Posted on July 5th, 2016 by:

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On September 22, 1943, a bomb went off at the GeneralKommissar’s house in the Nazi protectorate of Weissruthenien, now Belarus. The target of the bomb was 55-year-old Wilhelm Kube, the Generalkommissar who had ruled Belarus under a bloody fist. The bomber was Yelena Mazanik, his housemaid.

Wilhelm Kube had joined the Nazi Party in the early 1920’s and Hitler’s SS in 1934. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Kube was appointed Generalkommissar of Belarus where among other things, he oversaw the mass murder of Jews and Belarussians the Nazi’s deemed undesirable to the Reich. Kube was known to be a zealous Nazi, who enjoyed killing and ordering villages and their entire population burned for the slightest suspicion of connections to anti-Nazi partisans.

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Pre-WWII photo of Yelena Mazanik

By 1943, Kube had become a target for the partisans. They approached a young woman named Yelena Mazanik, who was working on Kube’s kitchen staff, about an assassination attempt. Mazanik was a native of Minsk. She had lived in the basement of her bombed out house with her sister whose husband, a Red Army Officer, was shot by the Nazis in 1942 for organizing escapes for Russian POW’s.

Though initially on the cooking staff, serving food at Kube’s banquets, Yelena ingratiated herself with the family and became one of Kube’s five housemaids.

Yelena Mazanik got her orders to assassinate Kube on September 21st and received the bomb to be used. The bomb had a peculiar mechanism: it did not tick like a clock, but the timing was precisely set. When the pin was pulled out, a spring pulled a tiny steel wire that slowly cut through a lead sheet. Once the sheet was cut through, a plunger would be released, which hit the detonator.

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Wilhelm Kube

On the morning of September 22nd, Yelena put her underwear, sponge and soap into a black briefcase (housemaids needed to take showers every day) and made her way to Kube’s house. She also carried a fancy purse which held the bomb covered with a handkerchief. At the gate to the Kube’s house was a guard who knew Yelena, but on the day of the assassination, by bad luck there was also an SD officer, part of the Sicherheitsdienst, or Nazi secret police. As Yelena passed the gate, she heard the call from the sentry:

“ Ausweiß, Fräulein!”

Trying to hide her fear, she handed her pass to the guard with great authority as it had Kube’s name on it. Any document with the name of the Generalkommissar caused fear and Yelena hoped that would be the end of the matter. The SD officer, though overly polite, pointed out that she had forgotten to renew the document and ordered a soldier to check her belongings. Yelena became very afraid, she couldn’t think straight about which belonging to let them check first.

“What are you looking at, asshole?!” the SD officer yelled at the soldier with him.

“Herr Untersturmführer, Fräulein works here, I know her…” replied the soldier.

“Shut your mouth! Check her, you moron!” screamed the SD man.

The soldier opened Lena’s briefcase and started to go through her belongings. Lena opened the purse herself, and let the soldier look inside while she supported it at the bottom with her left hand. The soldier saw the handkerchief, grabbed the corner to pull it out, when Yelena yelled at him.

“How dare you?! I will tell his excellency!”

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Kube in SS uniform

At that moment Kube emerged from the house with his two adjutants, Willenstein and Kufel. Both guards saluted and let Yelena into the house. By coincidence, they were leaving their offices earlier than usual, and through the back door. Kube saw Yelena and asked why she was so pale. She told him she had a toothache, and he ordered her to report to the doctor. Kube’s face and tone were harsh. Yelena had the feeling he was going to check with the doctor to see if she told the truth.

Shaking from fear, Yelena ran into the house. She went to the bathroom, took the bomb out of her purse and hid it in her underwear. There was a German duty officer in the small corridor guarding the door to Kube’s bedroom.

Yelena approached the officer and said “I bet you haven’t got a drop of coffee today, dear officer?” The officer said that he had not. Yelena told him if he went downstairs the lady in the kitchen will give him a cup. Yelena had paid the lady in the kitchen 5 marks to give the officer some coffee.

When the lady had asked why, Yelena had lied and said the man was her boyfriend. The officer agreed to go downstairs, and Yelena ran to the bedroom. She knew that the General’s bed was the one closer to the door as she had asked the maid which bed was his and which was his wife’s.

Yelena ran into the bedroom and took the bomb from under her dress. She wrapped it in the trousers of Kube’s son, Willy. She held them in the trousers as an alibi. Should someone see her there, she could tell them she needed to mend the trousers.

