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Masha Bruskina

On 26 October 1941, the German occupiers of Minsk publicly hanged a number of partisans. Seventeen-year-old Maria (Masha) Bruskina was the central figure in a trio marched up to the gallows. 

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Bruskina's hands tied behind her back and she was forced to wear a placard saying: “We are partisans and have shot at German soldiers.”

The men alongside her were members of a partisan cell organising anti-fascist resistance; Masha Bruskina was a nurse, who had been caught aiding the partisans by providing civilian clothes and papers for wounded Red Army soldiers under her care to smuggle them back to the resistance.

Born in Minsk in 1924, Masha was a member of a Jewish family forced to live in the city’s ghetto after the arrival of the German Army in July 1941. Although only 17, as an ardent member of the Communist Party, Masha joined the Minsk resistance movement.

Unfortunately, one of her patients betrayed Masha, and on 14 October 1941 she was arrested by the German authorities. She was tortured for several days but refused to give the names of other members of her group. On 20 October she wrote to her mother:

"I am tormented by the thought that I have caused you great worry. Don’t worry. Nothing bad has happened to me. I swear to you that you will have no further unpleasantness because of me. If you can, please send me my dress, my green blouse, and white socks. I want to be dressed decently when I leave here."

Masha Bruskina with fellow resistance members before hanging. The placard reads “We are partisans and have shot at German soldiers”, Minsk, October 26, 1941

According to an eyewitness account, she remained calm until the very end:

"Before noon, I saw the armed German and Lithuanian soldiers appear on the street. From over the bridge they escorted three people with their arms tied behind their backs. In the middle there was a girl with a sign-board on her chest. They were led up to the yeast factory gate. I noticed how calmly these people walked. The girl did not look around ... The first one led to the gallows was the girl."

She was hanged alongside WWI veteran Kiril Trus and 16-year-old Volodia Shcherbatsevich. The scene of their deaths was captured in a series of powerful photographs taken by one of the Lithuanian Wehrmacht collaborators.

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