Activities on “The Siege of Leningrad”

Enduring hell: Leningrad residents scramble to safety after a German bombing raid. Bombers and artillery shattered the city during the 872-day siege

Operation Barbarossa

Operation Barbarossa was a German tactical plan to gain control of the European region of the Soviet Union.  Conquering the Ukraine was essential to the operation, since this region was considered to be part of the “Bread basket” of the Soviet Union.  Operation Barbarossa was one of the biggest theaters of any war in recorded history.  It also saw some of the most brutal battles, and resulted in enormous loss of life, on all sides.  Research Operation Barbarossa and report on Hitler’s theory of the operation and plan for success.  Map out the territory included in the operation: Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Western Russia.

Thinking like Lieutenant-General Popov and A.A. Zhdanov

Lieutenant-General Popov was in control of Leningrad during the siege.  A.A. Zhdanov was head of the local Soviet Party Committee and along with Popov was responsible for the everyday functional operation of the city and the welfare of the people.  Under orders of Hitler, the Germans were told to surround the city, bomb it continually by air, and shell it by ground, but not to “storm” it.  Hitler was convinced that the population would surrender, or starve to death. 

Initially the city had a small supply of food to last for what seemed to be about one month.  There were a few ways to leave the city, but of course these were dangerous.  Nonetheless, even though tens of thousands died during the siege, the people of Leningrad never surrendered.  How did they do it?  If you were in charge, as were Popov and Zhdanov, what would you do?  There is the daily operation of any city to consider: food distribution, providing communication, medical, human and cultural services, utilities, road services, burying the dead, etc.  In a statement to the people of Leningrad, this is what Zhdanov told them:

The moment has come to put your Bolshevik qualities to work, to get ready to defend Leningrad without wasting words. We have to see that nobody is just an onlooker, and carry out in the least possible time the same kind of mobilization of the workers that was done in 1918 and 1919. The enemy is at the gate. It is a question of life and death.

Create a plan for how you would lead a city under siege.  What would be your priorities?  How would you set up a communications system?  How would you see to the mental welfare of the population?  How would you plan for an unknown period of isolationism?  How would you see to it that hospitals, radio stations, social welfare institutions, even museums stayed open?  How would you safeguard the valuables of the city?  Lay out your plan.  Afterwards, read to see how Popov and Zhdanov forged their plan. 

Human toll: More than a million Red Army soldiers died defending Leningrad, and a similar number of civilians
lost their lives in the siege and evacuation of the city

The Road of Life

Outside the city of Leningrad is Lake Lagoda.  The lake was seen as a possible lifeline to get transport in and out of the city.  However, there was no road beyond the lake on which to move transport.  The closest place to get food was Tikhvin, a town 200 km northeast of Leningrad, but one that was under German control.  Thousands of people volunteered to build the road, hoping beyond hope that somehow Tikhvin would be recaptured by the Soviets.  The task, a crude track of a road, was completed in less than a month.  Because of weather, and the condition of the road itself, most trucks could only travel about 30 km a day.  Investigate the “The Road of Life” and report on some of the things that happened: including the Russian campaign to capture Tikhvin, the assault on the Germans, the repair of the railroads after the Soviets took Tikhvin, and the use of Lake Lagoda to get food and supplies into Leningrad.

“You Call This a Reward?”

After the Soviets were able to recapture Leningrad, Stalin ordered that Popov and Zhdanov were to be arrested.  The charge was that they did not communicate with Moscow frequently enough to request support or seek guidance.  They were sent to the “gulag.”  Investigate the purpose of these prisons; report on others who were forced to spend time there.  Include Soviet writers such as Isaac Babel and Boris Pilnyak in your report.

The City under Siege, but the Arts Flourished

Fortress on Night by Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva

The picture above is the work of Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva.  Ostroumova-Lebedeva is one of the greatest of Russia’s painters and printmakers.  She studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, worked in Paris, and for two years with James A. McNeill Whistler in the United States.  Her series of woodcuts of St. Petersburg, helped to bring about a revival of the art form.  She lived and worked in Leningrad throughout the siege.  Investigate her work.  Prepare a presentation of her paintings and woodcuts along with the poetry offered in this volume.   

A Symbol of Resistance

On September 17, 1941, the outstanding Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich spoke these words to a Leningrad Radio audience: 

An hour ago I finished the score of two movements of a large symphonic composition.  If I succeed in carrying it off, if I manage to complete the third and fourth movements, then perhaps I’ll be able to call it my Seventh Symphony.  Why am I telling you this?  So that the radio listeners who are listening to me now will know that life in our city is proceeding normally.

Shostakovich was able to finish the symphony and call it Symphony No. 7 in C Major “Leningrad,” Opus 60.  The first movement, titled, “invasion,” has been interpreted by some as an anti-Stalinist piece during and following the war.  Listen to the symphony.  See how Shostakovich’s work has inspired others by viewing several productions on “youtube,”

The Siege is still on the Minds of Artists and Performers

Billy Joel is one of several artists who have taken the “Siege of Leningrad” as inspiration.  Locate any of these works and research the stories behind each piece.