The German hunger genocide
Survivors of the Nazi hunger siege of Leningrad during World War Two press for compensation. Eighty years on, Berlin still rejects claims.
BERLIN/MOSCOW (own report) – On the eve of the 80th anniversary of the breaking of the German siege of Leningrad in the Second World War, on 27 January 1944, survivors are once again calling for at least a small amount of compensation. Over a period of almost 900 days, between 1941 and 1944, the German Wehrmacht had cut off food supplies to the three million inhabitants of the Soviet metropolis. The Nazi leadership aimed to murder the city’s entire population by enforced starvation. Writing on the 60th anniversary of the breaking of the blockade, historian Jörg Ganzenmüller had already identified a “genocide by doing nothing”. As many as 1.1 million people perished. Compensation has so far only been paid to Jewish victims. In 2008, Berlin awarded them a one-off payment of exactly 2,556 euros. Non-Jewish survivors are now also demanding this small sum. In fact, the plan to kill Leningrad’s population was also explicitly aimed at the non-Jewish inhabitants, whom the Nazis racially denigrated as Slavic “Untermenschen” – sub-humans. Today, Germany’s federal government still explicitly categorises the German-inflicted genocide by starvation as a “general act of war” for which no compensation is due.
The Wehrmacht closed the blockade ring strangling Leningrad on 8 September 1941. The city was then home to some three million people. They were cut off from all supplies by German troops, assisted in the north by forces from Finland, which was allied with the Nazi Reich. At times the Soviets managed, at great risk, to bring in small amounts of food and other supplies across Lake Ladoga in the east. The quantities, however, were nowhere near sufficient to feed the population. Immediately after completing the siege ring, the Wehrmacht began to target their bombing on food warehouses and other essential facilities. It took only a few weeks for the shortage of food and energy to become dramatic. The hunger was rampant and deadly. In addition to starvation, the icy cold claimed many lives. Several Soviet offensives aimed at liberating Leningrad failed. It was not until 27 January 1944 that the Red Army succeeded in breaking the siege. After nearly 900 days during which Leningrad was in the grip of the German encirclement almost 1.1 million people lost their lives. The vast majority of them of them starved or froze to death.
Mass murder by simply doing nothing
Death by starvation was a deliberate act on the part of the German Reich. Adolf Hitler, noted Joseph Goebbels on 9 July 1941, “intended to have cities like Moscow and St Petersburg wiped out.” This was “necessary”, he wrote, “because if we want to divide Russia into its individual parts” it should “no longer have a spiritual, political or economic centre.” Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring advised, in September 1941, the military to wait before conquering Leningrad “on economic grounds”. Berlin’s plans made clear that the available food in the Soviet Union was to benefit the Wehrmacht instead of the Soviet population. “We have no interest in maintaining even a part of the metropolitan population in this existential war,” declared Hitler on 29 September 1941. Any talk of the city surrendering had to be “rejected, as the problem of keeping and feeding the population cannot be solved by us.” The population of Leningrad were left to starve to death – much like the millions of Soviet prisoners of war held by Germany. The historian Jörg Ganzenmüller wrote twenty years ago that this form of mass murder was cost-effective for Berlin. It amounted to “genocide by simply doing nothing”.
Alternative to compensation: remembrance
The survivors of the genocidal blockade have never received adequate compensation from the legal successor to the German Reich, the Federal Republic of Germany. Only Jewish survivors were given the option of receiving a one-off payment as compensation. This occurred in 2008 and amounted, according to the German Foreign Office, to 2,556 euros. In 2021, i.e. 80 years after the start of the blockade, the Jewish Claims Conference then succeeded in obtaining a commitment from the Federal Republic of Germany to establish a pensions programme for around 6,500 Jewish victims of National Socialism from which Jewish survivors of the siege could in principle benefit. The programme grants them monthly payments of 375 euros. Non-Jewish survivors have been left empty-handed to this day. And yet Berlin’s plan to exterminate the population of Leningrad by starvation was explicitly aimed at all inhabitants, including the non-Jewish population, who were racially targeted as Slavic “Untermenschen” (sub-humans). In 2019, then marking the 75th anniversary of the breaking of the siege, the Federal Foreign Office did provide twelve million euros for modernising a war veterans hospital and establishing a German-Russian centre for public commemoration and exchange. Berlin regards this as a voluntary gesture that does not imply any obligation to further payments.
“General act of war”
In particular, the German government rejects on principle the notion of paying individual compensation to non-Jewish citizens of the former Soviet Union or present-day Russia. “Damages that ... result from general acts of war fall under general international law and are not regulated by individual compensation claims but by reparation agreements between states,” ran the government statement to the German Bundestag in 2017. Accordingly, the government still categorises the Nazi’s plan to subject a metropolis of three million people to starvation as a “general act of war”. The former Soviet Union had, the statement adds, “received reparations on a considerable scale and waived further German reparations payments in August 1953”. A “state that has received reparations” is itself responsible for “compensating for individual damage on its territory.” Berlin concluded in 2017 that in terms of “statutory compensation payments” there is no longer any “issue in the context of German-Russian relations”. It merely conceded that “the memory” of the brutal siege should continue to be upheld. With its “policy of remembrance” the Federal Republic of Germany regularly presents itself, with an eye to effective public relations, as an ostensibly sanitised state, while at the same time leaving the victims empty-handed.
Ahead of the 80th anniversary of the breaking of the Leningrad siege, the few remaining survivors have again spoken out. “There are now fewer than sixty thousand of us, all people of various nationalities who survived the horrors of the besieged city,” they say in an open letter to the German government. The survivors “strongly condemn” Berlin’s refusal to extend the already meagre compensation “to all victims of the siege still alive today, regardless of their ethnicity”. After all, they point out, the wartime German starvation plans did not provide for “any exceptions based on nationality”. The open letter states: “We appeal to the German government not to delay in making the only right decision and to extend humanitarian payments to all siege survivors without exception, of whom there are ever fewer.” According to survivors, even the modernisation of the hospital for war veterans advertised by Berlin as a “humanitarian gesture” has “still not been realised”.
 Elke Fröhlich (ed.): Die Tagebücher von Joseph Goebbels. Im Auftrag des Instituts für Zeitgeschichte und mit Unterstützung des Staatlichen Archivdienstes Rußlands. Teil II: Diktate 1941-1945. volume 1: Juli- September 1941. München/New Providence/London/Paris 1996. S. 33.
,  Jörg Ganzenmüller: Ein stiller Völkermord. zeit.de 15.01.2004. See also Rezension: Wigbert Benz: Der Hungerplan im „Unternehmen Barbarossa“ 1941.
 Erklärungen des Auswärtigen Amts in der Regierungspressekonferenz, on 11.10.2021.
 Hilfe für Überlebende. juedische-allgemeine.de 06.10.2021.
 “Der Untermensch”. dhm.de.
 Russland will Geld für nichtjüdische Opfer. zeit.de 30.12.2023.
 Entschädigung jetzt! unsere-zeit.de 10.10.2023.