective available to her. The interweaving of journal accounts, survivor interviews with the contextualization of the siege within the larger Russian experience of the Nazi siege provides a seemingly complete narrative. Yet Reid recognizes, or so it seems from her final chapter, that her retelling of the stories of those who experienced the atrocities of the Leningrad siege are not entirely complete - rather, a glimpse into a dark chapter of history.




    Simply put, I found this to be the most engaging and captivating historical book that I have read in recent years. I highly recommend this book to not only those interested in great historical narrative, but all readers who enjoy good writing.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 29, 2011

    hsighly recommended

    Excellent book-Well researched and very readable I have also read 900 days

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 16, 2013

    Well researched, well documented

    Excellent book. Very well researched, very well documented. References are clearly cited and plentiful. Ms. Reid has done an outstanding job of bringing this tragedy and travesty to light. Current and future generations, as in the past, begin to lose the memory and horror of bygone atrocities. It is ever more important that we not forget lest we relive them time and time again. Ms. Reid has done a commendable job of documenting the Leningrad Siege without being heavy-handed or preachy.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2013

    Highly recommended.

    A must read for russian historical buffs. Paints a real life picture of the trials and tribulations of a nation in turmoil.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2013

    Fascinating

    A slow start, with lengthy and dull descriptions of battles, but absolutely rivering once it gets going. Reads like a novel, but definitely not for the squeamish. Heart-breaking and absolutely fascinating. Also, the print is very large, about twice the size of other books I've read on the Nook.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2013

    good

    good

    2 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 15, 2013

    Graphic

    This is a great story of the people of Leningrad and how they starved off {literally} the German Siege. Very graphic in telling the story of Starvation, illiness inhumanity of man to man during the siege. Not for the squeamish. Well written and riveting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2013

    Jess

    Hey everyone im new to the nook thing please i want to make friends on here thanks

    1 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    This was a good book. I found it interesting and it definitely p

    This was a good book. I found it interesting and it definitely provided the indepth view on this often forgotten aspect of WW2. It does drag in parts but overall is a solid read which I recommend.

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