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By Rachel R. Heil
Tatiana Ivankova and Heinrich Nottebohm are the two primary protagonists in Leningrad: The People’s War, and when war erupts between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union their lives are changed dramatically. They are sent down paths that they would have never traveled before the war, and ultimately the decisions they make as the siege progresses will determine their fate.
I use the characters of Tatiana and Heinrich to explore the differing and yet similar lives Soviets and Germans experienced during this time. Both groups of people suffered under dictators who used their power to implement terror on those they deemed as threats, and mercy was rarely, if ever, shown. Both sides had individuals who welcomed the war and those who wanted to return to their everyday lives.
The People’s War is the first of three books set during the siege, and for the purpose of this post I’ll be keeping my explanation of how the war affected the lives of Tatiana and Heinrich to the timeframe of the first book which is June to December of 1941. Even during those six months, Tatiana and Heinrich’s lives are rapidly transformed.
Tatiana experiences the most drastic change. Before the war, she is a university student and has no grand ambitions for power. In fact, she longs for a quiet life with her big dream of being able to run Leningrad's state library, where she works when the story begins. Like other civilians from the area, Tatiana and her family are still dealing with the traumatic aftermath of the executions of her older brother and brother-in-law as a result of the Great Purge. The Purge swept the Soviet Union from 1936 and 1938 and was implemented by Stalin to solidify his regime and weed out any potential enemies of the state.
|Leningrad’s National Library in 1920 when it was known as the Russian National Library. It would have looked like this at the outbreak of war in 1941.”|
When the war begins, Tatiana, like her fellow Leningraders, does her patriotic duty and volunteers for work to help the war effort even though many distrust the Party. Tatiana becomes a witness to her city being transformed into a frontline city, all the while her fellow citizens are told not to flee by the government and are branded as traitors if they do leave. Tatiana’s biggest transformation occurs when she is drafted into an all-female volunteer group that is given the impossible task of defending the Leningrad as the German Army encircles the city. Put in a unique position to witness both the struggles of everyday civilians attempting to survive the siege and the corrupt government and Army officials running the campaign to defend Leningrad, Tatiana decides that she will fight not for the Party but for her home.
If there is one thing that certain groups of Soviet and German soldiers and civilians had in common it was fanaticism. Despite all the terror their respective governments inflicted on them, many Soviets and Germans were loyal to their country and would do anything to defend it. For many in the army and back home in Germany the war with the Eastern Front was seen as a great fight between two dueling political ideologies, Fascism and Communism, a battle that would inevitably end with Germany victorious. Before arriving in Leningrad, the German Army had experienced nothing but success. However, Heinrich Nottebohm and his men soon see how victory in the Soviet Union will not come as easily.
|“Advancing German troops on the Eastern Front. The quick victory many Germans had hoped for would evaporate when the first snow fell.”|
Heinrich arrives in the Soviet Union following a stint in occupied Belgium. He comes to his new assignment with a slight disillusionment of the war and the government he serves based on a previous experience with an enemy of the state. Upon joining his new unit, he is reunited with an old military school friend, Max, who encompasses the type of fanaticism that has penetrated some members of the armed forces. Heinrich is warned that the Eastern Front will be different from what he’s previously seen, but Heinrich finds himself unprepared for just how different it is.
From the beginning the war in the Soviet Union was different. After taking a town or city, the German Army would be followed by special SS units called the Einsatzgruppen, tasked with dealing with Jews, Communist officials, and other undesirables, as determined by the Nazi government. Violence and acts of cruelty are committed on a whim, accumulating in the siege of Leningrad, where Heinrich’s commanders plan to starve out the city.
Having previously been willing to step back and keep his head down, Heinrich is unable to ignore the situation any longer and finds himself wrestling with his moral beliefs while also attempting to serve his country and men.
I’ve always been fascinated by the conflict between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and my hope with Leningrad is to accurately portray the difficult feelings and actions ordinary people were forced to face during this time period.
|“German troops in the suburbs of Leningrad in September 1941. By then the city of Leningrad had been encircled, thus beginning one of the longest sieges in history.”|
[EBERT GEORGE VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS]
|About the Book|
Leningrad, 1941. As Europe crumbles under the German war machine, the people of the Soviet Union watch. There are whispers of war but not loud enough for the civilians of Leningrad to notice. Instead, they keep their heads down and try to avoid the ever-watching eyes of their own oppressive government.
University student Tatiana Ivankova tries to look ahead to the future after a family tragedy that characterizes life under the brutal regime. But, when the rumors that have been circulating the country become a terrifying reality, Tatiana realizes that the greatest fear may not be the enemy but what her fellow citizens are prepared to do to each other to survive.
As his men plow through the Russian countryside, Heinrich Nottebohm is told to follow orders and ask no questions, even if such commands go against his own principles. His superiors hold over him a past event that continues to destroy him with every day that passes. But, when given the opportunity to take an act of defiance, Heinrich will jump at the chance, ignoring what the end results could be.
Leningrad: The People’s War tells the harrowing beginning of a war that forever changed the landscape of a city, told through the eyes of both sides in a tale of courage, love, and sacrifice.
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About the Author
Rachel R. Heil
Rachel R. Heil is a historical fiction writer who always dreamed of being an author. After years of dreaming, she finally decided to turn this dream into a reality with her first novel, and series, Behind the Darkened Glass. Rachel is an avid history fan, primarily focused on twentieth century history and particularly World War Two-era events. In addition to her love for history, Rachel loves following the British Royal Family and traveling the world, which only opens the door to learning more about a country's history. Rachel resides in Wisconsin.
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