Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was a talented student, fond of history and literature who dreamt of studying at Leningrad University. Then the war came, or more specifically, the invasion of Russia by Germany-despite a non-aggression pact signed by Hitler and Stalin in 1939.
So, in October 1941, Zoya gave up her studies in Moscow to volunteered as a guerilla fighter in the Red Army Western Front Sabotage and Reconnaissance Force. She was trained to go behind enemy lines to cut off German supplies and set land mines.
On November 27, 1941, Zoya and her group were dispatched to the village of Petrisheva. The village was offering shelter to Nazi officers and the team’s mission was simple: burn the village down.
The reattempt failed, the team’s leader was captured and killed and so the mission was aborted. But Zoya decided to return alone, by night and complete the firing of Petrisheva. She was caught by some of the villagers and handed over to the Nazis.
All night, the Nazis tortured Zoya. She was stripped naked and made to walk for hours in the fridged winter air. At the same time, she was whipped. But she did not crack or give any information about her group.
So in the morning, she was hung, with a sign saying ‘arsonist’ hung around her neck. In her last speech, she told her executioners:
“You hang me now but I am not alone. There are 200 million of us. You won’t hang everybody. I shall be avenged. Soldiers! Surrender before it is too late. Victory will be ours.”
Her body was left in place for a month.
Zoya had just turned 18 when she died. She was posthumously declared a Hero of the Soviet Union-the first woman to receive the honor in the Second World War.