Adolph Hitler had his megalomaniacal belief in Aryan superiority to rationalize his disregard of human life. He relegated his soldiers to cannon fodder for his ambitions and designated for death the people he labeled undesirables. Joseph Stalin also saw his own people as expendable and director/writer illustrates his documentary, ‘The Siege of Leningrad.”
This 50-minute documentary reveals how desperate the war on the Russian front was. The siege began on 8 September 1941 and ended on 27 January 1944. That was almost 900 days of misery in which the Nazi army had surrounded the city and cut off its supplies of food and fuel.
Hitler’s plan was to first occupy Leningrad (now reverting back to the pre-communist name of St. Petersburg) and then march on to Moscow. The significance of the city was in its very name. The city was named after Peter the Great who moved the capital of Russia from Moscow to the city that now bore his name. St. Petersburg became Petrograd (Peter’s City) in 1914, just before World War I began. The capital was moved to Moscow in 1918. Five days after Vladimir Lenin’s death in 1924, Petrograd became Leningrad.
With Lenin dead, Joseph Stalin rises and by World War II, he is the leader that joins with the United Kingdom and the United States against Germany, although not immediately (See my review of “The World Wars”). If the allied nations had troubles playing nice during World War I, during World War II, things were even worse. Stalin didn’t play nice with his own.
Director/writer Michael Kloft demonstrates just how callous a leader Stalin was. Race or ethnicity wasn’t an issue in Stalin’s decisions. Using interviews with historians, eyewitness accounts, letters and diaries and files from the Soviet secret police, Kloft shows how the inhabitants survived though their humanity was challenged and how Stalin could have prevented this long period of despair. Starvation changed people. Weakness was exploited. A horse was butchered while still weakly alive. Some turned to cannibalism.
The price of resistance was high and yet we know that surrender was not likely to have been met with kindness.
“The Siege of Leningrad” illuminates another facet of World War II as well as the kind of person Joseph Stalin was. There’s some indication as portrayed in the British fictional TV series “Foyle’s War,” that the other Allies were well aware of Stalins savagery and his cold calculating ways.
“The Siege of Leningrad” is available from First Run Features. In color and black and white, English and German with English subtitles.