Introduction: Leningrad’s Place in the History of Famine

  • John Barber
Part of the Studies in Russian and East European History and Society book series (SREEHS)


During the Second World War Leningrad suffered the greatest demographic catastrophe ever experienced by one city in the history of mankind. Estimates of its scale vary widely and the exact number of dead will never be known; but the data examined in the present volume show that there were at least three-quarters of a million civilian deaths in Leningrad during the siege, with half a million people dying in the winter of 1941-42 alone. When to these are added military deaths in nearly three years of fighting near Leningrad, the total death toll is well over a million.1 Devastated though other cities were in the course of the war — Dresden and Hamburg, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Stalingrad and Warsaw — none saw death on such a scale as Leningrad. And unlike these, Leningrad did not suffer its huge loss of life in the course of military action. It was not combat, bombing or shelling which caused the massive number of deaths. The great majority of those who perished in Leningrad died directly or indirectly of hunger. They were victims of the German blockade which Hitler ordered in September 1941 to force the city’s capitulation by denying its population the means of survival — by starving it into surrender. Cut off from land contact with the rest of the country, and with food reserves and supplies catastrophically reduced, Leningrad was subjected to famine in the winter of 1941-42 on a scale unprecedented in a modern urban society.


Food Shortage Death Toll Civilian Death Ration Card Dutch Famine 
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© John Barber 2005

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  • John Barber

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