On 19th January 1944, troops of the 2nd Shock Army of the Leningrad Front broke through the blockade of New Peterhof and liberated the city from Nazi occupation. As a result of the January Thunder offensive in the days which followed, all the suburban Imperial palace-museums of Leningrad were liberated: Peterhof, Pushkin (Catherine and Alexander Palaces at Tsarskoye Selo), Pavlovsk, and Gatchina. The Peterhof Museum-Reserve was in sheer ruin. During it’s two year occupation, New Peterhof was on the front line, under constant artillery shelling and aerial bombardment from both German and Soviet forces.
The eloquent testimony of liberated Peterhof was left by the senior researcher and museum curator M.A. Tikhomirova. According to Tikhomirova, who visited the city on 31 January 1944, “Peterhof is in an horrific state. The Grand Palace gives the impression of ancient ruins. The center part of the palace is completely destroyed, the wings of the building still stand, but inside there are no ceilings. There are no domes on the church, while the Neptune and Samson statues have been stolen. In Alexandria, the cottage is intact, but the entire decoration of the walls has been stripped and the furniture has been stolen.”
The same hard impressions of the destruction seen in Peterhof were also noted by the and well-known writer, front-line correspondent P.N. Luknitsky. “Walking around the Grand Palace, a narrow path displays a red cord and many landmines. There are no traces of fire on the remains of the walls. No roofs, no rooms, no ceilings, no rafters – nothing. Piles of stone and brick are covered with snow … The Germans turned the Samson Canal into an anti-tank ditch. The lower park looks like a neglected forest, part of it has been cut down.”
Immediately after the liberation of the suburban palaces, a large public discussion about their restoration was launched, in which the resolution of the State Defense Committee “On priority measures to restore industry and the urban economy of Leningrad in 1944”, adopted on 29th March 1944, played a major role. It determined that the suburban palaces in Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo), Petrodvorets (Peterhof) and Pavlovsk should be restored. In accordance with the decision of the State Defense Committee, on 23rd April 1944, the Leningrad Executive Committee adopted an historic decision – “On priority measures for the preservation of suburban palaces and museum parks”. According to the decree, it was necessary to carry out the cleaning and elementary improvement of the territory of the Upper and Lower parks of Petrodvorets. It was also necessary to organize the protection of palaces, pavilions, and parks.
During the second half of 1944, the Directorate of palace museums and parks of Petrodvorets actively carried out work on de-mining and clearing the territory of the Lower Park, Upper Gardens and Alexandria Park from debris, as well as preserving buildings and searching for museum objects. To carry out work on clearing the Peterhof parks, the local population was widely involved, who participated on Saturdays and Sundays in July 1944. As a result, by the autumn of 1944, work on clearing the territory of the parks at Petrodvorets had been fully completed.
On 17th January 2019, a press tour dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Peterhof was held in the Lower Park of the palace complex. Elena Y. Kalnitskaya, Director General of the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve, and Pavel Vladimirovich Petrov, Head of the Museum Studies Department, spoke at the “Lessons in History” memorial on the significance of this historic date, and those who dedicated their lives to restoring and preserving one of Russia’s national monuments.
© Paul Gilbert @ Royal Russia. 21 January 2019