In memory of Zoya Kosomdemyanskaya and Edith Lagos who laid their lives to battle tyranny

 Zoya Kosomdemyanskaya –birth centenary year

Zoya Kosomdemyanskaya

On November 29th, in 1941, Soviet partisan Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was mercilessly hanged at the age of 18 by German fascist soldiers during World War II. Next year, we commemorate her birth centenary, on September 13th.

Zoya symbolised how Marxism-Leninism or a Socialist Society paved way for a ‘new woman’ to bloom, who played a vanguard role in the victory of USSR in the Great Patriotic War. She took bravery into boundaries rarely transcended by a woman in history when exhibiting death defying courage against the nazi tyrants. Zoya’s story is not on of the glory of single individual— it is a part of a collective experience shared by millions who combated the Nazi invasion with relentless spirit in every Russian town and village, intensifying the striking power of the Red Army. It was this heroic popular resistance, whereby 26 million people shed their blood , that Russia won the war.

Kosmodemyanskaya was a partisan fighter, a member of a Red Army Western Front sabotage and reconnaissance force confronting the German fascist invasion of the Soviet Union which had begun a few months earlier. She was part of a group assigned with task of burning down houses where German soldiers were staying.

Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was born on September 13th,in 1923, in a village in the central Russian Tambov Region into a family of local priests.. Zoya’s father died when Zoya was ten, after intestinal surgery, and the children, Zoya and her younger brother Aleksandr, remained under their mother’s care.

Zoya did well in school, was especially fond of history and literature and dreamed of entering Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) University. However, her relationships with her classmates did not develop well, and that, according to her mother, led to a “nerve illness.” Some witnesses suggested she had schizophrenia. In 1940 she was ill with acute meningitis, after which she underwent rehabilitation in Moscow’s Sokolniki clinic, where she befriended writer Arkady Gaydar, who was also there for treatment. Despite having missed many classes, she graduated from nine-grade secondary school later that same year.

On 31 October 1941, Zoya, together with 2,000 young communist volunteers entered a sabotage school, becoming a member of a sabotage and reconnaissance force officially named the “guerilla troop of the 9903rd staff of the Western Front.” After a short period of training, she was sent to the Volokolamsk District of the Moscow Region where she and her group succeeded in laying mines on a road. Later, Stalin issued an order to prevent the German army from stationing in towns and villages, and thus to burn and destroy all settlements in the German rear. To fulfill the order, sabotage group commanders were to burn ten settlements within a week, including the village of Petrishevo in the western Moscow Region. Two groups set out on the mission, but came under German fire and, after taking heavy casualties, scattered. Their remnants then rejoined under the command of Boris Kraynev.

On 27 November Kraynev, Vasily Klubkov and Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya set fire to three houses in Petrishchevo, where German soldiers and officers were stationed. Then, as they scattered to rendezvous at a prearranged meeting point, Kraynev left without waiting for his comrades. Klubkov was captured by the Nazis, and Zoya, left alone, decided to return to Petrishchevo and continue burning the village. However, both the Germans and the locals were already on alert, and the Germans had positioned several local men to guard the village against saboteurs. At nightfall the next day, Zoya was spotted by one of the guards as she tried to set fire to a barn. The guard called the Germans, who captured Zoya. The Nazis rewarded the local man with a bottle of vodka, and later, a Soviet court sentenced him to death.

She was captured and brutally tortured. Relentlessly, refused to concede any information, so the German soldiers paraded her in front of the village with a sign saying ‘arsonist’ around her neck and hung her. Her last words, with the noose around her neck, were, ‘Comrades! Why are you so gloomy? I am not afraid to die! I am happy to die for my people!’ Then, as a final act of defiance, she said, ‘You’ll hang me now, but I am not alone. There are two hundred million of us. You can’t hang us all.’ There could hardly have been a more accurate illustration of the courage of the Soviet people in World War 2, which scaled unparalleled heights.

At the interrogation, Zoya said her name was Tanya and refused to say anything definite. Her body remained hung up for another month, and suffered numerous more humiliations from passing German soldiers. Then the Germans ordered the removal of the gallows, and Zoya’s body was buried outside the village, and later, reburied at the Novodevichye Cemetery in Moscow.The Germans took photographs of Zoya’s hanged and tortured body. When the photos were later taken off captured German soldiers and published with an article in Pravda, it had a dramatic effect on the people of the Soviet Union.

Kosmodemyanskaya was the first woman awarded with the title of ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ during World War II. She was a manifestation of the Soviet people’s heroism in defending the Soviet Union and defeating the Nazis. Her image lives on like an inextinguishable flame, in monuments, essays, movies, stories and art.

Such characters need to be ressurected in an appropriate form today to confront ascendancy of globalisation backed neo-fascism, which is penetrating every corner of the globe, be it in Middle East, Ukraine, Asia Latin America or Europe.

To illustrate her heroism, upon reading Zoya’s story written by journalist Pyotr Lidov in the newspaper Pravda in February 1942, Stalin decided to name her “Hero of the Soviet Union.” He scaled her contribution to that of a legend, carefully sculpting the meanings behind terms like “young,” “brave,” “woman,” “mother,” and “fatherland.” In his famous book Berlin: the Fall 1945, British historian Antony Beevor recounts that “A great number of Komsomol members still carried newspaper cuttings with a photograph of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, the young partisan ‘tortured to death by Germans.’ Many wrote ‘for Zoya’ on their tanks and aircraft.” Her figure was duplicated on numerous monuments and used in various stories that propagandized the Great Patriotic War in the USSR.

