Marina Shafrova-Maroutaïeva, Russian heroine of the Belgian Resistance

Extracts from the “Belgian Joan of Arc” memorial evening
Marina Shafrova-Maroutaïeva, Russian heroine of the Belgian Resistance

This heroic woman was beheaded after a desperate act that changed the tactics of the Belgian Resistance. Her fate was explored by the doctor of communication sciences, graduate in philosophy and letters and former official of the European Commission, Ramón Puig, who accidentally discovered an unusual tombstone in a Brussels cemetery.

The "decapitated" of the Ixelles cemetery

The Ixelles cemetery, surrounded by stone walls, is a vast green setting in the southern suburbs of Brussels. This quiet place, which preserves the memories of the two bloodiest conflicts in the history of mankind, became a favorite spot for Ramón Puig, researcher and European Commission official who managed at the time community projects for the social integration of refugees. On Sundays he came here to try to escape the bustle of the city.

Sitting on a sun-drenched bench, he opened a newspaper and read quietly, then strolled along the narrow paths, gazing at gravestones and reflecting on the past. This is how Ramón noticed the grave of one of the Russian participant in the Belgian Resistance, Marina Chafroff, on which was engraved a frightening inscription - “beheaded”. Following what his heart told him, he decided to find out more about this woman, whose life was interrupted by such a terrible execution.

“I looked at the cemetery archives, I couldn't find any documentation. Later, I learned that it was because his remains had been repatriated by the Red Cross from the Cologne cemetery… ”, said Ramón during an online conference organized by the Russian Center for Science and Technology. culture in Brussels in homage to Marina. The unusual circumstances of Marina's death prompted this studious man to continue his research, and ultimately led him to the martyr's husband, Yuri (George) Muratayev.
Every time he met him, Ramón learned more about Marina. He dreamed of writing a book about her, but due to George's death, this work remained unfinished. Today Ramón is one of the few who can truly address the events of December 1941 ... At the time, in the occupied Belgian capital, a Russian woman stabbed a German officer in broad daylight with a knife and then took ran away. This desperate act of resistance changed the tactics of the Belgian Resistance. "This woman had an important influence in the escalation of the actions of Belgian partisans against the German army", assures Ramón on the basis of his conversations with Georges.

Mother of two and resistant
Who is this Marina Chafrova-Marutayeva, and why did she perform such a courageous act? The parents of the future heroine belonged to the milieu of Russian emigrants who had left their homeland after the Revolution of 1917. Hereditary and noble naval officer, her father, Alexander Chafroff, first moved with his family to Estonia, before joining Belgium. Here Marina married a Russian emigrant like her, Yuri Muratayev, and took on a double surname. The couple gave birth to two sons, Nikita and Vadim. Despite Marina's father's connection to the white movement, the Murataevs attempted to obtain Soviet citizenship in 1939. The start of World War II, which ravaged the country, thwarted their plans.

After the occupation of Belgium by Nazi troops, Yuri got a job in the German army fleet, but it was only a cover. In fact, Muratayev was the head of a resistance cell in Morsent. His wife was helping him in the struggle. Marina transmitted information reports from Russia and other countries fighting against the German occupation to the Belgians using a radio receiver that the Nazis did not know existed, collected the weapons left by Belgian troops during the retreating, installing fields of anti-tank rails on the roads, and even participated in an attack on German motorcyclists.

At the same time, Marina was not convinced that she was doing enough to overthrow the totalitarian regime. “George told me that during their clandestine meetings, Marina criticized the resistance cells for practicing only sabotage against the means and installations of the German army, while the officers and soldiers of the Wehrmacht and the SS felt safe and to their liking, have fun in Brussels and, in the end, they wander around as they wish without being disturbed, ”says Ramón.

Thanks to her radio interceptions, Marina Chafrova-Marutayeva discovered the fierce struggle waged by the partisans in Serbia. One day, she let the other members of her cell know that if the men did not fight the invaders as desperately as the Yugoslavs, a woman would join the fight against the Germans. No one paid attention to his words. Soon after, Marina secretly rented a room not far from the building in which the German commander's office was located ...

A kitchen knife against the Nazis

In the few photos of the heroine that have come down to us, we see a young woman with slightly curly hair and soft features. A happy smile plays on her lips as she hugs one of her sons. All the more surprising is the firmness with which Marina stabbed a German officer with a kitchen knife on December 7 in the afternoon at Porte de Namur. Taking advantage of the confusion, Chafrova-Marutayeva jumped into a tram, escaping the Wehrmacht soldiers.

None of Marina's relatives knew what she had done. But very quickly, the news that 60 Belgians had been taken hostage by the Germans spread throughout the city. They were to be shot on December 15 if the culprit did not surrender to the Germans. Realizing that death awaited her, Marina nevertheless decided to surrender. However, before falling into the hands of the Nazis, the woman again attacked another occupant with a knife.

“She let herself be captured and took responsibility for the first attack in order to save the hostages. Summarily tried, she was sentenced to death, while Lieutenant General Von Hammerstein, career soldier and commander of the German army in Belgium, suspends the execution of the sentence, arguing that, in a similar situation, he would have understood that a German woman acted in the same way. This general will be sacked later as too lax, ”says Ramón.

Von Hammerstein was probably concerned that Marina's death sentence would cause unrest among Belgians, who brought flowers to Saint-Gilles prison, where the brave woman was imprisoned. Marina, whose case had interested Hitler himself, was sent to Germany. In a small black-and-white photo taken from the file for the repatriation of his remains, we see her "prisoner's face" - not a trace of the old smile, her lips tightly compressed, eyes that seem indifferent to everything; but if you look deeply, you can read the determination there. Chafrova-Marutayeva never admitted her guilt and, despite requests for clemency from Belgian Queen Elizabeth, she was beheaded on January 31, 1942.

According to Ramón, Marina's mother, Liudmila, could never accept what happened and blamed supporters for her daughter's death, in particular Yuri Murataev. “I tried to listen to the Chafroffs version of the game, but the family preferred not to stir up those painful memories. The two children of Marina and Georges lived with the pain of this loss which they will never be able to understand ”, explains the historian.

Marina's legacy

For Ramón, the life story of Chafrova-Marutayeva has become more than just an unpublished book. During his search, he befriended members of his family and considers Marina's youngest son Vadim as his friend. As a researcher on various aspects of European history, Ramón expresses the need for greater recognition of Marina's exploits. “The Belgian Communist Party ignored Marina's heroism as inappropriate. However, the occupying forces indicate in their reports that the population no longer tolerates them and that a new form of resistance has appeared in Belgium, ”he says.

Still, Marina is known, and years after her execution, the Russian and Belgian sides pay tribute to her contribution to resistance to the Nazi regime. “Chafrova-Marutayeva's achievement is a rich subject of discussion, and not just because of her amazing personality or because of the sacrifice she made,” explains Vera Bounina, director of the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Brussels. The point is that in her fate, two very large events of the twentieth century combine: post-revolutionary emigration and World War II. Without these two circumstances, Marina's feat could not have happened. It would of course have been better for her family, but we now have an example of absolute heroism ”.



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