I know a city in this world where cats play such a big role in its history. This city is Saint Petersburg, Russia. The city has a lot of art, sculptures and stories about, and dedicated to cats. I want to tell you one story, the best one in my opinion.
The Siege of Leningrad, also known as the Leningrad Blockade, was a prolonged military blockade undertaken mainly by the German Army Group “North” against Leningrad, historically and currently known as Saint Petersburg, in the Eastern Front theater of World War II. The Siege started on September 8th 1941, when the last road to the city was severed. Although the Soviets managed to open a narrow land corridor to the city on January 18th 1943, the Siege was finally lifted on January 27th 1944, 872 days after it began. It is regarded as one of the longest and most destructive sieges in history.
A few years ago, a letter from Kira Loginova’s of occupied Leningrad was published in the newspaper “Trud”. Remembering, she wrote: “In the spring of 1942, there were no cats in Leningrad, and yet I saw one …. around the cat there were several old women gathering and praying … and it was guarded by a policeman, thin from hunger and resembling a skeleton on which a police uniform hung … “. Well, I thought, when people are dying from hunger, it would be better to eat the cat than to guard it. It turned out that it was by no means better, and there were all grounds for such an honorable protection.
The Blockade led to the death of pets of St. Petersburg’s inhabitants, and then sewer rats attacked, which not only devoured scarce food supplies, but also threatened the health of those weak from hunger by spreading terrible epidemics of diseases: the viruses which rats carry. Leningrad (currently St. Petersburg, Russia) was threatened with a plague. (If you read about the plague epidemics going around Europe during the Middle Ages, the reason for the spread of this dangerous disease was a fit of religious fanaticism that engulfed European countries in which many cats, especially black ones, were considered accomplices of witches and were brutally killed.) In 1942 – 1943, rats filled the starving city. The citizens tried to shoot them, but all their effort was useless. The hordes of gray invaders grew and strengthened. The filthy animals multiplied into vast numbers. In the spring of 1943, when the blockade loop was torn, the chairman of the Leningrad City Council signed a decree, saying that it was necessary “to send out four train carriages of cats from the Yaroslavl’ region and bring them to Leningrad.” The train with the “meowing division”, as the people of St. Petersburg named the cats, was heavily guarded. Then the cats were released, and they went into battle. Slowly, the number of the rats decreased until there were barely any at all. The cat’s tribe won. In the year of the breakthrough of the blockade, the rat army was depleted.
So why do I like cats so much? Probably it’s genetic. I’ve grown up in St.Petersburg.
Valeria Barnhill, Painting “Gang” 16″x 20″, acrylics on canvas, 2017, “Origin” exhibition in Gallery Main Street, Downtown Tyler, TX