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Russia remembers Nazi siege of Leningrad

Russia has marked the 70th anniversary of the end of the Nazi siege of Leningrad when one million people starved to death in World War Two. German President Joachim Gauck has spoken of Berlin's "deep sadness and shame."

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Russia remembers Leningrad siege

President Vladimir Putin on Monday visited the main siege memorial in western Russia's city that now bears the name Saint Petersburg, saying the world should never forget the "courage and heroism of the Soviet people and residents of Leningrad."

The Kremlin said Putin's elder brother, Viktor, born in 1940, died as an infant in 1942 during the 872-day siege and was buried in a mass grave.

Meeting survivors and laying flowers, Putin recalled that "360,000 civilians died in Leningrad over a period of just four months from the end of 1941 to the start of 1942."

He drew a comparison to the United Kingdom, saying: "Britain lost nearly the same amount in the entire World War Two."

Hunger and exhaustion

Historians say most of the blockade victims died of hunger and exposure during the extreme first winter of the siege when daily rations dropped to just 125 grams of bread per person.

Bodies lay on the streets for days because survivors were too weak to bury them. People were forced to eat pets, earth and glue and some even resorted to cannibalism.

Nazi forces laid siege to Leningrad in September 1941 and targeted it in bombing raids until January 1944. Supplies could only be transported by Russians into the city across Lake Ladoga (pictured above) when it was frozen.

German Nazi commanders resorted to starvation as part of Adolf Hitler's ultimately failed plan to eliminate the Soviet Union as a rival to intended German domination in Europe.

'Deep sadness'

On Monday, German President Joachim Gauck wrote to Putin to express Berlin's "deep sadness and shame" over the wartime siege, saying that present-day Germany recognized its "historical responsibility for the suffering inflicted on the people of Leningrad."

Gauck acknowledged that starving the besieged population into submission had been the Nazi strategy during the siege.

"The monstrous scope of human suffering still leaves us aghast," he said. "I can hardly hold back tears"

'Too horrible'

Officials say about 100,000 "blokadniki" who survived the ordeal continue to live in St Petersburg.

Visitors to a current exhibition in St Petersburg that displays a reconstructed Leningrad street under siege - featuring old trolleybuses, placards, and boarded-up windows - said survivors were still traumatized.

"My grandmother survived the blockade. She could not talk about it. It was too horrible," said Sergei Stepanenko, aged 45.

ipj/jr (AFP, dpa, AP)

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