The documentary The Siege of Leningrad, written and directed by Michael Kloft, chronicles the Nazi assault and blockade of the Russian city of Leningrad during World War II. The city, now known as St. Petersburg, was a strategic target for Germany not only because of its status as Russia’s window to Europe but also due to its role in the October Revolution and the rise of communism. Hitler planned to occupy Leningrad before continuing on to capture Moscow. The siege began on September 8, 1941 when Hitler’s forces surrounded the city cutting it off from the rest of the country and rendering it impossible to receive much needed resources such as food and fuel. The Nazi siege lasted an astonishing 872 days before finally coming to an end on January 27, 1944.
Before the onset of World War II Leningrad had been a thriving urban center with a population of over two million people. After the German siege with its continuous bombing and vicious air raids the city was rendered a shell of its former self. Worst of all, however, was the human toll that resulted from the agonizing siege. Over a million men, women, and children died mostly due to starvation and the ravages of the cruel Russian winter. The siege of Leningrad has been described as, “a trial of the human soul”. The unsuccessful battle to conquer the Russian city is one of the worst war crimes committed by the Nazis during World War II.
The Siege of Leningrad not only provides viewers with an array of historical facts and figures but more importantly it also features commentaries from actual survivors as well as a number of first hand accounts taken from the personal diaries and journals of citizens who endured the horrific siege. The use of this material serves to put a human face on one of the worst atrocities of World War II as well as providing viewers with a sense of the profound suffering and the daily life and death struggles of the people of Leningrad.
At times The Siege of Leningrad is a difficult film to watch. Many of the horrors endured by the city’s citizens are depicted in brutal detail. The documentary reveals accounts of endless bombings, frigid cold, starvation, water shortages, and cases of cannibalism. The film features a number of gruesome accounts such as an incident when a group of starving citizens descended upon a weakened horse and butchered it alive. In the midst of famine residents resorted to drastic measures including eating their pets as well as the animals housed at the local zoo.
A major problem with The Siege of Leningrad involves the sound quality of the interview segments. Because the subjects are speaking Russian the filmmaker uses a translator to translate the information into English. The problem lies in the fact that the vocal audio level of the translator and the interviewees are equal in volume. This results in most of the dialogue being garbled and difficult to hear clearly.
For anyone unfamiliar with the siege of Leningrad the documentary provides an insightful perspective on this dark chapter of World War II. The Siege of Leningrad gives viewers a lesson on the politics of war. The documentary makes the point that Stalin and the Russian government could’ve prevented the tragedy at Leningrad or at least taken measures to greatly lessen the death count of the Nazis siege. Instead the city and its civilian population were essentially scarified for the sake of military gain. Precious resources which were required to ensure the survival of the city’s men, women, and children were instead allotted to armaments factories so that weapons could continue to be manufactured. Ironically instead of being utilized by local forces to liberate Leningrad these arms were either sent to the front or used to defend Moscow. The Siege of Leningrad is a sobering film which graphically illustrates the horrors of war…lest we forget.
The Seige of Leningrad is available now on DVD from First Run Features. For other reviews from this series, check out, Fuhrer Cult and Megalomania.