A Woman So Hardcore, She Alarmed “Iron Felix”
Rozalia Zemlyachka came in for a rough time in the Tsarist crackdown after the 1905 Russian Revolution. She was arrested and jailed numerous times, and caught tuberculosis and developed a heart disease behind bars. Zemlyachka finally fled Russia in 1909, her health broken, to join Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders in exile. She returned to Moscow in 1914, seemingly a spent force, only to bounce back to life in the 1917 Russian Revolution. As an early member of the Executive Committee of the Moscow Soviet, she was in on the ground floor when the Bolsheviks hijacked that revolution. She helped secure Moscow for the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution. In the resultant Russian Civil War, she split her time between Moscow and various Bolshevik field armies, to buck up the troops with fiery speeches and political agitation.
Lenin made Zemlyachka chief political commissar for the 8th Army in the Ukraine, then for that of the 13th Army. However, she made her greatest mark during the Red Terror – a period of bloody repression carried out by the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War that began in 1918 after a failed attempt at assassinating Lenin. Zemlyachka was involved in the terror from the start, advocated for the annihilation of class enemies, and took part in the first batches of executions in Moscow. Her zeal and methods alarmed even Felix Dzerzhinsky, head of the Cheka (forerunner of the NKVD and KGB). Dzerzhinsky was known as “Iron Felix”, so it took a lot to alarm him. Yet, that is just what Zemlyachka did. So in 1920, she was bundled out of Moscow and sent to the Crimea.