But just across this church, in the same square stands a hotel,name of which caught my eye-Hotel Astoria.This hotel which has celebrated 100th anniversary in 2012 has withstood the times of Russian imperialism and communism, now going through the time of the modern rebooted Russia. The name is stuck in my mind because this was the venue Hitler selected and even invited guests on a particular day- 9 August 1942- to celebrate occupation of Russian city of Leningrad during WWII, which never happened. Siege of Leningrad is a unique chapter in the world history.Almost for 900 days the ordeal and trauma the people in Leningrad went through is not too well known.The Nazis or their records hardly existed after the war to tell about the cruelty they inflicted on people.The communist regime in Russia also did not want the actual tragic tales of the people encountered during these 900 days known to outside world for their own reasons...
St Issac's Cathedral and hotel Astoria- in one frame
St Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad and back to St Petersburg!
Saint Petersburg,second largest city in Russia was founded in 1703 by Russian Tsar Peter the great but it was so named after Saint Peter, the disciple of Jesus Christ.The name of the city was changed by the imperial Govt to Petrograd in 1914 meaning Peter's city.When Lenin died in 1924 the communist Govt in power took no time to change the name to Leningrad.But once communists went out of picture the city is back to the original name of St Petersburg in 1991.As the change in name denotes, the city underwent different forms of situations. But what the people had to face during the Nazi siege of Leningrad for 900 days is terrible, consequences of which is not much known to the world till the change of guard took place in Kremlin in 1991.
Hitler wanted St Petersburg badly but not the people...
Capture of Leningrad was strategically important for Hitler.Not only it had a port in Baltic Sea but an imperial capital,a burial ground of tsars with all the fantastic artistry-literature,art,music and ballet- which can compete with Vienna or Berlin.A non aggression pact signed between Stalin and Hitler did not stop him to attack Soviet Union.On 22 June 1941 by an unexpected but massive operation code named 'operation Barbarossa' Germany ruthlessly attacked USSR.Red army was not a match for Hitler's professional war machines.In less than 14 weeks by 8 September Hitler's forces reached the outskirts of the city of Leningrad.'Great patriotic war' of USSR commences here!
Hitler could have thrust his forces further to take control of the city without much difficulty.But He did not.Instead he made sure that German forces encircled the city from all sides and cut off food and oil lines with the rest of the country.Leningrad became totally helpless and isolated.The reason is unbelievable but true.He did not want to take responsibility to feed the 3 million people of Leningrad.Instead he asked his commanders to keep the vigil to keep the supply lines shut but wait.He expected that within few weeks the people will perish due to hunger and disease!To quote him the city would "drop like a leaf"soon.His idea was to bull doze the great city to rubble once the people are dead!!
The communist leaders and the people caught within Leningrad tried their best to survive with little food left, while Red army from out side made many futile attempts for a counter offensive or to make a way for supply chains.However the siege had to be continued contrary to the quick results expected by Hitler. The severe winter of 1941-42 was more favoring the Russians than Germans.Hitler set a targeted date of 9 August 1942 to celebrate fall of Leningrad. That's how Hotel Astoria- which had a long list of patrons including Rasputin to Lenin, comes into picture.Guests list was made and invitations sent.
Civilians in the city of Leningrad had to face extreme starvation due to the blockade.People were forced to live on 2 slices of bread a day by ration! When that too was difficult saw dust was added to 50% flour while making bread!Scarcity of all basics prevailed.People died in thousands- young and old alike.Mass graves were dug to dispose off the bodies.Stray cases of forced cannibalism took place.Making murder to steal ration card was not uncommon.Parents never let children go out of home after dark!World came to know about this only after Communists went out of power!
But in spite of all these, people kept on their struggle to hold, which was unexpected by Hitler.His proposed day of celebration at Hotel Astoria did not materialize.
Attempts of Red army to find a way to Leningrad was finally fruitful in January 1943.Russia could create a land corridor and started supply of food and other essentials in spite of bombardment by the Nazi air planes.Soon 900 days of ordeal and trauma of the people, this world has hardly seen was over.By the time siege was lifted officially in January 1944, about 1 million civilians- about one third of the population- had perished while another 300,000 Russian soldiers died!!
Flower of Life
A wreath for Tanya..
Tanya Savicheva was a Russian child diarist.She was 11 years old when the blockade started. She used to record successive deaths of each member of her family due to hunger and disease during the siege of Leningrad.Finally she was left alone in the family when she wrote 'Everyone is dead, only Tanya is left' in her diary.She was rescued by the red army after the siege.But tragedy came in another form to her since she too died of internal tuberculosis at her age of 14,as her internal organs had already been affected due to malnutrition!Her diary became very popular in USSR and rest of the world.
A memorial complex called'Flower of life' is made by the authorities later dedicated to the children of the siege at St Petersburg.