Siege of Leningrad
Germany and the Soviet Union had a non-aggression pact, but in 1941, Germany invaded because they wanted more living space for their 'superior' citizens. The siege of Leningrad began on September 8, 1941 when German troops encircled the city, cutting it off completely, in an attempt to save resources to take Moscow by letting the city die without attacking it directly. No supplies could get into the city and by September the city's oil had run out, leaving the people exposed to the harsh Russian winter. The food was rationed and shortly after the siege began, rations had been cut to 1/3 of the amount needed daily by an adult. Major Lozak commented that he watched people collapse in the street from hunger. There was nothing he could do except continue to his destination. During that long winter he didn't think he saw a single smiling face. People lay dead in the streets, 53,000 were estimated to be dead by December, and the ground was too cold to dig graves. The people were cold, hungry, homeless, and death was nearly impossible to escape.
Almost every night during the siege, the people of Leningrad could hear the planes and the bombs they would drop somewhere in the city, destroying someone's home. They used shells and dropped them out of Junkers 88's. They watched the planes as they danced through the sky, a spotlight on the dogfight in the sky, until someone lost and a plane fell. Lev and his friends watched from the rooftop of their building. On page 66 of The City of Thieves, " Shells exploded to the south, several kilometers away by the sound of it, but close enough to make the pavement shudder beneath us." People stopped listening to the news about which buildings were hit, "'Buildings go down every night,'" Timofei explains on page 74. As the war went on, more and more people became homeless as their homes were destroyed.
Leningrad had been cut off from everything, no food could get in and the people were starving. Rations had been cut to 1/3 of what an adult needs and some people resorted to cannibalism as a solution. On page 59, we are introduced to two cannibals. "Maybe for half a second I thought it was pig, maybe my brain tried to convince my eyes that they weren't looking at what they were looking at: a flayed thigh that could only be a woman's thigh, a child's rib cage, a severed arm with the hand's ring finger missing." Some people lost sight of ethics and morals, but some couldn't bring themselves to do it, even though for some it was the only way to survive. Lev and Kolya were almost killed by the cannibals, but Kolya fought them off. Lev ran from the appartment and this is when he began to understand that life during war is something completely different than life during peace. During war, people will do anything to survive even no matter how unethical it is.
Russia is a northern country meaning cold days and even colder nights. The people who had no home to go back to and no food to eat, but survived anyways, almost always perished from the cold of the Russian winter. On page 153 Lev explains that, "'The cold is Mother Russia's oldest weapon." It was common to see frozen bodies on the street and people stopped noticing. The frozen ground made it impossible to dig graves and the number of bodies grew. By September, Leningrad was out of oil and by January almost every piece of wood in Leningrad had been used to fuel fires.
Journal #1: Hardships
Hunger: Lev and Kolya could never get enough food and were constantly hungry. The resorted to eating ration bread and library candy just to have something in their stomachs. "Ration bread did not taste like bread. It did not taste like food... Everything that could be added to the recipe without poisoning people was added to the recipe (page 11)." However, even though they were starving, they never resorted to cannibalism.
Winter: On their way to Mga Lev couldn't feel his fingertips even with the thick wool gloves and he couldn't feel the tip of his nose even before the sun went down. Lev and Kolya risked encountering German soldiers by going into a suspicious farmhouse rather than staying in the woods. "'It's a bad idea,' (Kolya) said. 'It's better than freezing to death on the way to Mga,'" Lev replied (page 118).
City of St. Petersburg also known as Piter
Journal #2: Emotional & Physical Challenges
Wars have been fought throughout history and all have some similarities. All have emotional and physical challenges. Physical challenges include the loss of limbs, sight, hearing, and any other bodily harm. Emotional challenges include survivor's guilt, shellshock/PTSD, and any other scars on the mind that can't be seen. Throughout the book The City of Thieves, the main characters Lev and Kolya encounter many challenges, both emotional and physical. They encountered a dying sheepdog, heard a story of a girl that had been tortured and killed, as well as playing chess with Einsatzgruppe A leader, Abendroth.
First, on their way to Mga, Lev and Kolya hear a howling dog. They walk to the clearing to investigate and discover the dying sheepdog. It had been shot and was the only one left alive among the piles of dead dogs in the field. An emotional challenge Kolya had was hearing the dog in pain. He didn't think the dog deserved to suffer, and, using Lev's stolen knife, slit the dog's throat. A physical challenge of this experience was that they had to walk out of their way to get to the dog so they were nearly stuck outside in the cold during the night, a sure way to die at this time. Next, they met four girls in a farmhouse. These girls were being kept there for German soldiers' enjoyment and at one point there was a fifth girl, Zoya. She was young and pretty and she was the soldiers' favorite. She couldn't handle the stress and pain of the situation, so she ran away. She was weak so hadn't gotten far when the Germans found her. They brought her back to the farmhouse and was peaceful with the fact that they were going to kill her. What she didn't know was that they were going to torture her by sawing off her feet. She died in pain from the blood loss and she was a message to the other girls to not think about running away. Just hearing this story was an emotional challenge for Lev. He knew that what the soldiers had done, and were doing, wasn't right. He wanted to kill the group of Germans, particularly their leader, Abendroth, for what they did to Zoya. This led to them trying to kill the Germans, which led to a physical challenge because someone got to them first and these people almost shot Lev and Kolya. Finally, they played chess with the Einsatzgruppe leader, Abendroth. One of the only reasons that they were in that little cabin playing chess in the first place was so that Lev could kill Abendroth. However, he didn't know if he could. He had been a coward all his life and didn't see how he could overcome that part of his personality now, but he knew that he had to or he and his friends would die. So, he played the game biding his time until he had to strike with his knife. This turned into a physical challenge when Abendroth pinned his arm with the knife to the ground and aimed a gun at Kolya and Vika. He slapped the gun down, the bullet aimed for his friends taking off part of his finger and somehow managed to stab the knife into Abendroth and kill him. Then, he stabbed and killed Kolya's attacker as well.
In conclusion, physical and emotional challenges are a part of war, even if you're not necessarily on the front lines. Overcoming these challenges is how you survive. People today need to overcome challenges like PTSD, loss of limbs, and loss of some brain functions in order to continue with their lives.
Journal #3: Essential Question
What role does war play in creating and destroying national identities?
War plays a large part of creating and destroying identities. War causes people to need to think about survival of themselves as well as their family, friends, and country. When there is no war, or the war is far away from us, we have enough food, water, fuel, we have shelter and we feel generally safe. When you are right in the middle of the war like Lev, Kolya, and Vika were, you don't have that luxury. For example, Vika was a normal girl, an astronomy student, before the war. Now she poses as a boy and is a talented sniper who can help protect the country of Russia from the Germans. The war destroyed her first identity and replaced it with one that had a better chance at surviving. The same thing happened to Lev. He was a wimpy seventeen-year-old Jewish boy who would have died during the war. The war caused the wimpy Jew to be destroyed and created a Gentile man, a survivor, from him. Lev had killed two people, watched his friend die, and got a sort of girlfriend before the book ended and he survived by pretending to be a Gentile. A new Kolya was also created from the war. Before the war, Kolya had no responsibilities. He could be the joker and the prankster and the person who couldn't take anything seriously. The war introduced him to Lev and in turn introduced him to responsibility. He was given a young boy who didn't know how to take care of himself and he had to protect him. On top of that, Kolya felt the need to teach him and mentor him, become the father-figure that he had lost. Wars play a big part in both creating and destroying identities.