Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya

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Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya
Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, 1941.png
BornSeptember 13, 1923
Osino-Gay, Tambov Oblast, Soviet Union
DiedNovember 29, 1941(1941-11-29) (aged 18)
Petrischevo, Moscow Oblast, Soviet Union
Allegiance Soviet Union
AwardsHero of the Soviet Union

Zoya Anatolyevna Kosmodemyanskaya[1] (Russian: Зо́я Анато́льевна Космодемья́нская, IPA: [ˈzojə kəsmədʲɪˈmʲjanskəjə]; September 13, 1923 – November 29, 1941) was a Soviet partisan,[2] and recipient of the Hero of the Soviet Union (awarded posthumously).[3] She was one of the most revered heroines of the Soviet Union.[4]


The Kosmodemyansky family name was constructed by joining the names of Saints Cosmas and Damian (Kosma and Demyan in Russian). From the 17th century, the Kosmodemyansky were priests in the Russian Orthodox Church. Zoya's grandfather Pyotr Kosmodemyansky was murdered in 1918 by militant atheists for his opposition to blasphemy.[5]

Zoya (her name is a Russian form of the Greek name Zoe, which means "life") was born in 1923 in the village of Osino-Gay (Осино-Гай) (meaning Aspen Woods), near the city of Tambov. Her father, Anatoly Kosmodemyansky, studied in a theological seminary, but did not graduate. He later worked as a librarian. Her mother, Lyubov Kosmodemyanskaya (née Churikova), was a school teacher. In 1925 Zoya's brother, Aleksandr Kosmodemyansky, was born. Like his sister, he was awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union, and, like Zoya, posthumously.[6][7]

In 1929, the family moved to Siberia for fear of persecution. In 1930 they moved to Moscow.[8]

Life and death[edit]

Zoya's favorite subject in school was literature. Her teachers noted her essays for deep understanding of the subject and for imagery. She read far beyond the curriculum. The list of authors she read included Leo Tolstoy, Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Karamzin, Vasily Zhukovsky, Byron, Molière, Miguel Cervantes, Charles Dickens, Wolfgang Goethe, and William Shakespeare. Zoya kept a notebook where she recorded her thoughts about the books she read. Such as: "In Shakespeare's tragedies the death of a hero is always accompanied by a triumph of a high moral cause." She liked Beethoven's Egmont and often sang Klärchen's song "Die Trommel gerühret." Her favorite music was Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5. Her striving for high ideals led to misunderstandings with her classmates. On the eve of 1939, the girls wrote each other notes with New Year wishes. Zoya received the following note "Zoya, don't judge people so strict. Don't take everything so close to heart. Know that most people are egoist, flatterers, are insincere and you can't depend on them. You should leave their words without attention. Such is my New Year wish." After reading the note Zoya said, "If one thinks of people like that, then what has one to live for?"

Kosmodemyanskaya joined the Komsomol in 1938. In October 1941, still a high school student in Moscow, she volunteered for a partisan unit. To her mother, who tried to dissuade her, she answered "What can I do when the enemy is so close? If they came here I would not be able to continue living." Zoya was assigned to the partisan unit 9903 (Staff of the Western Front). Of the one thousand people who joined the unit in October 1941 only half survived the war. At the village of Obukhovo near Naro-Fominsk, Kosmodemyanskaya and other partisans crossed the front line and entered territory occupied by the Germans. They mined roads and cut communication lines. On November 27, 1941 Zoya received an assignment to burn the village of Petrischevo, where a German cavalry regiment was stationed.

