After the Revolution and the Civil War in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, millions of Russian people ended up abroad. One of the many centers of Russian military-political emigration was Belgium. Well-organized, calm Belgium, with its stable and measured rhythm of life, resembled the atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Russia, for which the Russian emigration was nostalgic. The personality of the Belgian monarch Albert I, who led the heroic resistance to the Germans in Belgium during the First World War, was also attractive to the Russians. On the other hand, Albert I and Queen Elisabeth treated the Russians with great sympathy and respect as loyal allies, showing favor and supporting Russian emigrants. And, perhaps, that is why Belgium was the only country whose Russian emigre population increased during the 1930s.
By the beginning of World War II, the situation in Belgium was the same as in many other countries where Russian emigrants settled. The emigre community discussed the choice between the USSR and Germany since the mid-1930s after Hitler came to power. Already at that time, a new war seemed inevitable. And the German attack on the USSR finally split the Russian emigration. Some of them, counting on Hitler's liberation of Russia from the Bolsheviks, sided with Germany. Others decided to fight the Nazis in the Allied armies or the Resistance and partisan detachments. Interesting to say that among them were many young people. These were emigrant's children who left Russia at an early age or were born already abroad. The negative image of Bolshevism was formed in their minds by the older generation and the emigre press. And it could not overshadow the idealized image of a distant and unknown Motherland, which at the moment was in danger.
Marina Shafrova-Marutaeva, a member of the Belgian Resistance, was a prominent representative of this young generation of Russian emigrants. On December 7, 1941, in Brussels in broad daylight, she made the first in occupied Belgium attack on a major of the German army with a knife and managed to escape.
Marina Aleksandrovna Schafrova-Marutaeva (Russian: Марина Александровна Шафрова-Марутаева; French: Marina Chafroff) was born on March 30, 1908, in Reval (now Tallinn, the capital of Estonia) in the family of naval officer Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Schafrov and Lyudmila Pavlovna Schafrova (née Deshevova). It is interesting to say that Lyudmila was the older sister of Nina Pavlovna Petrova, one of the most famous World War II Soviet female snipers. In addition to Marina, the Schafrov family had four more children: George (born in 1903), Tatiana (born in 1907), Rostislav (born in 1914), and Tamara (born in 1916).
Marina's father was from the ancient noble family of the Schafrovs, known since the Middle Ages. For several centuries, the Schafrovs served in the military field. Alexander Alexandrovich was no exception. He fought in the Russo-Japanese War, took part in the Battle of Port Arthur. At the time when Marina was born, her father served as a ship mechanic for the destroyer Sibirskiy Strelok (Russian: Сибирский Стрелок; Siberian Shooter). Then, in 1913, he was appointed as a mechanical supervisor of shipbuilding at the Russian-Baltic Shipyard in Reval. There he controlled the construction of the light cruisers Svetlana (Russian: Светлана) and Admiral Greig (Russian: Адмирал Грейг). The First World War, which began in 1914, greatly complicated the building because the assistance of the German company Vulcan in the construction of mechanisms stopped. Some of them had to be re-ordered in England, some at Russian factories.
The capture of Riga by German troops and the abandonment of the Moonsund Islands in early October 1917 created a real threat to Revel. The Naval Ministry had decided to evacuate unfinished ships and factory equipment to Petrograd (now St. Petersburg). On November 13, 1917, Schafrov reported that everything was ready for the evacuation, safely completed in December 1917.
At that time, significant events happened in Russia, the consequences of which affected the whole world. At first, there was the February Revolution. As a result, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne, and the Provisional Government came to power, which was incapable of ruling the country in the current situation. Then, already on October 25 (November 7, New Style), the October Revolution took place. Eventually, the Bolsheviks seized power.
In the first time after the October Revolution, all institutions of the Naval Ministry continued to work as before. But under the control of commissars or factory committees. Schafrov remained in his post until the end of March 1918, when the Naval Ministry ordered the termination of the completion of the cruiser Svetlana. Then he decided to join the Whites. Since the summer of 1919, Schafrov was the Chief Supply Officer of the Revel branch of the Naval Directorate of the Northwestern Army.
