Before the War

Roza Shanina was born on April 3rd, 1924 on a collective farm in the Bogdanovskoy commune, Arkhangelsk Oblast, the Soviet Union.

Shanina’s mother, Anna, was a kolkhoz milkmaid and her father, Yegor, had been a logger, but fought in the army during WWI and was badly wounded in the knee. He joined the Bolsheviks while still recovering in a Moscow hospital. When the dust settled after the revolution, Yegor was made a party organizer and director of the Bogdanovskoy commune. The commune collapsed sometime in the early-mid ’30s, and the family resettled in the village of Yedma. Yegor and Anna had five sons and two daughters, and also adopted three orphans.


The public school in Yedma provided Roza with her first four years of school. Getting the next three required moving to the town of Bereznik, 12km away. There, Roza lived with with her aunt Agnes and worked after school in the kolkhoz pigsty.

In 1938, at the age of fourteen, Roza expressed her desire to attend secondary school and study literature. When her parents refused, she ran away. Roza walked over 200km through the taiga forests before reaching a train station in the village of Konosha and traveling to Arkhangelsk. There she lived with her brother Fyoder, before eventually winning entry into the city secondary school. This provided her with a dorm room and a stipend for other living expenses.


Roza as a student in Arkhangelsk.

On June 22nd, 1941, Nazi forces invaded the entire western border of the Soviet Union, opening an 1,800-mile-long front. The Soviet economy was devastated. Free secondary education was discontinued, and the living stipends were revoked. By September, Roza had taken a job at Kindergarten No. 2 in order to pay her tuition. She took classes during the day and taught in the evenings, graduating with honers the following spring. When the Nazis began bombing Arkhangelsk, the only port through which the Soviets could receive supplies from the West, she volunteered for air raid duty on the roof of the kindergarten.

Roza’s brother Mikhail died during the Siege of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in December, 1941. Ultimately, three of her brothers would die in the war. She began tracking down military officers on the school campus, asking permission to serve, and was refused – women were not yet eligible for military service. By the following March, that had changed. The country had sustained devastating loses over the winter. Soviet military leaders believed women’s higher levels of body fat would make them more resistant to cold weather and hunger, and that child birth gave them a naturally high pain tolerance. Their nature as care-givers would make them excellent medics, and their patient temperament would make them good snipers.

Roza enrolled first in the Vsevobuch basic training program, then in the Central Female Sniper Academy. Shanina graduated with honors in April, 1944, and was made a commander in the 184th Rifle Division’s female sniper platoon on the 3rd Belorussian Front. She had just turned 20.


A class photo for the Sniper Academy, 12/24/1943.

In October, 1944, Roza began keeping a diary of her life in the army. This was strictly forbidden and, as such, it is one of only a handful in existence.

Letters, July-August, 1944

Roza began keeping her diary in October, 1944, but had been writing to the war correspondent Pyotr Molchanov for nearly her entire time in the army. The Soviet policy was to keep women off the front unless absolutely necessary, and this left Roza bored. Ultimately, her passion got the best of her and she started going AWOL. She would go on “hunting” trips, alone, to snipe Nazis near the front.

July 29th, 1944. Letter to Pyotr Molchanov:

Please take this to the administration and assist me. If you knew how passionately I want to be with the fighters at the front and kill Nazis. And here, imagine, instead of at the front lines – at the rear. And recently, we lost another 4 black and 1 red. [4 killed, 1 wounded] I want to avenge them. I ask you to talk to someone in charge, although I know that you are very busy.

August 8th, 1944. Letter to Pyotr Molchanov:

I recently went AWOL. Carelessly left the rear for a company at the front. They did not look for me. Good people have said that leaving from the rear to go to the front is not a crime. And I know that our training company will not go on the offensive, and will stay behind. I also need to be at the front, to see with my own eyes what it is, a real war. And then, to look for the lead battalion? All around the forests and swamps, staggered Germans. It was a dangerous walk. I went to the battalion, which was directed to the front, and on the same day fought in the battle. Beside me, people were dying. I fired, and successfully. And afterwards captured 3 … these fascists are strong.
I’m happy I went AWOL. Although they reprimanded me. I even got a punishment from the Komsomol1 – put on watch.

August 31, 1944. Letter to Pyotr Molchanov:

Thank God, finally we are back in the fight. All went to the front. Score increases. I have the most – 42 dead little Hitlers, Ekimova – 28, Nikolaeva – 24.

