The death toll mounts in a cold starving Leningrad

Residents of Leningrad queueing up for water. People in besieged Leningrad taking water from shell-holes. Location: Nevsky Prospect, December 1941

The siege of Leningrad, begun in September, continued. Rather than attempt a direct assault Hitler had decided on a deliberate policy of cutting off the city and starving three million people to death. Very rapidly it had become impossible to supply sufficient food through the remaining tenuous links with the outside world and people began to die at an ever increasing rate. By December 1941 the death toll was between 5000-7000 people a day:

26th December 1941

It is frightening when we leave in the morning by our rear gates. Outside is our mortuary, on the banks of the Karpovka, and this has now become the mortuary for the entire district.

Each day, eight to ten bodies are brought there on sleighs. And they just lie on the snow. Fewer and fewer coffins are available, and less and less material to make them. So the bodies are wrapped in sheets, in blankets, in tablecloths, sometimes even in curtains. Once I saw a small bundle wrapped in paper and tied with string. It was very small, the body of a child.

How macabre they look on the snow! Occasionally, an arm or a leg protrudes from the crude wrappings. In these multi- coloured rags there still lingers a semblance of life, but there is also the stillness of death. This makes me think of a battle-ground and a doss-house at the same time.

The mortuary itself is full. Not only are there too few lorries to go to the cemetery, but, more important, not enough petrol to put in the lorries … and the main thing – there is not enough strength left in the living to bury the dead.

The question has arisen about not registering every individual death any longer. And in order to simplify formalities, a representative of the Registry will be present in the mortuary, just to count the number of bodies. After all, there are so many nameless ones.

See Vera Inber: Leningrad Diary

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