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Kaplan, Fannie Efimovna

(1890–1918), failed assassin of Vladimir Lenin. On 30 August 1918, Fannie Kaplan was arrested for having shot and wounded Vladimir Lenin in Moscow. At 4:00 A.M. on 4 September, she was executed in a Kremlin parking lot as truck engines drowned out the pistol shots. A famed Bolshevik poet, Demian Bedny, watched the execution “for revolutionary inspiration.” The order was given that Fannie Kaplan’s remains be destroyed without a trace. In reprisal for the crime—and for the assassination of the head of the Petrograd secret police on the same day as the Lenin shooting—thousands fell victim to the “Red Terror” unleashed on 5 September 1918. The shooting also sparked the beginning of the cult of Lenin. Fannie Kaplan is known only for this one act of attempted assassination and for its fateful aftermath.

One of eight children, Kaplan was born into the family of a Jewish schoolteacher, Efim Roidman, in the province of Volhynia in western Ukraine. She entered her teenage years in turbulent times, as Russia headed into the revolution of 1905. In 1906, at age 16, she became an anarchist and was arrested in Kiev for a bomb explosion in which she herself was wounded. Kaplan was sentenced to “eternal penal servitude.”

Sent to a hard-labor prison in central Russia, and then eventually to Akatua, a notorious silver mining camp in eastern Siberia, Kaplan became blind at age 19; even after her eyesight was restored she would periodically lose vision for days at a time. Under the influence of fellow inmates, she turned from anarchism to the Socialist Revolutionary (SR) Party, which engaged in both active propaganda and terrorism against government officials.

In 1911, Kaplan’s family immigrated to America, leaving her to her fate in tsarist labor camps until February 1917, when she was freed in a general political amnesty. Like many members of her party, she violently opposed the Bolsheviks and put her hopes in the SR-dominated Constituent Assembly. After its first meeting on 5 January 1918, Lenin dissolved the assembly. The following month, Kaplan plotted to kill him as a traitor to the revolution who was setting back the cause of socialism.

No one reported seeing Kaplan fire the gun that shot Lenin, although witnesses described a woman’s hand holding a Browning revolver—which was never found. She confessed to the crime and claimed she had worked alone and was affiliated with no party, but there is some doubt whether—nearly blind—she had actually fired the bullets. An SR terrorist later claimed that he had sent Kaplan to kill Lenin, and that she had agreed not to flee after the deed, but to give up her life for the cause. Kaplan, whose death at age 28 was followed by much spilled blood, exemplified the many young Jewish women in revolutionary Russia who sacrificed themselves for a political cause in which they fervently believed.

Suggested Reading

Richard Pipes, The Russian Revolution (New York, 1990); Proletarskaia revoliutsiia 6–7 (1923): 276–285, see interrogation protocols; Dmitri Antonovich Volkogonov, Lenin: A New Biography, trans. and ed. Harold Shukman (New York, 1994).