A Fearsome Revolutionary Often Described as “History’s Deadliest Woman”
Rosalia Samilovna Zalkind (1876 – 1947), better known as Rozalia Zemlyachka, was a bloody minded revolutionary often labeled “history’s deadliest woman”. She had been one of the key figures in the abortive 1905 Russian Revolution. Twelve years later, in the Russian Civil War, Zemlyachka emerged as a key organizer of the bloody Red Terror after the Bolsheviks seized power. Particularly in 1920 to 1921, when she oversaw the Red Terror in the Crimea, Zemlyachka oversaw mass killings that claimed tens of thousands – and possibly hundreds of thousands – lives. She was born into a Jewish family in today’s Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire. Given the Tsarist government’s antisemitism, it was understandable that her parents had revolutionary tendencies.
One of Zemlyachka’s earliest childhood memories was of her parents’ approval of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by revolutionaries in 1881. She was introduced to peasant populism by an older brother, and left school in 1891, aged fifteen, to dedicate her life to revolution. She was arrested by the Okhrana, Russia’s political police, soon thereafter. By 1896, hardened by stints in Tsarist prisons, Rosalia had moved from populism to Marxism. In 1902, she joined Lenin’s faction of the Communist party, the Bolsheviks. Rosalia, who by then had adopted the revolutionary name Rozalia Zemlyachka, was a tireless party organizer. She spent most of her time between Saint Petersburg, Odessa, and various cities abroad to meet with exiles. She was a prominent radical figure in Moscow during the 1905 Russian Revolution, and was a prominent organizer of that city’s barricades.