Wehrmacht's high command attached priority to seizing Leningrad, which was a major Soviet industrial, scientific and culture center.
Nazi leaders thought that Leningrad had to fall before Moscow did. Adolf Hitler also wanted the political benefits of capturing the city. However, the heroic Soviet defense of Leningrad thwarted the Nazi's plans.
By late September 1941, the Wehrmacht's 300,000-strong North army had surrounded Leningrad, elements of the Leningrad front and the Baltic fleet. Lake Ladoga was one of the only remaining passages linking the city with the rest of the country. However, the Germans relentlessly shelled and bombed that lake.
On July 18, 1941, food rations were introduced in the Soviet Union, including Leningrad. Initially, each city resident was entitled to 800 grams of bread a day. On September 2, local factory workers began to receive 600 grams of bread, white-collar workers received 400 grams and children and dependents received 300 grams. Bread rations were reduced further, as the Nazis tightened their blockade. On November 20, 1942, city residents' ration was reduced to a mere 125 grams of bread and that of the workers to 250 grams.
The people of Leningrad spent 35 days eating these meager bread rations. They also consumed leather belts, flax oil, drying oil and cosmetic creams. Outsiders, i.e., students and refugees, who had crowded into Leningrad during the first days of the war, only received the inadequate bread rations. Consequently, the number of famine victims rose dramatically in Leningrad, about 50,000 people died in December 1941.
On December 25, 1941, the Leningrad front's military council decided to increase bread rations. Factory workers now received 350 grams per day. All other residents were entitled to 200 grams. Nevertheless, after starving for 35 consecutive days, about 200,000 more people died from malnutrition in January-February 1942.
The state memorial museum of Leningrad's defense and blockade features a 125 gram piece of bread, which was baked according to a wartime recipe after the war. It is 55% rye flour, with the rest being soy flour, oil cake, food-grade pulp, flour leftovers and bran.
Leningrad's theaters were open without interruption during the blockade. Moreover, the Komissarzhevskaya Theater opened on October 18, 1942, thus becoming an unprecedented event in the history of world theater art.
Dmitry Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony was performed by Karl Eliasberg's orchestra August 9, 1942 at the local philharmonic-society hall. This was an unforgettable event in the besieged city's cultural life. Tickets were sold-out well in advance.
On November 22, 1941, 60 trucks delivered 70 tonnes of rye flour to Leningrad on the ice-covered Lake Ladoga. On April 21, 1942, that 30-km route, which was called the "Road of Life," melted. Consequently, boats and barges delivered food to Leningrad and evacuated city residents. The Ladoga route continued to operate after the German blockade was pierced January 18, 1943 until January 1944. Leningrad received 1.5 million tonnes of freight via Lake Ladoga, 70% of which was food. Moreover, 2.5 million people were evacuated to other parts of the Soviet Union.
The first supply train containing food and medicine left on February 7, 1943 and travelled across a bridge built on the ice and a 33km stretch of the railroad that was built in 19 days. The enemy shelled Russian trains all the time. The people of Leningrad nicknamed this railroad, which linked their city with other regions, "Victory Road." The blockade lasted for another 12 months.
The Red Army attacked German positions in January 1944, thus lifting the blockade of Leningrad completely. Preparatory bombardment began January 14, with the Russians breaching main German defenses January 17. Field Marshal von Kuechler then ordered his forces to retreat to the west and the southwest.
The Germans were ejected from Pushkin, Gatchina, Lyuban and Chudovo in late January 1944. They also lost control of the October railroad. The unprecedented 900 day blockade of Leningrad had thus come to an end.