Leningrad by Brian Moynahan

Leningrad by Brian Moynahan

Author:Brian Moynahan
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Published: 2014-09-24T04:00:00+00:00

The assistant director at the Capella, Mikhlachevsky, tried to cheer himself up by planning a list of concerts for the first quarter of the year. None took place. Bogdanov-Berezovsky had no such optimism. ‘After breakfast of terrible left-over skins from a handbag maker, there was a rehearsal in the Lenin Komsomol Theatre,’ he wrote. ‘Physical weakness and threat of death.’ On 14 January, he braved the cold and walked to a flea market. There he was offered sheet music that belonged to dead musicians. No food at all remained at Rudolf Mervolf’s home. ‘Our family has become very close,’ his daughter felt. ‘I hold my mother in special esteem. Have just read the interesting memoirs of Savina [Maria Savina, the beautiful actress at the Alexandriinsky Theatre beloved of Turgenev]. I want something light, cosy and gay to read.’ Her father was less sentimental: ‘The ghost of death is now present in every family. It’s 5.5 degrees in my room. Tomorrow I will go again to the Conservatoire and try and get food. It’s minus 30 outside and I fear I may not make it.’

It was as cold, or colder, for a further eight days in January. The mean monthly temperature for January was minus 18.7 degrees Celsius, where for many years before it had rarely fallen below minus 7.6. Drainage and piped water broke down across the city. By the end of the month, 95 per cent of standpipes were frozen. Electricity generation was at 4.3 per cent of its pre-war level. There were almost twice as many house fires as normal. The police blamed the ‘careless handling of fire’ by freezing people, and the lack of water to extinguish a blaze and stop it spreading.

Food was getting to Ladoga from Tikhvin, and it was crossing the lake. Responsibility for the Ice Road – it was later called ‘the Road of Life’, but nobody in the city yet called it that – had been given to a man equal to the task. Major-General Shilov was a logistics specialist. He saw to it that he had enough tractors, graders, wooden angle bars and logs for snow clearance and laying prefabricated wooden bridges to cross crevasses in the ice. He encouraged drivers to compete with one another to see who could make two or three round trips a day. He wrote a personal letter free of the usual verbiage. It was addressed to all ‘drivers, traffic controllers, snow removers, mechanics, signallers, commanders, road workers and’ – this being the Soviet Union – ‘political workers’. He told them that the feeding of Leningrad ‘is hanging by a hair’, that its people ‘have the right to demand honourable and selfless labour from you all’, and that their assignment was ‘of paramount national and military importance’. It inspired them.

The Ice Road was now properly monitored for patches of open water, bomb craters, and breakdowns. Each driver was made responsible for one truck, and so nursed it with care. A norm of 2.25 tons a day was fixed for each GAZ-AA truck.


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