Leningrad during the Nazi siege

by on October 5, 2009 at 7:16 am in Books, Food and Drink, History, Law | Permalink

In 2002 secret police records were released.  They reveal that during the siege at least 300 people were executed for cannibalism and over 1,400 imprisoned for it.

That is from Michael Jones's compelling Leningrad: State of Siege.

1 babar October 5, 2009 at 8:11 am

game theory / prisoner’s dilemma. do you eat a person before they eat you, or before they turn you in?

2 Andrew October 5, 2009 at 9:31 am

“We can’t protect you from the marauding mustache, but we can damn sure feed the guy that ate you to the dogs. Go to beatthenazidon’teatyourcomrade.gov”

3 Barkley Rosser October 5, 2009 at 9:41 am

If you have not been to the Pieskorovsky cemetary in what is now St. Petersburg, I would suggest that you avoid making wisecracks about that siege. Americans like to think we “won the war,” when the dead from the siege in that cemetary far outnumber all the American dead on all fronts from that war.

On the day that Hitler invaded the USSR he set up a dinner party that was to happen a month later in the fancy downtown Hotel Astoria in that city, with even the place settings for who would sit where set up. That dinner party was never held, although without question some pretty gruesome other ones were to keep him from having his.

4 Seward October 5, 2009 at 9:46 am

The waste of lives – be they Soviet, Finnish, German, Italian or Romanian – is just beyond depressing.

Interesting OT story: the Soviets drafted persons from all of the Soviet republics to fight against the Germans. This included of course people from the central Asian republics and even from “independent” Mongolia. Some of these people were captured by the Germans and were in turn drafted into the German army. During D-Day Allied forces captured some of these men. Imagine being taken from say Kazakhstan or Mongolia, fighting in say Kiev during the early part of the war, being captured, then being sent to France to man fortifications there and then being captured by a group of Canadians and then (and I don’t know if this actually happened) being sent to a POW camp in North America.

5 Vehical Driver October 5, 2009 at 10:05 am

If you have not been to the Pieskorovsky cemetary in what is now St. Petersburg, I would suggest that you avoid making wisecracks about that siege. Americans like to think we “won the war,” when the dead from the siege in that cemetary far outnumber all the American dead on all fronts from that war.

Of course, the numbers of Soviet citizens killed in that war pale in comparison to the numbers of Soviet citizens killed by their own government. In addition to that, some speculate that the dead from the ‘Great Patriotic War’ was so high because Stalin saw it as an opportunity to get rid of a lot of undesirable people.

As questionable as some of the actions of the U.S. government at the time (internment of the Japanese, segregation, etc.), the U.S. had the benefit of a liberal democracy where mass murder of it’s citizens wasn’t the norm. Therefore, the U.S. didn’t win the war by playing chicken with the Germans to see who could accept the most ghastly loses and complete human misery (the Soviet strategy), the U.S. won the war using their massive industrial output (a product of free-markets and democracy) that allowed them to feed and arm the Soviets (among other allies), and to carry out strategic bombing that destroyed the factories and supply lines that the Germans needed to successfully conquer the USSR.

Americans shouldn’t be ashamed that so few Americans suffered or died in WWII, they should be proud! They should be proud that they had a government that did more than any other to act in the best interests of its own people, and proud they had industrial output that was the “Arsenal of Democracy” (or in the case of the U.S.’s aid to the USSR, perhaps the “Arsenal of Totalitarianism and Mass Murder”).

6 BKorney October 5, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Barkley Rosser continues the bad tradition of writing as if the US should feel guilty for not having had to suffer the Nazis’ full onslaught. Yet the Soviets brought much of it on themselves. The US had no Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, nor do we have to suffer guilt for having aided the Germans (as did the USSR with oil and some supplies) during the Battle of Britain. Indeed, through the late 1930s, I believe the USSR allowed the Germans to clandestinely work on tank tactics on Soviet territory which, it goes without saying, helped make the war itself more likely.

7 Barkley Rosser October 5, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Alexey is right. The numbers become comparable if one counts the famine deaths as being “killed by
their own government,” a case that can be made, but which is not unequivocal and without question.
Depends on who you talk to, with the early 20s famine substantially tied to the civil war and the
early 30s one at least partly a mistake from which the later Central and Eastern European collectivizers
of agriculture managed to avoid (no mass famines associated with their collectivizations). While
especially Ukrainian nationalists charge that the 30s famine deaths were directed at them specifically
(and the case can be made), there is also the issue that it looks like the Soviet central planners
including Stalin really believed that they were going to obtain massive gains in output due to
economies of scale from collectivization, as forecast by Marx. Needless to say, these were not
forthcoming, so I would submit at least some of the disaster was bungling and mistakes.

If you do not include the famine deaths, then, sorry, the WW II deaths at the hands of the Germans
way outnumber the numbers “killed by government,” which were still plenty substantial, of course.

Regarding all this morality, well, the US did not get into the war until after the USSR did, and
we got in for the same reason they did: we were attacked. Otherwise, we were perfectly fine to let
the British and others carry the burden.

