The story of Leningrad, heroic city that for 30 long and bitter months fought the Germans to a standstill



The story of Leningrad, heroic city that for 30 long and bitter months fought the Germans to a standstill




MOSCOW (By Cable)—Suppose the Germans were at Sunnyside, on the outskirts of Toronto —four miles from Toronto’s city hall. Suppose that in two and a half years their grey-clad relentless hordes, feeding on death and destruction, had squeezed Toronto in a vice, compressing the city into a five-mile semicircle, with Lake Ontario as the base. Suppose the Finns were 35 miles away at Oshawa and the road to Montreal was cut. Suppose the nearest free Canadian land was 90 miles away at Niagara Falls, whence all supplies for Toronto had to come by boat under constant artillery and airplane bombardment in summer, and by ice road in winter.

Suppose that for 30 months hundreds of German siege cannon from the heights around Toronto had thrown 250 to 1,000 shells a day at random into the centre of the city, into Yonge Street, Bay Street, College Street, Bloor Street, and that shells had fallen farther north in the suburb of Forest Hill Village —indiscriminately killing old people and women and children. Suppose the University of Toronto Residence on St. George Street had been bombed to dust, the Art Gallery on Dundas Street damaged, and the Royal Alexandra Theatre on King Street hit. Suppose the East End waterworks had been blown up and the power line from Niagara Falls cut.

Suppose that in the midst of winter food and coal supplies had failed, streetcars had stopped and automobiles had disappeared. Suppose that Toronto women had been mobilized to work day and night building barricades four miles from the city hall on a circle running from Sunnyside Bridge in the west to Eglinton Avenue in the north and Danforth Avenue in the east. Suppose that Torontonians had dropped with hunger in the streets. Suppose that the battle had raged around the city without a stop from September, 1941, to January, 1944 . . .

Suppose all that and you will understand what Leningrad went through and how it lived and fought during the German siege.

Along with other world press correspondents I visited Leningrad during the week of Feb. 5, just 19 days after the siege had been lifted. I saw the city as it had come through hell’s cauldron. I walked down the famous Nevskiy Prospekt, visited the Winter Palace and The Hermitage and spent two hours at the Smolny Institute where Lenin raised the flame of revolution. I wandered alone along the streets, saw the people and examined the ruins.

It was almost impossible to trust one’s own eyes and to believe that the city had not fallen.

To convince ourselves we stood on the Finnskoye Koirovo heights, just two miles southwest of the city

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The story of Leningrad, heroic city that for 30 long and bitter months fought the Germans to a standstill

The City That Wouldn’t Die

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where we had gone to examine the forward German positions. On this hill, which had once served as the picnic grounds for Leningrad’s citizens and where children had picked flowers and lovesick couples had walked on moonlight nights, the Germans had constructed what they believed would be impregnable fortifications. We saw how truly strong they had been.

Before us, as we stood on the remnants of the German positions, lay the whole city. We easily picked out the more important structures and even saw people walking in the streets. From this point artillery fire had been directed during the whole siege. It is said that Hitler himself had been here. The Teutonic cannibal must have wondered why his men, who so easily had fought their way 1,000 miles to this point, were unable to negotiate the remaining two miles.

Finnskoye Koirovo was the last German word in offensive-defensive fortification. The enemy had clearly intended to remain here until the city’s fall. This was shown by the permanence of construction. The 120-foot height was surrounded by rows of barbed wire, mine fields and trenches. First were closely strung rows of wire 150 feet deep. Then followed 600 feet of land sewn with mines, behind which lay the first line of trenches. Behind all thus lay a second system of defense similar in pattern, and behind this lay yet a third. At 15-foot intervals in the trenches concrete pillboxes had been constructed and on the crest of the hill were firing points built of eight-foot armored cement These machine gun nests were almost impervious to aerial bombardment and had been so cleverly concealed as to be invisible from the air.

Key To Leningrad

The capture of Finnskoye Koirovo was the key t.o the liberation of Leningrad. For months the Soviet High Command prepared for this assault. Every enemy gun was marked, every

convolution of terrain recorded, every machine gun nest plotted. I was shown the military map used at this operation. It was a masterpiece of reconnaissance. Once the preparatory work had been completed troops were massed, tanks rolled into battle position and aircraft made ready. Guns were brought up and placed axle to axle every 30 feet— some 170 to a mile.

