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New Year holiday in the memories of children of besieged Leningrad

14 January 2021

“…The piece of bread turned out to be small, weighing no more than fifty grams. But in shape and even taste, it very much resembled a slice cut from round Leningrad bread, which was so popular in the pre-war period. A better gift could not have been imagined. The guys understood this and treated a piece of bread as the most precious delicacy. Bread was eaten separately from lunch dishes, trying to enjoy the pleasure brought as long as possible. We ... then remembered for a long time both this piece of bread and this lunch in the school hall", - this is how Valentin Zvonarev describes the festive New Year's party in 1942 in the Survivor of Siege Notes posted on the Presidential Library's portal.

Leningrad residents, their children and grandchildren submitted more than 4,000 unique documents for digitization to the library on Senate Square, 3, as part of a large-scale campaign dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the complete liberation of Leningrad from the Nazi siege. Among them are the memories of little Leningraders who remained in the besieged city. What was New Year's for them? And who knows how many hundreds, thousands of blockaded children this holiday helped to survive...

“On December 31, Kolya Belkin came after me and said that Alevtina Andreevna had ordered me to come to school for the New Year holiday. He barely pulled me out of the house (I was very weak), and we hardly came to school on the Krasnoarmeyskaya Street, 11. First they showed us a concert, and then they gave us a soup - noodles swam in almost transparent water, and the second - noodles and a cutlet. Since I was too weak, Alevtina Andreevna divided one additional portion between me and another boy of the same kind. Apparently, someone couldn't make it to school, and the portion remained. <...> After this New Year's Eve, I began to somehow get out of my dying state, this meeting and treat saved me", - these are the memoirs of Isaac Bazarsky, published in the book Pages of  the Blockade Memory donated to the Presidential Library by the Israeli Union of World War II Veterans...

In the same book Dmitry Tarasevich writes: “I remember the meeting of 1942. Two days before the New Year, my mother collected some nice warm clothes and exchanged them for a bucket of potato peels. She baked potato pancakes from them, and from coffee grounds (my mother collected it for a long time) - sweet gingerbreads. Among the Christmas tree decorations with which we decorated the spruce twig, we found sweets left over from last year's tree. In the most difficult time of the blockade (winter 1941-1942), I realized that the stronger sex is not men, but women, I judge by my mother and sister. <...> An extra piece of bread, the last cake they gave me and always encouraged me. On New Year's Eve, I got two of the four sweets I found".

Here are the memories of the New Year holidays in the kindergarten of the Kulakov Plant left by Galina Zavinskaya: “The year 1942 was approaching. We decided to decorate the basement walls with children's drawings. Paper, colored pencils, additional smokehouses - and on the walls - the war, and ours, of course, defeat the Nazis. It has become elegant. <...> December 31... ...Children received a gift from the city for soy candy, they tried to cook lunch better...And for dinner a miracle happened. White ruddy pancakes. I can't imagine how they could save a few handfuls of real grains for a rainy day. The children immediately imagined the pancakes to be pre-war ones.

“It’s impossible to forget” - this is the name of Irina Neustrueva’s memoirs about the blockade childhood, posted on the Presidential Library's portal: “The new year of 1942 was approaching. Mom wanted to please us and arrange a holiday. There was no Christmas tree, of course, and my mother decided to use a whatnot instead of a Christmas tree. We took out the pre-war Christmas tree decorations, hung them up and placed them on a whatnot ... In some of the candlesticks there were small stumps of last year's Christmas tree candles, and we lit them for a short time. <...> ... An elegant bookcase, sparkling with balls, golden rain and beads, remained in my childhood memory. Maybe for the children it was more important than food. They say that blockade children were asked what they suffer the most: hunger, cold or darkness? And most of the children answered - from the darkness. Apart from this New Year, we did not have any childish joys”.

Alisa Vishnyakova's family still keeps the "Siege Bear" - a plush toy found in a destroyed house and presented to her by workers. She sent her handwritten Memories of the Siege Days by mail to the Presidential Library. They contain the following lines: “...I was lucky ... I got a job in the garden №7 on the 6th line. I am very grateful to the head of the kindergarten, educators. They tried their best to distract us. <…> We arranged a Christmas tree on New Year's Eve. Uncle Kostya was Santa Claus - one man for the whole house. <…> On New Year's Eve, we were given gifts with shot tangerines".

These fantastic, incredible tangerines in those conditions are remembered by hundreds of Leningraders. And the story of how they were brought under fire from the mainland to the besieged city became legendary. The car, which was carrying the fruit, received about fifty holes. But the tangerines, albeit damaged by enemy bullets, still reached the little Leningraders...

Despite the bombing and shelling, hunger and cold, in spite of death, adults made every effort to bring a holiday to the children at least for a short time. In his memoirs about life in besieged Leningrad, Nikolai Polyakov tells about a Christmas tree organized by the Leningrad House of Scientists on the eve of 1943. “By the then scale, the tree turned out to be very lush. A small bear was brought from the zoo, which I do not know by what fate survived, and two employees, who, apparently, had something to do with the circus, forced him to demonstrate his "learning". Then ... they showed a small trained dog, which amused the children a lot. There were games led by Santa Claus and round dances around the tree. Of course, all this was poor in comparison with what is being done on the trees now, but it was to a certain extent, even majestic, according to the strength of the spirit, according to the will to live, according to the will to victory..."

The issue of the newspaper Leningradskaya Pravda, published on the last day of the most difficult year for the besieged city in 1942, releases a unique photograph of the famous "blockade" photographer David Trakhtenberg was published. The photo accompanies the text: “Before us are the youngest Leningraders. Born 1942. They were born and raised during the siege. They were defended. They defended ... <...> The eldest of them Sanya Rusakova - she is 11 months old, weighs 9 kilograms, yesterday she began to walk. <…> Yura Rumyantsev is 5 months old, he weighs 7 kilograms. <…> Yura's big-eyed comrade, Tolya Ogruganov, is half a month older than him, but he weighs 200 grams more than him. <…> Grow up, guys! Your background will be envied. They will say: they were born in Leningrad, in a time of hard and great trials".