It was horrific. The siege of Leningrad (the modern-day St. Petersburg) lasted almost two and one-half years and cost the lives of an estimated 1,000,000 city residents. It began on September 8, 1941 when German troops completed their encirclement of the city. As his blitzkrieg rushed towards Moscow, Hitler made the strategic decision to bypass Leningrad and strangle the city into submission rather than commit valuable resources to attacking it directly.Hunger and cold became the city’s greatest enemies. By the end of September, the city’s oil and coal supplies were exhausted. This meant that the city was without any central heating. As the brutal Russian winter approached, water pipes froze and broke, denying the residents drinking water.
Food supplies were cut. By November, individual rations were lowered to 1/3 of the daily amount needed by an adult. The city’s population of dogs, cats, horses, rats and crows disappeared as they became the main course on many dinner tables. Reports of cannibalism began to appear. Thousands died – an estimated 11,000 in November increasing to 53,000 in December. The frozen earth meant their bodies could not be buried. Corpses accumulated in the city’s streets, parks and other open areas.
To compound the misery, the Germans incessantly bombarded the city with air and artillery attacks.
The Russian winter had one positive effect. It froze Lake Ladoga to the city’s east and created a life-line over which caravans of trucks hauled a meager amount of food and supplies. It also provided an evacuation route for thousands of the city’s weak and elderly. The loss of population through death and evacuation decreased the strain on the remaining inhabitants. Food rations were increased and the city’s situation stabilized. By January 1944, the Red Army had pushed the German army beyond Leningrad allowing the city to celebrate the end of its siege.