On November 29, 1941, the Nazis tortured and hanged Zoya Kosmodemyanskya, an 18-year-old legendary partisan girl, whose feat of courage had made her the role model for the entire Soviet youth.
Her name became a synonym for heroic patriotism of the Soviet people, displayed in the nightmares of WWII. Already on the execution dock, Zoya was said to be holding her head up high and meeting death with the following words, “You can hang us all you want, but you won’t do away with all – there are 170 million of us. My friends will have your scalp for my death.”
On November 17, when the Nazis were only 60 kilometers away from Moscow, Joseph Stalin issued a secret directive, providing that several teams of young people be formed to conduct subversive activity in the villagers around Moscow where the Nazis resided. Only very reliable and physically well-built young people were allowed to participate; when asked if anyone wanted to quit before the operation fearing death, no one accepted such offer.
On November 21, the two groups of volunteers started out to the outskirts of Moscow to blow up a number of localities, each given a gun, three bottles with incendiary mixture, and five-day ration. Almost all of the students had to spend nights in the woods, with the temperatures plummeting as low as -13 Fahrenheit.
On learning about Stalin’s directive, the Nazis reinforced their checkpoints and organized mop-up of the neighboring districts. The groups got caught in the crossfire several times, where the most of them were killed or got lost in the woods and lagged behind. In four days, out of 20 people only 8 were still alive. Five of them deemed the mission impossible and decided to come back to their detachments, while the rest three – Zoya and two other partisans, Boris Kraynov and Vassily Klubkov were certain to complete the mission in the village of Petrischevo.
The three split up; while Klubkov headed for the school, Zoya snuck to the stables and Kraynev made his way to the staff office. As Kraynov came back to their meeting point, he saw the flames and heard the gunshots in the village, but neither Zoya, nor Klubkov ever returned.
Zoya succeeded in blowing up three houses, spending a night in the woods, came back to complete the assignment, that is, to burn down the Petrischevo locality. On alert after Zoya’s performance the night before, the Nazis warned the local villagers to double their vigilance and to be on the lookout for a subverter. As Zoya was approaching one of the houses, she was spotted by the house owner and minutes later captured by the Nazis.
The Nazis tortured Zoya for almost a day, whipping her with the belts and sticks and burning her face with matches. The oldest inhabitants of the Petrischevo village who witnessed this outrage still remember the cruelty Nazis displayed torturing the young girl. One of the villagers recalled, “Four Germans whipped her, with belts… they asked her questions and went on whipping, but she still didn’t say a word. At the end, she just signed, ‘Oh, would you stop whipping me? I don’t know nothing; even if I did, I am not going to tell that to you… They gave her about 200 whips…. She held her head high and proudly and responded sharply.”
Another witness recalled, “She asked my husband to give her something to drink…. One of them [Nazis], instead of water, raised a burning kerosene lamp up to her face… In half an hour, they dragged her out on the street and made her walk on the snow barefoot… They’ve been doing this to her from 10pm, till 2 in the morning.”
When she was taken out to be executed, the entire village was forced to watch it; amazingly, even on the execution dock Zoya did not lose herself and even had enough strength to reassure her compatriots, as she called them to stay brave and carry on fighting. Not once did she ask for mercy.
After Zoya was hanged, her body stayed on the gallows for about a month, but, as the defeat was looming for the Nazis in the battle of Moscow, the head of the Nazi detachment in Petrischevo decided that the body be removed. The Russian troops entered the village two months after Zoya’s death. For her outstanding courage she was named Hero of the Soviet Union.
To commemorate Zoya’s outstanding feat, several monuments were erected throughout the country.