This is a tribute to the amazing courage of so many young women during World War II who were put to death for plotting and fighting against the Nazis, as resistance fighters, partisans and activists in towns and concentration camps.
It is estimated that more than 4000 women of various ages were hanged by Nazi forces between 1939 and 1945. Many more were shot or guillotined and many were tortured before minimal or non existent trials. They could be sentenced to death by People's Courts and executed within prisons, by the commandants of concentration camps or by military commanders in the field and summarily executed, usually in public. Some of these "field" executions were documented and photographed. A lot of the photographs were private snaps taken by individual soldiers and discovered after they had been captured or killed. Hanging was the preferred method for the execution for partisans as it produced more of a public spectacle than shooting and was used to terrorise the local populace as well as entertain the troops. Guillotining within prisons was used for German citizens convicted of treason and other offences after trial by the People's Courts.
This article remembers
Zoya Anatolyevna Kosmodemyanskaya
Masha Bruskina was a teenage female partisan in Minsk in Russia. She was a 17 year old Jewish high school graduate and was the first teenage girl to be publicly hanged by the Nazis in Belorussia (Byelarus). Her execution took place on the 26th of October 1941 in the city of Minsk. She worked as a nurse in a military hospital, and was a member of an underground cell which aided Soviet officers hospitalized there to escape and join the partisans.
The members of this cell were informed on and quickly rounded up. Masha and two of her male comrades, Volodya Sherbateivich and Krill Trous, were sentenced to death. They were led through the streets with Masha wearing a large placard proclaiming that they were partisans and hanged one at a time, Masha first, by the 707 Infanteriedivision who meticulously filmed the proceedings.
Zoya Anatolyevna Kosmodemyanskaya & Vera Voloshina. Zoya
Zoya Kosmodemjanskaja was another Russian partisan. She was born on the 14th of September 1923 and belonged to the Diversionsabteilung no. 9903 of the Soviet secret police (NKVD) which ran some 400 agents.
On the night of the 27th of November 1941, Zoya, together with two comrades, set fire to a building in the village of Petrischtschewo near Moscow. German soldiers quickly caught one of them - Wassilij Klubkow. Under interrogation he betrayed Zoya. She was arrested and tortured before being sentenced to hang.
18-year old Zoya was executed near Moscow, on the 29th of November 1941. Round her neck was hung a sign describing the reason for her execution. Just before she was pushed off the stack of boxes they had placed under the simple gallows she told the soldiers "You can’t hang all 190 million of us." Her partly clothed body was left to rot in the snow.
During Zoya's interrogation she used the name of Tanya (a popular Russian first name) as an alias and her real name was only discovered much later. Even in the newspaper article, where her execution was described in full detail the author calls her Tanya. Zoya adopted this name from a woman called Tanya (last name unknown) who was one of the heroes of Civil War in Russia (1918 - 1922) and had been hanged by the White Guards. Zoya was posthumously decorated a Hero of the Soviet Union as was her brother, Shura, for his service in the Red Army tank corps. Vera Voloshina served in same partisan group as Zoya and was described as a pretty 23 year old blonde. She had been wounded in the shoulder during a gun fight with German soldiers and captured. After torture, Vera Voloshina was also publicly hanged, later the same day.
Klava Nazarova. Nurva Ivanova
Klava Nazarova was hanged in 1942 and is one of the three women who were later made Heroes of Soviet Union. The other two were Zoyaand Maria Kislyak Klava was born in 1918, and was 24 when she died. She was said to be quite an attractive girl. Klava was a Komsomol member and when the Germans occupied her town of Ostrov in Russia in 1941 she and her friends organised an underground resistance squad.
On November the 7th, 1942 Klava and another girl, Nura Ivanova with two young men, Nikolai Mikhailov and Konstantin Dmitriev, and the parents of another organisation member, husband and wife Nadezhda and Ivan Kozlovskiy were all arrested. After torture they were each sentenced to death.
The Nazis made a big show of the hangings to intimidate the town's people. On December the 12th 1942 a wooden gallows was erected in the town square of Ostrov and the townsfolk were forced to watch the proceedings. The executions were divided into 3 parts.