1  Communist youth organization, roughly equivalent to the Girl and Boy Scouts. Virtually every Soviet child joined the Young Pioneers around age 10, and most would then graduate to the Komsomol at around 15. From there they could work toward joining the Communist Party, which would provide significant advantages in their career and standard of living.

October 6-10, 1944

By October, 1944, the Nazi army was in the midst of, effectively, a fighting retreat. They had been pushed out of Russia, and were fighting the 1st-3rd Belorussian Fronts to hold gains in Belarus, Poland, and Lithuania.

October 6th, 1944

Met Gudkov, who was with Sergei1 in the Bryansk forest in Belarus, he asked to reprimand Sergei for the town of Kosina [suburb of Minsk], where he was found drinking during the bombing. Now with the newspaper editor. Odd to see such foolishness on the advance (Olga), even though they are only 25 kilometers from the front. Yes, it’s hard to live in such a situation!2


Roza’s brother Sergei in his NKVD uniform, 1943.

October 8th, 1944

With Gudkov rode on a plane for the first time in my life. Now we are in the 215th Rifle Division with Kazarin.3 Miss the 338th. People, it seems, are not the same there. I can’t do bad work, it hurts my conscience, but well, this newspaper rigmarole4, the girls got jealous and spread rumors; morale is ruined.

October 10th, 1944

The German retreat is going forward, to the left. Met Kazarin. Everyone says: he’s not good for the good girls, and not just a “womanizer.” I remember Gorodovikov,5 no comparison, how difficult…


Basan Badminovich Gorodovikov

That may be the case, but I won’t be that stupid. Waiting (silly). I saw in a dream my brother Fyoder. My heart is heavy, I’m 20 years old and do not have a close friend, why? And lots of children, but my heart does not trust anyone. I blame this scum that comes with army life, wrecking everything, not caring about a girl.


Roza’s older brother Fyoder, who she had lived with when she first moved to Arkhangelsk. He was killed in action sometime in December, 1942.

It is said that the girls won’t be allowed in to Germany6, but we are already on the border. Where will fate take us? I remember Misha Panarin. What a good guy. Killed… He loved me, I know, and I him. Senior Sergeant, 2 years in the institute, educated, polite, humble, decent, nice guy. I felt very sorry for him. He was not allowed to keep company with my superiors. From Major on up given only one ration, supposedly, but I am not so low. Friends help each other, and it pays off.

Before Blokhin, Solomatin. I liked them, but I knew it was only temporary, left, and did not write letters – there’s the proof. After the 338th Infantry Division I was in the corps. In the 184th ID no one knew me, or only a little – superficial and comradely.

Yashka Gudkov could be good for me. Oh, how much injustice! Take the girls. Sasha Ekimova, my friend, and a fellow sniper. When I have success, she is friendly. When I have none, she is gone. I am now enjoying great prestige, and she is with me. I don’t like this. I want friends like Agnes in grades 5-7 and Valya Chernyaeva from courses 1-3 in technical school. Can’t find them, no. A negative trait of mine – this evil enemy in my character. Dusya Kekisheva. Everyone greatly admires her character, but she will not make friends with me, inasmuch as when we tried earlier to make friends, I betrayed her, and Sasha made an effort to be a good friend, but with Kali I believe there were dirty tricks, and now it shall never be, alas! Dusya hates me for betraying her. Kalia Petrova. Refuses to make any other friends. Shares everything, they have no secrets, everything she tells to Sasha, everything in the whole world.

1 Sergei Shanin, Roza’s brother.

2 Sergei had been fighting on the Sesupe river, which at that point separated the Soviet Union from Nazi-held East Prussia. He was head of a special intelligence unit for the NKVD (predecessor of the KGB). Unknown to Roza, he had been arrested in Moscow on September 26th, 1943. At an NKVD trial on March 18th, 1944, he was found guilty of failure to carry out orders, abuse of power, and misconduct in the presence of the enemy. He was sentenced to 10 years hard labor.

3 Andronik Abramovich Kazarin, Hero of the Soviet Union.

4 Roza had already become something of a celebrity by this point. She had won her first “Order of Glory” medal barely two weeks after her tour of duty began, for actions in the village of Kozyi Gory, and had been featured in many army and civilian newspapers.

5 Basan Badminovich Gorodovikov, Hero of the Soviet Union.

6 German held territory, not Germany proper. Sidenote: in Russia, all women are referred to as “dea-voch-ka” (girl) until they are clearly elderly, at which point they immediately become “babushka” (grandmother). Using the tern “zhensh-ch’na” (woman) is considered disrespectful.

