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Elena Kagan was born in Gomel, Belarus in October 1919. She moved with her family to Moscow in 1922 where she later studied philology at Moscow State University. After serving the war effort as a munitions worker and after finishing a war interpreter's course Elena joined Gen Dmitry Lelyushenko's army of resistance in 1942. By February 1945 Elena was working in Poznan before joining the USSR's 3rd Army's attack on the Reichstag in late April. Her journey to Berlin began in Rzhev on the Volga, where millions of Red Army soldiers died fighting German forces. She adopted the surname Rzhevskaya to honour the fallen.

Rzhevskaya was the first person to read key documents related to the last days of the Reich including the personal papers of Hitler. She lived in Moscow after the war to work as a writer and won prizes for her fiction and journalism. She was the author of two acclaimed history books and six war novels. She died in April 2017.