And, of course, for those of you unaware of the fact, to this day one can find Russians and post-Soviets
in former republics, especially older ones, who will tell you in no uncertain terms that the US was
very immoral in waiting so long to do D-Day, by which time in their view the Soviets had done the
heavy lifting of having done the main job of defeating Hitler at Stalingrad, still the bloodiest
battle in world history, and then more decisively at Kursk, the largest tank battle in history.
(And, there are some in the US who would agree, ironically being on the more anti-Soviet position,
arguing that if the US had done D-Day earlier, much less of Central and Eastern Europe would have
fallen under Soviet control after the war.)

And, please, do not bore the living daylights out of us by recounting stuff we all know about purge
deaths, Molotov-von Ribbentrop, and so forth. Nobody here is defending Stalin in particular or the
Soviets in general, but in the particulars of how they responded to the German invasion, once it
happened. One should be very careful and one should certainly not get on some high horse about how
virtuous the US was in all this compared to them.

8 Barkley Rosser October 5, 2009 at 3:58 pm


I would agree that the US did “what was right thing for them,” which is not necessarily the more
generally moral thing to do from some higher perspective. Of course, again, those who wanted the
US to get to Berlin before the Soviets did, like General Patton, think it would have been better
for the US to do D-Day somewhat earlier.

9 Seward October 5, 2009 at 4:42 pm


Oh, and Yevgeni Preobrazhensky and not Marx was the inspiration for Stalin’s forced industrialization program. There is a lot of discussion of this in Stephen Cohen’s, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution.

Other helpful sources are Robert Service’s Stalin and (for a general history of the USSR and post-Soviet period) Woodford McCellan’s Russia and the Soviet Period and After.

10 Barkley Rosser October 5, 2009 at 5:55 pm


Please do not confuse the forced industrialization program with collectivization of agriulture.
They did in fact go together in practice, with Preobrazhenski as the main source. However, one
can have forced industrialization without collectivization, and it was from Marx that Preobrazhenski
adopted the optimistic view about the outcome due to economies of scale in agriculture and helped
sell it to the rest of the leadership (particularly Stalin) in 1928.

Woody McClellan is an old friend of mine and I am well acquainted with his work. There are better
books on Stalin than Service’s.

Regarding the 1930s, the really catastrophic aspect was the exporting of grain (aside from the
massacres of the kulaks). This was brought to a halt. Otherwise, the collectivization went on,
but ceased being associated with famine after several years. Exactly what was going on between
Stalin and lower level officials such as Khrushchev remains a very controversial matter, and I
would suggest that anyone who claims to know the definite answer does not know what they are
talking about.

As for the 1920s, of course it was “Soviet policy,” but also such policy in the face of full-scale
invasion from outside the country. When such happens, agriculture often gets messed up in the country
being invaded.

11 David Sucher October 5, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Have you read the whole book?

12 Seward October 6, 2009 at 1:00 pm


Example of forced industrialization without ag collectivization: Poland. There are others.

Check out pages 7-8, 11 in Norman Davies’ Heart of Europe.

Let me quote some relevant text: “Absolute priority was given to heavy industry – especially coal, iron, and steel, and to the arms industry. New towns and new suburbs were thrown together to house the influx of workers from the countryside. In order to assure food supplies, agriculture was turned over to compulsory collectivization. The Peasantry was evicted from their plots, and handed over to the ‘Polish Agricultural Enterprises’ (PGR), which were Russian kolkhozy in all but name.”

Davies a few pages later goes on to argue that the campaign ended in 1956 for the following reason (keeping in mind that the period between 1948-1956 was one of naked and open Stalinism):

“Again, as in the case of their religious policy, the communists felt that time was on their side.”

“There was no point in crushing them by force a la russe, if their position could be gradually eroded by the state’s monopoly hold on farm prices, agricultural machinery, and fertilizer sales, by bureaucratic chicanery over land deeds, and by massive investment in the public sector. As things turned out this policy proved a catastrophe. It persecuted the class that fed the nation.”

He goes on then to noted that repeated food shortages were caused by these policies, this in a land which was otherwise fertile.

So you are wrong; Poland did collectivize its agricultural sector, then stepped back from that after an eight year period which in failure. Let’s discuss these “other” states that had forced industrialization without collectivization of agriculture.

We all know that Lenin introduced a terror state. What has this to do with the dead of the siege of Leningrad, please?

Because the conversation has moved on from that point obviously (as conversations naturally do).

13 Barkley Rosser October 6, 2009 at 7:09 pm


Good point on Poland. They did temporarily collectivize, although it was never fully completed, only partially so,
with a substantial portion always in the hands of the peasantry, although they were subjected to controlled prices
of both inputs and outputs. I would agree that there tends to be a strong relation between the policies.

14 rosetta stone spanish July 30, 2010 at 4:16 am

Huge portions of Polish farmland were and remain in small farms,
especially in the poor southeast. So, in fact, Poland was still a case where forced industrialization occurred, while

15 ugg shoes September 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm

It’s pretty good.

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