October 12, 1944

Here, Roza recounts her actions in the Struggle for Vilnius in mid-July, 1944.

October 12th, 1944.

I began my journey in July. We held the path to Sberki, 20km to the left of Slabado and the river Shoshopo1. Without permission we got in a car. It broke down near the 184th ID, and all went back to friends, in the evening. We spent the night with the head of the Political Department. Was with Kaleria Petrova, ate general’s dinner, they wanted us to pay for it, but we would not. In the morning we were taken to a Willy’s jeep. Going where? In that army car, we learned everything. Girls spent the night on the front, attacking, fire, but they have seen the boys. Yes, I want to be at the front, it’s simultaneously interesting and dangerous, but not frightening to me for some reason.


Lithuania in 1941; Slabadai is where Roza’s unit was fighting. From Lithuanian Maps

I remember the day when I went on the attack with Solomatin, who I loved, but I did not believe in his love. He did everything for me. And I watched him look death in the eye, like everyone, and he had the power to do everything, perhaps, because I’m a girl and have been fighting valiantly. But I left him, just as a remarkable regiment commander was killed close to him. Nikolai S [Solomatin] became the regiment commander.

I went to the front. I met the guys, friends with our girls Shura and Duce: the battalion commander and the deputy. We got along great. I fell into the company of a good uncle, a senior lieutenant, company commander. Took me under his wing. I went with him to the attack, running across the rye, Blokhin2 not there. I learned they had an offensive that night, went to it.


Roza and “Duce” Krasnoborova

At 3 in the morning we went on the attack, fire all around, and I was at the front of combat formations. Seeing this, Blokhin got my attention and said: “Come now, little girl, in the rear.” Shapiro, the Jewish political commissar3, chased me away. Day breaks. Walking. Freezing: in my underwear, bra and camouflage, and that’s all. Where we are, Fritz is on three sides. I see a guard looming in the distance. But whose? Through the rye I crept closer: our soldiers, outposts, tired, sleeping in formations. I run up to the guard. He sleeps standing. I learned that it’s Solomatin’s battalion. He told me to go to sleep. I lay down under my jacket and camouflage and immediately fell asleep. In the morning we woke up and they wondered how I found them. We sit.

Suddenly a German plane strafed the ground 100 meters from us. Tairov4 said: “After 10 minutes, we will counterattack the enemy.” And there it is. My team was commanded to take the hill, we took it in minutes. I was at the front. At first I did not see, and then I see: from the hills, 100 meters off, climbs self-propelled guns with troops. It was the enemy manpower. Just to the left of me, 8 meters away, a tank crushed a lieutenant and a captain, and other soldiers. My rifle jammed. Quickly, I cleared the jam and shot again.

Here comes the tank directly at me, 10 meters away. I feel for my grenades – but they were lost while crawling through the rye. And I was not scared. 7 meters out our 76mm artillery hit the tank. Tanks passing by, soldiers throwing grenades at them, all kinds of fire (machine gun, shells), 8 shot down, and the others retreated. After everything, when I saw the dead and wounded, it was terrible. Before his death, the captain gave me a watch.

Got trophies, NZ [emergency rations]. I had long treasured a blue scarf made of silk which, like a memory, is lost. Tairov said: “When the attack begins, remember where you are, and what lies ahead, and how very much you have gone through.” Tairov and Solomatin quarreled. Tairov – old soldier, ordered to hold on until the end, and surrounded by morning, but Solomatin “I am in charge here.” Sent on watch – General Babayan5 – I hide, so as not to get sent to the rear. By night I arrive on horseback with the cavalry. All the Lithuanians were taken under guard. Well, it turns out that a peasant woman was taking a horse to the meadow when she was ordered behind the lines for safety. But when we occupied the village, where Fritz was, the horse was found again.

At night we were surrounded. Stayed with Solomatin. He was overcome: “death is all the same.” I didn’t blame him: he is young, and it was his right to think like that. I was not afraid to die, but I began to cry because, well, they say, a girl blames herself for everything, when the whole situation allows it, at every opportunity. I sat up until late.