After the disbandment of the Northwestern Army in 1920, the Schafrov family lived in Estonia for some time. They then moved to Germany and then around 1927 to Belgium.
In Belgium, Marina Schafrova met Yuri Maroutaev (Russian: Юрий Марутаев; French: Georges Maroutaeff). They became friends and, after a while, they got married. Yuri came there from Soviet Russia with his mother Maria Maroutaeva (née Paloueva). She was an actress of the Maly Theater, and at that time, artists were allowed to travel abroad for treatment. But she had to return to the Soviet Union, and only later she moved to Belgium in the 1930s.
Marina and Yuri were happily married. They had two sons: Nikita and Vadim. Despite the connection of Marina's father with the Whites, the Schafrov and Maroutaev families applied to the Soviet embassy with a request for citizenship in 1939. But their plans were disrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War. In May 1940, the Nazis occupied Belgium, and an occupation government was formed, led by General Alexander von Falkenhausen.
However, not everyone was happy with this state of affairs. The Resistance movement gradually began to form in the country, which Marina and her husband joined. Yuri became the head of the sabotage group of the Belgian resistance in Morsaint. He also got a job in the Wehrmacht's vehicle fleet, which was an excellent cover for their activities. Marina was a messenger for the corps commander. Also, since August 1940, she gathered up weapons left behind by the retreating troops in Walloon Brabant. In 1941 the woman organized a service for propaganda and transmission of summaries of Russian information. To do this, Marina managed to keep the radio receiver, although it was a death penalty for keeping such equipment. Using it, she was listening to the Sovinformburo reports on the situation at the front, translating them into French, typing the translation on a typewriter, and distributing leaflets throughout Brussels.
But that wasn't enough. Marina reproached the Resistance for mainly sabotaging the equipment and material objects of the Nazis, while enemy officers and soldiers feel safe in Brussels, freely roaming the city and having fun in pubs. The woman believed that it was necessary to move on to more decisive action. To give an example, she referred to the Yugoslav partisans, about whose actions she learned by listening to Belgrade radio. But her words didn't create due interest.
Although, decisive action followed anyway. On December 7, 1941, in Brussels, an unknown woman killed an assistant to the military commandant, a major of the German army, with a knife in broad daylight at Porte de Namur. Then she managed to escape. The Nazis responded by taking 60 Belgians hostage. The occupiers announced that if the killer did not appear before 20:00 on December 15, 1941, they would shoot the hostages.
Intending to save innocent people, Marina decided to surrender before the expiry of the ultimatum. On the evening of December 15, 1941, on Adolf Max Boulevard, she made a similar attack on a German officer and wounded him. Marina also claimed responsibility for the first attack. She was arrested and placed in Saint-Gilles Prison. The Nazis offered Marina to say that she committed the murder for personal reasons. They also tried to force Marina to repent of what she had done since the murdered Major, like her, had children. Marina said that she had killed the enemy and would have killed more if she could.
The selfless act of the Russian woman had resonated in the hearts of the Brussels people. They were bringing flowers to the walls of the Saint-Gilles Prison every night. Marina Sсhafrova-Maroutaeva was sentenced to death by firing squad, but the occupation authorities did not dare to carry out the sentence, fearing civil unrest in Belgium.
After some time, Marina was transported to Cologne. There, the political tribunal of the Third Reich overturned the unduly lenient sentence of the court-martial and, after a second trial, sentenced Marina Sсhafrova-Maroutaeva to death by the guillotine. Queen Elisabeth of Belgium appealed personally to Adolf Hitler, requesting to have mercy on the mother of two children, but the Fuhrer refused.
"Kitik and Vadim, my beloved boys. Our Lord is calling me to heaven, and I cannot disobey," Marina wrote to her sons before the execution. She wrote to her husband as well, "I will die at 8–9 o'clock. I am not afraid at all, and I don't regret anything. I am calm."
