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A City Under Nazi Siege: Leningrad and Cannibalism, 1941

Updated on August 27, 2011

During WW2, in 1941, the German army had fairly quickly reached the outskirts of Russia's urban area, Leningrad. The rapid collapse of the Russian armies that tried to slow their advance down had only bought time for those in the rear. The Germans were vastly superior to the Russians in 1941 in just about all categories. At the time, America was not even in the war.

Of course, the German generals knew that fighting and defeating the Russians in the field was far different than conducting house to house fighting for an urban area like Leningrad, so the German juggernaut began to slow as it crept closer and closer to it in September. The Russian authorities in the city had take truly some Draconian measures to ensure Leningrad would not fall to the Germans at the expense of its millions of inhabitants. But, the failure of the Germans in taking the city is misleading. Much of the reasons for the city to lay under German siege for over two years is Hitler. At first, he insisted on taking, then, he changed his mind and changed army directives hoping authorities would surrender. Then, there was the issue of long supply lines and keeping German troops on the front lines clothed and fed. Hitler no longer sought to take the city as bad as say, Stalingrad, a year later. Had the Germans really wanted it, it could have been theirs. Russian troops and rearguards holding the line around the city were ragtag in comparison. The city officials did many odd things as the Germans edged closer:

  • All inhabitants had to hand in any city maps, radios, guidebooks
  • All street signs were removed
  • All private phone service cutoff
  • 50,000 civilians were sent to the front to dig huge trenches
  • All children were evacuated to east Russia
  • Much of the city's water and electricity was cutoff
  • Food was stockpiled in warehouses and troops on the frontlines got food first before civilians
  • Because of food issues, over 750,000 starved
  • Thousands were jailed or deported who had foreign connections or knew a foreign language

What is even more horrible is the ordeal of those who survived on:

  • cotton seed cakes
  • sheep guts
  • calf skins
  • fermented birch sawdust turned into yeast extract and made soup
  • chewed leather from boiled boots
  • eat rats

And when one did die, their body was left to rot or be eaten-not by dogs-by humans. It truly was a Day of the Dead. Bodies would be dug up from their graves and eaten. Hospital staff took home amputated limbs for dinner. Unsuspected persons would be lured somewhere (no doubt fat and plump) murdered and eaten. The police still attempted to maintain law and order making over 2000 arrests for cannibalism, which is much lower than reality.

Leningrad was no longer under siege in late 1942, those who had survived no doubt had tales of horror to keep secret.


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    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      I do not think that city authorities did odd things. As far as i can see it was all done to protect a city which was the second city after Moscow in the USSR. No food was stored somewhere. It was just eaten. The city was locked by german troops from all sides and there was no any food supply at all. Only in winter when the frost frozen the LAdoga lake there was a "road of life" over the ice. Hundreds of lorries delivered food to a city.

    • CHRIS57 profile image

      CHRIS57 6 years ago from Northern Germany

      Gus, there may be some evidence that people did not live long who survived the Siege of Stalingrad. For the Siege of Leningrad i can not confirm any immediate influence on participants.

      It is pure coincidence that i had 2 participants in my personal surrounding. My wife´s Russian grandaunt died at the age of 84 in 2001. I am German and the husband of my aunt served on the German side as artillery officer near Pushkin. He died at the age of 85 in 2005.

      However starvation and the lack of nutrition in infant age certainly lead to overweight, heart disease and high cholesterol after growing up.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 6 years ago from USA

      Howdy perrya - Thank you for this article.Few people who did not live and breathe during the WW2 years would understand how things were back then.

      I read an account of the Siege of Stalingrad in which it was noted that those who survived (on either side of the battles) very rarely lived beyond the age of 50 years or thereabouts. This was said to be due to the lingering depression and resulting illnesses, mostly heart disease, that came from their involvement.

      Gus :-)))

    • perrya profile image

      perrya 6 years ago

      All about survival.......

    • twilightnera profile image

      twilightnera 6 years ago

      The list of horror stories from the holocaust never stop surprising me. The fact that humans could do that to each other is gut wrenching.

    • CHRIS57 profile image

      CHRIS57 6 years ago from Northern Germany

      The family of my wife came from Leningrad. My wife´s grandaunt was one of the last evacuated from Leningrad, being pregnant in late 1941.

      Her stories comfirm your points on the ordeal of the people. 70% of the furniture was used for survival means. While most wood was used for heating, some sawdust was turned into soups and food.

      However the most tragic adaption to survival happened in the mind of the people. It was the gradual loss of emotion and passion. Close friends and neighbours could die in streets, there was no sentiment. Afterwards the reflection on this lack of passion was what troubled most.

      Thanks for your hub, it gives attention to one tragic moment in recent history.

    • ThoughtSandwiches profile image

      ThoughtSandwiches 6 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      I think that Operation Barbarossa was fatally flawed from the outset based on Hitler's dual goals.

      The political targets associated with the capture of Leningrad/Moscow versus taking the "economic" prize of Southern Russia--The Ukraine?

      Hitler's last minute decision to divert (part) of Army Group Center to the encirclement of Kiev...invariable, additionally, took resources from Army Group North's drive through the Baltic states and Leningrad. Nice work...Voted Up, useful, and interesting.