At 9.20 on the morning of Jan. 15 signal rockets burst high above the battlefield. The thunder of artillery rocked Leningrad. Walls and windows rattled as if shaken by giants. The screech of shells heading toward the enemy rose to the heavens in a shrill victorious crescendo. The push had begun.

For hours Soviet artillery, reinforced by hundreds of tank guns and 16-inch cannon from battleships anchored in the Neva River, sent over a storm of death. More than 500,000 shells were fired. Then infantry-carrying tanks b gan to rumble forward. Barbed wire was cut and lanes were made through the mine fields. Trenches were seized. Warmed by the fire of victory brave men disdained death and crawled up the hill, in the face of withering fire to hurl hand grenades into the apertures of the firing points. There was a period of indecision. Then the enemy, weakened, deafened and driven frantic by the bombardment, began to give way. At last they began to run.

Such victories are not won cheaply. Red Army officers told us that the break-through had been purchased at the cost of 25% casualties. But once the threat to the city had been removed Leningrad became proud and happy.

How does a city look that has undergone two and a half years of siege? Surprisingly the destruction is not apparent at first glance except for the general absence of window glass, which gives the city the appearance of blindness. I don’t believe I saw a single window that had all its panes. The city needs 130 million square feet of glass to restore its sight. Otherwise the centre of the city superficially is quite intact. There are shell holes here and there but the damage does not seem as great as that of London.

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However, as you move toward the outskirts a different scene strikes you. Here the Germans have done enormous damage, both by bombing and shelling. Altogether three million of the city’s 15 million square metres of dwelling space—enough for 500,000 people—has been completely destroyed. I passed ent ire blocks of wreckage on Vasilyevskiy Island, along the Neva, near the Smolny Institute and in other places. Seven-story office buildings had been reduced to rubble. The beautiful student residences of the Leningrad University had been levelled. Some of the latest apartment buildings were in ruins. In all, 500 schools and 170 hospitals were levelled. In some of the ruins ashes of the victims were still burning.

Everywhere we noticed evidence of the superiority of air bombing over shelling. Although no less than 150,000 shells had scored direct hits and had been recorded on a special casualty map, damage from this type of attack was considerably less than the havoc caused by air raids. Artillery shells, we were told, cause relatively little external damage, even when scoring a direct hit. The shells penetrate brick or stone walls, explode inside, and often tear away whole floors. But, unlike a bomb, they seldom level an entire structure.

Canvas Covers Damage

There was another reason why the damage in Leningrad did not seem as

great as I personally had expected. When buildings on the main streets were damaged by shell fire or bombs, artists immediately painted on huge canvases pictures of the buildings as they were before. These were hung in front of the gaping houses. There were two reasons for doing this: first to help keep up morale, second to provide construction workers with a faithful representation of the undamaged structures. Repeatedly I had to touch these canvases to convince myself that they were not brick and mortar.

There was yet another type of damage in Leningrad. This was the damage done to buildings in the wards closest to the front. Whole sections of the city had had to be evacuated in the path of the advancing enemy. In these sections every building had been turned into a fort. Where thousands of people had once lived and worked, we saw apartment buildings and homes which had been turned into impregnable fortresses, their guns still pointing proudly westward toward the enemy.

Leningrad has developed a whole symbolism of this kind. On the main boulevard leading toward Peterhof are the Narva Gates surmounted by a group of remarkably lifelike bronze horses sculptured by Baron Klodt. The horses are headed to the west—toward Germany. “So long as the Narva horses run to the west against the enemy,” the Leningraders used to say, “so long will our city hold.”

Leningrad is a historic city and its historic monuments have suffered with

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its people. I walked in silent wonderment through the world famous Winter Palace and The Hermitage, which before the war were treasure houses of the world’s best paintings. The paintings are gone now, hidden away in Siberia, perhaps, and the wonderful walls with their breathlessly ornate ceilings, their intricately lacy candelabra, resounded dully and mournfully to the steps of the foreign visitors, and the empty frames gazed as if in amazement and reproach in recollection of the indignities imposed on these temples of art. For even these glorious structures have not escaped the Germans. They too have been “military objectives.” Scores of shells had struck them and the damage was estimated at one billion rubles. The Russians intend to collect this bill to the last penny.

