Saving Stalin's Imperial City: Historic Preservation in Leningrad, 1930-1950

Saving Stalin's Imperial City: Historic Preservation in Leningrad, 1930-1950

Saving Stalin's Imperial City: Historic Preservation in Leningrad, 1930-1950

Saving Stalin's Imperial City: Historic Preservation in Leningrad, 1930-1950

Synopsis

Saving Stalin's Imperial City is the history of the successes and failures in historic preservation and of Leningraders' determination to honor the memory of the terrible siege the city had endured during World War II. The book stresses the counterintuitive nature of Stalinist policies, which allocated scarce wartime resources to save historic monuments of the tsarist and imperial past even as the very existence of the Soviet state was being threatened, and again after the war, when housing, hospitals, and schools needed to be rebuilt. Postwar Leningrad was at the forefront of a concerted restoration effort, fueled by commemorations that glorified the city's wartime experience, encouraged civic pride, and mobilized residents to rebuild their hometown. For Leningrad, the restoration of monuments and commemorations of the siege were intimately intertwined, served similar purposes, and were mutually reinforcing.

Excerpt

On the night of 27 January 1944, Leningraders gathered along the granite-clad embankment of the Neva River to view the fireworks display in celebration of the end to the German siege of the city. Aleksandr Boldyrev, a professor at Leningrad State University who survived the siege, described the scene in his diary:

At exactly 8:00, 24 volleys from 324 guns deafeningly roared out. Multi-colored
flares filled the sky, banishing the night. The city! You saw the reflections
from the enemy’s bombs exploding, you turned crimson in the bloody glow
of enormous fires, the lights from German planes turned your nights into day
… two and a half years, two and a half years. … Today the signs of victory and
liberation illuminate you!

Boldyrev and the other survivors gathered along the Neva could finally breathe freely. The terror had passed, but everywhere they looked they saw destruction – tangible signs of Hitler’s intention to annihilate the city, its population, and Russian history embodied in the cityscape.

For 872 days the Wehrmacht had surrounded Leningrad and subjected it to terror on an unimaginable scale. The impact of the siege was enormous: close to a million people died from starvation, bombings, and artillery shelling, the infrastructure suffered extensive damage, and hundreds of the city’s famous historic and cultural monuments (buildings, statues, and landmarks under state protection) were destroyed or horribly disfigured. Yet the destruction would have been far more extensive were it not for the efforts of party officials and preservationists (artists, architects, and cultural specialists working at Leningrad’s Administration for the Protection of Monuments) to protect the city’s heritage sites . . .

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