She squatted down by the bed and put the bomb between the mattress and springs. The springs were interwoven with rope and she thought the springs could open and the bomb might slip out. Luckily, the bed was not made yet and Yelena jumped and sat down on the bed to make sure the bomb would not come out. She was about to leave when she heard a sharp voice asking her what she was doing in the room. The third floor duty officer was standing at the bedroom door looking at her. With great calm, Yelena explained why she had entered the bedroom. Unimpressed, the officer pushed her aside and carefully examined the pillows and blankets.

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Official portrait of Yelena Mazanik

Afraid the bomb would be found, Yelena waved at the chambermaid who came in and started smiling at the Lieutenant, who soon forgot about the General’s bed. It seemed the danger had passed but after locking the door to the bedroom the duty officer called Yelena a pig, and threatened to report her behavior to Kube.

Afraid that the officer might say something to Kube or his wife, Yelena ran upstairs, picked a couple of good cigars and a bottle of brandy from the Kube’s private stocks and brought them to the duty officer. The Nazi officer brightened, thanked her and even wished her good health as she went to the clinic.

On that day, Kube had gone to watch some executions. He got great pleasure in seeing them and watched them every chance he got. He especially enjoyed mass execution of civilians, particularly of children. After witnessing the executions he went to a meeting of fascist youths. He came home late and went straight to his office.

After midnight, Kube went to the dining room, had a cup of coffee and went to bed followed by his wife and their dog Lumpi. Kube and his wife locked the door to their bedroom and went to sleep. At 1:20 in the morning on 23 September 1943 their bedroom was rocked by the bomb planted by Yelena Mazanik. The bomb exploded forty minutes before the planned time but the Generalkommissar was there to meet it.

In reaction to the assassination, Kube was given a hero’s funeral, with Hitler himself posing beside the coffin for the cameras. In Minsk, a thousand people were hanged in retaliation. Yelena Mazanik became a hero of the partisan movement and escaped Minsk on a truck. After the assassination, Joseph Stalin told Panteleimon Ponomarenko, the head of the partisans in Belarus that he wanted to meet Yelena Mazanik and the other plot conspirators in Moscow.

Yelena and the other partisans arrived in Moscow expecting a hero’s welcome. Ponomarenko had been told to prepare the partisans to meet Stalin. Yelena recalled that they all looked like ragamuffins. She had come to Moscow in a German greatcoat with no epaulettes. As they changed into appropriate clothing, Lavrentiy Beria the head of the NKVD, the Soviet State Police, sent word that Stalin would not receive them and they were told to go to the Lubyanka, the NKVD’s office and prison, to meet Beria’s deputy, Sergei Kruglov.

When Yelena got to the Lubyanka, she was shown into a large office. She took a look around and spotted a pair of boots hidden behind a screen. She knew someone was there listening and became very afraid. She was accompanied by a Soviet General named Kuznetzov who was saluted by an NKVD officer and given the hint that he should leave. Yelena threw her arms around Kuznetzov’s neck, cried and begged him not to go. “I won’t let go as long as I’m alive,” she screamed. “I don’t want to stay here and tell him to take his boots away.” Soon the boots disappeared from behind the screen.

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Mazanik later in life

Yelena was ordered to sit down and was interrogated by Sergei Kruglov. Kruglov asked her questions which disgusted her: like if she ever had sex with Kube. Kruglov then demanded to know who gave the orders for the assassination.

The interrogation lasted for about an hour. Finally, Yelena was given some kind of protocol to sign but she refused to sign it adding that they could kill her but she would not sign anything. Eventually, she was allowed to leave Moscow. Yelena said she was told later that the NKVD planned to kill her and put another woman in her place to present to Stalin.

For assassinating Wilhelm Kube, Yelena Mazanik was awarded the Gold Star as a Hero of the Soviet Union. She graduated in 1948 from High Republican Party School which was attached to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belorussia (Belarus) and later worked as an assistant director of the main library of the Academy of Sciences.

When asked in an interview many years later about her part in the war, Yelena Mazanik responded this way:

“If I had the strength, I would do it all again, for my country, for Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine, for my country. Nothing could have stopped me if an enemy came to our land and did what he did, burning people alive, herding people together. I was present at some of Kube’s banquets, held in honor of the leaders who carried out these actions, exterminations. Men who destroyed villages. When they got together and drank schnapps, Kube used to say things like: “I have to admit that Hans has done very well, no one got away, he burned everyone in the village to death, but Fritz didn’t do so well this time, a few people slipped through the net, not everyone was eliminated, a few people got way”.

She turned to the interviewer and asked them “So tell me, what can you feel about people like that?

You just want to kill them, kill them like mad dogs. It was the only country we had, the land where we were born.”

Yelena Mazanik passed away in 1996.

For More on Female Heroes of the USSR See:

Soviet Airwomen of the Great Patriotic War

Heroines of the Soviet Union 1941–45

For Related Articles See:

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