On January 31, 1942, the sentence was carried out. The Nazis buried the body in an unknown grave. After the victory over Nazi Germany, Queen Elisabeth of Belgium ordered to find it. In 1947, the remains of Marina Sсhafrova-Maroutaeva were transported to Brussels, where she was solemnly buried on May 25, 1947, at the Ixelles Cemetery among 27 graves of the country's national heroes.
Marina's mother never accepted her daughter's death, blaming the partisans and her husband for dragging her into their affairs. The husband was arrested and interrogated, but he was able to justify himself and continued his activities in the Belgian resistance movement.
The Communist Party of Belgium considered Marina's act untimely. However, the occupying forces mentioned in their reports that the population no longer tolerates them and that the Resistance in Belgium had taken on new forms.
Legacy and Memory
The Belgian government highly appreciated the heroism of Marina Aleksandrovna Shafrova-Marutaeva and posthumously awarded her high state awards. Also, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, on May 6, 1978, posthumously awarded Marina the Order of the Patriotic War, 1st class. What's more, the story of Marina Aleksandrovna Schafrova-Marutaeva inspired the authors of the film Somewhere an Oriole is crying (Russian: Где-то плачет иволга). It was released in the USSR in 1982.
An interesting event took place on October 1, 2020. The Russian Center for Science and Culture (RCSC) in Brussels organized an online conference dedicated to the heroine of the Belgian Resistance, Marina Schafrova-Maroutaeva. Ramon Puig, a Spanish historian, writer, and blogger, who wrote an article about Marina on his blog, participated in the event. When he lived in Belgium, he saw Marina's grave, bearing the inscription beheaded, which surprised him. After that, Ramon decided to understand the story and found her husband, having learned the details of this story firsthand. During his speech, Ramon showed some of the photographs and documents that he managed to find. The special guest of the evening was Vadim Maroutaeff, the son of Marina Schafrova-Maroutaeva. He is sure that his mother did not kill anyone and confessed to the murder merely to save innocent people. Also, he spoke about his mother, family, and life in Belgium during and after World War II. Concluding his speech, he noted that there are no winners in war, and we must remember it to prevent future conflicts.
Sources and References
- Ramon Puig de la Bellacasa Alberola. (January 31, 2012). Marina Chafroff, una mujer que se indignó en la Europa de hace 70 años (Marina Chafroff, a woman who was outraged in Europe 70 years ago). ensondeluz.com https://ensondeluz.com/2012/01/31/marina-chafroff-una-mujer-que-se-indigno-en-la-europa-de-hace-70-anos
- Mizin V.M. (1988). Sniper Petrova (Russian: Мизин В. М. Снайпер Петрова). Leningrad: Lenizdat.
- Marina Shafrova-Maroutaïeva, Russian heroine of the Belgian Resistance. (January 5, 2021). Russian Center for Science and Culture in Brussels. ruscentre.be
- Robert Vandenbussche, José Gotovitch. (2007) Partisanes et militantes : femmes communistes dans la Résistance en Belgique (Partisans and activists: Communist women in the Resistance in Belgium) in Femmes et Résistance en Belgique et zone interdite (Women and Resistance in Belgium and the forbidden zone). Publications of the Institut de recherches historiques du Septentrion. https://books.openedition.org/irhis/2184
- Marina Chafroff Maroutaeff memorial. www.findagrave.com
- Russian House Brussels. (October 2, 2020). Jeanne d'Arc belge. Soirée commémorative dédiée à Marina Shafrova-Maroutaeva (Belgian Joan of Arc. Commemorative evening dedicated to Marina Shafrova-Maroutaeva) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EerRXJPwrt4
- Schafrov Aleksandr Aleksandrovich (Russian: Шафров Александр Александрович). russianestonia.eu
- Chernyshev A.A. (October 4, 2013). Svetlana. History of creation (Russian: Светлана. История создания). topwar.ru https://topwar.ru/34149-svetlana-istoriya-sozdaniya.html