37. The Crimea’s Mass Murderess
When Rozalia Zemlyachka arrived in the Crimea, that peninsula was one of the last remaining enclaves of the Whites – those opposed to the Bolshevik Reds. She was determined to stamp out that opposition, once and for all. Say what you will about her, but she was conscientious about her job, and about economizing on mass murder so it was done as cheaply as possible. At a time when the Bolsheviks were running low on munitions, she decreed that wasting bullets on captives slated for execution was unreasonable. One of her cost cutting measures was to tie rocks to the legs of the condemned, then toss them off barges into the sea. Tens of thousands were killed that way, and when the waters were calm and visibility was good, rows of standing bodies could be seen swaying like a horrific underwater forest, swaying with the currents on the sea bottom.
Was she history’s deadliest woman?
Zemlyachka returned to Moscow, and was awarded the Order of the Red Banner – then the highest Soviet military award. She spent the rest of her life climbing the Communist Party’s rungs, joining the Central Control Commission – the organization that kept a watchful eye on the party. She worked closely with the NKVD during the Great Terror, and so impressed Stalin with her ruthlessness that she was made head of the Control Commission in 1939. That made Zemlyachka the only woman in the USSR’s highest administrative body, the Council of People’s Commissars. She died of natural causes at age 71 in 1947, and was honored with a burial in the Kremlin. However, deadly as she was, the claims that Zemlyachka was “history’s deadliest woman” are overstated: she had far fewer victims than the next woman on this list.