Leningrad: The People's War

The Changing Landscape of Leningrad

Rachel Heil

Leningrad, 1941. As Europe crumbles under the German war machine, the people of the Soviet Union watch. There are whispers of war but not loud enough for the civilians of Leningrad to notice. Instead, they keep their heads down and try to avoid the ever-watching eyes of their own oppressive government.

University student Tatiana Ivankova tries to look ahead to the future after a family tragedy that characterizes life under the brutal regime. But, when the rumors that have been circulating the country become a terrifying reality, Tatiana realizes that the greatest fear may not be the enemy but what her fellow citizens are prepared to do to each other to survive.

As his men plow through the Russian countryside, Heinrich Nottebohm is told to follow orders and ask no questions, even if such commands go against his own principles. His superiors hold over him a past event that continues to destroy him with every day that passes. But, when given the opportunity to take an act of defiance, Heinrich will jump at the chance, ignoring what the end results could be.

Leningrad: The People’s War tells the harrowing beginning of a war that forever changed the landscape of a city, told through the eyes of both sides in a tale of courage, love, and sacrifice.

Book Excerpt or Article

“What happened?” Tatiana asked nervously. “Was someone arrested?”

“No, no one was arrested,” Leonid quickly reassured her. Nothing scared the family more than the news that someone they knew had been taken into custody. Taking a
breath, he elaborated, “I went out this morning to get a newspaper, but the police were telling everyone to go back home and stay there. Only government officials are allowed
out.”

Tatiana was unmoved. For some reason, her father’s story didn’t scare her.

Alexandra poked his arm. “Tell her what else you saw.”

Leonid didn’t seem open to the idea but since Alexandra had mentioned it, he added, “On my way back I saw two army vehicles carrying various men in uniforms. Army uniforms.”

While it was not uncommon to see men in the Navy in Leningrad, spotting members of the army was unusual. What was that all about?

“Did you hear anything as to why they’re here?” Tatiana asked cautiously.
“No. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

“It’s another purge.” Alexandra walked over to the window, one hand on her forehead and the other in a fist on her hip.

“There’s not going to be a purge,” Leonid said harshly.

Tatiana thought of how they could find out. “Has the radio said anything?”

“We could turn it on,” Leonid offered.

“What’s the point?” Alexandra bemoaned. “All it is…is propaganda!”

Ignoring his wife’s cries, Leonid went into their living room where their small, brown radio sat. He switched the dial on and fixed it to the main channel, which was playing the usual morning music. As Leonid went over to Alexandra and whispered quiet assurances, Tatiana returned upstairs to get dressed.

Her father’s story was strange. Why were the police stopping them from leaving their houses, and why were army officers in Leningrad? The more she thought about it, the more Tatiana began to fear what her mother suspected.

Stepping out of her bedroom and closing the door, she found Manya in the middle of the hall, clutching her doll with blond hair and a pink and white dress that Alexandra had sewn for her.

“What’s going on?” She squeaked.

“What do you mean?” Tatiana decided it was best to pretend like nothing was happening. Last thing the family needed was for Manya to be afraid.

“Mama and Papa have been talking all morning.” Manya’s grip on her doll grew tighter.

“Oh, Papa just saw some army people, that’s all,” she distorted the truth.

“Why is the army here?” Manya seemed more intrigued than scared.

“I don’t know.”

Desperate to get away from the questions, Tatiana went downstairs to make breakfast. As she finished, she looked at the clock in the kitchen. It was twenty minutes to noon.

While eating in silence in the dining room, Tatiana heard someone rumbling about upstairs. Five minutes later, Dmitri jogged down the stairs dressed, undoubtedly expecting to meet up with some friends at one of the cafes.

“Morning, dear sister,” Dmitri greeted with his signature smile.

“Morning,” Tatiana muttered.

“Why the long face?”

Dmitri went into the kitchen. “Something is going on.”

“Like what?” He returned to the dining room with a glass of water, which he downed in several gulps.

“Papa said the police are telling people to stay inside and he saw army officers entering the city.”

Dmitri twisted his mouth as he thought. “Well, the staying inside is strange, but I don’t see anything unusual with army officers. We do have some stationed here.”

“Papa made it sound like he’s never seen these officers before.”

Dmitri raised an eyebrow. “And Papa knows every officer in Leningrad?”

Tatiana didn’t feel like arguing. She just wanted someone to reassure her that everything was fine.

Alexandra hustled from the living room to the dining room. “Comrade Molotov is making a speech at noon.”

“Why is Molotov talking and not dear uncle Stalin?” Dmitri asked sarcastically.

“Who knows, my child.” Their mother looked white. “We’re going to listen. Come join us if you like.”

Tatiana finished her breakfast and took her dishes into the kitchen. As she headed for the living room, she stopped by the staircase and saw Dasha descending, rubbing her eyes.

