In the year 1941, Nazi Germany invaded Soviet Union and laid siege to the city of Leningrad. In spite of the best efforts involving all able-bodied men who rallied to the aid of the Red Army, the city was soon surrounded and all supply lines effectively cut off.
A story that starts with ‘In the year such-and-such’ usually turns out to be pretty boring, but not this one, told to us by A, our Russian tour guide in St Petersburg (I have forgotten her name and only remember it starts with A).
The climate of St Petersburg is such that not much can be cultivated there, and with food supplies from outside the city cut off, the people of the city had to severely restrict themselves to the meager rations handed out (125 grams of bread) by the administration. The situation was so dire, they were soon scraping the potato based wallpaper gum off the walls to eat, boiling leather belts and shoes to make jelly, just anything that would keep them going. The animals in the zoo were one of the first casualties. Starvation led people to kill and consume their pets soon after. A difficult thing to do, so they traded pets to avoid having to eat their own.
People died from starvation, the cold and diseases, not to mention the German air attacks, but couldn’t be buried because the ground was frozen. The ones still alive were anyway too weak to dig graves. As a consequence, the dead bodies piled up in the open. As if all this was not enough, into the equation stepped a new agent of destruction: rodents. With no cats around to keep them in check, the rodent population had grown disproportionately large in number. Huge armies of rats moved around eating the dead and also whatever little food was still around. Even trams had to be stopped to let colonies of rats cross.
The siege of the city lasted over eight hundred days, ending in 1944 when the Red Army finally broke the blockade. The first train then chugged into St Petersburg with a precious cargo as requested. Four cars full of …..cats. Yes, cats! Only cats! Most of the felines in the railway cars were released onto the streets, the rest were given to the residents of the city. People were willing to pay good money for them, even give up a share of the little bread they had to indulge the precious kitties come to save them.
The cats were a tremendous success. They made short work of the rodents and saved the city and its inhabitants from destruction. Without the cats what would have been the fate of any food brought into the city? The people of St Petersburg are eternally grateful to their saviors. Statues of cats dot their city to acknowledge and honor the fact that it is they, the cats, who saved their city.
Oh yeah. This time, I got ahead of the story of my tour, telling the tale of the cats before the one about the bridges. But it doesn’t matter. I can always tell you of the bridges in the next post. 😉
© Shail Mohan 2019