Photo by Sergey Strunnikov of Pravda newspaper

In Petrischevo Zoya managed to set fire to horsestables and a couple of houses. However, one Russian collaborationist had noticed her and informed his masters. They rewarded his service with a bottle of vodka. The Germans then caught Zoya when she started to set fire to yet another house. She was taken to the hut, which was used as headquarters. The owners of the house were asked to go to the kitchen. The commanding officer himself interrogated Zoya, speaking in Russian.

"Who are you?" asked the colonel.
"I won't tell."
"Was it you who set fire to the stables?"
"What is your aim?"
"To destroy you."
"When did you cross the front line?"
"On Friday."
"You got here too soon for that."
"Why waste time?"

They asked Zoya who sent her and who came with her. They demanded that she should tell them who her comrades were. Through the door came her answers: No; I don't know; I won't tell. Then belts hissed through the air, and one could hear them lacerating the bare flesh. After a few minutes a young officer jumped out of the room into the kitchen, buried his head in his hands and sat thus till the end of the interrogation, his eyes shut and his fingers plugging his ears. But those, who beat Zoya, were laughing. The owners of the house counted two hundred blows. Not a sound came from Zoya. And afterwards she again said: No; I won't tell; only her voice sounded fainter.

When the interrogation was over Zoya had a large purple-black bruise on her forehead, and weals on her arms and legs. She was breathing heavily. She was half undressed and barefoot. The girl's hands were bound behind her. Her lips were bloody and swollen. She had evidently bitten them for not to cry. She asked for water. One of Russian home owners stepped up with a mug of water. However, the German sentry was too quick for him. He snatched a burning kerosene lamp from the table and held it up to Zoya's mouth. The Russian began to plead for the girl. The German snarled at him, but then grudgingly gave way. She drained two large mugfuls. Then soldiers swarmed into the hut, surrounded the girl and amused themselves. Some of them pounded her in the sides with their fists, others held lighted matches under her chin, and one of them drew a saw across her back.

Only when soldiers sufficiently diverted themselves they retired. Thereupon the sentry put his rifle at the ready and ordered Zoya to get up and go out of the house. He marched her along the street, the point of his bayonet almost touching her back. The outdoor temperature was -20oC (-4oF) . Barefoot, wearing nothing but her underclothes, she walked through the snow until her torturer himself was cold and decided that it was time to return to the warm hut. That sentry stood guard over Zoya from ten in the evening till two in the morning, and every hour he led her out into the street for fifteen or twenty minutes.

At last a new sentry took over. This one was less wicked and did not get Zoya into the street. He untited her arms and even asked the homeowners for a pillow. So Zoya could lay down on the bench. We don't know if she slept or not, but we do know that throughout the night not a sound came from Zoya, though her blackened, frost-bitten feet must have caused a lot of pain. In the morning the officers came in. One of them again asked Zoya,

"Tell us who you are."
Zoya did not answer.
"Tell us where is Stalin."
"Stalin is at his post," answered Zoya.

The master of the house and his wife did not hear the rest of the questioning, for they were driven out of the house and allowed in again only when the interrogation was over. It was, probably, then that Germans tore off Zoya's fingernails (they had been missing on her body).

Around 10am they dressed Zoya, and hung a board with the inscription: 'Houseburner.' Thus they marched her out onto the square with the gallows. The place of execution was surrounded by horsemen with drawn swords, a hundred German soldiers and some officers. The village folk had been forced to attend the execution. Under the noose hanging from the crossbeam of the gallows were two boxes, placed one on top of the other. The executioners lifted the girl onto the boxes and threw the noose round her neck. One of the officers began to focus the lens of his camera on the gallows. The commandant made a sign to the soldiers acting as hangmen to wait. Zoya took advantage of this and, addressing the farmers, shouted in a loud clear voice,

"Comrades! Why are you so gloomy? I am not afraid to die! I am happy to die for my people! Be brave, fight the Germans, burn them, poison them!"

A German standing next to her tried to hit her on her mouth, but she warded off his blow and turning to the soldiers shouted

"You'll hang me now, but I am not alone. There are two hundred million of us, and you can't hang us all. My comrades will avenge my death. Germans, surrender before it is too late. Victory will be ours!"

The hangman wrenched at the rope, and the noose tightened around Zoya's throat. Tugging at it with both hands she stood up on her toes and shouted with all her strength,

"Farewell, Comrades! Fight, don't be afraid!"

Zoya hung on the gowels for the whole month. During Christmass week a bunch of drunk Germans stubbed her with knives and cut off her left breast. After that the commanding officers decided to hide their crimes and bury Zoya.

In the middle of January 1942 the village of Petrischevo was liberated by the Soviet Army. Zoya was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. The collaborationist, who sold her for a bottle of vodka, fell victim to Stalin's repressions. After some time the soldier, who photographed Zoya's execution, was killed in action. With him were the photographs shown below.

Background music: "Orlyonok" (The Eaglet), a 1936 song about the death of a young communist before a firing squad; Music by V. Beliy, Text by Ya. Shvedov; Performed in 1970 by Valentina Levko. File source

Pyotr Lidov, Tanya (The first article about Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya), Pravda, 27 January 1942 (in Russian)
Mikhail Gorinov, Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya (1923-1941) Otechestvennaya istoriia, 1, 2003 (in Russian)
Klavdia Miloradova, Memoirs of Klavdia Miloradova in "Life and heroic deed of Zoya" 1998 (in Russian)

Further reading: More info about Zoya (in English) is available from