УДК 93/94

On the issue of work of the food industry in Leningrad at the beginning of the Siege (autumn-winter 1941)

Тарелко Владислав Михайлович – лаборант-исследователь Института истории Санкт-Петербургского государственного университета, младший научный сотрудник Военно-исторического музея артиллерии, инженерных войск и войск связи

Abstract: The research is focused on the food industry in the besieged Leningrad during the most difficult period for it, i.e. the autumn-winter 1941 when Shlisselburg was occupied by German troops. Under such conditions, it was particularly difficult to provide food for the troops and people in the city. The authorities were thus faced with the difficult task of solving a number of food problems. The main aim of the paper is therefore to show, using the example of government decisions (city committee, executive committee and military council), how the authorities tried to solve the problem of food shortages in the besieged city by introducing various additives and alternative substitutes into the food industry. The study is novel in that it communicate the result of the processing of the available materials to the foreign scientific community as there are quite few studies about the history of the siege of Leningrad in a foreign language. This paper is written on the basis of extensive material from the Central State Archive of Saint Petersburg and published documents.

Keywords: The Great Patriotic War, food industry, besieged Leningrad, Siege, the Leningrad City Executive Committee, Military Council of the Leningrad Front.

On 8 September 1941, German troops occupied Shlisselburg, which cut Leningrad off from the mainland. In such circumstances it proved particularly difficult to provide food for the troops and people of the city. By the beginning of the war Leningrad did not have significant food supplies. By 12 September 1941, the food supplies for the troops and the population were as follows: grain, flour – 35 days, grains and noodles – 30 days, meat – 33, 1 day [10, p. 146]. There were practically no potatoes, vegetables and fruit in the city, as the crops that had ripened in the fields near Leningrad could not be harvested in time because of the invading troops. The rapid disappearance of “civilized” groceries from shops and canteens began in September 1941.

The Leningrad government took various measures to save food in the city. The Military Council of the Leningrad Front decided on 10 September to save food: all bread-making organisations in Leningrad were to use barley, oat, soya and malt flour as an admixture in baking bread. Beer production was halted on 23 September 1941 in order to find additional food resources. All malt, barley and other products available at the breweries were sent to the Leningrad office of Grain Procurement Department to be milled into flour; all available bran and malt were fully used for baking [7].

Gradually, the amount of admixtures in the bread increased. On 24 September 1941, the Leningrad City Executive Committee of the City Council of Working People’s Deputies adopted a decision “On baking bread and establishing one type of wheat bread” to set the following admixtures for rye bread: malt flour – 12%, soya flour – 12%, oat flour – 12%, oilcake – 2.5%, wheat or rye bran – 1.5% [4, sh. 200]. As early as October 8, 1941, the Leningrad City Executive Committee decreed “On changing the percentages of rye flour admixtures for baking rye bread”: malt flour – 14%, soya flour – 4%, oat flour – 8%, egg flour – 4%, oilcake – 4%, wheat or rye bran – 4% [4, sh. 89].  Thus, it can be seen that the amount of admixtures and their percentages have been increasing.

Due to the great need for grain, the government fought for all grain that could come with increased moisture, which could disrupt bread production. To prevent spoilage, the Bureau of the Leningrad City Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) decided that all grain with high moisture content should be sent to breweries (Krasnaya Bavaria, Vienna and Stepan Razin plants) for drying and subsequent supplying to the mills.

In November the food situation deteriorated considerably. On 19 November 1941, the Military Council of the Leningrad Front was forced to adopt a resolution “On Temporary Changes in the Standards for the Supply of Bread” [11, p. 138-139]. This decree defined the lowest nutritional standards. This decision limited not only the daily amount of flour consumption, but also the admixtures. In order not to stop the distribution of bread to the population completely, the percentage of admixtures was already 40 per cent in relation to the flour. But the admixtures were also running out. At that time, scientists suggested cellulose, which had previously only been used as a raw material for paper production, as one of the components of the admixture, and on 19 November 1941 a decree of the Military Council of the Leningrad Front decided to oblige the director of the Leningrad City Baking Trust according to the amount of food cellulose obtained from production use as an admixture for baking [8]. It is worth noting that food cellulose for foodstuffs was used for the first time in the Soviet Union. 

The issue of organising foodstuffs and their substitutes from non-food raw materials was discussed at Smolny in early October 1941. At that meeting Vassilii Ivanovich Sharkov proposed the use of hydrocellulose and protein yeast as foodstuffs.

Protein yeast is yeast that was derived from wood, and it got its name “protein” because of its high quality protein content. The inestimable value of this was that at this time it was in short supply to the population, as it was the lack of protein that caused dystrophy. Up to 26 different dishes were made from such yeast in Leningrad. For example, yeast soup, or various pates. To make pate, yeast with salt, onion, pepper and fat was mixed with slightly roasted flour until it became a thick dough, in which form the yeast acquired the smell of roast meat (liver) and a pleasant meat or mushroom flavour [10, p. 145].

