Born 10 July 1890, Vera Inber was a Soviet poet and writer whose greatest legacy, Leningrad Diary, described daily the sufferings and deprivations suffered by the city during the 900-day siege of 1941 – 1944.
Vera Inber’s father, owner of a publishing house, was an older cousin to the future Bolshevik revolutionary, Leon Trotsky. As a nine-year-old, Trotsky lived in the Inber’s Odessa household at the time Vera was still a baby.
Inber worked as a journalist and lived in Paris and Switzerland before returning to the Soviet Union, first to Odessa and eventually settling in Moscow.
In 1941, with the outbreak of the Second World War in the Soviet Union, Inber joined the Communist Party. Together with her husband, Inber lived in Leningrad and recorded what she witnessed in a diary, published in 1946. In it, she wrote of the daily suffering of herself and people she saw around her. She described the hunger, the cold, and the struggle to survive. Inber, herself, came close to dying from starvation.
Being a party member, Inber never criticised the regime or the city authorities and, as a result, the diary is sometimes regarded as overly propagandist. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating account of the siege which includes a memorable account of sharing her apartment with a starving mouse, the rodent struggling to find even a crumb. She describes people pulling their deceased loved ones on sledges to the cemetery, of a dead horse stripped within moments of whatever flesh it had left, of the frozen bodies piled on top of each other and left to fester in apartment block cellars. Her greatest fear, she wrote, was ‘not the bombing, not the shells, not the hunger – but a spiritual exhaustion.’
During the siege, she composed an 800-line poem, The Meridian of Pulkovo, and often broadcast her poems on the radio. Her wartime work was much hailed and in 1946, Inber was awarded the Stalin Prize for literature.
In June 1944, five months after the siege was finally lifted, Inber and her husband moved back to Moscow. The final words of Leningrad Diary reads,
‘Farewell Leningrad! Nothing in the world will ever erase you from the memory of those who lived here through this time.’
Vera Inber died in Moscow on 11 November 1972.
Rupert Colley’s chilling novel, set in Stalin’s Moscow, The Black Maria, is now available.