"Lady Death" Visits the Bay

Available in print at SFPL
and eAudiobook via Hoopla
In 1941, Lyudmila Pavlichenko joined the Red Army to defend the Fatherland from invading Nazis. She didn't enlist as a secretary or nurse, rather she joined the 54th Rifle Regiment and became the most successful woman sniper of World War II with over 300 official kills. She was a graduate student in History at Kiev University when she left to fight on the front lines. Perhaps because of her academic training, she kept a diary writing whenever she could about the soldiers' situation during battles at Sevastopol and Odessa, her situation as a woman on the front-lines and officer, and later, her publicity tour of England and the United States. In the 1960s Pavlichenko began working on her memoirs using her diaries and military knowledge. Unfortunately, she died before they could be published and it wasn't until 2015 that her memoirs were published in Russia. Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin's Sniper, an English translation of her memoirs, was finally published in the United States in 2018.

In 1942 the Soviet Union sent a delegation of three young people to the United States and England with the hopes that the publicity would encourage the Allies to open a second front. Lyudmila was joined by fellow sniper Vladimir Pchelintsev and Moscow fuel commissioner, Nikolai Krasavchenko. After a brief stay in Washington, D.C., the Young Communist League delegation split up with the men taking a tour of the east coast and Pavlichenko traveling with Eleanor Roosevelt to the west coast.

SF History Center subject card.

While her memoirs only briefly mention San Francisco as one of the stops on her tour, curiosity led to a trip to the San Francisco History Center to see what could be found of her visit.

Excerpt from
S.F. Examiner,
October 7, 1942
[Click to see full article.]
The first step was to take a look at the S.F. subject cards. This resulted in two articles in the San Francisco Chronicle: October 6, 1942 "Russ Girl Sniper: S.F. to Hold Reception" and October 7, 1942 "Soviet's Greatest Woman Hero - In S.F. Lieutenant Pavlichenko Answers a Question: The Second Front? 'You Tell Me'." Lt. Pavlichenko's agenda for her visit was clear in this latter article, at one point asking the audience, "Why didn't America start preparing for war in 1933 when Hitler began his program in Germany? Why didn't America think of the ultimate, inevitable fight?" However, the American press was much more interested in something completely different - they requested her opinions of American fashions, particularly fashions in feminine underclothing. To this she replied, "I am not at all interested in your questions."

"Senior Lieutenant Pavlichenko, girl hero of the Russian Army was a "Stamp Tuesday" guest at the University of California this week. In selling War Stamps to Dean of Students Edwin Voorhies of the University of California, Lieutenant Pavlichenko also sold the Dean a pair of tickets to the Victory Ball slated for Saturday, October 10th in the men's Gymnasium. Proceeds of the ball are to go to a returning Soldiers Scholarship Fund. Described as a modern Joan of Arc, sniper Lieutenant Pavlichenko is credited with killing 309 Nazis." October 28, 1942. Call-Bulletin photograph. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library. [P537 PAVL--, PAVZ--,]

More information about Lyudmila Pavlichenko's visit was found at the San Francisco History Center's S.F. News-Call Bulletin photo morgue and the San Francisco Examiner clippings morgue. Along with a Soviet press photo taken in early 1942, there are photos of Lt. Pavlichenko with University of California Dean of Students, Edwin Voorhies, in Berkeley, and with Mayor Angelo Rossi in San Francisco. An Examiner clipping from October 15, 1942 details highlights from Lt. Pavlichenko's visit to Los Angeles revealing that she had been asked to play a role in a feature film titled Mission to Moscow. Perhaps certain that no one could resist the call of the silver screen, the reporter noted, "Interesting how America has changed Lieut. Pavlichenko from a mannish appearing soldier to a really pretty girl." Lyudmila declined the offer.

"Mayor Angelo J. Rossi congratulates smiling Liudmila Pavlichenko, red army sniper, at City Hall today as R.A.F. Wing Commander David Scott Malden looks on. The lieutenant is credited with killing 309 German soldiers in action." Oct. 7, 1942. Call-Bulletin photograph. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library. P537 PAVL--, PAVZ--,]

Mission to Moscow was eventually made without Lt. Pavlichenko and it was nominated for an Oscar in 1944. Lyudmila didn't necessarily lose her chance at fame in the United States. She was the subject of a Woody Guthrie song in 1946. Listen here via YouTube:

San Francisco Public Library has Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin's Sniper in hardcover to check out, but you can download the audiobook using your SFPL library card on Hoopla (no waiting on holds!) The library also has copies of the Russian film about Lt. Pavlichenko - Bitva za Sevastopol (Battle  for Sevastopol) (2015) on DVD - in Russian without subtitles.

"Arrow in this picture points to Lieutenant Liudmila Pavlichenko in the rotunda of the City Hall, where more than 600 persons gathered to do her honor. Note Russian flag hanging from rotunda." Oct. 7, 1942. Call-Bulletin photograph. San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.


  1. That was interesting - I had never heard about her before.


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