Leningrad: The People’s War
(Leningrad, Book 1)
By Rachel R. 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.
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Leningrad: The People’s War is the first book in a three-book seriesand depicts events in Leningrad from June to December, 1941. Following Russian university student Tatiana Ivankova and German military commander Heinrich Nottebohm, the story of the Siege of Leningrad is told from both the Russian and German perspective and explores how Leningrad and her people became a symbol of resilience and strength.
I’ve been fascinated with history for as long as I can remember and World War Two has been one of my main points of interest for just as long. While I am interested with learning facts about major battles I’ve always been drawn to personal stories of those who lived, fought, and survived. Stories that depict the hardships of war but also the resilience of ordinary civilians has always drawn me in and this can be clearly seen in stories concerning the Siege of Leningrad.
The encirclement of Leningrad in the Soviet Union lasted 872 days and remains one of the longest sieges in history. While countless civilians and military personnel lost their lives defending Leningrad, many others survived to share their stories with future generations, even when the government attempted to silence them. Within hours of reading some of the facts of the siege I was sketching out an outline of a story that would depict the event from start to finish.
Research can be a meticulous process but I enjoy it. It serves as the foundation of your story and sometimes can inspire events that will transpire in your narrative. Yet, the research process for the Siege of Leningrad was a bit more difficult than I had anticipated. Unlike Stalin’s purge in the 1930s, the Holodomor, and the Gulag system, information and educational resources on the Siege of Leningrad is far less extensive. Quite a bit of this can be contributed to the fact that the Soviet government did everything they could to eliminate the disaster of Leningrad from people’s memory.
While the city had not fallen the cost of human life to defend it was atrocious and stories of Party officials refusing to let citizens flee Leningrad when they had the chance or the lack of action taken to get food to those stuck in the city had to be silenced. It is not difficult to imagine that a lot of valuable documents pertaining to the siege were destroyed or remain locked up in Russian archives. For example, we don’t have an exact death toll of those who died in Leningrad. Soviet authorities ultimately admitted at the Nuremberg war crime trials that 632,253 people lost their lives in Leningrad but most scholars agree the number is far higher than what the Soviet government admitted. Historians have provided theories based on the information we do have available, such as survivors’ accounts and population numbers from before the war, but they can’t be entirely accurate due to the influx of refugees who came to Leningrad and those who did manage to get out the city before the encirclement. We also have evidence of physical reminders of the siege like manuscripts, artwork, and captured German equipment like Tiger tanks and canons that were initially displayed in a Leningrad museum immediately after the war but were then taken away and have never been seen since.
Survivors who dared speak out about their experiences were silenced either by being imprisoned or in some cases executed. Survivors of the siege were treated as second class citizens and were seen as an embarrassment. Vainly, they tried to keep the memory of the siege alive with varying success but were ultimately ignored or shrugged off as just another group of people who experience hardships during the war. As a result of this persecution and lack of understanding, many Leningraders were tight lipped about their experiences, something that has thankfully diminished when Mikhail Gorbachev opened the archives in the 1980s, allowing previously repressed survivors to tell their stories. Within weeks newspapers were being filled with Leningraders telling their stories, revealing tales of losing all their family members and friends, starving through the first winter, and yet still not losing hope for final victory. Their tales of survival in the face of impossible odds are ones that should be continually told and helped serve as the basis of the Russian characters in Leningrad.
Though resources were scarce, I found that the ones that did exist were rich with detail. Journalist Harrison Salisbury, who wrote the first account of the siege, was able to correspond with several survivors who gave their vivid memories for Salisbury to immortalize. Likewise, historian Anna Reid has been able to incorporate information that was previously not available but opened on Gorbachev’s orders to provide some of the missing pieces to the Leningrad puzzle. Finally, the survivors who were finally able to voice their stories paint a picture of a group of people who would not be so easily defeated and should serve as inspirations for all of us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-R-Heil/e/B07MY8DZT8
Thank you so much for hosting today’s tour stop for Leningrad: The People’s War.
All the best,
The Coffee Pot Book Club