Paul Crichton about "Just Another War – How I Survived the Siege of Leningrad" (Davies)
Just Another War by Luise Davies, London: Kiener Press, 2018
In this short and moving memoir Luise Davies has set down her childhood recollections of the siege of Leningrad and her escape from the city to Krasnodar, in the Caucusus, and then, via Frankfurt, Hamburg and Muenster, to Ilford in East London.
She has an eye for vivid details, and notes, for instance, that her mother put a tin bath on the windowsill to wash her, so that both of them could enjoy the view of the River Neva; or that when people were starving during the siege, all the cats and dogs soon disappeared and some people boiled leather belts to make soup.
The book is filled with tragedy: her mother ate little so that Luise could have a little more to eat, giving her life to save her daughter’s. One day Luise came back from school and found her mother sitting, leaning against the fireplace, dead. The last glimpse she got of her mother was when her father was dragging her corpse away on a sledge, her legs and feet dangling in the snow. She was buried in a mass grave.
Her father was the one who organized her escape from the city, first on an overloaded carriage pulled by a malnourished horse over the frozen Lake Lagoda, and then on cattle trucks going south. He did so knowing that he would probably never see her again. He died of starvation some time later.
But there is resilience as well as tragedy. She describes how she managed to survive the flight from Leningrad despite being severely malnourished herself, was able to make contact with her mother’s family in Hamburg, met her husband-to-be, an English soldier, there, and eventually arrived in East London.
This book is accompanied by photos of Luise’s family and of Leningrad then and St Petersburg now, and a map showing the route she took across Europe. It not only contains an engaging and compelling account of her childhood memories of living through the siege of Leningrad, and how she was able to escape, but constitutes an important historical document of these terrible times.
Paul Crichton, London 2018