Joshua Rubenstein writes:
Ms. Reid vividly describes how people tried to get by on virtually inedible food substitutes: cotton-seed cakes that were normally used as fuel in ship furnaces; sheep guts, together with calf skins from a tannery, were turned into “meat jelly”; fermented birch sawdust was turned into “yeast extract,” which, dissolved in hot water, was considered “yeast soup.” As the civilians grew more desperate, they scraped dry glue from the underside of wallpaper, boiled leather shoes and belts hoping in vain that they could be eaten or at least chewed. “Zoologists survived the siege: they knew how to catch rats and pigeons,” the author notes. “Impractical mathematicians died.”
The most desperate turned to cannibalism. Using police records that became available in 2004, Ms. Reid provides details where Salisbury had to rely on unofficial and often unsubstantiated anecdotes. The stories are gruesome. It was common for bodies to be left in apartments among the living because of the danger of taking them to cemeteries or even down to the street. Those that were buried were dug up and eaten. Hospital workers took home amputated limbs. Organized groups lured passersby into apartments with offers to barter food for valuables, then murdered the visitors and ate them. According to police records, there were more than 2,000 arrests for cannibalism in Leningrad, a figure that would have to be considered well below the true number of actual episodes.
Joshua Rubenstein, review of Anna Reid, Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941–44 (Walker & Co.) The Wall Street Journal, 27-28 August, 2011, p. C9.