“To Your Good Deeds, Leningrad,” reads the letters inscribed in Victory Square, as classical music provides a soundtrack to the eternal flames keeping vigil.
Now called St. Petersburg, the city of Leningrad was under siege by the Germans for 900 days in World War II.
Toward the end, the residents resorted to cannibalism and bodies were piled in the streets. Documentary footage at the memorial shows images of an old woman trudging through the snow, lugging the body of a loved one on a sled.
For their survival, Leningrad was named one of Russia’s “Hero Cities.” But the horror lived out beneath that designation defies imagination. It also lends itself to tremendous courage and points to the resilence of the human spirit.
In the midst of the slaughter and vast deprivation, Igor Stravinski paid homage to this human spirit by writing a symphony. Musicians, some who could barely hold their instruments, played the piece, which was broadcast to the Germans and to the world beyond. Good deeds.
This same day, the group also visited the palace of Catherine the Great with its magnificent Amber Room. Opulence abounds and visitors are pulled into the world of this woman ruler who ushered in an age of enlightenment in Russia.
The itinerary also included a trip to Bethany UMC, which is building a new church in the town of Pushkin and the day ended with a boat ride down the Neva River. The arc of a perfect rainbow appeared in the sky as we walked down the streets to the hostel. It was a benediction.