In Petrischevo, Zoya managed to set fire to horse stables and a couple of houses. On November 27 at 2 o'clock in the morning Boris Krainov, Vasily Klubkov and Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya set fire to three houses in Petrishchev (residents of Karelova, Solntseva and Smirnov).[9] At the interrogation Zoya also said she managed to destroy 20 horses for the transportation of cargo by the Nazis in the farm buildings of the burnt yards. Smirnova A. V. confirmed this fact with her testimony [6]. Zoya's friend at the sabotage school of Claudia Miloradova claims that one of the homes burned by Zoya was used as a German communications center. [24] The house of the Voronin family in the village was actually used as a headquarters for the officers of the troops to be moved, but was not burned. Many members of the sabotage group note that houses were burned in which German soldiers had spent the night, and also kept their horses used for transportation of military cargoes in the yards.[9] The writer A. Zhovtis calls into question these versions, citing the fact that officially Petrishchevo was not a point of permanent deployment of German troops.[9] However, his words are denied by the villagers themselves, indicating that virtually all the houses of the village were used for sleeping by the German troops transported along the main roads near the village.[9] After the first attempt at arson, Krainov did not wait for Zoya and Klubkov at the agreed meeting place and left, returning to his own. Later, Klubkov was also captured by the Germans. Zoya, having missed her comrades and left alone, decided to return to Petrishchevo and continue arson. However, the German military authorities in the village had by that time organized a gathering of local residents, on which they had formed a militia in order to avoid further arson. After being arrested she was interrogated and tortured, but refused to give any information. The following morning she was marched to the center of the village with a board around her neck bearing the inscription 'Houseburner' and hanged.

Her final words were:

Hey, comrades! Why are you looking so sad? Be brave, fight, beat the Germans, burn, trample them! I'm not afraid to die, comrades. It is happiness to die for one's people!

and to the Germans:

You hang me now, but I'm not alone. There are two hundred million of us. You can't hang us all. They will avenge me.

And before the moment of hanging with the rope on her neck she said:[10][11]

Farewell, comrades! Fight, do not be afraid! Stalin is with us! Stalin will come!

The Germans left Zoya's body hanging on the gallows for several weeks. Eventually she was buried just before the Soviets regained that territory in January 1942.


The story of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya became popular after Pravda published an article written by Pyotr Lidov on January 27, 1942. The journalist had heard about Zoya's execution from an elderly peasant, and was impressed by the young woman's courage. The witness recounted: "They were hanging her and she was giving a speech. They were hanging her and she was threatening them." Lidov travelled to Petrishchevo, collected details from local residents and published an article about the then-unknown partisan girl. Soon after, Joseph Stalin noticed the article. He proclaimed: "Here is the people's heroine", which started a propaganda campaign honouring Kosmodemyanskaya. In February, she was identified and was awarded the order of Hero of the Soviet Union.[12]

Zoya's account was repeatedly published in Pravda. Soviet writers, artists, sculptors and poets dedicated their works to Kosmodemyanskaya.[13] Margarita Aliger's poem Zoya described physical pain of the author, and in tern the reader, suffering with Zoya herself; vibrant emotive language of her poem evokes strong feelings of lamenting and outrage.[14] In 1944, film Zoya was made about her, for the first time projecting a fictionalisation of her story onto Soviet screen.[15] Reference to Kosmodemyanskaya has also appeared in the film Girl No. 217, which depicted atrocities imposed on the Soviet POWs by the Nazis, specifically the main character Tanya captured and sold into slavery to a "merciless" German family. The image of Zoya was also used in multiplicity of anti-German propaganda which disseminated hatred and actively encouraged vengeful violence against German population.[16]

Many streets, kolkhozes and Pioneer organizations in the Soviet Union bore the name of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya. The Soviets erected a monument in her honour not far from the village of Petrishchevo (sculptors – O.A.Ikonnikov and V.A.Feodorov). Another statue is prominently located at the Partizanskaya Moscow Metro station. A 4108-meter (13,478 feet) mountain peak in Trans-Ili Alatau is named after her. A minor planet 1793 Zoya discovered in 1968 by Soviet astronomer Tamara Mikhailovna Smirnova is named after her.[17] Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya is buried at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Image of Zoya has been used in ideological discourse aimed to set an example for pioneers, komsomol and even parents, encouraging them to practice ideological upbringing of the next generation of Soviet heroes.[18] Stories of her strong ideological convictions even prior to enlistment in the partisan unit were described by Zoya's mother, Lyubov Kosmodemyanskaya in her educational biography The Story of Zoya and Shura, and cultivated in the collective memory becoming the source of admiration of the pioneers and komsomol.[19] Her portrait became a part of ceremonial procedures of commemoration performed by pioneers, and was used as a symbol of highest distinction awarded to the best class in school.[20]

