*Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II*, by Anna Reid

by on September 1, 2011 at 7:30 am in Books, History | Permalink

The point at which an entire family was doomed was when its last mobile member became too weak to queue for rations.  Heads of households — usually mothers — were thus faced with a heartbreaking dilemma: whether to eat more food themselves, so as to stay on their feet, or whether to give more to the family’s sickest member — usually a grandparent or child — and risk the lives of all.  That many or most prioritised their children is indicated by the large numbers of orphans they left behind.  The lucky ones were put into children’s homes; the unlucky had their cards stolen by neighbours, took to thieving on the streets or simply died alone.


The Russian language makes the morally vital distinction between trupoyedstvo — ‘corpse-eating’ — and lyudoyedstvo — ‘person-eating’, or murder for cannibalism.

This is an excellent book, you can order it here.  You can find reviews here.

1 Andrew' September 1, 2011 at 8:01 am

Storing food is, like, so weird and stuff.

2 Boris September 1, 2011 at 9:43 am

Storing food where an for how long? I don’t understand what this has to do with the situation described in the book!

3 Pete September 1, 2011 at 10:27 am

And the Eichmann award for victim-blaming goes to…

4 Andrew' September 1, 2011 at 10:39 am

I don’t understand how the situation described in the book has to do with anything other than the situation described in the book.

“victim-blaming” Nope.

5 Jim September 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Victim-blaming, yes. The situation described in the book was a seige of over 900 days – that’s nearly three years. Just how do you propose anyone store that much food? Even the Mormons don’t store three years’ worth.So, yeah. That’s victim-blaming.

6 Attorney at Flaw September 2, 2011 at 5:40 pm


7 unblinkered September 3, 2011 at 2:25 am

And still a joke seems appropriate to you!!

8 Speedmaster September 1, 2011 at 8:13 am

Just added to the queue, thanks. Have you read ‘Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege by Antony Beevor?’ Read it and left my review here ( http://bit.ly/oBSqU5 ), fantastic if unsettling book.

9 Paola @ Pro Edge CCTV September 1, 2011 at 9:10 am

Such an epic!

10 Robert Speirs September 1, 2011 at 9:26 am

That “kill the Tsar, power to the people!” thing worked out great for Russia, didn’t it?

11 Boris September 1, 2011 at 9:42 am

While I somewhat agree with the sentiment, it seems like a non sequitur in this case. Leningrad during the siege had supply problems because it was almost completely encircled by an enemy army, not because of the usual Communist system inefficiencies.

12 Tracy W September 1, 2011 at 10:41 am

On the other hand, Stalin apparently presided over the worst loss of territory ever at the start of the Nazi invasion of Russia. And as country leaders go, I’d say he bore a lot more responsibility for it than most leaders, since he’d spent the 1930s purging the Red Army’s officer corps, had failed to plan for civilian protection in the event of an invasion, and on the eve of it hampered the Red Army even further by writing self-contradictory orders (from memory they ran along the lines of “defend Russia, but don’t do anything that might be interpreted as provoking the Nazis” – how do you operationalise that?)
And on a more general basis, I’d say that any leader who has spent a large amount of time eliminating people who deviate in the slightest from the party line bears a lot more responsibility for subsequent stuff-ups than leaders who allow more dissent.

13 Zephyrus September 1, 2011 at 9:42 am

Not that the Bolsheviks made particularly, err, consumer friendly economic policies… but do you think maybe the city being encircled by Nazis trying to liquidate the population might have had something to do with it? Just a little?

14 Jim September 1, 2011 at 10:30 am

Leningrad was indeed starved to death by Nazis.

But millions of other Russians were also starved to death by Stalin himself in his Grand Bargain to collectivize the farmers.

15 23Skidoo September 1, 2011 at 10:41 am

…and how exactly does this relate to the topic at hand?

16 j r September 1, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Neither the Russian Revolution nor the killing of the Tsar had much to do with the people. It was basically a series of power grabs, first by the provisional government and then by the Bolsheviks.

17 dearieme September 1, 2011 at 9:34 am

Our last Labour government in Britain was happy to appoint “Tsars” to look after us all, but appointed no Commissars. When even socialists recognise a truth……

18 David Ellis September 1, 2011 at 10:37 am

The English language also distinguishes between Corpse-Eating (“Corpse-Eating”) and Murder for Cannibalism (“Murder For Cannibalism”).

English can go even further (“Second-Degree Murder for Cannibalism”, “Manslaughter For Cannibalism”)

I’ve always hated those offhand other-languages-are-implied-as-somehow-superior remarks.

19 23Skidoo September 1, 2011 at 11:10 am

English also has the word ‘necrophage’.

