Kosmodemyanskaya, Zoya

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(19231941), partisan girl known as "Tanya" in World War II and canonized as Russian war heroine; also known as the Soviet Joan of Arc, she was posthumously awarded the honorary title Hero of the Soviet Union.

At the outbreak of war in June 1941, Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, member of the Moscow Komsomol (Communist Youth), volunteered for the partisan movement. According to the official Soviet version, in December 1941, while carrying out a military assignment behind the front line, she was caught by the Germans, arrested, tortured, and finally hanged.

The young girl's tragic end was used as propaganda to arouse hatred for the cruel enemy and convey the necessity for vengeance. Written for this purpose, the numerous reports, which emphasized her courage, steadfastness, and exceptional strength of resistance, portrayed her as a true Soviet model and saint who had endured torture and chosen death over betraying her comradesa model example

for sacrificial death in the "Holy War" against fascism.

She shared the fate of many other daring and fearless compatriots who were popularized as heroes and heroines in the same manner. Yet Kosmodemyanskaya differed in that the public responded with compassion and affection, even abroad. Her unusual popularity cannot be explained by her heroic exploit alone, being that many others were called heroes for the same or similar behavior in fighting the enemy. Rather the visual and verbal depiction of her short life and tragic fate by several outstanding artists, poets, and filmmakers contributed to the unusually high degree of veneration.

In additon to dozens of publications on her exemplary life, bearing true hagiographic qualities, including poems (one by Margarita Aliger), songs, paintings, plays, it was a documentary photograph published in the newspaper Pravda on the occasion of her death that drew the public's attention because it broke with the traditional Soviet style of visual representation. Most influential, however, was the film Zoya directed by Lev Arnshtam (1944). The beauty and the performance of the actress Galina Vodyanitskaya in the role of Kosmodemyanskaya left a lasting impression in popular consciousness that turned the partisan heroine into a symbol of identity for more than one postwar generation of young Soviet women imitating her in dress, hairdo, and manner.

In the post-Soviet debate on the legend and reality of Soviet war heroes, some voices turned her into a henchman of Stalin's plan of "scorched earth," killed by the villagers, not by the Germans; others raised questions about her identity. Still, Kosmodemyanskaya is one of the few members of the Soviet pantheon of heroes who did not fall victim to the strong iconoclastic movement of the 1990s. Kosmodemyanskaya's place in history lies beyond historical truth; it is founded on her power as a legend that became part of collective memory.

Her grave can be found in the Moscow Novodevishche Cemetery, a special museum and a monument by M. G. Manizer in the village Petrishchevo, the place of her execution, near Moscow.

See also: world war ii


Kosmodemyanskaya, Liubov. (1942). My daughter Zoya. Moscow: Foreign Language Press.

Sartorti, Rosalinde. (1995). "On the Making of Heroes, Heroines, and Saints." In Culture and Entertainment in Wartime Russia, ed. Richard Stites. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Rosalinde Sartorti