Such was the damage done to the city, its palaces and its homes. All of it can be calculated in money and collected. But can one calculate the damage done to the people?

For 30 months-—915 nights and 915 days—no Leningrader-knew how long he was going to live. For the air raids there were sirens, anti-aircraft guns and

to stay behind. By the summer of 1942 the city had become a fortress.

“Had this not been done,” said Peter Popkov, secretary of the Leningrad Soviet, “the city could not have held out. Everyone remaining was sworn to fight to his last breath.”

The test was not long in coming and on Aug. 27, 1941, the city was isolated by the German thrust across Zaihvart at MGA.

As Popkov talked it became possible to visualize the travail of the city under fire. “Life was uncertain,” he said, “but that could be faced. Then in November, 1941, the fuel supply gave out. We had barely enough to give to the kindergartens and hospitals. Then our main power station fell into the hands of the Germans and the city’s light supply was cut off. People sat in the cold and in the darkness. Then the food supply dwindled to the point where workers were only getting 250 grams of black bread with 30% oats per day. There was nothing else to eat. People hungered but there was no whimpering.

“Then in January the water system froze and most of the mains burst. People had to walk blocks to get water

Put Victory First: Buy


fighter planes. One could get out of harm’s way. But against shelling there was no defense whatever. More people died in light shelling than in heavy, because in a severe bombardment the citizens took warning and got off the streets. Nevertheless there were 32,000 casualties, more than 5,000 of them fatal, due to shelling alone. Once a shell struck a crowded streetcar, killing nearly everyone in it. A bomb struck a hospital and scores were burned to death. There were remarkable incidents, still talked about by the people. There was the time a streetcar suddenly began to gather speed and raced past intersections without slowing down. It sped down the track, grazing trucks and traffic until it reached the end of the line where it stopped. The motorman had been killed by a shell splinter passing through his heart, but he brought the streetcar home, his body leaning over the control handle keeping the power on.

One And Indivisible

Why did Leningrad hold out? That was the question 1 asked myself time and time again during my stay. The answer must be sought in the people. The people and the front were one and indivisible and General Alexander Gvozdkov told us that this was the secret of the German defeat. “The closer the contact between the front and the rear,” he said, “the more stable is the defense and the easier the victory.”

From the very beginning everything possible was done to integrate the Leningraders into one single defense scheme. Before the war Leningrad had approximately 3,200,000 people. When it became clear that the Germans were about to break through, a large percentage of the population was evacuated. All the old people, nearly all the children and most of the women were sent away. Only those essential to the Army and industry were allowed

out of the few mains still operating. At this time all transport had stopped and the weakened people had to walk miles to get home or to get to work.”

Perhaps the best example of how life went on is offered by the Kirov Metal Works, formerly known as the Putilov plant, one of the oldest factories in Russia. At the beginning of the war more than 35,000 workers were employed by the Kirov plant in the production of guns, tanks and ammunition. When the city was threatened several thousand workers were evacuated, despite their protests, to the Urals, where they became the nucleus of Russia’s greatest munitions plant. The remainder continued to work for the Leningrad front, which was only two miles away. Yet the plant continued production without a single day’s letup. Five thousand shells struck the factory. Most of the buildings were wrecked and more than 1,100 men and women were wounded. During working hours more than 130 were killed. Yet the work continued.

One night an urgent order was being finished for the front. Artillery was shelling the city and suddenly the factory lights went out.

“Well, I guess that finishes our work for tonight,” someone said.

“No!” shouted a chorus of voices, “this order is needed at the front. We will continue.” Kerosene lamps were found and the order was finished on time.

Food Shortage

In December, 1941, and January, 1942, there was so little food in the city that the factory management organized feeding in the shops. To preserve the milk supply cows were placed in air raid shelters. No one was permitted to go home because it was feared their weakened condition would prevent them from returning. The trade unions organized special sanitary details and sleighs were sent out to pick

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up workers who had left the building but were incapable of returning. Many times workers gave up their soup to those who were even less able to stand the hunger. The siege created a new comradeship and people watched over one another like anxious relatives. Selfabnegation became the rule.

