Web writes: "While in military intelligence in Europe during the Cold War I was privileged
to talk to survivors of WWII about their experiences during the war. This tale
of the longest war time siege in history is one of them."
If we could clear out extreme fatigue, we would be giddy.
Perhaps we were
giddy, anyway I can’t say exhilarated. Because we were too tired and
emaciated. We all were but human skeletons with gaunt faces and what soldiers
called a 500-yard stare.
Myself—Andrei Ilych Tomarov—and all my neighbors and friends were relieved by the news. But what now?
Early—say, around Sept. 8, 1941, when the blockade started— we had had other hopes.
We had hoped that the Germans who were to lay siege to Leningrad (St. Petersburg) over the next 900 days would liberate the city with minimal damage and little harm to civilians who lived there.
This partly was for religious reasons. Leningrad was a very Russian city, but in the 1917 revolution and the civil war that followed, the Bolsheviks took over the whole country, and converted Russia to being God-less Soviet Union We—a small core of us— wanted Leningrad to return to being St. Petersburg and the Soviet Union return to being Imperial (Holy) Russia. But it was apparent to us from the beginning that the Soviets would never allow this to happen.
Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. At first we were outraged. How dare those Huns invade Holy Russia?
However, after a few days of giving it some thought we—our small group of believers who had been meeting secretly for weekly devotions for several years— began to analyze the situation differently.
Germany after all had been a Christian nation, despite its then-latest political foray into national socialism. Perhaps the Nazis would free us from the steel grip the Soviet Union had on us Christians. Perhaps the Germans would let us reopen our monasteries, churches and let us go back to worshiping God in the Orthodox tradition.
It was a gamble. But we supported the defenders of Leningrad that they would continue to be ignored by powers in Moscow. So the desperate Soviet defenders of Leningrad resolved to hold on by their molars, perhaps fight to the last man.
As the Germans tightened their encirclement of Leningrad, they still could not crack through the Soviet defenses.
Daily, Soviet leaders would drive civilians out of the city westward and southward to dig ditches and tank traps, and build parapets and bulwarks against the invaders. Many died in this defensive exercise, but the defending leaders cared little. The only thing on their mind was that the city should not fall to the enemy.
The Germans must have shifted their attention to other sections of the Russian front because they eased artillery barrages and let Leningrad stagnate. The siege began in seriousness on Sept. 8, after German forces cut the lines of communication between Leningrad and the rest of Russia. The Germans, of course, would not let in any food or medical aid. After several attempts, powers in the Kremlin had given up trying to bring relief columns to Leningrad. Moreover, the Germans resolved to starve out the Russian population and force the city’s collapse that way.
On Nov. 8, 1941, German Chancellor Adolph Hitler from Munich said “the civilians of Leningrad must die of starvation.” Germany’s fascist dictator said 14 days later that Germany had no intention of saving the civilian inhabitants of Leningrad.
Some doubts existed that Germany would even accept surrender of Leningrad.
From his remarks it sounded more like genocide or pure agony for all Leningrad residents. It was then we decided that for our own survival maybe it was Mother Russia after all.
Misery. No food. Water became a joke. Illness and starvation swept the neighborhoods. Many were hoping for a miracle. The misery lasted week after week and even through a couple of years. No relief.
Civilians walking the sidewalks were like strolling bony cadavers. Their clothes hung loose and awkward o ntheir bodies. Most folk had little energy. Many who were still alive, appeared close to death.
We handful of Christians had had a couple of deaths in our midst. We began to see how cruel the war was, and realized little goodness or well being would come our way with the Germans.
Finally, one day—on Jan. 27, 1944— excited Soviet soldiers and civilians began circulating news that the Germans were giving up on the siege and were leaving. The Leningrad-Novgorod Strategic Offensive had expelled German forces from Leningrad’s southern suburbs.
By this time, Soviet powers began sending relief. Thousands of Soviet soldiers began arriving.
Nicolai Demerov, our neighborhood commissar, said Soviet forces were arranging a victory parade in a couple of days. He insisted we join it in celebration.
How could we? We were so weak, hardly able to move. Besides, we had no joy. No freedom would come to us. Besides food and medical relief, what would we be celebrating?
So many were ill, officials began to doubt the wisdom of mounting a victory parade. But pride won out. Officials declared that we would try to have a parade anyway. We reluctantly decided to join it.
As we straggled down the street near the assembly point—and a band lined up behind us—we began to stagger along with the beat.
I asked my old comrade and religious mentor, Alexie Dymitryshan, “Why are we marching… for Soviet glories?”
He said, “No.
“Things will get better for us, eventually. We are marching to celebrate freedom from the devil Nazis and for God.”
(© 2013 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)