Triumph against impossible odds…
Who won World War II?
Was it the Allies or the American reinforcements? Well, ask any Russian and you will hear them proudly say, “The Soviet Union.” And they aren’t that far off…
As a result of World War II, over 23.4 million Soviet citizens died—roughly 13% of their entire population. Put another way, for every American soldier that was killed in the war nearly 56 Soviets—civilian and military—were killed.
But their victory is more than just the number of their dead—it’s about the strength of their resolve and their hearts.
And of all the battles fought on the Eastern front, few involved more resolve and more heart than the Siege of Leningrad.
In the summer of 1942, the Nazis were rapidly tearing through Russian territory, destroying everything in their path. Adolph Hitler pompously declared that by 9 August, 1942, Nazis would celebrate the taking of Leningrad—a city historically and currently known as St. Petersburg.
But the resilience of the Russian people would cancel all of Hitler’s plans for celebration.
On 8 September, 1942, the Nazis surrounded the city of Leningrad, forming a blockade.
The city’s almost 3 million civilians (including about 400,000 children) refused to surrender and endured rapidly increasing hardships in the encircled city. Food and fuel stocks were limited to a mere 1-2 month supply, public transport was not operational and by the winter of 1941-42 there was no heating, no water supply, almost no electricity and very little food. In January 1942 in the depths of an unusually cold winter, the city’s food rations reached an all time low of only 125 grams (about 1/4 of a pound) of bread per person per day. In just two months, January and February of 1942, 200,000 people died in Leningrad of cold and starvation. Despite these tragic losses and the inhuman conditions the city’s war industries still continued to work and the city did not surrender. [Source: Saint-Petersburg.com]
By the end of the siege, the number of deaths in Leningrad would outnumber those that died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
Under these conditions, in the midst of what would become an 872 day siege, the Symphony of Leningrad planned their “counter-offense.” They would perform the newly completed Seventh Symphony of Dmitry Shostakovich, a native of Leningrad, and would broadcast it on loudspeakers throughout the city and towards enemy lines.
The score, both long and complex, called for a 90-piece orchestra; and only half of the members of the symphony at Leningrad had survived the horrors of the siege.
Despite extra rations, many members of the symphony would faint from exhaustion during rehearsals. They had strength enough to play through the whole piece only once—three days before their big performance.
Their performance was set for the 9 August, 1942—it was no coincidence that the 9 August was also the date set by Hitler to celebrate the capture of Leningrad.
The Philharmonic Hall was packed – people came in their finest clothes; city leaders and generals took their places. The musicians, despite the warm August temperature, wore coats and mittens – when the body is starving, it is continually cold. Outside, throughout the city, people gathered to listen at loudspeakers. Hours earlier, Leonid Govorov, Leningrad’s military commander since April 1942, ordered a barrage of artillery onto the German lines to ensure their silence for long enough time for the work to be performed without interruption. Loudspeakers, on full volume, pointed in the
direction of the Germans – the city wanted the enemy to hear.
‘This performance,’ announced Eliasberg in a pre-recorded introduction, ‘is witness to our spirit, our courage and readiness to fight. Listen, Comrades!’ And the city listened, as did the Germans nearby. They listened as the city of Leningrad reasserted its moral self.
At the end – silence. Then came the applause, a thunderous applause that lasted over an hour. People cheered and cried. They knew they had witnessed a momentous occasion. It was, as Eliasberg described later, the moment ‘we triumphed over the soulless Nazi war machine.’…
…Years after the war, Eliasberg met some Germans who had been sitting encamped in their trenches outside the city. On hearing the music, they told the conductor, they had burst into tears, ‘Who are we bombing?’ they asked themselves, ‘We will never be able to take Leningrad because the people here are selfless.’ [Source: History in a Minute]
So I ask again, who won World War II? Was it the Allies? The Americans? The Soviet Union?
I believe that the real victory of World War II came from the emaciated symphony of Leningrad. In a deeper sense, the real victories in life belong to those who never give up.