20 anonymous September 1, 2011 at 12:45 pm

You’re missing the point.

There is always a way to express anything in any language. But when a society invents a single word for something that requires a roundabout phrase in other societies, that may give you some insight about its culture or the history it has lived through.

English is a creative and dynamic language, and under similar circumstances we too would invent a fascinating new post-apocalyptic vocabulary.

21 widmerpool September 2, 2011 at 4:13 am

In this case it only gives you insight into Russian morphology. Trying to imply something else is simply wrong.

22 unblinkered September 3, 2011 at 2:29 am

outside of Donners pass, there has been little need for such a word in the English language is the point…

23 Jonathan September 1, 2011 at 11:08 am

David Benioff’s City of Thieves covers the same issues fictionally, for those whose tastes run to fiction. I thought I’d seen that reviewed here in the past, but search suggests I’m wrong. Plenty of both trupoyedstvo and some fairly scary lyudoyedstvo as well.

24 Scoop September 1, 2011 at 11:20 am

I’m not particularly sentimental, but this all sounds too sad even for me. I’d be curious to hear Tyler’s rationale for why we should read something so tragic, given that there’s no lesson in it for avoiding future tragedy (except to avoid being in a city that’s under a protracted siege). It helps explain the Russian psyche?

25 mb September 1, 2011 at 11:45 am

Human psyche, perhaps.

26 Tangurena September 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Well, “how do we satisfy unlimited wants with limited resources?” is the fundamental question of economics. The book describes the “who gets to eat the food” dilemma and this is a far sharper economic decision than what we are faced with every day. Even if you turn it up to 11.

27 Anon September 1, 2011 at 11:55 am

I am fascinated by Russian history and particularly this period. With my Amazon Prime membership, this book may be on my doorstep by this afternoon, tomorrow at the latest. I would love to know how it compares to “The 900 Days” by Salisbury, also an outstanding and very detailed account of the siege.

As always, thanks to Tyler and the blog’s mostly high quality comment threads for stocking my bookshelves.

28 NeedleFactory September 1, 2011 at 12:33 pm

And I’d like to know, how does it compare with Michael Jones’ “Leningrad — State of Siege”, with similar heart-rending stories.

29 Slugger September 1, 2011 at 1:33 pm

I have read the Beevor book and the Salisbury, too. I loved City of Thieves; it would make a fun movie.
I will probably get this book ( which will make my Amazon profile look very St. Petersburgie ). Scoop, I find this story a true saga of human courage and ultimately inspiring. My total respect and admirations to the citizens of Leningrad; the right to wear the medal of a Defender of Leningrad is one of the greatest honors on this earth.
What are we doing to make sure that our leaders prevent the necessity of such events?

30 Safety First September 15, 2011 at 10:02 pm

City of Thieves deserves the Pulitzer.

31 ElamBend September 1, 2011 at 6:36 pm

After reading Bloodlands last year last year, I need a little more time before I can delve into something like this. Strangely enough, while reading Bloodlands, I felt strangely euphoric; nothing makes your problems seem small than reading about such desperate times. What a terrible, terrible place to live and for so many decades; I’m in awe of the survivors.

32 Andy September 2, 2011 at 2:26 am

My grandmother was living in Leningrad at the time of the siege. Her stories of what it was like are unforgettable. I’ll have to check out this book.

33 Claudia September 2, 2011 at 5:47 am

I found this post sad, but uplifting. Given other comments, I am concerned that either my day job is still stressing me out too much or my studies of German and Russian language and culture have permanently lowered my baseline affect (or both). It does look like an interesting book…and yes reading this blog is adding to my iPad’s Kindle app and my bookshelf. I suppose there are worse ways to help support consumer spending.

34 Nikki September 3, 2011 at 5:02 pm

In reality the word trupoyedstvo is only ever used in vegetarian propaganda. There’s no moral distinction, which is exactly the point: meat-eating is replaced with corpse-eating to suggest that it’s no better than person-eating. Nor does lyudoyedstvo imply murder: it means eating human flesh regardless of how it was obtained.

One notable exception is a 2009 newspaper article titled “The Pentagon finances corpse-eating” (http://svpressa.ru/t/11400/?odkl=1) about the Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot, or EATR, described there as a crazy U.S. invention engendered by the financial crisis, a machine designed to feed on the bodies of the dead military on the battle field.

@ pro-food-storage commenters: if you had aviation and firebombs and were trying to destroy the population of a city you’ve encircled, would you just sit there and wait for the people to run out of food the natural way? Unfortunately the Nazis didn’t. So, if your city is under siege and your friendly neighborhood Walmart has been burnt to the ground, what’s you next step to survive 900 days?

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