Don’t We Have Enough in Russia, a Handful, to Feed Our Own?! Letters of Citizens to the Authorities of Besieged Leningrad
Keywords:Great Patriotic War (1941–1945), Siege of Leningrad, letters to the government, hunger
This article examines written petitions of residents of besieged Leningrad to the city leaders. The author refers to approximately four hundred letters kept in the archival fund of the Food Commission of the Military Council of the Leningrad Front, as well as evidence of citizens’ appeals to the leaders of Leningrad from official documents, diaries, letters of the siege, memoirs, and later interviews. The study makes it possible to identify the needs, interests, aspirations, dissatisfaction, and hopes of many Leningraders. Also, it helps make conclusions about the reasons and purposes of writing petitions, their structure, content, and how the appellants perceived themselves, the situation in the city, and the authorities in the conditions of the siege. The article examines the form, language, and style of letters to the authorities, the types of paper used, and the peculiarities of writing letters. Petitions to the city leaders were not common practice. However, the very appearance of appeals and the content is significant evidence of the situation in Leningrad, the moral and psychological state, and the survival strategies of the besieged. Many Leningraders referred to their merits and tried to convince the addressee of their need, understanding the pragmatic attitude of the authorities to the city’s population. Often the appeal was a cry for help from a desperate person. Letters from individuals facing the siege alone and dependent’s rations received were especially dismal. The inequality that transpired in the conditions of the siege and the difference in nutritional norms caused discontent. The article analyses letters that were particularly critical of workers in the supply and trade spheres, which reflected the sentiments prevalent in the besieged city. Also, the author examines petitions containing proposals, criticism, and accusations against those in power. The article provides the results of the analysis of written appeals from the siege and the dominance and reasons for the authorities’ refusal to help. In accordance with their attitudes, ordinary siege survivors were supposed to be victorious heroes but in no way pathetic “moral weaklings” and victims. The author concludes that the letters to the authorities paradoxically combined a commitment to paternalism, a desire to take advantage of the possibilities of the state distribution system, its privileges and benefits on the one hand, and initiative and self-reliance, on the other.
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