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Eastern FrontFebruary 1943

Soviet SMERSH officer

Zinaida Pytkina
SMERSH was one of the most feared organisations of the war - literally translated as, "Death to Spies", SMERSH was the Soviet counter intelligence unit. Zinaida Pytkina served with them.

Zinaida Pytkina's words are read by Anna Bentinck.

Testimony Transcript

Laurence Rees: Early in 1943 Zinaida Pytkina was a 22 year old nurse working with the 88th Soviet Tank Brigade. Then one day she heard that a much feared Soviet intelligence organisation - SMERSH - wanted to talk to her. At first she feared she was under investigation herself, but she soon learnt that SMERSH wanted to recruit her as an intelligence officer. And so she began to work for them, swiftly becoming involved in the interrogation of German prisoners.  

Words of Zinaida Pytkina: We occasionally sent out a reconnaissance team so that they could see what was happening there, or to track down somebody who would later be taken prisoner. That was all the job of the SMERSH people. If he doesn’t answer we had to make him - make him talk. Just hit him or beat him. Well, there’s an enemy in front of me and this enemy is reluctant to give me what I want. If he gets a wash once or twice he will sing. This is why he was taken prisoner, to give information. No one wants to die. 

Laurence Rees: When Zinaida Pytkina said that the captured German was given a ‘wash’ if he would not talk, what she meant was that he was beaten up. ‘Wash’, it turned out, was what SMERSH called torture. She also revealed that after one prisoner in particular  - a young German major - had been interrogated and washed, she was told by her commanding officer to go and sort him out. That meant she had to kill him. 

Words of Zinaida Pytkina: When they brought prisoners after the interrogation, it was a normal thing to do. If they had brought a dozen of them my hand wouldn’t have trembled to shoot them all. He had to be destroyed – the same way they treated us; we had to treat them the same way. Now I wouldn’t do it whether he was an enemy or not, because I have got over it and I would leave it to others to sort things out. But at that time if they had lined up all those Germans I would have shot them all down, because so many Russian soldiers lost their lives at the age of eighteen, nineteen or twenty who hadn’t lived, who had to go and fight against the Germans just because they wanted more land. What would you have felt?

Laurence Rees: I remember Zinaida Pytkina saying these words with great passion. Even though she was in her seventies when I met her, she was still an extremely tough individual. And when we asked her how she felt as she killed this German her answer was utterly uncompromising.

Words of Zinaida Pytkina: What did I feel? As a member of the Communist party, in front of me I saw a man who could have killed my relatives. I would have cut him up if I had been asked. I didn’t even look at his face carefully. I hated seeing him. Not only me, all of us hated looking at them because so many Soviet people lost their lives – young people. What for? Because the Germans wanted to get richer. I felt joy. My hand didn’t tremble when I killed him. The Germans didn’t ask us to spare them. They knew they were guilty, and I was angry. I was seeing an enemy and my father and uncles, mothers and brothers died because of them. 

Laurence Rees: More than any Soviet veteran I ever met, Zinaida Pytkina made completely clear her ruthless wartime hatred of the Germans. It was obvious that, as far as she was concerned, by invading the Soviet Union the Germans had sown the wind, and now they would reap the whirlwind. And after she had personally killed this young German in cold blood, she felt no anxiety of any kind.

Words of Zinaida Pytkina: I was pleased. I had fulfilled my task. I went into the office and had a drink. I understand the interest in how a woman can kill a man. I wouldn’t do it now. Well, I would only do it if there was a war and I saw once more what I had seen during that war, then I would probably do it again. One person less, I thought. Ask him how many people he killed? Did he not think about this? I wanted to go on a reconnaissance mission, to crawl to the enemy’s side and to capture a prisoner, perhaps kill him. I could have been killed too. That was my mood. And now if an enemy attacks I will do the same. People like him had killed many Russian soldiers – should I have kissed him for that?