Fanny Kaplan

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Fanya Kaplan
Born Feiga Haimovna Roytblat
(1890-02-10)February 10, 1890
Volhynian Governorate, Russian Empire (now Ukraine)
Died September 3, 1918(1918-09-03) (aged 28)
Moscow, Russian SFSR

Fanya Yefimovna Kaplan (Russian: Фа́нни Ефи́мовна Капла́н; real name Feiga Haimovna Roytblat; Фейга Хаимовна Ройтблат; February 10, 1890 – September 3, 1918), was a Russian revolutionary who tried to assassinate Vladimir Lenin.

As a member of the Socialist Revolutionaries (Esers), Kaplan viewed Lenin as a ‘traitor to the revolution’, when his unelected Bolsheviks managed to get the Esers banned. On 30 August 1918, she approached Lenin as he was leaving a Moscow factory, and fired three shots, badly injuring him. Interrogated by the Cheka, she refused to name any accomplices, and was shot on 3 September. The incident did much to provoke the imminent civil war.

Some historians have cast doubt on Kaplan’s guilt, as she was almost blind, following years of beatings as a prisoner in Siberia.


There is some confusion as to Kaplan's birth name. Vera Figner, in her memoirs, At Women's Katorga, gives the name Feiga Khaimovna Roytblat-Kaplan (Фейга Хаимовна Ройтблат-Каплан). Other sources give her original family name as Ройтман (transliterated from Russian as Roytman, which corresponds to the common German/Yiddish name Reutemann). She is also sometimes called "Dora."[1]

Kaplan was born into a Jewish family, as one of seven children. She became a political revolutionary at an early age and joined a socialist group, the Socialist Revolutionaries. In 1906, when she was 16 years old, Kaplan was arrested in Kiev over her involvement in a terrorist bomb plot, and committed for life to the katorga (a hard-labor prison camp). She served in the Maltsev and Akatuy prisons of Nerchinsk katorga, Siberia, where she lost her sight (partially restored later). She was kept in the Maltzevskaya prison, where she was severely caned on her bare body as disciplinary corporal punishment.[2] Fully undressed corporal punishment was not usual for political prisoners at that time. She was released on March 3, 1917, after the February Revolution overthrew the imperial government. As a result of her imprisonment, Kaplan suffered from continuous headaches and periods of blindness.

Kaplan became disillusioned with Lenin as a result of the conflict between the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolshevik party.[3] The Bolsheviks had strong support in the soviets; however, in elections to a competing body, the Constituent Assembly, the Bolsheviks failed to win a majority in the November 1917 elections and a Socialist Revolutionary was elected President in January 1918. The Bolsheviks, favoring soviets, ordered the Constituent Assembly to be dissolved. By August 1918 conflicts between the Bolsheviks and their political opponents had led to the banning of most other influential parties - most recently, of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, who had been the Bolsheviks' principal coalition partner for some time, but had organized a revolt in July because of their opposition to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Kaplan decided to assassinate Lenin because she considered him "a traitor to the Revolution".[4]

Assassination attempt

Vladimir Pchelin's depiction of the assassination.

On 30 August 1918, Lenin spoke at the Hammer and Sickle, a factory in Moscow. As Lenin left the building and before he entered his car, Kaplan called out to him. When Lenin turned towards her, she fired three shots with a Browning pistol.[1] One bullet passed through Lenin's coat, the other two struck him: one passing through his neck, puncturing part of his left lung, and stopping near his right collarbone; the other lodging in his left shoulder.[1][5]

Lenin was taken back to his living quarters at the Kremlin. He feared there might be other plotters planning to kill him and refused to leave the security of the Kremlin to seek medical attention. Doctors were brought in to treat him but were unable to remove the bullets outside of a hospital. Despite the severity of his injuries, Lenin survived. However, Lenin's health never fully recovered from the attack and it is believed[by whom?] the shooting contributed to the strokes that incapacitated and later killed him in 1924.


Kaplan was taken into custody and interrogated by the Cheka. She made the following statement:

My name is Fanya Kaplan. Today I shot Lenin. I did it on my own. I will not say from whom I obtained my revolver. I will give no details. I had resolved to kill Lenin long ago. I consider him a traitor to the Revolution. I was exiled to Akatui for participating in an assassination attempt against a Tsarist official in Kiev. I spent 11 years at hard labour. After the Revolution, I was freed. I favoured the Constituent Assembly and am still for it.[6]

When it became clear that Kaplan would not implicate any accomplices, she was executed on September 3, 1918 with a bullet to the back of the head.[1] Her corpse was bundled into a barrel, and set alight. There were to be no remains of Kaplan, no identifiable martyr to the SR cause. The order came from Yakov Sverdlov who, just six weeks before, had ordered the execution of the tsar and his family.[citation needed]


Some historians such as Arkadi Vaksberg and Donald Rayfield have questioned the actual role of Kaplan in the assassination attempt.[7] Vaksberg states that Lidia Konopleva, another SR, was the culprit, believing it would be all too comforting that Lenin narrowly avoided being assassinated by a woman whose personality is so far from the stereotype of a national hero.[8] In particular, it is suggested that she was working on behalf of others and after her arrest assumed sole responsibility. The main argument put forth in this and other versions is her near-blindness. Another argument points to the contradiction between the official Soviet account (which states that angry workers who witnessed the event immediately seized Kaplan) and official documents, in particular a radiogram by Yakov Peters, which mentions the arrest of several suspects.


In the official announcement of the assassination attempt, Kaplan was declared a Right Eser (Right SR). A few days earlier, Moisei Uritsky, People's Commissar for Internal Affairs in the Northern Region and head of the Cheka in Petrograd, had been assassinated. While the Cheka did not find any evidence linking the two events, their co-occurrence appeared significant in the overall context of the intensifying civil war. The Bolshevik reaction was an abrupt escalation in the persecution of their opponents.

An official decree on Red Terror was issued only hours after the Kaplan shooting, calling for all-out struggle against enemies of the revolution. In the next few months, about 800 Right SRs and other political opponents of Bolsheviks were executed. During the first year, the scope of the Red Terror expanded significantly.


The event is portrayed in the British TV series, "Reilly, Ace of Spies". Kaplan has been included as a character in several plays (Fanny Kaplan by Venedikt Yerofeyev; Kill me, o my beloved! by Elena Isaeva) and books (Europe Central by William T. Vollmann).


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 How Did They Die? by Norman and Betty Donaldson, p. 221.
  3. Kowalski, Ludwik (2008). Hell on Earth – Brutality and Violence Under the Stalinist Regime. American Academy of Arts and Sciences. p. Glossary. ISBN 978-1-60047232-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "1918: Fanya Kaplan, Lenin's would-be assassin". September 3, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Partly confirmed in Top Five Assassination Attempts - Number Four, Lenin 1918 (link), Military History Monthly magazine, published 18 November 2014, accessed 20 November 2014.
  6. "Fanya Kaplan". Spartacus Educational.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him by Donald Rayfield, p. 78.
  8. Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him by Donald Rayfield, p. 79.

Further reading

External links