St Petersburg University, the Russian House in Barcelona Foundation, and the State Hermitage Museum are implementing a joint project to mark the 75th anniversary of victory in World War Two. They are launching a multimedia exhibition dedicated to rescuing the cultural heritage and the Hermitage during the siege of Leningrad.
The Siege Hermitage multimedia exhibition will tell the story about efforts made by the residents of the besieged city. They did everything possible to preserve the treasures of one of the world’s greatest museums for future generations. Thanks to these people, the Hermitage Museum was able to re-open in November 1945. It has continued to attract art connoisseurs from around the world ever since. The project’s starting point was a video clip that includes wartime photographs, drawings and archival documents – you can watch it now.
On the very first day of the war, the Museum Director, Joseph Orbeli, signed a document on the evacuation of the State Hermitage Museum treasures. Staff and hundreds of volunteers were packing up the exhibits for evacuation around the clock, with only two to three hours breaks. The evacuation operation was led by the renowned Hermitage scholar and alumnus of St Petersburg University – Vladimir Levinson-Lessing. He was the only person who knew that the priceless exhibits were to be evacuated to Sverdlovsk (Ekaterinburg) in the Urals. However, only two of the three special trains were able to set off from Leningrad before the city was entirely besieged. The Hermitage was targeted and fired upon by the Nazis. Twelve air-raid shelters were fitted out in the basements of the Museum complex. Until the first evacuations were made in March 1942, there were about 2,000 people housed there permanently. Despite starvation, air-raids and freezing temperatures, the Museum never stopped its preservation functions. The Museum staff continued their scholarly activity, and took care of the buildings and the items which had remained in the Museum during the siege. They also cleared away debris of broken bricks and charred flooring after each bomb hit the building.
On 10 October 1945, the first two trains with the Hermitage Museum treasures returned home. On 8 November 1945, three restored museum halls were open to the public.
Academician Orbeli prepared a congratulatory speech for the re-opening ceremony; yet, he managed to say only a few words. No sooner had he announced that the Hermitage Museum is open, than the hall broke out in applause. And the public returned to the Hermitage, for which a new life began. Life without war.
As part of the Siege Hermitage project, on 15 May 2020, an online discussion ‘Memory of the war today’ was held. The discussion was organised jointly with the St Petersburg University Alumni Association. The participants talked about forms and practices of preserving the nation’s memory of the war and the siege of Leningrad. They also discussed ways to help museums to reach a wider audience with the narratives describing the tragic events of those years. You can watch the recording of the discussion on the St Petersburg University Alumni Association YouTube channel.
The Siege Hermitage multimedia exhibition is to open in Barcelona after the quarantine measures caused by the coronavirus pandemic are withdrawn. By then, the exposition will have been supplemented by more archival photographs, images and other documents about the Hermitage activities during the 900-day siege of Leningrad. During it, the museum staff continued lecturing in hospitals, holding conferences, and writing scholarly articles. Visitors will learn about people who enabled the preservation of the Museum collections. A portion of the exposition, featuring modern photographs, is dedicated to the State Hermitage Museum in the 21st century.