“Tanya” and the Soviet war for survival

A Soviet propaganda poster during World War II
A Soviet propaganda poster during World War II

In Russia, World War II was known as the Great Patriotic War. Their war compared to the United States’ war or Britain’s war was vastly different. Rather than waging a war against evil or German domination, the Russian people waged a war for survival. On the Eastern front, the Soviet and Nazi armies fought on urban battlefields such as Stalingrad, Moscow, and Leningrad. Operation Barbarossa started in the summer of 1941 to overwhelming success, seeing the Germans push all the way to the Moscow city limits. With the Soviet military in disarray and unprepared for a modern war against a German army, victory was almost imminent for Hitler. With the Soviet armies bogged down defending major cities and strategic objectives, a partisan war was fought out in the countryside against the Germans. Their resistance was so fierce than any captured often faced torture and death. Pavel Lidov’s “Tanya” depicts the dangers of being a partisan and the desperation and ultimate destruction that faced the Soviet people and kept them fighting.

In this story, Tanya is a young female partisan who sabotages German buildings and communication lines outside of Moscow during the winter of 1941. Tanya is soon captured in a German military base trying to burn it to the ground. Once captured, Tanya is tortured for military intel by her German captors. Beat over and over again, she was thrown into a Russian family’s house for the night, bloodied and bruised. The family takes care of her and seeks to ask her questions about her background and who she is. When questioned about her parents, Tanya did not reply and spent the rest of the night in silence. The next day, the Germans returned and continued their interrogation as well as built gallows for her eventual death. When questioned about Stalin, Tanya simply replied “Stalin is at his post” (MC 343). When finally brought to the gallows, Tanya yelled out to the villagers “Hey comrades. Why are you looking so sad? be brave, continue the struggle, beat the Germans, burn them, poison them!…I’m not afraid to die comrades. It’s a great joy to die for your country” (MC 343-344). “Tanya” was used as a propaganda piece by the Soviets to raise the level of nationalism within the Soviet people and get them to commit their entire selves to the cause. Tanya’s lack of parents made her fight against the Germans personal and because of the brutality the Soviet people experienced at the hands of the Germans, the war became a personal war. They fought not just for Stalin and their country, but also their families, friends, and the loved ones tortured and killed by the Germans. Tanya’s quote at the end of the story also emphasizes the nationalist pride and the threat of Russian extinction that faced the Russian people. She claimed that it was a joy to die for one’s country and the German invasion contributed to a rise in Russian nationalism and Russian spirit. The Eastern front was not just a war for good, as the American war was, it was fought by the Russians for survival and their iron will and perseverance contributed to their eventual victory and secured Russia from the clutches of Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Works Used:


Geldern, James. Mass Culture in Soviet Russia: Tales, Poems, Songs, Movies, Plays, and Folklore, 1917-1953. 341-344. Print.


2 thoughts on ““Tanya” and the Soviet war for survival

  1. I think you made a really good point that, for the Russians, the war was more of a survival effort than a clash of ideologies. I think this gave the Russian people the advantage, since they actually had ideals to fight for, which helped them build a nationalist ideology. Their loved ones and fellow countrymen were the ones that were being brutally killed. The Germans, on the other hand, were just invading a country for the sake of it. Tanya is a really good representation of what Russia had at stake during the war and the kind of ideology that they needed to have in order to survive the war.


  2. I agree with Chris. The war was all about survival — and as such was an all-encompassing struggle — to defend the motherland, and the Soviet system. The story of “Tanya,” which was published in Pravda, is based on the fate of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, a partisan killed by the Germans in the early months of the war. Zoya / Tanya became legendary as an emblem of German brutality and the ultimate sacrifice required to beat them. Her fate and the myth and lore that surrounded her offers an interesting counterpoint to the kind of heroism we encountered with “Comrade P.” in “No Greater Love.”


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