The torture and death of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya

The Germans often made a public spectacle of partisans that were executed in an attempt to deter the local population from supporting them. The body of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya with the sign 'Arsonist' around her neck.

The threat to Moscow now seemed desperate. Many Soviet citizens were mobilised to build the city’s defences. Many volunteered for more dangerous duties. Eighteen year old Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was still in college in Moscow when she volunteered to join a guerrilla group that would operate behind enemy lines.

The Partisan unit that she was operating with was split into small groups with orders to burn down the villages where the German troops were sheltering. An attempt by Zoya’s group to burn down the village of Petrisheva on the 27th November failed when their leader was captured and killed. Zoya returned alone the following night but was found and betrayed by one of the locals. She was then tortured by the Germans attempting to discover her comrades. According to one report she was tortured all night so badly that a German officer in the next room was unable bear the sound of it.

Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya remained defiant to the end. She only gave her name as Tanya and named no-one else. The villagers who were forced to watch her execution on the 29th were to witness her remarkable final declaration:

You hang me now but I am not alone. There are 200 million of us. You won’t hang everybody. I shall be avenged. Soldiers! Surrender before it is too late. Victory will be ours.

Their account of what happened did not reach the Soviet press until January 1942. She was declared a Hero of the Soviet Union in February, her story making her one of the legends of the Russian resistance. It was a story that was re-inforced when these German pictures were subsequently captured.

The body of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, bearing the signs of torture, was left on display for some time.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin November 29, 2012 at 7:53 am

I am reading Beevor’s “Berlin” at the moment, and last night one of the last things I read before going to bed was how many Red Army troops carried a newspaper photo of Zoya as they rolled through Germany towards Berlin. I hadn’t heard anything about her (not even realising it was a “her”) and was curious to discover more. Then this morning I do my daily WW2today.com check, and sure enough the “last year in the war” section is all about Zoya! Thank you again for your excellent site!

Adam November 27, 2012 at 4:07 pm

This was not a pointless war. Germany at that time was a nation of killers and they had to be stopped at all costs. These were a group of people that made today’s Taliban look like pacifists.

Barry Vorster August 19, 2012 at 2:44 pm

remarkable and sad… a terrible pointless war…

Hannah July 30, 2012 at 1:16 pm

She was tall, brunette, and dark-eyed. However, even if you were blonde [Aryan] and Communist, you would’ve been persecuted. I was once as brunette as this lovely lady, but I am now blonde. My eyes are still dark. I still serve the Soviet Union!

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