Defending Leningrad: Women Behind Enemy Lines
Editor/Translator Kazimiera J. (Jean) Cottam, PhD
Defending Leningrad: Women Behind Enemy Lines
Defending Leningrad: Women Behind Enemy Lines
Multiple Soviet Authors.
Ed. and trans. by Kazimiera J. Cottam.
With substantial endnotes intended primarily for the scholarly reader.
Nepean, ON:
New Military Publishing, 1998,
xii, 160pp. Illustrations
$19.95 CAN / $14.95 US Paper
ISBN 0-9682702-3-9.

This book [the second revised edition of a collection entitled The Girl from Kashin: Soviet Women in Resistance in World War II. Manhattan, KS: MA/AH Publishing,1984] includes a remarkable diary of an ordinary Soviet middle-class teenager named Ina Konstantinova, who was transformed by the outbreak of the war and death of her boyfriend. Unlike Anne Frank, the most famous teenage author of a WWII diary, Ina was to die fighting, after she ran away from home to become a partisan and avenge her boyfriend's death. At times Ina served alongside her father; his poignant "Story of a Daughter" complements her diary. Ina's parents were both teachers and members of Soviet intelligentsia. Her comrade-in-arms Masha Poryvayeva, caught and executed by the enemy, was of a working class background. A similar fate befell Zoya Kruglova-Baiger, a former farm girl whose German was fluent and who scandalized the population of Ostrov, an ancient north-western Russian town, by socializing with German officers. Why then, in the end, was she imprisoned, tortured and executed? It took many years to unravel the mystery.

In an excerpt cited below an old man named Ivan Yerofeyevich tells the true story of partisan Zoya (Masha) Poryvayeva to Nikolay Masolov, one of the authors of this collection:

"We sat in silence for a few minutes, listening to the noise of the forest. 'It's moaning like the Krasnoye birch-trees,' the old man broke the silence.

"'Tell me, about them, Ivan Yerofeyevich.'

"'These birch-trees were washed with a young girl's blood, my son. It happened almost twenty years ago. The Nazis went on a rampage in our area in 1942. They spared neither young nor old. The people became melancholy. Just then this very girl appeared in our Pustoshka woods.  Her name was Zoya. The peasant women were saying that she was beautiful and had big eyes that were as crystal clear as the springs shooting up at the source of Velikaya River. She was supposedly sent from Moscow. She went from village to village and told the people about the fighting at the front, and she noted everything about the Nazi troops advancing toward Leningrad. She was followed by her detachment; it consisted partly of Red Army men and partly of partisans. And the boys and girls were all very young and reckless. The Germans called the detachment Red Airborne Assault Force....

"'In the early morning, she was led through Krasnoye, her hands tied behind her back, smiling at the sun and the people. And beside the Krasnoye birch-trees, which grow by the lake on a slope, she shook her shoulders, threw off her fetters, grabbed an officer's submachine gun, and shot the monster. But the brave bird was not allowed to fly away; the enemy wounded her. The thrice-accursed, vile creatures tortured her in Opochka for a long time. They kept asking her all about her comrades and Moscow. But she stayed silent or sang a song. And then Kreser killed the girl, and threw her body into a God-forsaken swamp. Since that time, peasant women consider our Krasnoye birches a kind of Zoya's grave. Believe it or not, my son, but the birch-trees are moaning in bad weather. The women keep saying then: Zoya is summoning her friends to her grave!'

"Tired out by his tale, Ivan Yerofeyevich silently fingered his fishing tackle beside the dying campfire. I quietly got up from the pile of pine branches on which I was sitting, and went to the lake, to a spot from which the Velikaya ran out. Many years ago, Zoya the scout crossed the river in this area and walked toward Krasnoye.

"Beyond the lake, with the first rays of yet invisible sun, the sky was turning pink. It was then that I decided to follow in the tracks of this young girl who had become a legend, in order to find her former comrades-in-arms and her loved ones, and to bring them all to the cherished birch-trees."

Contact K. J. CottamReturn to Home Page