1941: Masha Bruskina, Kiril Trus, and Volodia Shcherbatsevich, partisans

21 comments October 26th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1941, the German occupiers of Minsk conducted an infamous public hanging of partisans — perhaps the first such salutary public execution of resistance members of the war.

Jewish* 17-year-old Maria (Masha) Bruskina was the central figure of the grim tableau, and wore the placard announcing “We are partisans and have shot at German soldiers.” Evidently, she also attracted the most attention** from the onlookers to whom the scene was addressed.

Before noon, I saw the armed German and Lithuanian soldiers appear on the street. From over the bridge they escorted three people with their arms tied behind their backs. In the middle there was a girl with a sign-board on her chest. They were led up to the yeast factory gate. I noticed how calmly these people walked. The girl did not look around … The first one led to the gallows was the girl.

She was hanged with bewhiskered World War I vet Kiril Trus and the 16-year-old Volodia Shcherbatsevich. The men were members of a partisan cell organizing anti-fascist resistance; Masha Bruskina was a nurse who had been caught aiding the partisans by providing civilian clothes and papers for wounded Red Army soldiers under her care to smuggle them back to the resistance.

The scene of their deaths was captured in a series of powerful photographs taken by one of the Lithuanian Wehrmacht collaborators.

(More images here and here.)

* Phototextualities: Intersections of Photography and Narrative claims that Bruskina lightened her hair and changed her name to prevent her Jewishness affecting her resistance work; even though she was a Minsk native, her initial identification didn’t happen until 1968. The men who suffered with her were named almost immediately after the war.

** Despite the eye-catching place of the girl, she was officially unidentified for decades even after the name Masha Bruskina surfaced. In “A Historical Injustice: The Case of Masha Bruskina,” (Holocaust Genocide Studies 1997, 11:3) Nechama Tec and Daniel Weiss argued that Soviet authorities, and later Belarusian ones, found her Jewishness problematic and resisted identifying her because of it — while an ethnically Russian female partisan like Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya could be more conveniently accepted as a heroine. Maybe, but bureaucratic inertia and simple precedence (since Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was known immediately while Masha Bruskina was not) are also plausible contributing factors.

A plaque unveiled at the Minsk yeast factory in 2009 finally called her Maria Bruskina.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Belarus,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Germany,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Jews,Martyrs,Mature Content,Milestones,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,Torture,USSR,Wartime Executions

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1864: Klatsassin and four fellow Tsilhqot’ins

1 comment October 26th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1864, five Tsilhqot’in warriors were hanged as common criminals in Quesnel, British Columbia, for resisting white incursion during the Chilcotin War.

The only possibly authentic image of Klatsassin extant. (From this image archive.)

An indigenous nation in northern B.C., the Tsilhqot’in or Chilcotin* had been relatively insulated — though not completely isolated; they had well-established fur-trading contacts from the early 19th century — from the colonization that had swept the continent over the preceding centuries.

In 1862, two cataclysms turned that world upside down.

First, a smallpox epidemic sweeping out of mining camps decimated the Tsilhqot’in population.

Second, gold was discovered in the adjacent inland Cariboo region — and the ensuing gold rush to the inaccessible vein saw whites laying multiple roads through Tsilhqot’in territory. At least one of the entrepreneurs racing to complete the first road might have exploited tribal labor and forced women into prostitution.

The specific internal mechanisms and deliberations that triggered the response are lost to us, but the community must have felt itself under siege — and certainly the building projects, unchecked, would serve to project crown authority into the tribal land. The roads, too, are a specific trigger in the European encounter with North American natives. If it had not been gold, it would have been something else, and soon.

The Chilcotin War or Chilcotin Uprising erupted in April 1864 when a Tsilhqot’in party slew a civilian road-building crew. Bloodthirsty rumors (sometimes unreliable) of Indian atrocities quickly set abroad in the colonial capitals.

Despite almost limitless land to disappear into, the leader, Klatsassin (or Klattasine, or Klatsassan), was captured that August with seven of his followers by the expedient of luring him under assurance that they would be treated as prisoners of war.

Instead, they were tried as common murderers. Five were condemned — including both Klatsassin and his son. (Two others were arrested the following year, and one of them hanged as well.)

In 1993, the government of British Columbia apologized for the executions.

There’s an out-of-print (but available used) book, The Chilcotin War by a descendant of one of the whites killed in it. Several links in this piece go to the excellent canadianmysteries.ca site on this incident, which contains a trove of text from primary documents of the time.

And “Canadian Mysteries” is the apt title. “Klatsassin,” in the native tongue, simply means, “we do not know his name.”


The peak in the center of this photograph is “Mount Klattasine,” and the glacier stretching towards the upper right is also named for the hanged war chief.

* Many other transliterations are possible: e.g., Tsilqut’in, T?inlhqot’in, Chilkhodin, Tsilkótin, Tsilkotin.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Known But To God,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Murder,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Posthumous Exonerations,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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