Fortunately, two days later another division liberated us. Solomatin continued to make passes at me. I took my rifle, grenades, and went to seek a place with room for outraged feelings.6 Around the Germans, to the right and left. I asked the artillery guys – where? I was told “Come on” – they say – “with us,” and I went. Was good with them. We went on big marches, I went to the guns. I got a letter from Blokhin, saying, I am now in charge, go. 60 Km march. Tired, I had to go through the mountains, I lay down. I thought I would run away when the guys fell asleep, but the guys were so good, it was hard to leave. They fell asleep and I, exhausted, could not resist.

A kick wakes me up. Before the eyes of the two machine gunners from my training company. I am sent to the rear, orders are orders. Next time. Near the village Obukhovo, to the north and further west, spoke with Blokhin, the training company was gone from where I had left them. Went with the 1136th Regiment to the surrounding groups. Spent the night, the next morning went on patrol. Saw 30 Fritz run up and overtake the scouts. Skirmish. Two Germans came out of the bushes and killed our captain. We caught 6, but lost them in the thick bushes. The two that killed our captain we caught and shot.

The Germans split into 2 groups and ran off in opposite directions. Our boys pursued them, but I had to go “home” to my company. Along the way, saw one wounded. He asked me to shoot him there again, he crawled. I moved along. Going along in my daydreams, I had forgotten that I was in a dangerous place. Walked on a bridge, casually I looked to the side in an overgrown ravine. I see: what on earth? Fritz sitting there. I shouted: “Hände hoch” and up went 6 hands: three of them. One mumbled something I did not understand. I only knew the how to say the words: “Quick,” “forward,” – and shout. They crawled out of the ravine. Secured weapons, watches, grenades, binoculars, etc. Walked 1.5KM, I saw a German had only one boot on. That’s what he was mumbling about in the ravine, asking for permission to retrieve the other boot: I did not understand. I met a fellow soldier: “Do you have the time?” I say: “Here.” “To see?” he asks, “take it,” and he ran off with the watch. I led them towards the village. One starts feeling bold, and asks their question: “Good or kaput?” I say, “will be good”7 – and they all turned to look at me. I go through the village, this is in Poland. In camouflage, with a Finka8, grenades, rifle at the ready – a real bandit woman. Then called out everyone from dinner. So many cheers!

There I met Sasha Schekachikhin, who likes me. First we went with Kali Petrova to dine with Blokhin, drink milk, etc. And later, I liked him and began to hesitate to say goodbye. Sometimes, we’d call to Blokhin while he was with Sasha Sch., to say such-and-such, as both Kali and I liked Sasha. Blokhin, knowing this, would reply “he’s busy,” – although he was glad that we came. Sasha I confessed to love first in a letter, and he replied that he could not say for sure if he felt the same – shame. Oh, I cried. When I left, when I captured three Fritz, and because I think he does not love me. I got used to it, and thought: this is the last time, kill the Germans, etc, because this is a serious situation.

Almost at the same time as Blokhin and the others, I was fooling around with Solomatin, but I know that all this is only temporary. Now no one to love, although I do not believe Solomatin, but I dream about being with him, being beside him. Blokhin is already calling me back to the rear. I’m sure: Tanya had been there, with a letter I was not allowed to read. I corresponded with Grisha, Dima, Kostya, and Nikolai, but this is something else. It’s just – first you are comrades, now guys start dreaming about something, they get bored on the front, you don’t want to offend. Dima wrote me 3 dull short ones; I requested he send all my photos back. 3 years… They were both experiences, nothing to write about them, and already wrote everything interesting. How do you explain that the guys so quickly disappoint? They cheat, sometimes I get up the nerve to say – leave me alone.

I would like to have a girlfriend. I often wonder about Anna Smirnova and Masha Tisanova, they really like me, but I don’t know yet. Not our division. Why is it that in this mass of boys I’m always alone? I don’t know. Even if you have a man, absences will happen and always be unpleasant. One fella in 215th ID, K., offered me perfume and everything, whatever, but I’m not selling. Could be foolish, but not necessarily: will be trouble, he’s a high rank.


A photo of Roza with an unknown captain, which she had with her on the front. On the back was written: “…War has stolen all the precious time from me.”

1 The village of Starkai, Lithuania – near Slabadai and on the bank of the Sesupe river. Throughout the diary, Roza uses German place names spelled phonetically in the Cyrillic alphabet. It was very fun to figure out what they all were!

2 Paval Blokhin, who Roza had something of a relationship with. It’s unclear how serious it was, but she mentions it several times in the diary.

3 The Political Commissar had been something like a co-commander of each unit, making sure that soldiers embraced proper Communist ideology. Initially, they had broad powers, even extending to court martial and execution. This hurt morale, though, and by 1944 they were mainly symbolic.

