The 900 Days: In Remembrance of the Siege
A sobering moment during our travels occurred with a stop on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. When our bus pulled into the parking area, we saw a nondescript old building like you used to see along 220 in Collinsville. Behind it, however, as we walked further beyond, was a vast graveyard. It was Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery, a magnificent burial park for victims of the German siege of Leningrad during WWII.
The siege lasted from 1941-1944, almost two and one half years. The 872 days of bombardment and starvation cost the lives of around one million residents of the city. It remains the deadliest siege in world history. Historic palaces we visited, like Peterhof and Catherine’s Palace, were looted and severely damaged or destroyed. They have been restored at great cost after years of meticulous planning. Obviously, this is true for much of the rest of the city as well.
Our guide, a native of St. Petersburg, told a personal story about her grandmother. As the siege began her grandmother, pregnant with her mother, was rescued from the city by her grandfather, a Red Army officer who risked his life and career to get her out of the city and to relatives in the interior of the country.
Wikipedia offers the following details:
The memorial complex designed by Alexander Vasiliev and Yevgeniy Levinson was opened on May 9, 1960. About 420,000 civilians and 50,000 soldiers of the Leningrad Front were buried in 186 mass graves. Near the entrance an eternal flame is located. A marble plate affirms that from September 4, 1941 to January 22, 1944 107,158 air bombs were dropped on the city, 148,478 shells were fired, 16,744 men died, 33,782 were wounded and 641,803 died of starvation.
The center of the architectural composition is the bronze monument symbolizing the Motherland, by sculptors V.V. Isaeva and R.К. Taurit.
By granite steps leading down from the Eternal Flame visitors enter the main 480-meter path which leads to the majestic Motherland monument.
The words of poet Olga Berggolts are carved on a granite wall located behind this monument:
Here lie Leningraders
Here are citydwellers - men, women, and children
And next to them, Red Army soldiers.
They defended you, Leningrad,
The cradle of the Revolution
With all their lives.
We cannot list their noble names here,
There are so many of them under the eternal protection of granite.
But know this, those who regard these stones:
No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.
The 900 Days: The Siege of Leningrad by Harrison Salisbury is the preeminent history of the siege in English. Our guide referred to it during the visit.
The Eternal Flame
The Walk to the Motherland Statue
A Burial Stone
The Victorious Motherland Monument
The single festoon held by the statue has an ancient heritage. It is found on Roman altars, the Ara Pacis,
St. Peter's in the Vatican, and the First Presbyterian Church of Martinsville. It is a symbol of sacred sacrifice.