“BEYOND HORROR: They ate cats, sawdust, wallpaper paste...Leningrad's agony as the Nazis tried to starve it into submission.
The German siege of Leningrad lasted 900 days from September, 1941 to 27 January, 1944. During that time 800,000 people, nearly a third of the population at the siege’s beginning, starved to death. Roughly one in three. Many of them in the streets.
Few people outside realized what the siege was like. For years afterwards Stalin kept it dark. Deaths were underestimated. Its party leaders were purged. There were to be no other heroes of the war besides himself.
Then, with the collapse of communism, archives began to open with their police records and siege diaries.
The toll of that first winter is staggering. Leningrad was totally unprepared for siege - as Russia was for the German attack. It took only 12 weeks for the German and Finnish armies to cut off the city. In that time the evacuation of civilians and obtaining of food supplies were hugely bungled.
Over a million children and dependants were still in the city when the ring closed. In all there were 3.3 million mouths to feed.
Quite soon the bread ration had to be halved. By mid-November manual workers received 250 grams a day, the rest only half of that. But the bread had been adulterated with pine shavings. So people were existing (or failing to) on 400, even 300 calories.
Pet owners swapped cats in order to avoid eating their own. There wasn’t a dog to be seen.
Rumors of cannibalism abounded. Amputated limbs disappeared from hospital theaters. Police records released years later showed that 2,000 people were arrested for cannibalism; 586 of them were executed for murdering their victims. Most people arrested however were women.
What can one make of it all? First, that Hitler’s order to raze the city to the ground by bombardment proved futile - as did his vision of a conquered Russia as a home for Germans, while the Russians were banished to live like animals in Siberia “-LENINGRAD: TRAGEDY OF A CITY UNDER SIEGE 1941-44 BY ANNA REID (Bloomsbury £25)
Putin, at 66, was born in Leningrad after the war. But his older brother died in childhood during the devastating siege and is buried in a mass grave at Piskaryovskoye. The Russian leader's mother nearly succumbed to hunger during the siege, while his father fought in the war and was wounded near Leningrad.
Photo: Clutching red roses, Putin earlier visited the famed Piskaryovskoye cemetery, where his brother is buried.