Cannibalism – Survival of the Fattest

  • April 07, 2010
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The Siege of Leningrad

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In 1941 the German Army and Finnish Defence Forces established a full blockage around the city of Leningrad, Russia (today known as Saint Petersburg). Lasting over two years, the Siege of Leningrad was one of the longest sieges in history, as well as the largest and most devastating. The city was completely isolated by both land and sea, leaving Lake Ladoga as the only possible means of supplying the populous. During the summer months food was taken over the lake and civilians were evacuated in boats. During the winter, an ice road was constructed over the frozen surface of the lake. This was dubbed ‘the road of life’ as it was the city’s only lifeline. However the name was quickly changed to ‘the road of death’ owing to its treacherous conditions. No matter how hard they worked and how many civilians they evacuated, the Soviet army could not supply the city with enough food via the ‘road of death’. Starvation set in and the city’s bakers were ordered to mix sawdust with their bread to make it last longer. Birds, rats and pets were also eaten before the populous finally turned to cannibalism. Cannibalism was so widespread in the besieged city that the Leningrad police organized a specialized anti-cannibalism squad to tackle the problem, although in hindsight it must have saved the lives of many people. Casualties of the siege have been estimated at 1.5 million.

This is not the first time the people of Soviet Russia have resorted to cannibalism. The famine in the Ukrainian SSR from 1932 to 1933 saw widespread reports of cannibalism. The Soviet regime attempted to curtail the problem with a poster campaign stating that ‘to eat your own children is a barbarian act’.

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German prisoners of war captured by the Soviets are also said to have resorted to cannibalism to survive the harsh conditions of the Soviet prison camps, as are those imprisoned in the Soviet gulags.


The Holocaust


Of course, any amount of suffering inflicted upon German prisoners of war only mirrored the suffering they themselves caused. While German prisoners of war were left starving in Soviet prison camps, the Holocaust was in full swing and many civilians were left to starve in the infamous German concentration camps. Cannibalism is not one of the more widely publicized aspects of the Holocaust, perhaps because we tend to focus on the atrocities committed by those running the camps and prefer not to think about what went on inside of their walls. Nevertheless, cannibalism is rumoured to have taken place in some Nazi camps and may have been a necessity for many.

Written by Mark Ball – Copyrighted © Image Sources

Image sources:

  • - Andes Flight Disaster:
  • - The Franklin Expedition:
  • - The Whale Ship Essex:
  • - The Siege of Leningrad:
  • - The Holocaust: