Saturday, February 1, 2020

Leningraders Died Not from the Nazi Blockade but from Soviet Failure to Send Food, Solonin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 27 – One of the central stories of the Soviet and Russian narrative about World War II is that hundreds of thousands of people in the northern capital died from starvation when the city was surrounded by Nazi forces and that further disasters were prevented only when Soviet forces broke that blockade after 900 days.

            There have always been problems with that story, but few have been willing or able to challenge it in a serious way. Now, Mark Solonin, a Russian historian who specializes on World War I but since 2016 has lived in Estonia because his views do not correspond to the official version, has done do.

            Solonin argues that “the cause of the famine which carried off hundreds of thousands of human lives was not ‘the blockade’ and the absence of transport communications, but the absence of supplies which could have been brought to the city which was dying from hunger” (

            Soviet and Russian writers who insist the city was cut off from the rest of the USSR, Solonin says, ignore the fact that 60 kilometers of the Western shore of Lake Ladoga was never occupied by the Germans and that German air attacks which might have blocked shipping effectively ended when Hitler shifted his main axis of attack to Moscow.

            As a result, “for the supply of Leningrad by water transport, it was necessary to cross no more than 25 to 40 kilometers from the western to the southern shore of Lake Ladoga,” something that could have been arranged.

            But there are other problems with the Soviet narrative, Solonin continues. Had the blockade remained in place 900 days as Moscow historians insist, no one would have been alive at the end with the famous bread ration of 125 grams of bread. That means that it wasn’t nearly as total or as long as the Russian story has it.

            “The only explanation of this ‘miracle’ is that there was no ‘blockade and that the city was supplied by waterways across Lake Ladoga and by automobiles when the lake was frozen in winter.” There was sufficient shipping capacity for that to have occurred, the Estonia-based Russian historian says.

            Overwhelmingly, “the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people (an exact figure hardly will ever be established) was the result of extremely low norms of providing food in the course of three months, November and December 1941 and January 1942,” and not the far longer period Moscow historians speak of.

            If the blockade had been the cause of the deaths as they insist, the greatest food shortages and the greatest number of deaths would not have come at the beginning of the German attack but toward the end of “the blockade.” But in fact, Solonin says, the available record suggests that exactly the reverse was true.

            The historian says he has come up with four hypotheses on why more food did not reach Leningraders and thus why so many of them died. Unfortunately, “in today’s Russia,” there is little or no chance that anyone will be allowed to do the kind of archival research that would allow for a final determination.

            The first possibility is that this was the result of “criminal negligence” by Stalin and his regime which in the fall of 1941 was focused entirely on the battle of Moscow and thus ignored what was happening in Leningrad. The second is that Stalin simply made a mistake in his assessment of what was occurring there.   

            The third possibility, Solonin suggests, is that “Stalin (not without basis) considered Leningrad to be a concentration of people disloyal to Soviet power” and decided to use the military situation to destroy those people lest them become a threat to him.

            And the fourth possibility is that “the Leningrad ‘Holodomor’ (an artificially organized famine) was organized by the local authorities (the leadership of the Leningrad obkom) in order to confiscate gold and other values from the population,” just as Soviet officials had done during the Holodomor in the course of collectivization.

            Having gold or other valuables gave officials the opportunity to buy in special stores goods not available to the Soviet population at large. Officials did so throughout the 1930s in areas where the terror famine had allowed them to take possession of such valuables from those the Holodomor killed. Leningrad party officials may have wanted to do the same.

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