4 Captain and Political Commissar Isaac Tairov, 1916 – August 19th, 1944

5 Hmayak Babayan, August 15th, 1901 – April 21st, 1945, Hero of the Soviet Union

6 This line is a reference to the play “Woe from Wit” by A.S. Griboyedov: Act IV, Scene 14

7 A German-speaking reader wrote in about this exchange. In German, they were asking “good or dead?” as in, “are we prisoners or will we be executed?” Roza responds “will be gut,” and I think she meant “it’s good.” The German word “Gut” also sounds like a Russian army abbreviation for the rear divisional command, and it’s possible she thought that’s what they meant, since she was taking them to the rear command post anyway.

8 A Finnish dagger, slang term for the Soviet NR-40 combat knife.

October 17-24, 1944

October 17th, 1944

War. Spent the night by Vovik Emelyanov with Sasha and Kali, but also accidentally got left behind, and was found. Breakthrough of the German border near the city of Naumiestis, Lithuania. Invited to the tanks, was introduced to the tank unit. What good, delicate guys. I’m always known from the newspapers.

Met the artillery guys, who saw 5 of our girls killed at the Neman [river]. They see that our fate is not easy. Again ready to run away to the front, even crying, that is was not allowed. I want, how can I explain? Some force draws me there; I get bored here. Some people think that I’m chasing a boyfriend, but I do not know anyone there. I want to see a real war. Prevented, because I am a platoon commander, or else I would have already gone.

October 18th, 1944

Searched for the Katyushi1, not found. We spent the night in another battery. “Attack”… Break through the border. There met Vanya and the 338th Rifle Division. What a meeting! Separated again. Found a division of ours. Already straying on German territory. Prisoners, killed, wounded. Attacked bunker, took 27 prisoners, 14 officers, hard resistance. Going “home” to my division. I see the division headquarters. Drove up closer to the front. Spent the night by [Sergei] Osmak. He likes me, but he is very prideful, it seems, and that’s why he likes me?

Was with general Kazaryan2, and the political commissar, sincerely cried when I was not allowed to the front, how to explain? Arrived “home” and received a letter from Agnes Butorina. I always remember this girlfriend from grades 5-7 well. She writes that her life is fractured, boring. I believe she has no children, and no other girlfriends in her life. So it will be after the war. It seems to me that whenever I’m sent to the rear, I dream about escaping to the front.

October 20th, 1944.

Yesterday once again ran to the front. There was an attack, but here we stood, entrenched. Rain, mud and cold. Long night; we march on.

October 24th, 1944.

Was in no condition to write. Fought. Went together with everyone. Wounded, killed. I returned with the forward regiment commander. Oh God, how much gossip. I remember I cried in the battalion, resentful, that I was allowed to tell a bad joke. I found it disrespectful. I remember their fallen comrades during this period. I was waiting for the same fate, and here’s my thanks. Even my girlfriends joked ironically. The world is filled with lies. It seems I don’t have the strength to look at the end of life in this lying world.

Got 8 letters from Yashka Gudkov. Because of that I responded with a small one out of courtesy, etc. He does everything for me, expected a photo, and now I get here and I won’t write back. Yashka understands proper army girls.

1 Soviet rocket artillery. Roza’s sniper platoon was working support for a group of Katyushniks.

2 Andranik Kazaryan, Hero of the Soviet Union

October 25-28, 1944

October 25th, 1944.

Always nice to have a girlfriend. Sasha [Alexandra Ekimova], I am with you, and sadness is sometimes fun. I share with you all that is in my soul. I brought Colonel Novozhilov my letter, in which I asked to be sent to the front and criticized our officers.


Roza and Sasha

October 28, 1944.

Battle of Pillkallen [now Dobrovolsk, Kaliningrad, Russia]. The city has taken many of ours, all of them killed. From the shtrafbat company1 one man returned alive, unharmed; the rest were killed.

I myself fought for a place under Pillkallen. Many times we took it and were expelled. Very successfully fought back a counterattack. 15 kills for sure, as I was at close range and shot a lot. We watched four artillerymen through ten-fold and six-fold binoculars. When Fritz started to crawl we could still see their helmets, shot at them. Bullets were ricocheting off their helmets, which we could see well because they were tracer cartridges. First at a distance of 200 meters, then they stood up to full height 100 meters out. When they got within 20 meters we fled. We were behind an embankment in the woods and escaped easily. Sent to the house, but the “Slavs” had all fled. We were left alone. Beside me Captain Aseyev2, our artillery division commander, artillerist, Hero of the Soviet Union, was killed. And we finally retreated.

