Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

Posts tagged “Diary

“Only Tanya is left.”

Tatiana Savicheva (January 25, 1930 – July 1, 1944) was a Russian child diarist who died during the Siege of Leningrad in the World War II. Her diary is one of the most tragic symbols of the Siege of 1941-1945.

The symbol of the Leningrad Blockade tragedy.

Twelve-year old Tanya Savicheva started her diary just before Anne Frank. They were of almost the same age and wrote about the same things – about the horrors of fascism. And, again, both these girls died without seeing victory day – Tanya died in July of 1944 and Anne in March of 1945. “The Diary of Anne Frank” (which was a carefully kept journal over a period of two years) was published all over the world and she has become one of the most renowned and most discussed victims of the Holocaust. “The Diary of Tanya Savicheva” was not published at all – it contains only seven scary notes about the deaths of her family members in Leningrad at the time of the blockade.

Leningrad Siege 

Leningrad (modern-day St Petersburg) was in the midst of a devastating 900-day blockade that lasted from September 1941 until January 1944. The German army had laid siege to the city, bombarded it and cut off all supplies in its attempt to ‘wipe it off the map’, as Hitler had ordered.

The Savicheva family had all answered the call to help bolster the city’s defences. Tanya, only 11 years old, helped dig anti-tank trenches. On 12 September 1941, the largest food warehouse, the Badayev, was destroyed, bombed with German incendiaries. Three thousand tonnes of flour burned, thousands of tons of grain went up in smoke, meat frazzled, butter melted, sugar turned molten and seeped into the cellars. ‘The streets that night ran with melted chocolate,’ said one witness, ‘and the air was rich and sticky with the smell of burning sugar.’  The situation, already severe, became critical.

Road of Life

As winter approached, Lake Ladoga, to the east of the city, froze. From December 1941, supplies of foodstuffs, fuel and medicine came through by convoys of trucks, a hazardous journey over thin ice and through enemy bombardment. What was brought in on this ‘Road of Life’, although vital, was only ever a fraction of what was needed.

Within the city, as that first winter progressed, whatever could be eaten had been consumed – pets, livestock, birds, vermin. And whatever could be burnt had been used for firewood. Tanya had kept a thick diary but this, as with every other book in the household, had been used for fuel – except for a slim notebook.

The youngest of five children, Tanya Savicheva’s father had died when she was six. Tanya, her mother and her five siblings, in common with every citizen of Leningrad, suffered terribly from hunger and cold. One winter’s day, Tanya’s sister Nina, 12 years older, failed to return. The family assumed that like so many hundreds of others, she had succumbed and died. In fact, Nina had been evacuated out of the city across Lake Ladoga at a moment’s notice. She returned to the city only after the war.

‘Savichevs died’

One by one, the remaining members of Tanya’s family died, and it was recording of each death that constituted the notebook.

The first entry recorded the death of her sister, Zhenya, who died at midday on 28 December 1941. Others were to follow until the sixth and final death, that of Tanya’s mother, on 13 May 1942. A neighbour described the tragic figure of this young girl:

‘When Tanya lost everyone, she became deranged with grief. She would clutch at a small house plant, which had only a few withered leaves left, and was virtually dead. Somehow, it seemed to remind Tanya of her family. She would stand by her stove, swaying from side to side, holding it close to her, in a terrible trance. She was trying to bring it back to life.’ 

Tanya herself was eventually evacuated out of the city in August 1942, along with about 150 other children, to a village called Shatki. But whilst most of the others recovered and lived, Tanya, already too ill, died of tuberculosis on 1 July 1944.

Her notebook was presented as evidence of Nazi terror at the post-war Nuremberg Trials, and today is on display at the History Museum in St Petersburg.