“What is with all the noise down here?” She demanded. “It’s as if a herd of elephants came through.”

“Something is going on,” Tatiana explained. “Comrade Molotov is going to give a speech in a few minutes.”

“On what?” Dasha sounded exasperated.

“We don’t know.”

Leaving Dasha to stew, Tatiana sat down next to the radio while her parents sat on the small, off-white couch. Dmitri leaned against the doorframe while Dasha dragged her feet
and sat in the matching chair. A minute before the speech commenced, Manya walked in and curled up next to Alexandra, who wrapped a comforting arm around her.

When the last song finished, there was silence with some static before Comrade Molotov’s flat, unemotional voice filled the house. “Men and women, citizens of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Government and Comrade Stalin have instructed me to make the following announcement.” He
paused for a moment. “At four a.m., without declaration of war and without any claims being made on the Soviet Union, German troops attacked our country—attacked our frontier
in many places—and bombed from the air Zhitomir, Kiev, Sevastopol, Kaunas, and other cities.”

Tatiana’s breath caught in her throat, followed by a sensation of not being able to find air. The world had seemingly stopped moving.

“Attacked?” Dasha whispered.

“By the Germans,” Dmitri grunted.

Alexandra looked at him. “Dmitri.”

“Quiet, all of you,” Leonid hushed.

“This attack,” Molotov continued, “has been made despite the fact that there was a nonaggression pact between the Soviet Union and Germany, the terms of which were
scrupulously observed by the Soviet Union.”

“I find that hard to believe,” Dmitri muttered.

“Enough.” Alexandra wagged a finger at him.

“We have been attacked.” Molotov’s voice seemed to fail but quickly recovered. “During the period of the pact, the German Government had not made the slightest complaint about the U.S.S.R not carrying out its obligations.”

Manya looked up at her mother. “What pact?”

“Please be quiet, darling.”

Tatiana’s head felt heavy. All this information came faster than she could process. How could they have been attacked? Why hadn’t the army stopped them?

“The government,” Molotov gathered some strength, “calls upon you, men and women citizens of the Soviet Union, to rally even more closely around the glorious Bolshevik Party, around the Soviet Government, and our great leader, Comrade Stalin. Our cause is just. The enemy will be crushed. Victory will be ours.”

The radio went silent. No one said a word.

Tatiana could hear ringing in her ears as if an explosion had gone off nearby.

Only when the radio began to play a song about loyalty to the Soviet Union did Leonid speak. “Tatiana, turn that off please.”

The ringing ceased and with fumbling fingers, she switched it off.

“Attacked?” Dasha’s voice was shaky.

Dmitri shook his head. “I knew this would happen.”

“How did you know?” Dasha demanded.

“Why didn’t Comrade Stalin talk to us?” Manya looked to Alexandra for answers.

“It was inevitable, Dasha,” Dmitri answered. “Half of Europe is now under the Germans. Hitler hates Communism. And you know what? I welcome it.”

“You welcome the Germans?” Dasha’s voice was nearly a shriek.

“How could you not?” Dmitri leaned towards her. “Do you remember what they did—”

“That’s enough, Dmitri,” Leonid jumped in.

“We can’t go to war.” Alexandra’s eyes were filled with tears. “What will become of us?”

“Why did the army not defend us?” Tatiana added her voice.

“It sounds like it was a surprise attack,” Leonid commented.

“Surprise?” Dmitri’s eyes widened. “Please. Stalin probably let them in.”

“Dmitri,” Dasha said, “why in God’s name—”

“Don’t use God’s name.” Their mother scolded.

“Sorry, Mama,” Dasha hastily added. “Why on earth would Stalin let the Germans invade? It makes no sense.”

“Probably so Stalin could reduce the population a bit more.” Dmitri shoved his hands in his pockets. “Saves him the trouble of coming up with an excuse as to why there are so
many dead bodies.”

Manya began to sob. “Mama, I don’t want to die!”

“Both of you stop it.” Leonid stood up and looked directly at his two oldest children. “You’re scaring your sister.”

“We should all be scared!” Dmitri proclaimed.

“Are you finished?” Leonid snarled.

Dmitri pursued his lips but was quiet.

As Manya’s cries died away, Alexandra stood up with her. “I’m putting Manya in her room to calm down and then I’m going to the grocery store.”

“Why?” Tatiana blurted.

Her mother gazed into her eyes. “We’re at war, Tatiana. We need to get food while we still can.”

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Rachel R. Heil is a historical fiction writer who always dreamed of being an author. After years of dreaming, she finally decided to turn this dream into a reality with her first novel, and series, Behind the Darkened Glass. Rachel is an avid history fan, primarily focused on twentieth century history and particularly World War Two-era events. In addition to her love for history, Rachel loves following the British Royal Family and traveling the world, which only opens the door to learning more about a country's history. Rachel resides in Wisconsin.

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