Order: reestablish the position. We crawled back and took the house, expelled Fritz. Then I went to the Regimental Command, tired, and ate for the first time that day. By this time it was 12 in the evening, and I slept soundly.

Suddenly I heard shooting from the basement. Fritz, 15 of them, crawling. They smashed the artillerymen, who had heard, being near the house, in the barn. The girls were all cowards and fled. Kaleria was the brave one. The girls saw the danger and were ready to tear me to pieces when I led them to the front. Sasha Koreneva3 was killed in the fight and two were wounded: Valya Lazarenko and Anna Kuznetsova. I was afraid to go home, as the girls will “stick” all the blame on me. Soldiers, the boys and commanders, are pleased by my bravery. It came before the commanders, and I was recommended for the Order of Glory 1st Degree for repelling those attacks.

1 Penal company of 150-200 men. These were units formed of disgraced soldiers and Gulag prisoners who, rather than being executed, were sent on the most suicidal attacks. Most men were sentenced to these units for unauthorized retreat, cowardice, or desertion.

2 Captain Aseyev (in Russian)

3 Alexandra Nikolaevna Koreneva, 1920 – 10/26/1944. Roza recommended that she be posthumously awarded the Order of the Great Patriotic War, 2nd Degree.

November 1-7, 1944

November 1st, 1944. Letter to Pyotr Molchanov:

Day before yesterday buried girlfriend-in-arms Sasha Koreneva. 2 more of our girlfriends were wounded: Lazarenko Valya and Shmeleva Zina. Maybe you remember them?


Zina Shmeleva spotting for Roza

November 3rd, 1944. Letter to Pyotr Molchanov:

Returned from the front completely exhausted. This war will be remembered. 4 times the town passed from hand to hand. 3 times I got out from under the noses of the fascists. In truth, war on enemy territory is a serious matter.

November 5th, 1944

Went a long time without writing, there was no time, was at the front. Went with the girls to Vovka. Chatted, that due to Captain Aseyev being killed, I look a little lost when I’m by myself. He was boozy and wouldn’t leave, although we had to, in order to be on time, so we insisted. I really like Nikolai Shevchenko, lieutenant in the artillery, brother of the pilot Shevchenko, who is a Hero of the Soviet Union. He is in love with me, but he’s not very tall, and I don’t like even a little shorter than me, and so I suffer for it.

Spent the night with Nikolai Fedorov. Good guy. He dotes on me: gets me anything I want (suit, hat, gifts). Only I don’t like him. Ah, my enigmatic nature. I take advantage of his gifts when I don’t love him. “An Enigmatic Nature” – Chekhov.1

Celebration night [Great October Socialist Revolution day – November 7th]. Invitations… made a schedule starting with the 5th and ending… But alas, November 6-7 we work in the days and then collapse. Evening of the 6th, katyusha2 boys. Tankers arrived, Vovka Klokov. I wanted to go to [Nikolai] Borovik on the holiday, but work during the day. The katyusha boys are as good as the rest of the guys. Only Vovka Letison I love like a little brother, but he hinted at something I didn’t like. Flashed my dagger. I do not understand anything, even life, it’s all so intertwined.

November 7th, 1944.

Spent the morning of the 7th on the front. Spent the evening of the 6th with Nikolai Fedorov, fun, but unexpected.3 A photographer came from Moscow. The generals called me, as a representative of the girls – a front-line sniper. But Nikolai did not want me to leave, and did not tell me that I was called. On the morning of the 7th I met with the generals, and they scolded me for not coming. I said: “Not told.”

Home. Invitations, guys: “sugar,” and “sweetheart,” and hell. I decided not to go anywhere because I was dirty, tired. Out of the blue an invitation from Molchanov’s army. I could not refuse. Very good comrades, and thought that they maybe went somewhere else. Cough, but I went anyway. Arrived there, ill for two nights, and the 7th laid in bed. So, the 7th – half in Germany, half in Lithuania or the USSR.

I came home, got a bunch of letters, but none which pleased me. Worried about Nikolai. He disgusted me, and he acted very badly: wanted to get drunk on the 6th and take advantage. I can’t stand it. Yashka wrote that he is fed up. He is stupid; I didn’t realize it them. I thought he was a good guy. I only occasionally respond to his letters, and he just wants a photo.

