Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Only Tanya is left

The diary of the teenager Tanya Savicheva has to be one of the most poignant documents left behind by the Second World War, no matter that it is also, probably, the shortest diary of any significance on record. Tanya, who died 70 years ago today, lived through part of the Siege of Leningrad and watched her family members die one by one around her, recording each death on a page of her notebook.

Tanya was born in Gdov, Russia, near the border with Estonia, in January 1930, the youngest child of a baker and seamstress. Her father died when Tanya was six, leaving her mother with five children. The family planned to spend the summer of 1941 in the countryside, but the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June disrupted their plans, so most of them decided to stay in Leningrad.

As a former capital of Russia, and militarily important as a main base for the Soviet Baltic fleet, Leningrad was a prime target for the German army. A siege of the city started on 8 September 1941, when the last road to the city was severed, and it was not lifted fully until 27 January 1944 - making it one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history.

All of Tanya’s family worked to support the Soviet army, even Tanya, then only 11, dug trenches and put out firebombs. One of Tanya’s sisters, Nina, went to work, and never returned leaving the family thinking she was dead. Tanya was given a small notebook in memory of Nina, and, after a while, she used it sparingly to record the deaths of her family members, including one sister (Jenya) and one brother (Leka).

By March 1942, Tanya was the only one of the family left. She was discovered, barely alive, by special nursing missions who went through the streets of Leningrad. Along with more than 100 other children, in a similar state, she was transported to Shatki, a village in the Gorkovskaya region. There the villagers tried to look after the children; though most survived, Tanya eventually succombed to tuberculosis, and died on 1 July 1944.

Tanya never learned that some of her family survived. Nina, in fact, had been saved and transported away from the front line. She returned, with the siege over, in 1945, to her house, where she found, amidst bare walls and complete ruin, Tanya’s notebook. Tanya’s brother Misha also survived having suffered severe injuries at the war.

See Wikipedia, the Russian Orthodox Church website, the History in an Hour website, or Russiapedia, for more information.

Today, Tanya’s diary is in the Museum of the History of St Petersburg, and a copy is at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery (where around half a million people, who died during the siege, are buried in mass graves). There is some suggestion that the diary might have been presented by Allied prosecutors at the Nuremberg Trials, though there appears to be no proof of this. It contains just a few pages, with a few words on each page, as follows (translation according to Wikipedia).

‘Jenya died on 28th Dec. at 12.00 PM 1941’

‘Grandma died on 25th Jan., 3 PM 1942’

‘Leka died on 17th March at 5 AM 1942’

‘Uncle Vasya died on 13th Apr. at 2 o’clock after midnight 1942’

‘Uncle Lesha on 10th May at 4 PM 1942’

‘Mom on 13th May at 7.30 AM 1942’

‘Savichevs died.’

‘Everyone died.’

‘Only Tanya is left.’

1 comment:


Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.