Klava and Nura were first to suffer. The girls were led out and the soldiers hoisted Klava onto a stool beneath the beam. She was wearing a light grey coat without a hat or scarf and her hands were tied behind her back. The executioner put the noose around her neck and one of the officers took pictures of her. A moment before the stool was removed from under her feet, Klava screamed to the crowd: - Farewell! We'll win! We... The next moment she was hanging. Nura was then hanged beside her.
From Ostrov a procession of soldiers went to the next village, Nogino.
The executioners stopped at a barn in Nogino and put up two nooses on a cross-beam. Here they hanged, Ivan and Nadezhda Kozlovskiy. Nadezhda was said to have been almost unconscious before she hanged.
The final pair of this series of executions took place in the village of Ryadobzha where Nikolai Mikhailov and Konstantin Dmitriev were hanged together.
Maria Kislyak was born in March 1925, in the village of Lednoe in the Kharkov region of the Ukraine. The village had been occupied by the Germans during 1943. Maria and her school friend, Fedor Rudenko, who were both Komsomol members, hatched a plan to murder a German officer as an act of revenge for the cruelty inflicted by the Nazis on the local people. The plan was for 18 year old Maria, who was very pretty, to make friends with a German Lieutenant. She suggested to this man that they went for a walk in the countryside to which he naturally agreed. Outside the village Fedor was waiting for them and came up behind the soldier and hit him over the head with an iron crow-bar. Maria was arrested the next day and violently beaten during her interrogations but maintained her innocence throughout. As they could not prove anything they finally let her go.
Several months later Maria and her friends murdered another officer in the same way. This time the Germans arrested nearly 100 inhabitants as hostages and declared that they would execute them all if the murderers didn't come forward. The following day Maria and her friends gave themselves up to the Gestapo and confessed to the murder. Maria claimed that she was the leader of the group.
On June the 18th, 1943, Maria, Fedor Rudenko and their comrade Vasiliy Bugrimenko (both 19) were publicly hanged on the branch of an ash-tree.
Three nooses dangled from the branch each with a box under it. The prisoners were made to step up onto the boxes, the executioner noosed them and then boxes were kicked out from under their feet leaving them to slowly strangle to death.
17 year old Lepa Radic was also publicly hanged from the branch of a tree, in Bosanska Krupa in Bosnia in January 1943 for shooting at German soldiers. She was made to stand on a large chest, her hands were tied behind her and she was noosed with a thin cord. The chest was pulled away leaving her suspended
Roza Robota & Ala Gertner.
Roza Robota was a Polish Jew who was an underground activist in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. She was a member of the Birkenau Sonderkommando. In 1944 this group planned an uprising in the women’s camp at Auschwitz. The plan was to blow up one of the crematoria which it was hoped would lead to a general uprising in the camp.
Using dynamite that had been smuggled in stick-by-stick by girls who worked in the ammunition factory, they managed to blow up Krema IV (Crematorium 4) on October the 7th 1944.
Ala Gertner was a 32 year old married woman who also became part of the resistance movement in the camp and recruited Estera Wajcblum and Regina Safirsztajn because they had access to explosives. They passed whatever they could steal to Ala, who transferred it to Roza, who, in turn, gave it to other members of the Sonderkommando in preparation for the operation.
Roza and her three comrades, Ala, Regina Saperstein and Estera Wajcblum were arrested, interrogated and condemned for the theft of the explosives. All four went to the gallows on January 6th 1945. They were led out and made to stand on folding chairs placed under the beam. Once they had been noosed and their death sentences read out to the assembled inmates the chairs were taken away and they were left suspended. Roza's last word, prior to her execution, was "Nekama!" Revenge! She enjoined the other inmates to "Be strong, have courage".
22 year old Mala Zimetbaum was another Polish Jew who been interned at Auschwitz. She was the first woman to escape from the camp but she and a young soldier named Edek who absconded with her were soon caught and returned to Auschwitz. Both were sentenced to hang in front of the assembled inmates. She was led out and mounted the gallows but while her sentence was being read out she slashed her wrists with a razor blade she had concealed up her sleeve. As the guards tried to take the blade from her Mala slapped one across the face with her bloodied hand and yelled "I fall a heroine and you will die as a dog." She was not hanged but bled to death, dying on her way to the crematorium on a handcart pulled by women prisoners. Mala's story became a legend at Auschwitz as a symbol of courage and defiance.