2 Soviet rocket artillery. The soldiers who operate it are called “Katyushniks”

3 Thanks to Valentina, a reader who helped with this section.

November 11-15, 1944

November 11th, 1944.

Called by General Kazaryan. Criticized for poor discipline, patrols, absences. During the holidays there were not any. Truthfully, our division did not do anything, but they need to make a fuss just the same. What can we do, when the “tops” don’t work with us. Our squad is working normally. I came home, Nikolai F sitting in the muddy street. He came to apologize for what he did, but there were a lot of people around, and he said nothing, and seemed sad.

I received a letter from the preschools in Moscow and Arkhangelsk. They were all proud of my achievements. Yes, my portrait was in the “Humor” magazine on November 7th. But I was too overrated. I do only what is required of every Soviet soldier, and everyone. I am famous everywhere; it’s a lot.

November 14th, 19441

  1. Captain Tishin…

  2. Captain Stepanenko Vovka…

  3. Captain Blokhin Pavel…

  4. Senior Sergeant Panarin Mishka 2

  5. Senior Lieutenant Solomatin Nikolai…

  6. Senior Lieutenant Nikolai, artillerist 184th RD, 97th regiment, 1st battalion.

  7. Major Osmak 3-4

  8. Lieutenant Ledison Vovka 3

  9. Colonel Horapov 3

  10. Captain Federov Nikolai…

  11. [scribbled out text, labeled “mistake”]… Senior Lieutenant Borovik.

I realize that I have earned honor in the army – well, on the front, but spread out over the whole Soviet Union, when I have not done much….? Just saying. Going to bed. A lot of guys are eager to see Roza Shanina… they seem, how to explain….? They see me as a beauty, or a hero? I don’t understand.

Oh, and what happened today. At night went to the 277th ID. I met with Captain Lesha, handsome, but behaves like an idiot, who does he think we are? Invited out by Arkhangelsk guy, head cook. Gave me a light, asked if I am the sniper. Spent the night with Toska, and left in the morning.

Switched to 618th regiment, settled in fine. The car was fixed, we were going with Kali to the 711th by Nikolai in the farmhouse, and all of a sudden ended up in a ditch. Spent the night by Nikolai, visited the pilot Yasha. I cannot stand him, disgusting, the things he would say, and I would rather have not spoken to him at all. Nikolai: he is madly in love with me, that’s for sure, he wrote a letter and reaffirmed everything. Was then by Major Grunichev; their group really likes me (educated, modest), but they have this one Vovka Ivanov son-of-a-bitch, and the rest of the guys are darlings.

In the evening, conversed about Stalin’s report. Did not manage to get to Grunichev, but was invited… He invited the commander of the 711th rifle regiment, and whether or not expected, the chief of the staff and division Colonel. Time was well spent, I was three-sheets to the wind, but not too drunk to light a cigarette. It seems we are not what they expected. They were offended, that I said some offensive things to them. In the morning the jalopy was fixed, and I was summoned by the junior platoon commander. Today I rely on Grunichev not to write anything to the guys in the 2nd artillery division.

November 15th, 1944. Letter to Pyotr Molchanov:

Do not go on the “hunt” now. Sitting without boots. Movement at the front. Our girlfriends were awarded. Yesterday we gave Sasha an Honorary Diploma of the Central Committee of Komsomol.

1 This is the first entry in the second of Roza’s 3 notebooks. This list is on the first page.

November 18, 1944

November 18th, 1944.

Mood is nasty, why? Was just now by Nikolai and spent the night, yet I’m still in a little bit of a bad mood. I met a boy in the artillery. Well, boy, likes me like crazy, extremely handsome and shy, but, alas! Nikolai is close by.

I remembered all of our relationship with Nikolai. I respect him very little, but respect all the same. The girls all like him, but this, I think, is only when they are comrades, and until he makes passes at them, although Sasha Ekimova might take him up on it. Lucky me. After all, I made friends with him so mechanically, not as I would wish. I remember the first day I met him on the offensive, when I “ran” to the front. Tall, dirty, mud, clay, long overcoat, like a true warrior. I respect him for his bravery, he is a Soviet soldier, but he doesn’t shine in upbringing or education – simple guy, a gunner? I remember the first days spent with Nikolai. Why do I not have the courage to reject him? The circumstances – cold and muddy, I undressed, I needed help, he helped me, otherwise, in a word, it was ridiculous. And now he likes me a little bit, and the rest I force myself, drive in the idea that I respect him, and that I miss him when I have not seen him. Why did I drive in the thought that I love him? Because after Blokhin I didn’t think of anyone, and I could not, and would not be alone, I want a friend, what else?

