10 True Stories of Survival Cannibalism

The Siege of Leningrad
Lifelike dolls hold the interest of four Russian orphans whose parents were killed in the Leningrad siege. When the picture was taken on Jan. 15, 1946, the kids were being cared for in a children's home. © Bettmann/Corbis

The Siege of Leningrad was a nearly three-year bombardment by German Nazi forces against the city of (what is now) St. Petersburg. The Russian population didn't just face a daily barrage of bombing and violence. A million people died in the siege. For comparison's sake, an estimated 135,000 people perished in the bombing of Hiroshima [source: BBC]. The 900-day blockage forced the population to starve to death without any means of replenishing the food supply.

For a long time, Soviet authorities denied reports of cannibalism during the blockade, but findings in the last 20 years have been clear: Cannibalism wasn't just a rumor, but a very scary fact of life for those under siege. Consider that the people of Leningrad each had a daily ration of bread about the weight of a bar of soap and used whatever they could to fill their diet: glue, petroleum jelly, boiled leather briefcases or fur coats. Now evidence (in the form of diaries and other artifacts) shows that gangs of starving citizens, bent on any flesh they could get, were such a threat to the population that the city had a whole unit to fight cannibalism. Indeed, 260 were arrested and jailed for eating human flesh, and parents kept children home after dark to prevent them from being kidnapped for meat [source: Bivens].