Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya

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Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya
File:Космодемьянская Зоя Анатольевна.jpg
Born September 13, 1923
Osino-Gay, Tambov Oblast, Soviet Union
Died November 29, 1941(1941-11-29) (aged 18)
Petrischevo, Moscow Oblast, Soviet Union
Allegiance  Soviet Union
Awards Hero of the Soviet Union Order of Lenin

Zoya Anatolyevna Kosmodemyanskaya (alternatively Romanised as Kosmodem'yanskaya; Russian: Зо́я Анато́льевна Космодемья́нская; September 13, 1923 – November 29, 1941) was a Soviet partisan,[1] and a Hero of the Soviet Union (awarded posthumously).[2] She was one of the most revered heroines of the Soviet Union.[3]


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.[4]

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 became a Hero of the Soviet Union, and, like Zoya, posthumously.[5][6]

In 1929, the family moved to Siberia for fear of persecution. In 1930 they moved to Moscow.[7]

Life and death

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. However, one Russian villager had noticed her and informed the Germans. They caught Zoya as she started to torch another house. She was tortured and interrogated throughout the night but refused to give up any information. The following morning she was marched to the center of the town with a board around her neck bearing the inscription 'Houseburner' and hanged.

Her final words were purported to be:

"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:

"Farewell, comrades! Fight, do not be afraid! Stalin is with us! Stalin will come!" [8][9]

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 immediately awarded the order of Hero of the Soviet Union.[10]

Many streets, kolkhozes and Pioneer organizations in the Soviet Union bore the name of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya. Soviet poets, writers, artists and sculptors dedicated their works to Kosmodemyanskaya. In 1944, the film Zoya was made about her. 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.[11] Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya is buried at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

In the 2002 book Zoya's Story: An Afghan Woman's Struggle for Freedom the narrator tells of her decision to use the name "Zoya" as one of her pseudonyms when she joined The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan in her fight against fundamentalism. She cites the story of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya as an inspiration in her own struggles.

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.[12]


The biography of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya became a subject of media controversy during the 1990s.

In September 1991, almost fifty years after Zoya's death, an article by Aleksandr Zhovtis was published in the weekly Russian magazine Argumenty i Fakty.[13][14] The article alleged that there were no German troops in the village of Petrischevo, (in spite of several photos of her being hung by German soldiers) and that Zoya was caught by local peasants who were unhappy about the destruction of their property. The information was sourced to an anonymous school teacher who had apparently told Nikolai Anov the story. Anov, already dead, apparently passed it on to Zhovtis. At the end of the article, Zhovtis blamed Stalin's scorched earth policy for the 'unnecessary' death of the young woman.[14]

A month later, the same newspaper published another article[15] completely based on letters from readers commenting on Zhovtis' publication. Some authors supported the mainstream version. A letter signed P.A. Lidov's family said that every house in the village was filled with German troops who were the target of Zoya's strike. The letter referred to documents supporting the info including unpublished protocols of NKVD interviews with residents of the village.[14] Other readers shared stories contradicting the mainstream version. A resident of Moscow, Petrov, told a story he heard from a Petrischevo resident in 1958 about bizarre irregularities in the identification of "Tanya's" identity. A postgraduate student of the Institute of Russian History, Elena Sinyavskaya, published research supporting that the person executed in Petrischevo was not Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya but a "missing in action" partisan, Lila Azolina.

Activists washing a monument for Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya in Ukraine in tribute on Victory Day.

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.[16] In the article, Kozhemyaka criticized Sinyavskaya's theory and upheld the official expert conclusion about the identity of the executed partisan. Later the Institute for Criminal Expertise and the Department of Justice of the Russian Federation issued an official conclusion stating that the family photographs of Kosmodemyanskaya belong to the same person as the Pravda photograph of the hanged partisan.[14] The article ended in emotional sentences Let your names be sacred for centuries, Tanya, Zoya, Lila! So many of you gave for us the most precious thing you had; your lives. And we cannot, should not, and indeed have no right to forget or betray you.[14]

Ten years later, Kozhemyaka wrote another article Zoya is executed yet again.[17] In the article Kozhemyaka told how he was emotionally shaken when discovering some "absurd material" on internet boards. These materials alleged that Zoya hurt Russian peasants rather than German troops. They also alleged that Zoya suffered from schizophrenia, was a fanatical Stalinist, and so on. Kozhemyaka attributed materials to the same Elena Sinyavskaya (now a Doctor of Historical Science). In her response (in the newspaper Patriot from February 26, 2006), Sinyavskaya stated she had no connections to the material except that a few quotes were from her monograph. The real author of the internet publication seems to have been an obscure "psychoanalytic writer", Alexander Menyaylov.[14]

Another 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 selsovet on January 25, 1942 (two months after Zoya's execution).[18] 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.[14]

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.[14]

Marius Broekmeyer in his 2004 book claims that she was reported to the Germans by angry neighbors because she had burned their stables and killed their horses while trying to destroy supplies before the Germans could get to them.[19]

Klubkov's betrayal version

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.[20][21]


  1. Pravda.ru Russian women heroes of the Great Patriotic War, a photo report
  2. Kazimiera J. Cottam: Women in War and Resistance: Selected Biographies of Soviet Women Soldiers, ISBN 0-9682702-2-0, page 297
  3. The Voice of Russia: Road to Victory: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya
  4. Valentina Kuchenkova Martyrdom of village priest Pyotr Kosmodemyansky(in Russian)
  5. КОСМОДЕМЬЯНСКИЙ Александр Анатольевич (Russian)
  6. Heroes of Soviet Union Zoya and Aleksandr Kosmodemiyanskiy Museum
  7. Vladimir Kreslavsky The truth about Zoya and Shura(in Russian)
  8. Petr Lidov. "Tania". "Pravda" newsletter. 26th of January 1942 [1](in Russian)
  9. Petr Lidov. "Partisan Tania". "Pioneer" newsletter. January–February 1942 [2](in Russian)
  10. Mikhail Gorinov, Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya (1923–1941), Otechestvennaya istoriia, №1, 2003, ISSN 0869-5687
  11. Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names (5th ed.). New York: Springer Verlag. p. 143. ISBN 3-540-00238-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Zoya Phan, Damien Lewis. "Little Daughter: a Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West", 2009
  13. Alexander Zhovtis Corrections to the canonical versions, Argumenty i Fakty, N39, 1991
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 14.7 Legends of the Great Patriotic War. Zoya Kosomodemyanskaya Mass-media in internet. April 5, 2005 (Russian)
  15. Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya: A Heroine or a Symbol Argumenty i Fakty, N43, 1991
  16. Viktor Kozhemyaka. Fifty years after her death Zoya is tortured and executed again Pravda November 29, 1991
  17. Viktor Kozhemyaka Zoya is executed yet again Pravda, November 29 and November 30, 2001
  18. Ivan Osadchy Her name and deeds are immortal, Glasnost, September 24, 1997
  19. M. J. Broekmeyer, Stalin, the Russians, and Their War: 1941–1945, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004, ISBN 0-299-19594-5, Google Print, p.206
  20. "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.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Agent is not the subject for rehabilitation". Moskovskij Komsomolets (in Russian). October 9, 2002. Retrieved November 22, 2006.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • 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