"When The War Came" is the sixth track on The Decemberists' smash hit 2006 album The Crane Wife
. It was written by Colin Patrick Meloy, the Decemberists' lead singer and lead guitar.
This song is about the Siege of Leningrad, a blockade that occurred from September of 1941 to January of 1944, during World War II. It is widely regarded as the deadliest siege in military history. Germany was attacking Russia, and Hitler opted to surround Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and bombard it, rather than invade directly, having predicted that the city would "fall like a leaf." Instead, the siege lasted 900 days, and through heavy casualties Leningrad citizens continued their war and munitions industries even though they were down to a few slices of bread per adult per day. Hitler ordered bombers to drop propaganda pamphlets over the city warning them that if they did not surrender, they would starve to death. Some 632,000 citizens died of starvation and hypothermia due to being without fuel for heat. Some of these casualties included the 400,000 children who lived in the city. Mass graves and history obliterate the records; some estimate that the death toll was closer to 800,000. It is still remembered today in Russia as an event of uncommon suffering and heroics. Here is a page with a hair-raising account of the Siege of Leningrad
, if you have the nerve to read more.