The government appreciated the scientists' suggestion. In November 1941, a decree on the harvesting and processing of wood bark for food purposes was passed. A total of 5,000 tonnes of wood (pine and spruce) bark were to be harvested and shipped to Leningrad by December 10. The primary processing of the harvested wood bark was to be carried out by the Radishchev mill, the Kirov mill and the Lenin state mill have been entrusted with the further work [9, p. 430]. Also in order to increase food resources, plants for the production of food yeast from wood were set up in the districts. All the products produced were sent to canteens for public catering and distributed to district organisations [9, p. 444-445].

In addition to yeast, a decision was also issued for the production of food cellulose. The City Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) obliged the Chief Administration for the Sale of Products of the Paper Industry and the directors of the paper mills: Volodarsky, Gorky, Pyatiletka and Goznak to hand over a total of 2,100 tonnes of wood cellulose to the Leningrad office of Grain Procurement Department for the production of food cellulose [9, p. 535-537]. Food cellulose production was carried out in two ways: by autoclaving – this was done by the Hydrolysis Alcohol Plant; by brewing – this was organised by the Stepan Razin Brewery.

The increase in the amount of admixtures in bread was not the only decision of the authorities to increase the amount of foodstuffs in the city.

For example, one such decision was taken by the Leningrad City Executive Committee of the City Council of Working People’s Deputies to start producing, from 10 September, soya milk and other sour-milk products [1, sh. 211]. Also on 29 September, a decision was taken to process all industrial oils (linseed, hemp, soya and cotton) for food [1, sh. 345]. After the squeezing process, pulp or oil cake was left, which was also used as a surrogate foodstuff. It was used to make porridge, flatbread, soup and pancakes. In some cases, oil cake was given out as a ration product, and it was also used in baking bread and for making sweets.

Due to the shortage of vegetables in the city, a forced decision was made to use the seed potatoes from the 1941 harvest for food purposes. It was used to supply public catering enterprises, obliging the managers of the Agricultural Trust to hand over 1,405 tonnes of seed potatoes to the Leningrad Fruit and Vegetables Procurement Department [1, sh. 29].

Due to a shortage of meat products in the city, a decision was made on 2 October 1941 to use horse meat for food purposes. All unsuitable (or culled) horses that were unsuitable for the farm work or for the needs of the Red Army were mandatorily provided to the Leningrad Meat Procurement Department acceptance stations at their own expense. The inspection of the suitability of the provided horses for food purposes was carried out directly by the veterinary inspectorate of the Leningrad Meat Procurement Department acceptance stations. The killing of horses on the spot without their use for food purposes was prohibited, except for their unsuitability, which was certified by a veterinarian [1, sh. 65]. On 20 October, another regulation was issued on the registration and prohibition of unauthorised slaughtering of livestock [1, sh. 55].

In addition, the Leningrad City Executive Committee of the City Council of Working People’s Deputies adopted a decision “On the production of cream cheese spread”, which was made of casein, taking into account the remarks of the State Sanitary Inspectorate regarding the recipe and the taste of the cheese [1, sh. 88]. 600 tonnes of dried casings from the Leningrad office of Raznoexport were proposed for the production of cutlets and broth jelly [1, sh. 121].

Soybean extracted meal, a soy bean press, was also known to be a substitute. “I ate it for the first time, it’s so disgusting that there are no words for it, but damn, it’s nourishing...” – this way A.N. Boldyrev commented on this surrogate [12, p. 248].

Technical albumin was also used in large quantities – this is blood collected from dirty floors during the slaughtering of cattle and canned carbolic acid. It was also used to make, for example, cutlets or blood sausages [12, p. 254].

On 15 December 1941, Ya.F. Kapustin reported to A.A. Zhdanov on the work of the food industry. It was noted that the ingredients used in the new industry included the following admixtures: oat flour, barley flour, soybean meal, cake flour, bran, wallpaper dust, malt flour, flour sweepings, maize meal, rice flour and food cellulose. Achievements in the food industry were also highlighted: “1,200 tonnes of salted intestines, 300 tonnes of soybean flour, 80 tonnes of technical albumin, 50 tonnes of soybean extracted meal were used as ingredients in the production of meat products”.

The dairy industry has processed 320 tonnes of soybeans and 25 tonnes of cotton cake, resulting in additional output. In public catering, jelly made from vegetable milk wash water, juice, glycerine and gelatine was widely used.

Waste from milling oats for making oatmeal starch drinks, substandard mushrooms from the 1940 harvest, casein, protein jelly, cabbage leaf, cabbage sprouts, cellulose, berry puree from cranberry presses, etc. were used in public catering.

Hops and nicotine paper were introduced as tobacco components. In order to increase the production of cigarettes from existing raw materials, the sleeve formats were changed, yielding an additional 150 million smoking units. Production of tobacco substitutes based on available 350 tonnes of tobacco dust was set up. Production of vitamin C in the form of pine needles infusion was organised.

In the perfume industry, the production of tooth powder from chemically pure chalk was replaced by the production of tooth powder from magnesia. In addition, the food industry has mastered and is producing: food concentrates (porridges, soups, etc.), medical glucose, balsam, oxalic acid, tannin, dibutyl phthalate, hydrozine, carotene [7].

Thus, thanks to extraordinary and timely decisions of the city authorities, the food industry in besieged Leningrad withstood all the hardships of the first months of the war, and as early as 24 December 1941 a decision was made to increase bread allocation.


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