Can somebody help me track down the source claiming Leonid Kantorovich was responsible for safety on the Road of Life during the Siege of Leningrad?
September 29, 2012 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Can somebody help me track down the source claiming Leonid Kantorovich was responsible for the safety of evacuees on the Road of Life during the Siege of Leningrad?

The English Wikipedia article on Kantorovich states:
After 1939, he became the professor of Military engineering-technical university. During the Siege of Leningrad, Kantorovich was the professor of VITU of Navy and in charge of safety on the Road of Life. He calculated the optimal distance between cars on ice, depending on thickness of ice and temperature of the air. In December 1941 and January 1942, Kantorovich personally walked between cars driving on the ice of Lake Ladoga, on the Road of Life, to ensure the cars did not sink. However, many cars with food for survivors of the siege were destroyed by the German air-bombings.

For his feat and courage Kantorovich was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War, and was decorated with the medal For Defense of Leningrad.
Unfortunately, there's no reference provided, and after reading through his Nobel Prize autobiography and searching through English language Google Books, I can't seem to find any evidence that this actually occurred.

I am guessing that there are a variety of sources in Russian that might be able to help me, and I'm hoping somebody more knowledgable about modern-era Russian history might be able to track down a useful reference, perhaps by finding an archive of medal recipients from the war?
posted by onalark to Science & Nature (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The Wikipedia article on the Military Engineering-Technical University says "Leonid Kantorovich was the professor of the VITU of the Navy, and there he was in charge of safety on the Road of Life; for his feat and courage he was awarded the Order of the Patriotic War"; they reference "Dochenko V. D., Navy. War. Victory. St. Petersburg, Shipbuilding. 1995." The author's name is actually Dotsenko (Доценко)—he published Флот. Война. Победа. [Navy. War. Victory.] in 1995. Unfortunately, that book is not indexed by Google Books; all I can find in the way of an accessible reference is this article from the St. Petersburg University magazine, which says "Леонид Витальевич Канто­рович (1912–1986) был призван на военную службу в самом начале войны и выполнял в первую блокадную зиму работы, имевшие важное оборонное значение, в частности работы для нужд осажденного города" [Leonid Vitaliyevich Kantorovich (1912–1986) was called up for military service at the very start of the war and carried out work in the first winter of the blockade that had considerable significance for the defense, in part work on the needs of the besieged city], which is pretty vague.
posted by languagehat at 10:48 AM on September 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you tried contacting the person who added that information to Wikipedia? However, if no source can be tracked down and the Wiki-editor is unresponsive it should probably be removed as original research.
posted by rhizome at 11:02 AM on September 29, 2012

A similar, but much less specific, claim is made in the French and Norwegian Wikipedia articles, again without citation. There's no mention of the siege of Leningrad in the German article. However, it's sometimes hard to tell how independent the articles in different languages are. Sometimes they're really different, but for something like a brief biographical sketch, they're more likely to be copying each other.

This page says there were 1.4 million medals For the Defense of Leningrad awarded, so it's unlikely you'd be able to find a citation detailing what he did to get that medal. The Order of the Patriotic War is even worse--there were more than a million awarded during the war, but in the 1980s, they were awarded to all the veterans of the war!
posted by hoyland at 12:08 PM on September 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

languagehat, thanks for the tips. It looks like one copy of the book is available from a collectible book seller as: Fleet War Victory 1941-1945, but I can't see myself pitching over ninety-nine bones to verify this fact, yet :)

I'm glad to know that there is at least one alleged reference, I'll ask some of my Russian friends who work in optimization if they can help me confirm the story.

And holyland, thanks as well for the disappointing news :)
posted by onalark at 12:50 PM on September 29, 2012

Prof. Moshkov at KAUST was kind of to track down this bit of text for me:

Which machine translates to:

When released Leningrad, our tanks were to go on the ice Ladoga.
Tankers were afraid to fall through the ice. Kantorovich calculated
the strength of ice and found that the distance from the tank to the
tank must be at least 27 meters. In the first tank scientist sat down
himself. All tanks safely crossed Ladoga.

Book Флот. Война. Победа. 1941-1945 В. Д. Доценко

He's trying to track down a copy of Dotsenko's book, but it looks like we should update the Wikipedia article to cite this as the proper reference.

Can a native Russian speaker help with the "tank/tanker" translation from Google? I'm assuming they are referring to large trucks and not military vehicles.
posted by onalark at 8:05 AM on September 30, 2012

Prof. Moshkov states that the correct English translation here is "military tank".
posted by onalark at 9:11 AM on September 30, 2012

Yes, "tankers" (танкисты) are members of tank crews (it's odd that we don't have a word corresponding to танкист in English).

That's quite a striking portrait of Kantorovich in that section of the page (starting "Из воспоминаний А. ОБРАЗЦОВА, архитектора, лауреата Государственной премии СССР"); he seems to have been entirely unsuited for military life (his fellow soldiers had to teach him how to smoke and curse), frequently in trouble for unmilitary behavior like eating on duty and tormented by a lieutenant colonel who hated the intelligentsia until Kantorovich was promoted to full colonel and the lt. col. had to salute him.
posted by languagehat at 9:55 AM on September 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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