Soviet Superwoman – Spectres of the Past

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It was the 8th of September 1941 when I arrived in what remained of beautiful Leningrad, the city named for the father of our glorious revolution. As his blitzkrieg rushed towards Moscow, Hitler made the decision to bypass Leningrad and strangle the city into submission rather than commit valuable resources to attacking it directly. German forces had largely surrounded the city, cutting off all supply routes and the Finns were threatening the city from the north and east. Unable to press home their offensive, and facing defenses of the city organized by our Marshal Zhukov, the Axis armies laid siege to the city. Artillery and aerial bombardments rained down on the beleaguered city day and night. On Hitler’s express orders, most of the palaces of the Tzars, such as the Catherine Palace, Peterhof Palace, Ropsha, Strelna, Gatchina, and other historic landmarks located outside the city’s defensive perimeter were looted and then destroyed. There were no utilities, food, water or supplies, no electrical power and no coal or oil. Leningrad was a tomb, a terrible place where starvation killed more civilians than the bombs and the shelling. The city’s population of dogs, cats, horses, rats and crows disappeared as they became the main course on many dinner tables. Reports of cannibalism had begun to appear.

This was the place I was taken to by Commander Popov, my commanding officer. Me, a young bright-eyed girl from a rural kolkholz about to be taken to one of the most horrific sites in the entire conflict. I didn’t know any of that at the time of course. It was simply where the Germans were killing our troops and people and that was all that mattered. They had butchered my family…my mother and father, my brother…my entire village and everything I had ever known was gone in a blink of an eye because of them. I wanted revenge. I wanted my pound of proverbial flesh. My heart boiled in my chest as we traveled to the city by train. The officers did not know what to make of me. That thought the Committee had lost their minds to send a fresh-faced young farm-girl in a ridiculous costume to the front lines. A propaganda stunt. Someone like Betty Grable for the Americans. A face that would inspire the soldiers to fight for their sweethearts and nation in a skin-tight costume that they could release their passions to at night. A sex symbol. I knew I was becoming so much more.

When we arrived it was a vision of hell on earth. The smells were unbearable – burning flesh and smoke and the cloying undeniable stench of starvation, the body turning on itself to survive. The sounds of explosions rocked the husk of the once mighty city. Death was everywhere and the soldiers and civilians that remained trapped grew accustomed to the bodies in the streets. I threw up the first time and a few of the officers and soldiers laughed at me and shook their heads. “Why is she here?” they must have wondered. I could feel them undressing me with their eyes, cupping my breasts to their mouths and forcing themselves on me. As a propaganda tool I was certainly effective. The soldiers blood would go up and they would suddenly have their morale back, if only briefly. I was kept behind the lines the first day, nothing more than a sexual fantasy for the troops. More than once a soldier tried to kiss me or assault me, but I was more than capable of holding my own. An officer named Voroshilov noticed me slap down a soldier far larger than I was like he was a child. Voroshilov was a brave man who I once witnessed standing in defiance of the heavy shelling falling all around him to shout curses at the enemy. He knew my potential. Much later he would accept a sword presented to Comrade Stalin and myself by Prime Minister Churchill only to accidentally drop it to the floor. He was always a good friend to me.

Voroshilov made sure that I got my wish to enter combat and stop being a plaything for the troops. The next day I was given the task of breaking through a German line of tanks and infantry. Voroshilov rallied a group of retreating soldiers and personally led the attack, with nothing but a pistol. I rushed forward with them and finally got to see my first real glimpse of the enemy I had come to hate with all my heart. I wish I could say they looked like the monsters I had imaged, like demons from Hell..but they did not. They were simply men.

I had run into a German flammenwerfer troop. All young boys with attractive gray uniforms. They could have just as easily been men in the Red Army or from my village. They looked normal and my heart sank. For the first time, now face to face with them I grew very afraid. All of the anxiety I had bottled up and hidden deep inside began to bubble up to the surface. What was I doing here? I was just a farm-girl! A stupid, lonely peasant. What if my powers stopped working? What if the scientists had been wrong about me? Faced with the prospect of killing these men I suddenly found I had lost my nerve. I didn’t even have a weapon. What did they want me to do, rip them apart with my bare hands? I stopped and ordered them to surrender, but in those early days I did not yet speak any German and I know my voice was shaky and broken. They stopped and stared at me for a moment before breaking out into smiles and laughing. What a sight I must have been to them. A beautiful, athletic looking amazon, dressed in a ridiculous costume and cape. I began to grow angry and embarrassed.

These people had killed my family. Perhaps not the ones in front of me, but others like them. Wearing that uniform.

One of the Germans stopped laughing and said something to me. I didn’t understand a word of it and it must have looked obvious. Soon after Leningrad I made certain to learn the German language so I could understand them and more importantly they could understand me. They talked amongst themselves for a moment, chuckling. One of them made a crude gesture, pumping his fist. My lips pulled away from my teeth and I took a step forward. I reissued my command for them to surrender, my face turning hot with anger. The one who had spoken to me smiled and took a step forward as well, pointing the barrel of his flamethrower at me. “Auf Wiedersehen” was all he said, shaking his head. He depressed the trigger and I could see the tongue of red-hot flames leap out of the end and scorch towards me. My eyes opened wide in both fear and surprise. This was the moment of truth.

Twin beams of red light shot out from my eyes and slammed through the chest of the young German, even as the flames poured over me like water. It was the first time I had taken a life and the first time I realized that I could kill from a distance with my eyes. For a moment I could not even breathe.

The look of surprise and confusion on that young man’s face would be burned forever into my consciousness.

The other Germans stopped laughing. Their friend made a gasping sound as his final breath left his trachea and collapsed forward, his boots still twitching. The beams striking his chest had left only two smoking, cauterized holes about the size of a ruble. I could feel the heat all around me, but I did not burn. My cape caught fire and my new costume melted in some places, but my flesh was invulnerable to the flames. Nothing more than a slight stinging. The Germans stood transfixed. They looked at me with mouths hung open and eyes bulging from their sockets. It was their turn to be afraid as I knew they could not hurt me. Their bullets, fire and artillery were all made useless against my impervious new body. They would have done just as well to try to punch me with their feeble strength. After a long second they all turned their weapons on me in a panic, as if the flamethrowers they had would do any better than their fallen comrade’s.

They say that after your first kill, the others grow easier. You get accustomed to it…comfortable. I never did. It was a war. It was what was needed to win, to keep my people safe. It was necessary.
And kill I did.

By the end of that first day the soldiers who had once sneered at me and made disgusting comments about me to my face now openly wept as I approached. Some cheered, others shouted my name to the heavens and claimed that it was blessed. The officers were in disbelief. I had punched through the German’s seemingly unbreakable line in a matter of hours, throwing tanks and artillery pieces around like they were made of feathers. Only my uniform suffered the worst of it and almost immediately spare suits were made for me to wear. I had given the Red Army and the Russian people a hope they had not seen in months of brutal combat and destruction and I was given a new name by the German forces: “Sowjetische Superfrau” or “Soviet Superwoman”. It was a name I kept to strike fear into their hearts and to give the Soviet people pride.

That night I cried, as I would many, many nights to follow.

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