Teenage Soviet Hero Executed 61 Years Ago

Young teenage girl Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya heroically died during the Great Patriotic War

The legendary girl Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was executed 61 years ago. It was on the day of November 29th, 1941. The weather was very cold that afternoon. The Germans forced the residents of the village of Petrisheva (70 kilometers far from Moscow) watch the execution. The people were growing numb both with cold and with horror when they saw a young girl walking barefoot towards the scaffold. The girl was abused and tortured, yet, she still had a strong human spirit.

The girl’s name was Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, or Tanya, as she called herself. The Moscow schoolgirl volunteered to enlist in the intelligence services in the settlement of Kuntsevo. The Russian intelligence headquarters in Kuntsevo trained its soldiers to conducting subversive activities behind German lines. Before Zoya was hanged, she shouted out the following words, which are still in the memory of the Russian people: “You won’t hang everyone of 200 million! My comrades will take revenge for me! The Soviet Union will win!” Later, those words became the words in the Soviet Army and the Russian people.

It has recently become known that Zoya was betrayed by her fellow-soldier from their partisan group. The three of them approached the village of Petrishevo and then dispersed towards various parts of the village. Their goal was to set the German headquarters and stables on fire, as well as the houses where the German soldiers were staying. The Germans caught one of Zoya’s friends, and he told them about Zoya and the third soldier.

The betrayer, a “Soviet partisan” became a German agent. Some time later, the Germans sent the man back to the Soviet rear, but his activities were soon exposed. Soviet intelligence questioned the man and found out the details of Zoya’s tragic life. He said that the Germans beat the teenage girl with rubber batons for two hours. The girl did not make a sound at that. She did her best to show her courage, biting her lips until they bled. Years later, a Soviet court martial sentenced the betrayer to death.

The bayoneted body of a young Soviet partisan hung on the gallows for more than a month. The Germans did not allow to the body to be buried. Zoya was buried only after the beginning of the counter-offensive of the Soviet Army on the outskirts of Moscow.

Military correspondent of the newspaper Pravda, Pyotr Lidov, learned about this story incidentally, from a village elder. Lidov left for the village of Petrishevo. The journalist was struck with what he heard. The owner of the house in which Zoya was tortured told the reporter that Zoya originated from Moscow. The girl called herself Tanya, because she did not want the enemy to know her real name. The grave with Zoya’s body was exhumed on January 24, 1942. However, it was not possible to identify the executed girl. Lidov decided that the identity of the person who committed such a great deed was not really relevant. The reporter wrote an article entitled “Tanya” and published it in on January 27th. Many Soviet newspapers reprinted the article, but no one knew who Tanya was exactly.

One day, an anxious man entered the office of the Komsomol Organization in the Timirazevsky area of Moscow. He said that his name was Alexander Kosmodemyansky. The man affirmed that the photo that was published in the newspaper next to “Tanya” article was a photograph of his sister Zoya. This is how the real name of a young Soviet hero became known to everyone. Alexander Kosmodemyansky, Zoya’s brother, was later awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union posthumously. He died in a battle on the outskirts of Koenigsberg (currently Kaliningrad) at the end of WWII.

Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya’s deed is memorized in every book on Soviet history. Every Soviet student, as well as generations of Soviet youth, knew her name and the great deed that a young girl did for her fatherland. Hundreds of poems were written about Zoya, as well as novels and stories. Streets and organizations were named after her in many Russian cities.

It was hard to imagine that there would be some people who would abuse the girl’s horrible but noble death. Nevertheless, there were several articles published in the Soviet Union decades after the end of the Great Patriotic War. These people claimed that the girl set their houses on fire for nothing. Someone even said that that absolutely no good came from her deed.

Zoya and Alexander’s mother Lubov Kosmodemyanskaya told the tragic story of her children in a book. Anatoly Kosmodemyansky, their father, suddenly died in 1933 at the age of 30. It was very hard for the family to survive. Zoya fell ill with meningitis in the fall of 1940. When she recovered in October of 1941, the girl joined the Soviet Army and left to defend her fatherland. She died on November 29th, 1941. Lubov Kosmodemyanskaya children’s names became legendary in the history of the Soviet Union. A monument to Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was unveiled in the Russian city of Tambov in 1947. Another monument to the young hero was erected in the town of Dorokhov.


Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

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