The Leningrad album is one of the most unique items in Special Collections. The album was sent from the besieged women of Leningrad in 1942 to the women of Coatbridge and Airdrie. It consists of drawings, watercolours, hand printed pictures and photographs, as well as messages of greeting. The text is in Russian with English translation.
About the Leningrad Album
In 1942, when the city of Leningrad was under siege from the invading German army, the women's section of the Anglo-Soviet Aid Committee in Airdrie & Coatbridge decided to send messages of support and solidarity to the women of Leningrad. The ‘Scottish Album' was taken to London and given to Madame Maisky, the wife of the Soviet ambassador. Due to wartime censorship, no further details are available of how the album made its way to Leningrad. It could have been transported on a convoy ship to Murmansk or Archangel, by air or even by overland via the Southern states of Russia. Once it arrived in Russia, there were only two ways into the city – either by air on one of the very few flights or (more likely) across Lake Ladoga, the main route into the city during the siege. This journey was made by boat in summer or over the ‘ice road' in winter.
To say thank you for this gesture of solidarity, a group of women in Leningrad compiled this beautiful and moving album containing paintings, drawings, photographs, hand-written letters and messages. The fact that this album was produced by women enduring extremes of cold and hunger and when thousands were dying every day in the city makes it even more remarkable. The Leningrad Album was supervised by Anna Petrovna Ostramova-Lebedeva, a well-known graphic artist in the city. Housed in a box with gold brocade box, the album cover is decorated with an ancient embroidery from the Russian Museum in Leningrad. There are 3,200 signatures, messages and photographs of housewives, workers and their children in happier times.
Page 13 Illustration: Picture of Smolny
To the Communist Party of Airdrie, Women’s Section
Dear Comrades: We women of Leningrad, a city which bears the name of the great Lenin, send you our sincere greetings and shake you by the hand. For many months now we and the sections of the Red Army have been making all possible efforts to prevent the enemy from breaking into our beloved city. We are inspired and strengthened in this difficult struggle by Stalin. Our strength grows every day. Your letter once again convinced us that we are not alone. The friendly people of Great Britain and America and all freedom-loving and progressive mankind are with us. We very much appreciate your undertaking to work so as to help us speed up the victory over the enemy. We will not spare our strength and will fight to ensure that not one member of the German occupation forces remains in our country. 1942 must become the year in which the German invaders are defeated, the year in which Hitler is smashed. Together with you under the banner of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin – forward to victory.
To the girls of Airdrie from the girls of Leningrad.
Dear friends: We send you our warm greeting. Your undertaking to help is found a warm echo in our hearts. Fascism hangs like a black cloud over our young lives. We do no spare our strength in the name of a splendid future and of life itself to ensure victory over the hated and inexorable enemy. Hand in hand with you in this struggle, relying on the ever-strengthening unity and help of our states, we will fight for and achieve the right to freedom and happiness.
Page 17. Illustration The Rostral Columns
Dear sisters: we are moved by the friendly expression of your feelings, your thoughts about is and your support. Help us to be staunch in bearing all the difficulties of the fight against the common enemy. We firmly believe that by uniting out and your efforts we shall help to overcome the Hilterite hordes in 1942.
The Rostral Columns feature prominently in the illustrations. They were erected along the banks of the River Neva in Leningrad and in the park of the summer palace of Pushkin. They recalled the ancient Roman practice of sawing into pieces of ships captured from the enemy and embedding their prows in victory columns. They also had a practical purpose in Leningrad – they served as beacons for ships coming into the harbour.
Page 36 To the women of Airdrie, Coatbridge and Woodside.
We Women of Leningrad send greetings to you women of Scotland and our allies. Distance is no hindrance to you or us. For the sake of our common cause there is no thing as distance. We are waging a fight against the Hitlerites over the whole continent in the wake of our husbands. Let us speed up the day and celebrate our common victory in a common language.
(Signed) V.I. [Vera Inber]
The last message in the Leningrad Album was in verse, written for the women of Airdrie and Coatbridge by the Moscow poet, Vera Mikhaylovna Inber (1890-1972). Inber lived Leningrad throughout the siege; she and her husband, the director of the First Medical Institute in Leningrad, chose to come to the city just before it was encircled knowing the imminent danger. Vera Inber believed it was her duty as a poet to experience at first hand and to record the worst sufferings.
Page 39 Illustration of flags by Vera Vladimirovna Milyutina.
Vera Vladimirovna Milyutina was a relatively unknown artist in the 1940s and was one of the collective of artists working on the album. Born 1903. She lived a long life and died in 1987. Years after the siege she shared her recollections:
“We [the collective of artists] were all finding it difficult to think. Everyone was suffering from vitamin deficiency, scurvy and anaemia. Our fingers lacked agility, our eyes clarity of vision, our brains tired easily.”
“After working for several hours, I would return to my bombed, partly burnt-out house. My grandfather would come back from his work and we would sit down to a meal of then broth and a galantine made of carpenter’s glue and bay leaves.”
“It fell to me to find the information we needed about the British flags. Our encyclopaedia only showed them in black and white but since we required them in colour, I had to consult the Library of the Academy of Sciences. I was given the necessary passes and set out to walk across the empty city…Though I had a walking stick, I was obliged to rest frequently. I found it difficult to get up when I had to sit down on doorsteps – for I had to cover the distance all the way form the Finland Station to the Vasilyevskiy Island. At last I reached the library. In the corridor some women were dragging a bale of books along the floor. I asked the authorities if I could see the British flags and crests. They told me that each of the library staff had climbed to the second floor, where the information was held, that day already and they had no more strength left to go up…I begged them and showed them my pass but they continued to say firmly: “Tomorrow they will go to the second floor”. The next day I set out on my journey again, leaving home soon after dawn. This time I was able to work for several hours in a corner of an empty study.”
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