(JTA) – Participants in the first St. Petersburg Limmud gathered to remember the 70th anniversary of the Siege of Leningrad.
The commemoration in Pushkin, Russia, a city on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, featured a group of conference participants, dignitaries and survivors speaking on the implications of the battle today.
The 872-day offensive by the Nazis in the former Leningrad, now named St. Petersburg and Russia’s second-largest city, was particularly bloody and was responsible for the deaths of about 1.5 million civilians and Soviet soldiers. In Pushkin, about 800 Jews were killed in a Nazi massacre on Sept. 9, 1941.
Matthew Bronfman, chairman of the Limmud Former Soviet Union international steering committee, told the crowd that the gathering was a rebuke to Nazis who sought to destroy Russian Jewish life.
“The importance of this ceremony is to emphasize that the Nazis failed in their endeavor to extinguish Jewish life, and here in St. Petersburg we are actively restoring it," he said.
Other speakers included steering committee member Chaim Chesler, former treasurer of the Jewish Agency for Israel and a longtime Soviet Jewry activist; Steven Schwager, executive vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; Ben Helfgott, a Holocaust survivor and the vice president of the Claims Conference; Dorit Golender, Israel’s ambassador to Russia; Sofa Landver, Israel’s minister of immigrant absorption; Roman Polonsky, head of the Former Soviet Union department of the Jewish Agency; and Eddie Shapira, Israel’s consul general in St. Petersburg.
A St. Petersburg-area Holocaust survivor also addressed the gathering, recalling the effect of the siege on the city’s Jews.
“People like living skeletons were roaming the streets,” Ludmila Yampolskaya said.
The siege began in the city’s outskirts and Jews made attempts to relocate to central St. Petersburg. Those unable to flee were tortured and killed by the Nazis.