Zoya Phan, an outspoken political activist for the Karen people and member of the Burma Campaign UK, was named after Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya by her father, Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan. Her father chose this name because he had read about Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya while studying at Yangon University and saw several parallels between the Karen resistance against the Burmese government and the Soviet resistance against the Nazis in Europe.[21]

Post-Soviet research and controversy[edit]

1990s media controversy[edit]

The biography of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya became a subject of media controversy during the 1990s. In September 1991, an article by Aleksandr Zhovtis was published in the weekly Russian magazine Argumenty i Fakty.[22][23] The article alleged that there were no German troops in the village of Petrischevo, in spite of several photos of her being hanged by German soldiers. Zhovtis blamed Stalin's scorched earth policy for the 'unnecessary' death of the young woman.[23] The newspaper subsequently published letters from readers, many of which included stories contradicting the mainstream version. One research supported that the person executed in Petrischevo was not Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya but a "missing in action" partisan, although later official conclusion from the Institute for Criminal Expertise and the Department of Justice of the Russian Federation stated otherwise. The Argumenty i Fakty articles prompted a response from Pravda observer Viktor Kozhemyaka in the form of an article titled Fifty years after her death Zoya is tortured and executed again.[24] Ten years later, Kozhemyaka wrote another article Zoya is executed yet again,[25] in which he lamented some "absurd material" on Internet boards, which alleged that Zoya had hurt Russian peasants rather than German troops, that she suffered from schizophrenia, that she was a fanatical Stalinist, and so on.

New developments[edit]

Femen activist is washing a monument for Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya in Ukraine in tribute on Victory Day.

An important development was the publication by the newspaper Glasnost of the previously unknown protocols of the official commission of residents of Petrischevo village and Gribtsovsky selsoviet on January 25, 1942 (two months after Zoya's execution).[26] The protocol stated that Kosmodemyanskaya was caught while trying to destroy a stable containing more than 300 German horses. It also quite graphically described her torture and execution.[23]

A slightly different story was told by the notes of Pyotr Lidov published in Parlamentskaya Gazeta in 1999. Apparently, Lidov for years meticulously collected all the available information on Kosmodemyanskaya. The notes supported the version that Kosmodemyanskaya and Vasily Klubkov were caught while asleep on the outskirts of Petrischevo. The Germans were called by Petrischevo resident Semyon Sviridov. Lidov's notes also included an interview with a German noncommissioned officer taken prisoner by the Red Army. The interview described the negative effect on the morale of the German soldiers who witnessed the burning of the houses.[23]

Klubkov's betrayal version[edit]