Such characters need to be resurrected in an appropriate form today to confront ascendancy of globalisation backed neo-fascism, which is penetrating every corner of the globe, be it in Middle East, Ukraine, USA,Asia Latin America or Europe. Only by such women illuminating our globe can humanity be emancipated from clutches of tyranny.

From 1990’s Russian  media propaganda sprouted that contradicted the mainstream version of the killing and   distorted facts ,like Aleander Zhovtis.He alleged that there were no German troops in the village of Petrishchevo, in spite of several photos of her being hanged by German soldiers and  Stalin’s  policy was responsible  for the “unnecessary” death of the young woman.

An anti-Marxist tendency arose within left circles of attributing blame to Stalin for inviting such reprisals. They claim that Stalinism, promoting the reactionary idea of the defence  of the “Russian motherland” which had characterized the imperial period when Russia dominated dozens of oppressed nationalities. They also profess that he undermined independent initiative by the masses, which was untrue. No doubt Stalin made serious errors and he was not a sole contribution to the Soviet glory in world War 2.However without his leadership, possibly USSR may never have overcome the Nazi fascist t forces or won the Great Patriotic War. Stalin put every ounce of his energy in drawing support of the masses, even allowing decentralised forms of anti-fascist activity to sprout.

Edith Lagos -40TH Death anniversary

Edith Lagos

Edith Lagos symbolised the death defying courage and spiritual transformation of women to withstand and confront the fascist regime in Peru, who were inspired by chairman Gonzalo,to convert a spark into a prairie fire. She illuminated the path of the Chinese Revolution and manifested the significance of the ideology of Mao Thought. Her martyrdom was landmark event of the Peruvian revolution and ignited spirit of emancipation, in every corner of the globe. This year we commemorated her 40th death anniversary on 2nd September 1982 and her sixtieth birthday on 27th November1962.

Edith Lagos was 19 years old when she was martyred by the Peruvian state on September 2, 1982. 30,000 people converged in her procession.  Those 30,000 people constituted approximately 45 percent of the population of Ayacucho, even though the government had declared it illegal to attend her funeral. The ruling government was completely shaken. What phenomena stirred such a huge turn out? It manifested the deep support the masses or faith the masses in the Communist Party of Peru. Edith had one of the first major criminal cases of any party member and she was known and admired for overturning the charges thanks to a team of lawyers who were also supporters of the revolution.

Daughter of a merchant from Ayacucho, she was the sixth of seven siblings. She received a traditional education at a convent school in her town. She was part of the schoolchildren’s struggles against the reforms in the school grading scale. In this regard, in her last year of high school, she joined the Coordinating and Unifying Committee of the Secondary Student Movement (CCUMES), created by Huamanguino schoolchildren. These confrontations had a strong impact in the region at the end of the 1970s, since they cost the death of some schoolchildren, as well as the repression of the area.

In 1979 she moved to Lima to study Law at the San Martin de PorresUniversity , studies she abandoned. The following year he returned to Huamanga and joined the urban detachments of Sendero Luminoso. On December 24, 1980, seven months after the Senderista struggle began, she was captured and accused of participating in different dynamite attacks in Ayacucho. One day after her arrest, she was publicly introduced. After a brief transfer to Lima, she was confined in the Huamanga jail. In prison, along with fellow Senderista Carlota Tello, she dedicated herself to proselytizing. On July 25, 1981, one of her poems, presented under her pseudonym, won first place in a composition and poetry contest at the Ayacucho National Institute of Culture. In the assault on March 3rd, 1982 that she directed against said penitentiary, she was among the 304 inmates who managed to escape, approximately 70 of whom were Senderistas.

Edith lead important actions like the attack on the Ayacucho jail in which she blew a hole into the wall and liberated all of the prisoners, including her captured activists. In the attack the rebel guerrillas led by Comrade Edith captured many weapons. The capture of weapons was the backbone of the early days of the Protracted People’s War which was started by women with dynamite and not by militarily trained men with high-tech weaponry. In this process we witnessed   the toppling of the bourgeois model of warfare which patronises sexist and anti-people ideology that survives on preserving the backward social norms of imperialism. The People’s Guerrilla Army on the other hand converted the masses into soldiers and galvanised their unarmed ranks into a mighty force that within a decade put the rulers on the brink of defeat. Women soldiers and leaders like Edith Lagos. played role of an architect in shaping this development, planting the seeds for roses to bloom, to shape the advance of the Peruvian revolution.

Edith was captured and bayoneted to death by the state and the world lost another freedom fighter who at only 19 whose contribution to revolution scaled heights rarely traversed by women. Her assassination illustrated the merciless nature o the Peruvian state.

Today even if Shining Path Movement and PCP is crushed due to errors of errors in mass line  we need to resurrect memories of Edith Lagos  pave way for new roses to bloom, to challenge tyranny. Western media worked overtime to malign the Shining path movement to tarnish image of Gonzalo, with goal of extinguishing the revolutionary struggle.

Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has studied Liberation Movements


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