Born into a poor peasant family, Mazanik found work as a housekeeper in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. During the city’s occupation, she navigated her way into the employment in the kitchen of Wilhelm Kube, Nazi General-Kommissar of Belorussia, a cruel man who spoke of his desire to level the city. Kube, who was closely guarded, had already survived several partisan assassination attempts, and Mazanik was keen to help them. Partisans passed instructions to Mazanik through her sister, Valentina, to avoid suspicion.
“I was shaking like a leaf”, she recalled.
After evacuating her family from the city, the partisans gave Mazanik a small explosive and a poison capsule in case she got caught. With the bomb hidden in her handbag, she was searched on entry into his lodgings. When the official went to pull the handkerchief hiding the device, she rebuked him by telling him his hands were dirty, and that it would spoil her present for Mrs Kube. Once inside, she went straight to the bathroom and hid the bomb under her dress. “I was shaking like a leaf”, she recalled.
Diverting the guard with the promise that coffee awaited him in the kitchen, she stole into Kube’s bedroom, placing the bomb, which was scheduled to detonate that night, under his mattress. Feigning toothache, she left work for the rest of the day. That evening, Yelena and Valentina were ferried out of the city.
The mission was a success: the bomb exploded, and Kube was killed. His wife, who slept separately, was unhurt. The cost was extreme: in reprisal, 1,000 Minsk civilians were forced to dig their own graves and then shot.
Swiftly transported to Moscow, Mazanik was interrogated by the NKVD; she later claimed that the NKVD had considered killing her and presenting another woman to Stalin in her place. When this did not transpire, she was granted the title of Hero of the Soviet Union.
Later asked about her deed, Mazanik replied, “The sentence was already passed by the people. It was up to me to put it into effect”.