Literature as Witness: The Seige of Leningrad

RIAN_archive_5634_Antiaircrafters_guarding_the_sky_of_Leningrad Oleg Yuriev in Sign and Sight [photo from Wikimedia Commons]:

Outside Russia, and particularly in Germany, the siege of Leningrad has yet to be anchored firmly in people's minds. Not, it should be said, for lack of trying or information. The siege was an issue at the Nuremberg Trials (although the death count was then assumed to be 600,000), and there are more than enough international books on the subject, also from German researchers, with new material constantly being added to the list. And yet it remains an almost “unknown crime”. Why? Could it be that compared with the other huge crimes of National Socialism, it has remained the propagandistic “property” of the Soviet leaders, meaning that in the run-up to the Cold War after 1945 it was all but ignored?

I am not going to try now to open the eyes of the world to the of Leningrad Blockade. What I will write about here is less ambitious and somewhat more promising: the literature of the siege. First, though, I should make it clear that my use of the word “hell” in relation to besieged Leningrad, and particularly the first siege in the winter of 1941-1942, is in no way metaphorical. If hell exists anywhere, then it must literally be that: eternal coldness, darkness, unrecognisable scraps of music and news emerging from loudspeakers, marching for hours on foot with the principle means of transport used under the siege, children's ice-skates. Frozen corpses strewn on the roadside. And at home, the corpses of family members which could not be buried for days on end (because the rest of the family depended on their ration cards).