Monday, May 29, 2017

#BookReview - Leningrad 1941 - 42: Morality in a City Under Siege

Leningrad 1941 - 42: Morality in a City Under Siege

By: Sergey Yarov
Publisher: Polity
Publication Date: September 2017
ISBN: 978-1509507986
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: May 29, 2017

For those fascinated by events of WWII, and in particular the devastating siege of Leningrad, author and historian Sergey Yarov has penned a look at what happens to morality in a time of great hardship, an account that will remain with you long after you have finished reading this book.

The Siege of Leningrad is generally acknowledged to have begun in September of 1941 when the last road into the city was cut off by the Germans. The siege ran for 872 days - one of the longest blockades in history. Yarov looks at the first winter of the siege, which is known as the "Time of Death." What happened to people during that time - how did their morals, their customs, their needs change? By investigating the full range of behaviors, and what people did in order to survive, Yarov helps the reader truly understand the suffering that went on in the city.

Leningrad 1941 - 42: Morality in a City Under Siege is broken up into three sections: Concepts of Morality in 1941 - 1941; the Ethical Dimension; and Means of Reinforcing Morality. Yarov acknowledges that the study of 'siege ethics' can be difficult as memories of past events may change. In addition, survivors, when retelling their stories, may alter events to make themselves seem less cruel, and trying to judge people going through such incredible sufferings from the comfort of our couches is hardly fair or appropriate. Regardless, Yarov carefully investigates the events, and actions of the city's people, through original documentation. From how attitudes to theft changed over time, dealing with orphaned, starving children, to the evolving rituals surrounding death and burial (lack of wood for caskets, weakness of survivors in attending to the deceased, etc.), all elements of life during the "Time of Death" are examined.

The author, the late Sergey Yarov (1959-2015), was a native of St. Petersburg, a professor of History at the European University, and made it his life's work to study the Siege of Leningrad. Having traveled to Leningrad in the early 80s, and seeing remnants of the war everywhere (ex. - a display of bullet-ridden helmets at a movie theater), I was quite familiar with the Siege of Leningrad. But Yarov took that horrifying event and delved further into it than any text I'd ever read - the stories and analysis he provided went far beyond other studies of that era. Using hundreds of first-hand accounts (letters, diary entries, documents), Yarov looked at every aspect of life - and death - within the confines of Leningrad. For those interested in this alarming time in history, Leningrad 1941 - 42: Morality in a City Under Siege is a book that must be added to your collection.

Quill says: An in-depth, fascinating, and at times heart-wrenching, analysis of the human spirit and what happens to it in times of great hardship.

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