Throughout history, fierce historical figures appear in all kinds of situations. Sometimes being fierce means exhibiting savagery and physical violence. Often, it's connected to acts of sacrifice or survival. From survivors of horrible events who just refuse to quit, to individuals who openly and willingly defy authority, ferocious folks from history display an aggressiveness that is both impressive and intimidating.
Many men and women from the past qualify as fierce. Here are some of the figures we read about in 2021 whose passion, strength, and undeniable tenacity left us saying "Dang!"
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Alison Botha Survived Being Suffocated, Disemboweled, And Nearly Beheaded
After a night out with friends in December 1994, Alison Botha was abducted near her home in Port Elizabeth (now known as Gqeberha), South Africa. She was subsequently sexually violated, stabbed to the point of disembowelment, suffocated, and nearly beheaded.
After Botha's abductors cut her neck more than 15 times and stabbed her more than 30 times in the torso, then left her to perish. She recalled:
All I could see was an arm moving above my face. Left and right and left and right. His movements were making a sound. A wet sound, it was the sound of my flesh being slashed open. He was cutting my throat with the knife. Again and again and again. It felt unreal but it wasn’t. I felt no pain, but it was not a dream. This was happening. The man was slashing my throat.
Moments later, she heard one of the men ask, "Do you think she's dead?" The other replied, "No one can survive that."
After the men left, Botha scrawled the names of her attackers in the dirt nearby and made her way to the closest road. Botha later explained, "I realized my life was too valuable to let go... and that gave me the courage to survive." Passing driver Tiaan Eilerd found her and called for emergency assistance.
At the hospital, doctors were shocked to see the severity of Botha's injuries. She survived her surgeries, then went on to identify the men who harmed her and testified against them at trial. Now an advocate for survivors of sexual cruelty, Botha said the incident "put me on this path [to] help inspire other people."
She tells her story in the 2016 documentary Alison.
In late April 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine experienced a catastrophic failure, leading to the worst nuclear meltdown in human history. While the initial disaster was already devastating, a bigger threat loomed several days later.
Molten nuclear material was eating through the reactor floor. If it were to break through and make contact with a pool of cooling water below, it would create a massive steam explosion that would certainly destroy the other reactors. The pool of water had to be drained.
Three men - mechanical engineer Alexei Ananenko, senior engineer Valeri Bespalov, and shift supervisor Boris Baranov - were tasked with entering the radioactive water in wetsuits and locating the draining valves to release the water. With only flashlights and their bravery, the men managed to do just that, in spite of their flashlights losing power.
Though their nuclear exposure was extremely high, "The Chernobyl Three" all survived without developing acute radiation syndrome. In 2019, Alexei Ananenko commented about his role in the event:
I never felt like a hero. I was doing my job.... I was ordered to go there, so I went.... I wasn't afraid.
According to nuclear physicist Vassili Nesterenko, had these heroes not completed their task, the resulting steam blast would have left much of Europe uninhabitable for hundreds of thousands of years.
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Rick Rescorla, A Morgan Stanley Employee, Guided 2,700 People To Safety On 9/11, But Did Not Survive
Rick Rescorla, 62, was director of security for the Morgan Stanley financial services firm at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He had been fighting prostate cancer that metastasized to his bone marrow, although at the time of his passing, it looked like he might have been winning the fight.
At 8:46 am, Rescorla was on the 44th floor of the South Tower when he watched the North Tower burn. His training from serving in the Vietnam War came flooding back, and he ignored announcements from the public address system telling people to stay at their desks.
Instead, he started evacuating mass numbers of Morgan Stanley employees. While directing them down the stairwell, he sang Cornish songs from his youth, just like he did in Vietnam, to boost morale. One of the men who served with Rescorla in Vietnam, Sam Fantino, recalled what hearing those songs was like:
We were all sitting in our holes with our knees knocking, we have dead guys all around us, and here comes Rick singing Cornish songs...pretty soon you are saying to yourself, "If this guy can walk from hole to hole checking to see if you have your grenades in the right place, checking to see if you have your magazines, and standing up like he is going on a Sunday afternoon's walk -- what do you have to worry about?"
Rescorla was last seen on the 10th floor, heading back up to find more people, when the building collapsed with him inside. Covering a span of 22 floors, he helped evacuate 2,700 people - a testament to how much impact one man's life can have.
Before the Tower fell with - Rescorla still inside - he made a call to his wife, Susan. He told her:
Stop crying, I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life.
Susan Rescorla later said, "He had a choice. He could have walked out of there anytime he wanted to. If he was here today, he would be proud."
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Mariya Oktyabrskaya Bought A Tank So She Could Fight Nazis
The loss of her husband Ilya Oktyabrsky was the last straw for Mariya Oktyabrskaya. Born in 1905 in Ukraine, she took an interest in tanks two years after her husband's passing when she was finally informed of his demise.
In 1943, she donated the money she had to the Red Army, asking that they make a T-34 tank she could use on the battlefield. She requested the words "Fighting Girlfriend" be on its side. The Kremlin agreed.
Mariya undertook tank training, fought for the first time in the autumn of 1943, and participated in her last military action in January 1944. After her tank was damaged, she tried to fix it but was shot in the process. She succumbed to her injuries two months later.
- Photo: Illustrated edition of La Araucana by Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain5492 VOTES
After Galvarino Had His Hands Cut Off, He Replaced Them With Blades
During the Arauco conflict between the indigenous Mapuche people and Spanish colonialists, Galvarino was one of the leaders of an insurrection at Lagunillas, Chile. As a Mapuche warrior, Galvarino was captured at Lagunillas in 1557 and punished by having his hands cut off. According to legend, he accepted his mutilation willingly and without fear.
Galvarino was released - essentially as a message to his people about what would happen in the wake of future resistance to Spanish authority. Upon his return, he called his fellow Mapuche to action and, as he went back to fight against the Spanish, attached knives to each of his wrists. At the next fight he participated in, Galvarino rallied his men, holding up his arms as he said:
[M]y brothers, see that you all fight very well; you do not want [to] be as I am without hands, so that you will not be able to work nor to eat... Those that you are going to fight with cut them, and also will do to whichever of you they take, and nobody is allowed to flee...
The intrepid warrior was again taken captive, and executed soon after.
In May 1940, Germany took over the Netherlands. Fearing deportation and facing increased persecution, many Dutch Jews went into hiding, including 13-year-old Anne Frank and her family - father Otto, mother Edith, and sister Margot. The Frank family moved into a secret attic above Otto's business in 1942. Anne began recording their experiences in diaries that she diligently kept. The Franks were joined in their hidden solitude by the three-member Van Pels family and Fritz Pfeffer.
Because it was too risky to even shop for food, the Franks had to rely on the kindness of friends and employees to support them, such as Miep Gies, who smuggled in food and other goods.
Gies didn't just keep Anne Frank alive when she was in hiding; she also kept her story alive. After Germans stormed the Franks's hideout, Gies found Anne's diaries and kept them for her. Although Anne didn't survive the conflict, her father did. When Otto Frank reconnected with Gies, she gave him his daughter's diaries.
After she was asked what prompted her to help the Franks, Gies indicated that human compassion motivated her:
I myself am just an ordinary woman. I simply had no choice.