Some details of Zoya's assignment and arrest were classified for about sixty years because treachery might have been involved. The criminal case number 16440 was declassified in 2002. The case was then reviewed by Russia's Chief Military Prosecutor Office, and it was decided that Vasily Klubkov, who betrayed Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, was not eligible for rehabilitation. According to criminal case 16440, three Soviet combatants: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, Vasily Klubkov, and their commander Boris Krainov had to perform acts of sabotage in Reichskommissariat Ostland. They had been given the task of setting fire to houses in the village of Petrishchevo, where German troops were quartered. Krainov was to operate in the central part of the village, Kosmodemyanskaya in the southern and Klubkov in the northern parts. Krainov was the first to carry out his task and returned to the base. Zoya performed her task too, as was evidenced by three columns of flame in the southern part of Petrischevo seen from the base. Only the northern part was not set on fire. According to Klubkov, he was captured by two German soldiers and taken to their headquarters. A German officer threatened to kill him, and Klubkov gave him the names of Kosmodemyanskaya and Krainov. After this, Kosmodemyanskaya was captured by the Germans.[27][28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Also transliterated Kosmodem'yanskaya.
  2. ^ Pravda.ru Russian women heroes of the Great Patriotic War, a photo report
  3. ^ Kazimiera J. Cottam: Women in War and Resistance: Selected Biographies of Soviet Women Soldiers, ISBN 0-9682702-2-0, page 297
  4. ^ The Voice of Russia: Road to Victory: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya Archived April 6, 2005, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Valentina Kuchenkova Martyrdom of village priest Pyotr Kosmodemyansky Archived October 20, 2008, at the Wayback Machine(in Russian)
  6. ^ КОСМОДЕМЬЯНСКИЙ Александр Анатольевич (in Russian)
  7. ^ Heroes of Soviet Union Zoya and Aleksandr Kosmodemiyanskiy Museum Archived March 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Vladimir Kreslavsky The truth about Zoya and Shura(in Russian)
  9. ^ a b c d Горинов М. М. Зоя Космодемьянская. Отечественная история.
  10. ^ Petr Lidov. "Tania". "Pravda" newsletter. 26th of January 1942 [1](in Russian)
  11. ^ Petr Lidov. "Partisan Tania". "Pioneer" newsletter. January–February 1942 [2](in Russian)
  12. ^ Mikhail Gorinov, Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya (1923–1941) Archived May 27, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, Otechestvennaya istoriia, №1, 2003, ISSN 0869-5687
  13. ^ Harris, Adrienne M. (January 1, 2017). "Gendered Images and Soviet Subjects: How the Komsomol Archive Enriched My Understanding of Gender in Soviet War Culture". Aspasia. 11 (1). doi:10.3167/asp.2017.110106. ISSN 1933-2882.
  14. ^ Levitsky, Ihor A.; Aliger, Margarita (1963). "Neskol'ko šagov. Novye stixi, 1956-1960". Books Abroad. 37 (1): 95. doi:10.2307/40117546. ISSN 0006-7431. JSTOR 40117546.
  15. ^ Schechter, Brandon (2012). ""The People's Instructions": Indigenizing The Great Patriotic War Among "Non-Russians"*". Ab Imperio. 2012 (3): 109–133. doi:10.1353/imp.2012.0095. ISSN 2164-9731.
  16. ^ Overy, Richard (2004). The Dictators: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia. London: Allen Lane. pp. 516–519.
  17. ^ Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 143. ISBN 3-540-00238-3.
  18. ^ Shultz, D. (1951). "Teachers and Parents". Soviet Studies. 3, 2: 216.
  19. ^ Levin, V. I. (January 1, 2017). "Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya: Who is She?". Historical and Social-educational Ideas. 9 (5/1): 86–96. doi:10.17748/2075-9908-2017-9-5/1-86-96. ISSN 2219-6048.
  20. ^ "Cultivate good school traditions". Soviet Studies. 5 (2): 223–226. 1953. doi:10.1080/09668135308409900. ISSN 0038-5859.
  21. ^ Zoya Phan, Damien Lewis. "Little Daughter: a Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West", 2009
  22. ^ Alexander Zhovtis Corrections to the canonical versions, Argumenty i Fakty, N39, 1991
  23. ^ a b c d Legends of the Great Patriotic War. Zoya Kosomodemyanskaya Mass-media in internet. April 5, 2005 (in Russian)
  24. ^ Viktor Kozhemyaka. Fifty years after her death Zoya is tortured and executed again Pravda November 29, 1991
  25. ^ Viktor Kozhemyaka Zoya is executed yet again Pravda, November 29 and November 30, 2001
  26. ^ Ivan Osadchy Her name and deeds are immortal, Glasnost, September 24, 1997
  27. ^ "The Truth on Zoya and Shura" (in Russian). RIA Novosti. November 16, 2006. Archived from the original on November 23, 2006. Retrieved November 22, 2006.
  28. ^ "Agent is not the subject for rehabilitation". Moskovskij Komsomolets (in Russian). October 9, 2002. Archived from the original on January 15, 2007. Retrieved November 22, 2006.


  • Lyubov Kosmodemyanskaya:Story of Zoya and Shura, Foreign Languages Publishing House: Moscow, 1953 ("Shura" is a nickname for "Alexander", the author is Zoya's mother).

External links[edit]