Siege of Leningrad, Tanya Savicheva and Leonid Kantorovich

During Second World War Germans surrounded city of Leningrad (now called Saint Petersberg) and stopped all supplies to the residents of city. Hitler wanted to kill all the residents of city by starving them. Siege of city resulted thousands of people dying due to starvation. One such resident, whose family faced starvation, was an 11 years old girl called Tanya Savicheva. Due to siege one after the other, members of her family started dying.

Tanya maintained a diary during this period and content of dairy were…

Zhenya died on Dec. 28th at 12:00 P.M. 1941

Grandma died on Jan. 25th 3:00 P.M. 1942

 Leka died on March 17th at 5:00 A.M. 1942

 Uncle Vasya died on Apr. 13th at 2:00 after midnight 1942

 Uncle Lesha on May 10th at 4:00 P.M. 1942

 Mother on May 13th at 7:30 A.M. 1942

 Savichevs died.

 Everyone died.

 Only Tanya is left.


How did Tanya manage to survive?  To a large extent credit goes to mathematician Leonid Kantorovich.

Leonid Kantorovich was Russian mathematician and economist. He was keen to put his knowledge of mathematics to some practical use. He got in touch with Plywood Board of Russia (then Soviet Union) and worked with them in improving production taking into account various factors like raw material, labour, machinery etc. This technique of getting optimal production was called as Linear Programming. Linear programming was later used by military to optimise its resources. In 1947 two US based mathematicians George Dantzing and John von Neumann made further advancements in linear programming. Dantzing introduced Simplex methods to solve linear programming equations while Neumann who is father of game theory, introduced concept of duality. He found application of linear programming in game theory.


During same period another American mathematician and economist Tjalling Koopmans was in similar area. In 1975 Kantorovich and Koopmans were jointly awarded Noble prize in economics for their contributions to the theory of optimum allocation of resources.

Now coming back to our story, though Leningrad was surrounded from all sides by Germans, there was narrow strip of land which was still under Russia’s control which connected Lake Ladoga with Leningrad. This strip of land was Leningrad’s life line it was also called “Road of Life”. During winter Lake Ladoga was frozen so an ice road was made to carry supplies and for evacuation. Ice roads are dangerous because ice can crack under the weight of vehicles, resulting in loss of life due to drowning.

Kantorovich was made in charge of this ice road called Road of Life.  He took into consideration various factors like thickness of ice, temperature, speed and distance between two vehicles to ensure that vehicles carrying supplies did not sink.

During one such evacuation exercise the Russian army managed to rescue Tanya. Unfortunately Tanya did not survive of long within two years of rescue operation she died due to tuberculosis.







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