Antonina Makarova, known as ‘Tonya the Machine Gun Girl’, was a Soviet war criminal and Nazi collaborator. In her early twenties, she executed over 2,000 people with a Maxim machine gun; she then escaped capture for the next thirty years over a case of mistaken identity. Makarova was one of three women hung in the USSR.
Antonina Parfenova was born in Soviet Russia in 1920 in a village near Smolensk. She was the first in her family to attend school. When asked by her teacher on the first day, she could not remember her surname. Knowing her father was called Makar, the teacher noted her name as ‘Antonina Makarova’.
When Germany invaded the USSR in 1941, Makarova joined the Red Army as a nurse. By January, the 21-year-old Makarova stranded behind enemy lines. Starving and distraught, she travelled from house to house looking for shelter. A month or two later, Nazi collaborators offered her a job. They needed an executioner, and Makarova accepted.
Bronislav Kaminski was a Russian engineer and anti-communist who offered his services to the Nazis when they took over his region. With Nazi support, Kaminski formed a brigade of anti-Soviet Russians under the SS around the town of Lokot. They assisted the Nazi occupiers by fighting the Soviet partisans operating in the woods.
Every day, the Kaminski Brigade captured partisans and their families and crowded them into a jailhouse which could fit 27 people. The following day, the collaborators led them to a ditch where Antonina Makarova mowed them down with a machine gun. She was allowed to chose clothes from the dead and spent her evenings with SS officers and local prostitutes. As Makarova killed up to 27 people a day, by 1942, her victims numbered over 15,000. Partisans called her ‘Tonya the Machine Gun Girl’.
Makarova later said:
I did not know who I killed. They did not know me. So I was not ashamed before them. Sometimes, you shoot, you come closer, and some people still move. Then I shot again in the head…. All those sentenced to death were the same for me. Only their number changed. Usually I was ordered to kill a group of 27 people–so many partisans fit into the room for execution…. At the command of the authorities, I knelt and shot at people until they fell to the ground.
By 1942, Makarova and the local prostitutes had contracted a sexually transmitted disease and were relocated to a hospital further behind the lines. When the Red Army reclaimed Lokot two years later, they could not find the notorious executioner.
When the war ended, Makarova slipped back into civilian life. The KGB, who were responsible for tracking down war criminals, were looking for an Antonina Makarova, unaware her real name was Parfenova.
Makarova married Victor Ginsburg, whose family had perished in the Holocaust. She lived the respectable life of a veteran for the next thirty years, built a good reputation in her village and had two daughters. The KGB assumed Makarova had died.
In 1977, a Soviet diplomat named Parfenov applied for a passport. As part of the process, he listed all his immediate family members. One name stood out to the officials processing his application – Antonina Ginsberg’s maiden name was not Parfenova like her siblings, but Makarova. Unwilling to try an innocent, the KGB spied on Makarova for the next year until eyewitnesses confirmed she was Tonya the Machine Gun Girl.
The KGB arrested Makarova in 1978 and tried her for murdering over 150 prisoners of war. She had killed more, but only 150 of the victims could be identified. Now 56, Makarova freely admitted to everything she had done but was surprised when the KGB sentenced her to death. She was executed by firing squad.
Sources: Pravda, War History Online