The Jewish-born political revolutionary Fanny Kaplan was shot at the age of 28 for an attempted assassination of Vladimir Lenin. She approached the Leader near a Moscow factory and fired three shots at him. One passed through Lenin’s coat, the other two hit him in the left shoulder and jaw.
Lenin survived, but his health never fully recovered from the attack and it is believed the shooting contributed to the strokes that incapacitated and later killed him. Kaplan’s implication in the crime is recorded in textbooks and encyclopedias, but some historians question the actual role of Fanny Kaplan in it and many consider the “Kaplan legend” as another Bolshevik canard.
For obvious reasons Fanny Kaplan’s biography hadn’t been seriously studied until recently. Who would even dare to rake over her past in Soviet times? Some events of her life can be traced through investigation materials, the memoirs of her revolutionary friends, and testimonies by eyewitnesses of Lenin’s assassination attempt.
There is some confusion as to her birth name. Vera Figner, in her memoirs, At Women’s Katorga, gives the name Feiga Chaimovna Roytblat-Kaplan Фейга Хаимовна Ройтблат-Каплан. Other sources give her original family name as Ройтман (transcribed from Russian as Roytman, which corresponds to the common German/Yiddish name Reutemann). However, her ties to Sidney Reilly, a British Intelligence officer, have only deepened the mystery concerning her background.
She was born on February 10th,1890 into a Jewish family, one of seven children. Unlike her brothers and sisters Kaplan never had any profession.
She became a political revolutionary at an early age and joined a socialist group. It is difficult to say whether or not somebody influenced Kaplan’s decision to enter the Socialist Revolutionaries party.
In 1906, Kaplan was arrested in Kiev over her involvement in a terrorist bomb plot. After moving to Kiev she joined an anarchist conspiracy, and that was were she got her nicknames Fanny Kaplan and Dora. There she was instructed to assassinate the young governor of Kiev, however she never managed to do this because the bomb went off in her room before the attack almost killing the young terrorist. Kaplan was after committed for life to the katorga system (a form of forced labour). She served in several prisons in Siberia where she lost her sight.
She was released in 1917, after the February Revolution overthrew the imperial government. As a result of her imprisonment, Kaplan suffered from continuous headaches and periods of blindness.
When released Kaplan moved to Moscow and later worked as a training specialist in Crimea, where she met Lenin’s brother Dmitry. They were in a good relationship and it must have been a shock for him to find out later that a good friend of his was declared terrorist.
She returned to Moscow in spring 1918 and quickly joined an anti-Bolshevik conspiracy under terrorist Semenov. The group planned crimes against Bolshevik leaders, namely Trotsky and Lenin, and as Semenov wrote in his memoirs, he considered Fanny the best candidate for carrying out the attack. However, why would he entrust Lenin’s assassination to this near-blind girl with no experience in terrorist attacks at all? Everybody knew that Semenov considered male workers the best candidates.
There is yet another thing proving that Semenov wasn’t sincere writing about Kaplan in his memoirs.
The first two attempts to kill Lenin were made by terrorists Usov and Kozlov, but both attempts failed.
Kaplan was mainly involved in other activities, such as tracing Lenin.
So who made the third attempt? Witnesses said it was a woman. It might have been Lidia Konopleva, a school teacher in the past and the organizer of crimes against two leading Bolshevik leaders Uritsky and Volodarsky. She was a brilliant shooter and she was the first to put forward the question of Lenin’s assassination. However, in his memoirs Semenov wrote that it was exactly Kaplan who shot at Lenin. Interestingly, in 1920 Semenov was no longer an aggressive anti-Bolshevik and even joined the Communist party. By that time for people living in the Soviet Union Kaplan was a counterrevolutionary who put the “heart of revolution” under threat. And that was it.
Of course it is possible that Konopleva was arrested before August 30th and Fanny was instructed to shoot Lenin. Could that really be Kaplan however? None of the records say Kaplan ever used a gun before or exercised in shooting (Semenov would surely write about it in his memoirs). Her eyesight was as bad as before and it would be extremely difficult for her to make two shots, she would need glasses at least. None of the witnesses said she had glasses on when they saw her not far from the crime scene. But they said she had an umbrella and a small suitcase with her, which is rather strange, because these two items would definitely make her escape far more difficult. When Lenin left the factory it was about 10pm and it was getting dark. How could she having such a bad eyesight see anything in the dark?
Another thing is the testimony of Lenin’s driver. When questioned on August 30th Gil (the driver’s name) didn’t say anything about what the woman looked like. Many years later, when the Party decided to publish his memoirs he said the woman looked exactly like Kaplan (this was later included in the official version). He also said that Lenin didn’t want to go to hospital but was taken home with the injury, and refusing help he got off the car and walked up the stairs to his appartment with two shots in his body.
In a couple of hours the Party announced that two people had been arrested. One of them, Alexander Prototipov was soon executed without any investigation. The second person arrested was Fanny Kaplan. The police officer who arrested her wasn’t sure where exactly he did that. On August 30th he said he arrested her near the factory, but a week later it turned out that he arrested her on the Serpukhovka street.
Kaplan was taken into custody and interrogated by the Cheka. She made the following statement:
“My name is Fanya Kaplan. Today I shot at 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”.
When it became clear that Kaplan would not implicate any accomplices, she was shot on September 3rd, 1918.
Some historians suggest that Fanny wasn’t guilty but didn’t want her anti-Bolshevik friends be caught. Others believe that Fanny admitted to the crime because the person who made the shots was her beloved. Some sources say Lenin was shocked when he found out that Fanny was sentenced to death and killed three days after the assassination attempt. Perhaps the murder was planned by some members of the authorities.
Fanny Kaplan was always presented by the Soviet propaganda as a complete monster. Her reputation has not been rehabilitated completely even after the fall of the Communist regime in Russia, but in popular opinion, the personality of Fanny Kaplan is often considered as one of a ‘woman of mystery.’