The city they could never have captured...
08.09.2011 13:50

This year, in St. Petersburg, formerly Leningrad, the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the blockade of the city by the German military forces was celebrated. People brought flowers to all “painful points” of the city - Piskarevskoye Memorial Cemetery, the blockade crematorium in Victory Park, the “Vagonetka” memorial (trolley), and to many other memorable places associated with the war and the blockade.

The firmness of survivors of siege became standard of courage of the nation. All Leningraders in that terrible time seemed to stand at Calvary. The country which was filled with a grief of war, and in which privation and sorrow had come to normal, could find tears, words of compassion, and even gifts – a tiny amount of material assistance for the “crucified”.

“Not to take Leningrad by storm, but to block it hard, and let everybody die alive,” that is exactly how Hitler’s fanatical order was worded. “From our side there is no interest in preserving even part of the population ... the city should be razed to the ground, returning the marsh landscape where it had been founded.”

Hitler understood full well how important this city was for Russians, the creation of Peter the Great, a holy place for the nation, pride and glory. So much the sophisticated torture was prepared for Leningrad.

Fascist artillery began systematic destruction of Leningrad on August 9, and on September 7, the city was caught in a ring, which on the 8th day, as Hitler’s command thought, would be already impossible to be released.

The blockade lasted for more than 900 days. History is replete with examples of heroic defense of fortresses and cities, but their tragic pages pale before the incomparable epic of human courage, the blockaded Leningrad displayed to the world. It demolished all arguments that under the influence of fear and irresistible hunger people lose their moral values.

In the city where 2.5 million people were deadly starving, there was no room for chaos or lawlessness. Even in the darkest days, exhausted Leningraders maintained the order of life, and most importantly - behaved like humans. In the “Blockaded” theater performances were staged, the birthdays of Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and other geniuses of the nation were solemnly celebrated. In the cellars of the Hermitage, by candlelight, meetings of art critics and historians were held; reports for scientific conferences were prepared.

The length of all the Hermitage rooms was more than 22 kilometers, and the battle line passed just 14 kilometers away from the masterpiece created by Rastrelli. True, the halls of the Hermitage were already empty at the time. Soon after the war began, the museum staff immediately, by incredible efforts, prepared for evacuation all the treasures - the collection at that time numbered more than 2 million items. Pictures were removed from the frame and packed in special boxes in 10-15 paintings. The biggest were wound round special rollers. And only one, the most valuable among the most valuable - the Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, was put right in the frame in a special wooden sarcophagus. A secret train took the treasures of the Hermitage to the Urals.

At the same time the famous Klodt’s horses disappeared from the Anichkov bridge - along with the beautiful statues of the Summer Garden they were buried in the ground. A monument to Peter the Great - the famous Bronze Horseman - vanished beneath a pyramid of sandbags. Gold steeples and domes were extinguished by a layer of gray paint; a cover was thrown on the shining ship weathervane on the Admiralty spire ...

Where is the limit of human endurance? No one can answer this question. Products were given out by coupons - 250 grams of bread per day, which contained only 30% of meal - for a working person, and half that ration – for others. Sometimes – as a second helping – one potato or handful of cereals... The enemy was waiting for the city being in ruinous conditions to fall, be broken morally, and die.

... An employee of the Hermitage Vera Samsonova, ancient art expert, on this day, barely dragged herself home from a scientific conference. First of all, she lighted the fire in a potbelly stove and threw into it pieces of black polished wood - the former piano cover, sawn up to make logs for the fire, then she put the kettle to boil, filled with ice cubes, selected from the Neva ice hole.

Vera threw an empty glance at the bed, on which during the week her mother and father died, and came up to the sofa, where, under a pile of blankets and shawls her eight-year-old daughter Lilia was lying drained of all strength. She had lost consciousness, her face seemed lifeless, but mother’s lips snuggled up to it and unmistakably identified: “She’s alive!” Vera took out of the bag two small lumps of bread looking like gray clay, and a small piece of wood (edible!) glue. It had been brought to the Hermitage on the eve of the war for restoration work, and now it was given out to employees. Vera ran her hand gently over her daughter’s head, and suddenly cried out involuntarily, having noted a grey lock in the girl’s dark-brown hair...

Whole families of the Leningraders died of exhaustion. During the 900-day blockade, special funeral teams daily picked up corpses from the city’s streets, they also systematically made their rounds in urban apartments, taking up dead bodies. All the deceased were brought to one place – Piskarevskoye cemetery, where a magnificent monument now stands. When in May 1944 the blockade was completely lifted, the death toll numbered in about half a million.

Representatives of all Soviet peoples fought on the Leningrad front. Many of them hade never been to the beautiful city on the Neva River and knew it hearsay The Leningradskaya Pravda newspaper began to talk about what an extraordinary city the soldiers defended. Alexander Fadeyev, Olga Bergolts Vera Inber, Anna Akhmatova published in the blockade time their essays, poems, stories on its pages... The list is endless. It includes the name of Dzhambul Dzhabayev, who wrote the famous words “Leningraders, my children, Leningraders, my pride...” The poetic message of the Kazakh akyn to the blockaded Leningrad even today remains the gem of military poetry. Leningrad, currently Saint Petersburg, has not forgotten the great akyn – in the city there is a four-meter bronze monument to him with these words on its stone steps: “Leningraders, my children...”

... Composer Dmitri Shostakovich wrote during blockade his famous Seventh Symphony – an anthem to the great city’s unconquered spirit. It sounded on August 9, 1942 from the blockaded Leningrad worldwide. The outstanding Soviet musician Karl Eliasberg rehearsed and conducted the first performance. The concert was broadcast by transmitters at full power, and the Germans, of course, realized they would never capture the city...