"The city is dead. There is no electricity, no trams. Warm rooms are rare. No water. Almost the only form of transport is sleds, carrying corpses in plain coffins, covered with rags or half clothed. Daily, six to eight thousand die. The city is dying as it has lived for the last half year - clenching its teeth." (Nikolai Markevich's diary entry on January 24, 1942.)
The casualties inflicted on all sides during World War II nearly defy belief and, even today, estimates of the number of dead differ by tens of millions of people. Amid all of the destruction and carnage, perhaps nothing symbolizes the war quite like the Siege of Leningrad, one of the longest sieges in history and by far the deadliest.
When the Soviet-Nazi nonaggression pact of 1939 was broken by a German offensive against Russia, the surprised Red Army was quickly driven eastward away from the border with Poland, and Russian forces found themselves in a desperate attempt to defend major Russian cities from the Germany invaders. Leningrad, which had a population of roughly three million on the eve of the German attack, was one of the victims of the Russian unpreparedness, but once the siege began in the fall of 1941, the Soviets knew they were in a desperate struggle to the death. In fact, the Russians wouldn't have even been given a chance to surrender if they had wanted to, because the orders to the German forces instructed them to completely raze the city: "After the defeat of Soviet Russia, there can be no interest in the continued existence of this large urban center.... Following the city's encirclement, requests for surrender negotiations shall be denied, since the problem of relocating and feeding the population cannot and should not be solved by us...."
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