In November, 1939, Stalin attempted to occupy Finland. Under an invented pretext, Soviet troops crossed the border. Leningrad became a frontier city. A puppet government was created in Finland. However, the Red Army faced the persistent and skillful resistance of the Finnish people. Only at the price of great losses did the Soviet Union succeeded in forcing Finland to sue for peace. As a result, the USSR annexed the northern part of the Karelian Isthmus, including Vyborg. The border was pushed beyond the city by more than 100 km and it aided the protection of Leningrad, to some extent, in case of the beginning of a war. On the annexed lands, the Soviet elite inhabited abandoned houses and made them their country-cottages. On the other hand, for most of Leningrad's inhabitants, the war that took place from November, 1939 to March, 1940 left tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands injured, new hardships, and a more severe regime. Many volunteers killed in the war were Leningrad students.
In the first days of the Great Patriotic War, Leningrad was in danger. The German "North" group of armies came swiftly from the West and the Finnish Army down from the North. Mass recruitments were implemented and 10 divisions of the militia were formed. On October 4, Leningrad was bombarded with large-caliber guns from the nearest suburbs. On September 8, 1941, Leningrad was blocked by land and only a tiny thread - the path across Ladoga Lake - connected it to the rest of the country. Stalin was ready to give up the city but G.K. Zhukov (on September 11, he was appointed as General in Chief of the Leningrad front) succeeded in stabilizing the defense. Hitler planned to wipe out Leningrad and all its inhabitants. After failing to take the city by storm, Nazi troops relied on a siege with land and air attacks.
The evacuation of non-combatants from Leningrad was organized badly and it went slowly. At the beginning of the siege, there were 2.5 million inhabitants and hundreds of thousands of refugees in the city. In peacetime, Leningrad depended upon permanent food deliveries. There was almost no reserve. The Badaev storehouses, with provision reserves for one month, were bombed. Famine began. By November, the daily bread allowance in Leningrad was 250g for a worker and 125g for others. Cold was added to the famine. Heating did not function as there was shortage of fuel. Water systems did not function either. The transport of essentials stopped. During the siege, more than 1,000,000 people died of starvation. The victims were buried in huge mass graves. About a half million Leningrad inhabitants were buried at Piskarevskoe cemetery, not including other mass graves.
During the terrible time of the siege, the worst features of the regime were evident along with the mass heroism of the city's defenders. A special farm in Olgino served comrade Zhdanov personally, who suffered no privations. On the black market, it was possible to purchase gold, jewelry, and antiques. Some provision clerks made fortunes during the famine; there was marauding and pillaging. There was robbery and cases of cannibalism. However, in spite of the siege, the city was alive, and it fought. The factories continued working. In the cold workshops, under artillery and bombardments, people made shells, bombs, and cartridges and fixed up tanks and guns. Leningrad scientists, artists, journalists, doctors, and teachers worked, too. The radio did not stop broadcasting. There were performances in the Comedy Theater and the Lenin Komsomol Theater. D.D. Shostakovich wrote his Seventh (Leningrad) Symphony, which was performed in the blockaded city.
By November 23, 1941, a road was made on the ice of Ladoga Lake; the road connected Leningrad with the rest of the country. Provisions were delivered to Leningrad via this route and non-combatants were evacuated from Leningrad; this road was called the Road of Life. It was also the road along which Germans and Finns were deported. For tens of thousands of Leningrad and Leningrad Region inhabitants - Finns and Ingermanlanders - the ice road became the Road of Death. The repression was not eased during the war. At the beginning of the war, the poet D.I. Kharms was arrested; he died in prison. By the spring of 1942, the situation with provisions had improved. Leningrad inhabitants were given allotments to grow vegetables. The blockaded city was alive and it continued to fight. On January 18, 1943, the siege was lifted. However, only a narrow pass was available. Finally, in January, 1944, the Germans were thrust back from Leningrad. That summer, the Finnish Front on the Karelian Isthmus was also broken.
Leningrad celebrated victory. In December, 1942, the medal "For Leningrad's Defense" was established and not only the city's defenders were rewarded, but the many thousands of inhabitants who had ensured the victory with their endurance. In 1944, many Leningrad avenues and squares returned back their historical names in place of revolutionary ones. At the same time, the historical names of the suburbs were Russified. On May 1, 1945, by order of the Commander in Chief, Leningrad was honored with the name of City Hero. An exhibition was organized that was later converted to the Museum of Leningrad's Defense in 1945. The heroism of Leningrad inhabitants during the siege brought them respect all over the country. The feat of Leningrad became the theme for many works of literature and art.
During the 900 days of the siege, Leningrad lost one third of its housing. Many architectural monuments were damaged. The palaces in Petergof, Pushkin, and Pavlovsk were ruined. By January 1, 1944, the population had decreased by as much as 60%. The evacuated began coming back. The restoration of ruined houses, enterprises, and cultural institutes began. All the inhabitants took part in the restoration. Imprisoned Germans also worked as builders. By 1950, Leningrad's industry reached its pre-war level. However, the population was only 85% of what it had been before the war and the composition had changed considerably. Almost half of the inhabitants came from countryside, by the orgnabor, or moved from other cities. Most inhabitants lived in communal apartments, many lived in hostels. There was a shortage of dwellings. In 1951, the General Plan of Leningrad's Development was adopted with plans to develop the city, most of all, to the South.
Shortly after the war, in 1946, Leningrad became the center of the campaign against any dissent. A.A. Zhdanov began be leveling severe criticism at A.A. Akhmatova and M.M. Zoshchenko. A wave of obscurantism swept over the city. However, Leningrad still seemed suspicious to Stalin because of its European image, its freethinking, and its heroic past. Because of the so-called "Leningrad Case"
The fights on the approaches to Vyborg. March 1940. Photo