In This Review

The War Within: Diaries From the Siege of Leningrad
The War Within: Diaries From the Siege of Leningrad
By Alexis Peri
Harvard University Press, 2017, 384 pp

The battle for Leningrad lasted 1,127 days; the city was under siege for 900 of them. Between 1.6 million and two million Soviet citizens died, 800,000 of them civilians—40 percent of the city’s prewar population. (As Peri points out, the overall death toll approximates the total number of members of the U.S. military who died in war between 1776 and 1975.) Leningrad residents of all types—from factory foremen to teachers, party workers to professional writers—kept diaries during the ordeal. Peri searches through 125 of them to capture how the nightmare deconstructed the writers’ prior realities and altered their sense of humanity. Her portrait is a sensitive, at times almost poetic examination of their emotions and disordered mental states. It both contrasts with and complements the equally accurate official Soviet portrait of a stalwart population standing firm in the face of evil and in defense of Soviet ideals. Peri makes plain that even though the diarists endured the total transformation of their fundamental sense of reality, their social relationships, and the nature of their social order, most of them did not become alienated from the values and basic outlook of the Soviet system.