Entirely by accident, I visited the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad on June 21, 68 years to the day after Nazi troops poured across the length of the Soviet Union’s western border in Operation Barbarossa, starting four years of blood-soaked conflict on the Eastern Front.
By the time Soviet troops reached Berlin in early May of 1945, about 27 million Soviet citizens (about half soldiers, half civilians) had died, just over 15 percent of the USSR’s pre-war population.
Over a million of those deaths occurred during the 900-day Siege of Leningrad, widely considered the most deadly siege in world history.
So that the deaths of the siege (among civilians, largely of starvation, disease, and cold) will never be forgotten, monuments to and reminders of the siege stand throughout St. Petersburg, as I wrote about when I visisted The State Memorial Museum of the Defense and Blockade of Leningrad.
Since that visit, I’ve run into many more of these constant reminders.
Near the Hermitage, a marker affixed to a wall during the the siege advises Leningraders that the other side of the street is safer when German shells rain down. Fresh flowers always lay beneath it.
At Isaaki Cathedral, a giant chunk of stone is missing from one of the 100-ton pillars that support the building. Near the wound, a plaque state it’s cause: Nazi bomb. Another similar piece of damage, on a bridge over the Fontanka Canal, is also marked by a plaque.
But the most visible, impressive reminder of the war is the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad, located on Moskovsky Prospekt, the main road into St. Petersburg from the south.
Centered around a 48 meter high obelisk, the gray monument pays tribute to both the soldiers and civilians who contributed to the city’s defense and ultimate salvation.
Behind the large obelisk, one can descend into the center of the monument. Here, a smaller monument to civilians lies at the center of a large broken circle, symbolizing the breaking of the siege.
Music, quiet and somber, plays in this part of the monument, setting the tone.
A small museum of the siege is located beneath the monument. Electronic candles line the tops of the walls. Flags from the many groups of defenders hang from the ceiling. Artifacts from the war fill display cases. The only sound is the ticking of a metronome, played over the radio throughout the siege to let Leningraders know that the heart of the city was still beating.