Life in Leningrad
|"Leningradians cleaning a street after the first winter in the besieged city" (RIA Novosti/Vsevolod Tarasevich - source)|
(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports)
January 22, 1943
No one knows what Leningrad is suffering tonight. It is not likely that the German command is letting Russia's greatest seaport city sleep while the Red Army continues its dirty job of throwing German soldiers out of pillbox after pillbox. (The defenders and workers of Leningrad have been shelled and bombed so often that they probably are getting their night's sleep anyway. That is, those workers who are not spotting planes or fire-watching or working in the basement shelters or doing the million other things that must be done if a city under siege is to survive.)
(The Red Army's break through the southeastern arc of the German defenses has signaled only that Leningrad has been broken. The battle of Leningrad now begins.)
Tonight I talked to a Leningrad high school teacher. His name is Oleg Constantinov and he teaches economic geography. He and his wife and two children lived through the hunger and cold of Leningrad's terrible winter last year. He doesn't like to talk about it.
(Mr. Constantinov has kept in close touch with Leningrad ever since the government last spring ordered him to accompany his classes when they were evacuated from the city.)
He said that the outskirts of the city—located only a few miles from the German lines—have been bombed and shelled flat. (These suburbs were mostly the homes of factory workers—brand new developments were the pride of the government's re-housing plan. The center of Leningrad, he said, is not so badly damaged—although the German bombers did not spare the business district.)
(At first the German bombers and their long-range guns tried to do to Leningrad what they did to Coventry. After many months of dropping and firing tons of explosive into the city, the process got too expensive. The Germans weren't getting anywhere anyway.)
(During this time everyone got the same rations. One hundred and twenty-five grams of bread—which is about two slices—was the universal ration most of last winter. People got slimmer and thinner. All persons within the city have to work a certain number of hours each day. These hours were registered on each individual ration card. If the work wasn't done, then it was "no work—no eat.")
Mr. Constantinov said his high school students did everything from airplane spotting to digging tank traps and building defenses. Even his two children, the oldest of whom is seven, pitched in and did the dishes, while Mrs. Constantinov did her work for the city by shoveling snow off the sidewalks. He said the children's experience in Leningrad has truly given them a war psychology.
"It was share and share alike in Leningrad," the school teacher explained. "Now when we serve dinner, the children examine all the plates very carefully. If one of us gets a larger portion of food than the other, they take pains to point it out."
"Also the children are still nervous about bombings. The youngest is still afraid to be in a room alone—but they will outgrow that."
Mr. Constantinov said that all during these hardships there was not a person who did not believe that Leningrad would be rescued—even during the worst periods of starvation and cold and when everything seemed hopeless.
I asked him why this was so. He turned and looked at me with surprise. Then he paused and thought about it for awhile. Finally he answered: "Why, everyone knows that Leningrad simply can not be taken." And that's the reason Leningrad held out.