The text of Tanya’s notebook reads as follows:

Zhenya died on Dec. 28th at 12:00 P.M. 1941

Grandma died on Jan. 25th 3:00 P.M. 1942

Leka died on March 5th at 5:00 A.M. 1942

Uncle Vasya died on Apr. 13th at 2:00 after midnight 1942

Uncle Lesha on May 10th at 4:00 P.M. 1942

Mother on May 13th at 7:30 A.M. 1942

Savichevs died.

Everyone died.

Only Tanya is left.
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“Suddenly there was a sharp, loud report – a shot.”

“It all began so beautifully. After a drizzle in the morning, the sun came out bright and beautiful. We were going into Dallas. In the lead car, President and Mrs. Kennedy, John and Nellie, and then a Secret Service car full of men, and then our car – Lyndon and me and Senator Yarborough.

The streets were lined with people.- lots and lots of people – the children were all smiling, placards, confetti, people waving from windows. One last happy moment I had was looking up and seeing Mary Griffith leaning out of a window and waving at me.

Then, almost at the edge of town, on our way to the Trade Mart where we were going to have the luncheon, we were rounding a curve, going down a hill and suddenly there was a sharp, loud report – a shot.

It seemed to me to come from the right above my shoulder from a building. Then a moment and then two more shots in rapid succession. There had been such a gala air that I thought it must be firecrackers or some kind of celebration.

Then the lead car, the Secret Service men were suddenly down. I heard over the radio system ‘Let’s get out of here, ‘ and our man who was with us, Ruf Youngblood, I believe it was, vaulted over the front seat on top of Lyndon, threw him to the floor and said, ‘Get down.’ Senator Yarborough and I ducked our heads.

The car accelerated terrifically fast – faster and faster. Then suddenly they put on the brakes so hard I wondered if we were going to make it as we wheeled left and went around the corner. We pulled up to a building. I looked up and saw it said ‘Hospital.’ Only then did I believe that this might be what it was. Yarborough kept saying in an excited voice, ‘Have they shot the President?’ I said something like, ‘No, it can’t be.’

Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as president aboard Air Force One Jackie Kennedy stands at his side 3:38 PM 11/22/63

Lyndon Johnson is sworn in as
president aboard Air Force One
Jackie Kennedy stands at his side
3:38 PM 11/22/63

As we ground to a halt – we were still in the third car – Secret Service men began to pull, lead, guide and hustle us out. I cast one last look over my shoulder and saw, in the President’s car, a bundle of pink just like a drift of blossoms, lying on the back seat. I think it was Mrs. Kennedy lying over the President’s body.

They led us to the right, the left and onward into a quiet room in the hospital – – a very small room. It was lined with white sheets, I believe.

People came and went – Kenny O’Donnell, Congressman Thornberry, Congressman Jack Brooks. Always there was Ruf right there, Emory Roberts, Jerry Kivett, Lem Johns and Woody Taylor. There was talk about where we would go – back to Washington, to the plane, to our house. People spoke of how wide-spread this may be. Through it all, Lyndon was remarkably calm and quiet. Every face that came in, you searched for the answers you must know. I think the face I kept seeing it on was the face of Kenny O’Donnell who loved him so much.

It was Lyndon, as usual, who thought of it first. Although I wasn’t going to leave without doing it. He said, ‘You had better try to see if you can see Jackie and Nellie.’ We didn’t know what had happened to John. I asked the Secret Service men if I could be taken to them. They began to lead me up one corridor, back stairs and down another. Suddenly I found myself face to face with Jackie in a small hall. I think it was right outside the operating room. You always think of her – or someone like her, as being insulated, protected – she was quite alone.I don’t think I ever saw anyone so much alone in my life.

I went up to her, put my arms around her and said something to her. I’m sure it was something like, ‘God, help us all,’ because my feelings for her were too tumultuous to put into words.”

[References: Lady Bird Johnson’s remembrance of the assassination is located in the National Archives, NLLBJ-D2440-7a; Manchester, William, The Death of a President (1967); United States Warren Commission, Report of the President’s Commission on the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1964).]