Anya Kontzova, a pretty girl of 20, lived in one room with Olay Balagayeva, Nina Kozadoy and Anne Veselova. The girls worked long hard hours at the plant and when they came home they were dead tired and sad. Hunger and hardships were breaking their morale. Anya noticed this earlier than the others. She, herself, was not any too happy but she knew that sorrow would not help.

One night when the other three were already in bed, completely exhausted, Anya said, “Girls, Olay’s mother is dying of starvation. She is all swollen from hunger.” The girls raised their eyes to Anya and she read the silent accusation—“Don’t you realize that we too are starving to death?” But Anya kept on. “If,” she continued, “we could take just a few spoonfuls of soup from our four plates we could save the woman. We are younger. We’ll live through this somehow.” The next day a glass jar appeared at the table where the girls ate and a few spoonfuls were taken from each plate. Olay’s mother lived.

Put Victory First: Buy


But such cases were common. During my visit to the Kirov plant, Nikolai Puzirev, the director, told of another instance. He described a wet autumn day with a drizzling cold wind penetrating the broken windows of the factory. The shelling was constant and grated on the nerves. Suddenly shells began bursting in the factory. More than 100 shells hit the plant. One shell landed in a vital department, killing three girls and wounding nine.

“I thought the day’s production was done for,” Puzirev said. “For what else could one think in those hard days. Death was everywhere. But when I made my way into the department I saw the friends of the dead girls holding a meeting. They were deciding to avenge their comrades’ death by working harder. For the rest of the day production in that department increased by 150% !”

I met one of these girls, Tonya Muzinik, 20, good-looking and intelligent. She looked quite like a Canadian girl in her overalls, with her face slightly smudged and her black hair tucked into a colorful bandana. She hadn’t quite finished school when the war began. Her father was a worker in the plant and suggested that she help out. She did. During the shelling her father and brother were killed. She told me it was up to her to keep the workers’ honor of the family.

I asked her what she would like to be after the war. “An engineer,” she replied without hesitation. “That’s what my father would have liked.”

She would talk little about herself but the director told me she was a crack machine gunner in the workers’ defense detachment and one of the best workers in the whole factory.

Defense was the watchword of the city until the very day of liberation. The people remembered and raised to a new high the slogan of Madrid, “They shall not pass.” Everyone was in some defense group. Detachments were formed in factories, offices and schools. Even housewives acted as fire wardens. The people dug 400 miles of antitank ditches and built 450 miles of barriers.

Musicians Too

Even the musicians of the Leningrad symphony orchestra were drawn into this defensive pattern. Karl Eliasberg, conductor of the orchestra, told us how the whole orchestra had been divided into air raid precaution units, subdivided into sanitary, fire and police squads. At the beginning of the siege two thirds of the orchestra had been released for building barricades. The musicians spent 20 days on this job. Before the siege had been lifted a number of the musicians died of starvation.

Music like the theatre is considered essential. During the whole siege theatres and music auditoriums remained open, and it is characteristic of Leningrad that even before the siege had been lifted workers were already repairing the Marinsnky Opera and the Ballet Theatre. Repairs will be finished this summer and in October the Leningrad opera company will begin

the season with a performance of Glinka’s “Ivan Susanin.”

“Our people have earned the right to hear opera, don’t you think so?” Popkov asked.

No time is being lost in the reconstruction of the city. Thousands of workers, mostly women, are beginning the hard job of clearing Leningrad of rubbish. Even while we were in the city the women, happy and smjling, were removing the barricades—grim reminders of the siege that had been driven back. The city intends to benefit from misfortune by beautifying its streets. Leningrad will be enlarged to 1,500 square kilometres but the population will remain at approximately the pre-war level of 3,200,000. In the older wards approximately 80% of the available space has been taken up by residences. In the rebuilt sections and in the new suburbs this percentage will be reduced to less than 30%.

In the old sections before the w'ar there were 2,500 residents per acre. In the new there will be only 600. Parkways laid out in the heavily damaged areas along the Neva River will stretch for four miles, covering more than 1,000 acres. In front of the Smolny Institute a vast square on the order of the Red Square in Moscow has been laid out.

The pride of the Leningraders in their city is amazing. There is no doubt that a people who could live through such a siege, hold back a ruthless enemy and finally beat him, will have little difficulty rebuilding their city. They intend to make it one of the most beautiful cities of the world. Meanwhile Leningrad stands as a monument to courage and love for motherland.