15. A Fifteen Year Old Revolutionary
Rozalia Zemlyachka played a key role in mass executions that claimed the lives of tens of thousands at the low end of estimates, and hundreds of thousands at the high end. Her background had set her on the path to revolutionary activity from early on. She was born Rosalia Samilovna Zalkind into a Jewish family in 1876, in what is now Belarus. Given the Tsarist government’s antisemitism, it was unsurprising that her parents had revolutionary tendencies. Years later, the future killer recalled that one of her earliest childhood memories was of her parents approval of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II by revolutionaries in 1881. While still a young girl, she was introduced to peasant populism by an older brother. She left school in 1891, at age fifteen, to dedicate her life to revolution.
She was arrested by the Okhrana, the Tsarist political police, soon thereafter. By 1896, hardened by prison stints, Rosalia had moved from populism to Marxism. In 1902, she joined Lenin’s faction of the Communist party, the Bolsheviks. By then, Rosalia had adopted the revolutionary name Rozalia Zemlyachka, and had become a tireless party organizer. In that capacity, she spent most of her time on travels 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 played a key role in the organization of that city’s barricades. As a known radical, Zemlyachka came in for a rough time in the subsequent Tsarist crackdown. It only hardened and made her even more dangerous.