Writing The Siege Of Leningrad: Women's Diaries, Memoirs, and Documentary Prose (Pitt Series in Russian and East European Studies)

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9780822958697: Writing The Siege Of Leningrad: Women's Diaries, Memoirs, and Documentary Prose (Pitt Series in Russian and East European Studies)

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From September 1941 until January 1944, Leningrad suffered under one of the worst sieges in the history of warfare. At least one million civilians died, many during the terribly cold first winter. Bearing the brunt of this hardship—and keeping the city alive through their daily toil and sacrifice—were the women of Leningrad. Yet their perspective on life during the siege has been little examined.

Cynthia Simmons and Nina Perlina have searched archival holdings for letters and diaries written during the siege, conducted interviews with survivors, and collected poetry, fiction, and retrospective memoirs written by the blokadnitsy (women survivors) to present a truer picture of the city under siege. In simple, direct, even heartbreaking language, these documents tell of lost husbands, mothers, children; meager rations often supplemented with sawdust and other inedible additives; crime, cruelty, and even cannibalism. They also relate unexpected acts of kindness and generosity; attempts to maintain cultural life through musical and dramatic performances; and provide insight into a group of ordinary women reaching beyond differences in socioeconomic class, ethnicity, and profession in order to survive in extraordinary times.

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The Siege of Leningrad by German and Finnish armies during World War II was one of the most horrific events in world history, and one widely studied. From 1945 to 1991, on average one book per day was published on the subject in the USSR alone. Yet a conspicuous void has remained in the historical literature concerning the experiences of women—the vast majority of Leningrad’s civilian population during the Siege. The diaries, letters, memoirs, and oral accounts collected by Cynthia Simmons and Nina Perlina present an honest, heroic, and heartbreaking account of women’s lives and emotions during the nearly 900 days of blockade and bombardment.

This stirring and inspiring collection opens a window into the lives of ordinary women enduring extraordinary times. Shared are tales of heartache, loss, and tragedy; hope, survival, and heroism. In a city under siege with a population at risk, the blokadnitsy (women survivors) persevered and prevailed. This is their story, told in their own words.

German troops poured onto the southern shore of Lake Ladoga on September 8, 1941, establishing a war front just two and one-half miles from Leningrad and barring southward travel out of the city. Meanwhile, Finnish troops reoccupied the boundary north of Leningrad. When Hitler opted to besiege the city rather than force an invasion, Leningrad was trapped—blockaded from outside sources of food and fuel. In a city already drained of able-bodied men through conscription, volunteerism, and Stalin’s political purges, the daily tasks of domestic life and labor, as well as nightly air-raid defense, fell upon Leningrad’s women.

The female population responded immediately to the German offensive. They dug trenches, tank traps, and mine fields, and built fortifications within the city. After the mobilization of male factory workers to the front, tens of thousands of women volunteered or were assigned to take their places in factories, mills, and mines.

Nearly two million Soviet citizens lost their lives during the Siege, including at least one million civilians in Leningrad, mainly during the terribly cold winter of 1941-–42. Starvation was the main cause of death as rations dwindled. The shrinking male population suffered most: male casualties tripled those of females in January and February of 1942. As a result, more women were forced into heavy industrial jobs traditionally held by men. Once intense bombing of the city began, they also served as the primary source for the local anti-aircraft defense.

And yet, despite the circumstances in which they lived, the women of Leningrad were still responsible for domestic duties such as raising children and maintaining households. The personal accounts collected by Simmons and Perlina tell of extraordinary heroism and acts of bravery. Many women workers gave up their daily rations so their families could eat, many survived only because mothers, aunts, or elder sisters sacrificed themselves.

Women also provided an important moral and spiritual voice for Leningrad. Women’s poetry, artwork, and song inspired a besieged populace; their writings offered important commentaries on the moral deprivation they witnessed during the Siege as well as the perceived lack of political and military support from Moscow. It was in their roles as arbiters of morality that these women made their greatest contribution to the official history of the Siege.

Whether it is in the writings of a young mother lamenting the coming of war or through the grim descriptions of a city choked by starvation, Simmons and Perlina’s collection draws greater attention to the contributions of the blokadnitsy and to the heritage of Russian women’s writing.

About the Author:

Cynthia Simmons is associate professor of Slavic Studies at Boston College.
Nina Perlina, who survived the siege of Leningrad as a young child, is a professor in the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Indiana University.

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Book Description University of Pittsburgh Press, United States, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. New edition. Language: English . Brand New Book. Silver Winner, ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year, History From September 1941 until January 1944, Leningrad suffered under one of the worst sieges in the history of warfare. At least one million civilians died, many during the terribly cold first winter. Bearing the brunt of this hardship--and keeping the city alive through their daily toil and sacrifice--were the women of Leningrad. Yet their perspective on life during the siege has been little examined. Cynthia Simmons and Nina Perlina have searched archival holdings for letters and diaries written during the siege, conducted interviews with survivors, and collected poetry, fiction, and retrospective memoirs written by the blokadnitsy (women survivors) to present a truer picture of the city under siege. In simple, direct, even heartbreaking language, these documents tell of lost husbands, mothers, children; meager rations often supplemented with sawdust and other inedible additives; crime, cruelty, and even cannibalism. They also relate unexpected acts of kindness and generosity; attempts to maintain cultural life through musical and dramatic performances; and provide insight into a group of ordinary women reaching beyond differences in socioeconomic class, ethnicity, and profession in order to survive in extraordinary times. Bookseller Inventory # AAN9780822958697

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Book Description University of Pittsburgh Press, United States, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. New edition. Language: English . Brand New Book. Silver Winner, ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year, History From September 1941 until January 1944, Leningrad suffered under one of the worst sieges in the history of warfare. At least one million civilians died, many during the terribly cold first winter. Bearing the brunt of this hardship--and keeping the city alive through their daily toil and sacrifice--were the women of Leningrad. Yet their perspective on life during the siege has been little examined. Cynthia Simmons and Nina Perlina have searched archival holdings for letters and diaries written during the siege, conducted interviews with survivors, and collected poetry, fiction, and retrospective memoirs written by the blokadnitsy (women survivors) to present a truer picture of the city under siege. In simple, direct, even heartbreaking language, these documents tell of lost husbands, mothers, children; meager rations often supplemented with sawdust and other inedible additives; crime, cruelty, and even cannibalism. They also relate unexpected acts of kindness and generosity; attempts to maintain cultural life through musical and dramatic performances; and provide insight into a group of ordinary women reaching beyond differences in socioeconomic class, ethnicity, and profession in order to survive in extraordinary times. Bookseller Inventory # AAN9780822958697

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