I now make friends with him, but I can’t understand why. He doesn’t have the character to live with style. All the treasures and presents – rags and garbage, and this he gives from the heart (suit, scarf, hat). He has no masculinity, wastes my time with picture postcards, like the other gunners, trying for my sympathy. This is not a man, a doormat; I love warriors. He fights well, but doesn’t seem like a Russian warrior, like a little girl, and I hate that.

Now with the girls, bored. Tomorrow a secret commission is coming with the artillery to monitor the girls’ behavior – I know. Oh, this army life, they all think we’re a bunch of prostitutes, and then are ashamed when they see these modest girls.

And Nikolai proposed to me, to make it easier to live together, formally, that we should be married, in the documents. No, I don’t think about marriage, even just in the documents, it would just make more gossip.

What kind of recognition of love from Nikolai? I’m not capable of feeling that, for this man, falling at the feet of a girl; I might give him the pet-name “doormat.” I still don’t understand, whether it’s true, or he’s a liar.

Singing a song with the girls: “I hate the soldiers’ suit, nowhere to rest, and we’re called ‘prostitute,’ without a bit of jest.” – and everyone crying, that’s the mood here.

Tomorrow artillery; where shall I go in the evening? And will I actually get there? So hard! Oh my God! On the front it was terrible, no success. Fritz wandering far away, shot badly. Today wrote down in the end something about I…

Dear mother, although you are not bored with me, I’m bored and have nothing to do. As you would want. No, it kind of seems that I should commit suicide, this is my future, yes, no other way. Learned in a letter from Yashka that I only had 10 minutes, and that he had gossiped about me with Captain Aseyev. No rest for him, even in the afterlife, that poor fellow.

Yes, I received a Certificate of Merit from the Komsomol. Wrote a letter to a girl – a stranger – who, like me, is eager to be in the fire of war. I told her everything. Yesterday praised the guys in the II division, today I say: bastards, messing with someone else’s mind.

An Unsent Letter to Masha

The unsent letter. This is taken from the heavily edited 1965 “Yunost” publication of the diary, which I’ve found to contain several creative additions compared to the longer version published in 2011. I’m a little suspicious of its authenticity, but Yunost does say it was unsent. Maybe she wrote it in frustration, realized she overreacted, and never sent it. It jibes with the general image of Shanina that the Yunost editors were crafting, but the story told in it also fits the time frame when Shanina was given leave to Arkhangelsk and would’ve been on a train. So take it for what it’s worth.

Greetings, Masha!

Sorry for calling you that, but I don’t know your patronym.1 I decided to write when I accidentally learned about your letter to Claudia Ivanovna.

You write that you are crazy in love with Claudia’s husband. And she has a 5-year-old kid. You ask her forgiveness for letting such a thing happen, but that you are going to build a life with her husband. You justify yourself by writing that no one else will raise his child, which you are pregnant with, and that you did not know that N.A. had a wife and child.

You write: “What would I tell his child, when he asks “where’s Papa?’” But what answer will Claudia give her son, who already knows his father well, when after the war he asks: “Why did Papa not come home?”

Maybe you are seriously now in love with a soldier you met by accident on the road, but how can Claudia Ivanovna forget her beloved husband?

Who am I? Like you I came to the front. I’m a sniper. Recently I was in the rear. On the tracks, in the train, I was thanking the people who came to see my medals. But they told me all sorts of gossip. Why? Why do others look strangely at a girl in a tunic? For that you are to blame, Masha. I could not find a place then, I can’t calm down, and now I’m returning to the front.

I often wonder how us military women will come back from the war. How will we be greeted? Possibly with suspicion, despite the fact that we risked our lives and many of us were killed in battles for the Motherland. If that happens, I blame those who couldn’t even fight off foreign husbands.

Think, that you will not be forgiven not only by Claudia Ivanovna, but by all of us. And there are many of us. That’s everything I wanted to say.

-Roza Shanina”

1  Russian names have 3 parts: first name, patronym, and family name. The patronym is the father’s name followed by “-va” or “-ovich.” In formal settings, or when you aren’t close friends, you always use “First name – patronym.” By using a pet name, Masha, and no patronym, Roza is sort of double-insulting her. Imagine saying “Hey, buddy” or “Listen, missy” in English.