1941: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya

On this date in 1941, Soviet partisan Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was hanged by the Wehrmacht for sabotaging buildings behind German lines near Moscow.

A statue of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya stands vigil over Moscow’s World War II-era Partizanskaya metro station. Image used with permission.

One of the most famous Soviet war heroines and the first woman decorated as Hero of the Soviet Union during World War II, the 18-year-old had quit school to volunteer for a partisan unit only a few weeks before her hanging as Russia mobilized against Hitler’s race towards Moscow.

Known simply as “Tanya”, the nom de guerre which was the only information she volunteered during two days of torture, the power of the press offered her apotheosis into a propaganda coup for the Kremlin, and a symbol of courage that would long outlive Stalin. Before the public execution, the Nazis paused to photograph the scene; Kosmodemyanskaya availed the lull to harangue the Germans — “you can’t hang all 190 million of us!” — and call on the Russian villagers present to resist occupation.

Her bayoneted, mutilated body hung on the gibbet until the Red Army recaptured the village; witnesses related the tale of her dying heroism to a newsman.

It was only after the story of “Tanya” hit the press in January 1942 that her identity was established … and then promulgated widely. Anonymous and obscure in death, Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya would inspire millions and become the heroic emblem of other women partisans.

Soviet propaganda poster unabashedly modeled on the already-iconic image of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya’s abused corpse.

Zoya, a 1944 Soviet film, was scored by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Part of the Themed Set: Women Against Fascism.

On this day..

14 thoughts on “1941: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya

  1. I believe that Zoya was honored on a Soviet postage stamp issued in @1942-43 of Soviet war heroes.both regular military and partisans

  2. this picture and others of Zoya….. and many more murdered young women murdered by the Nazi’s cause tears to role down my face. what happens that a man in a soldiers uniform can lose all decent feelings so that he can murder a girl not yet reached womanhood? but others who could mutilate her beautiful dead young body? did those who survived the war then go on to have families of their own…to have daughters? i curse all soldiers for partaking in such evil war games that rob them of human decency.

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  11. Thank you for remembering Zoya. She was not just a hero to the Soviet Union, she was an example of courage in the face of evil whose story should be told forever. How many women have faced such as Zoya and refused to surrender their comrades and efforts to defeat fascism. God Bless Zoya.

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