18 Things You Didn't Know About the Death of Joseph Stalin
As dictator of the USSR from 1924 to 1953, Joseph Stalin was responsible for the death of millions. Yet, he reigned victorious against Nazi invaders and set the stage for the Soviet Union to become one of the most powerful nations in the world. In what Khrushchev called “a time of the cult of personality,” Stalin was feared, loathed, and loved in life as well as in death. A Georgian who rose to status within the ranks of Vladimir Lenin, Stalin’s descent into power is just as controversial as his death nearly 30 years later. Since it has only been since the crash of the Soviet Union that researchers have been able to delve into the life and death of the despot, it’s likely that more information concerning the man and the myth will be uncovered in years to come. For now, here is a list of 25 things you just may not know about the death of Joseph Stalin.
- Stalin’s death was officially announced on March 6, 1953. However, he stroked on March 1, 1953.
- At his death, the masses of the Soviet Union were traumatized and grief-stricken despite it being known that Joseph Stalin held little regard for life.
- Stalin lay for hours before doctors were notified. It has been suggested that Nikita Khrushchev and Lavrentiy Beria, of the NKVD (secret police), were too afraid to notify the doctors without Stalin’s consent. Others say they purposely waited on the prospect that he would die.
- As citizens lined the streets on March 8, 1953 to see Stalin’s remains, the square became overcrowded and a stampede occurred. Hundreds died of asphyxiation while others were trampled upon.
- Despite Stalin’s suspicion, war-time fallacies, absolutism, mass penalization, worker exploitation, mass murder, and general disregard for human rights, many still fully embraced the tyrants propaganda of his own greatness- even after his death.
- Nikita Khrushchev wrote in his memoir that Lavrentiy Beria would hold Stalin’s hand and kiss his head as he was awake in pain, but spat in disgust as he drifted into unconsciousness.
- Once they decided to notify a physician, politburo leaders struggled to find good doctors. The best doctors in the region, being predominantly Jewish, were imprisoned.
- To rid of Stalin quietly and softly, “De-Stalinization,” reforms were made within the first week after his death. His successors believed that to publicly decry Stalin’s actions would show state weakness.
- At the time of Stalin’s death at least 5.5 million people were in camps, gulags, colonies or prisons. Workers were exploited and the Soviet budget was failing from arms investments, but the Soviet Union was a major military and industrial superpower.
- Stalin was found dying in his “dacha” (seasonal home) immersed in urine.Since they knew the price of disobeying orders that he not be awakened, Stalin lay there an estimated 12 hours before his security had the courage to open the door.
- Eight years after the premier’s death, all entrances to the Red Square were closed in the night. Stalin’s body, which lay beside Lenin’s in a mausoleum, was taken to a grave with dirt shoveled atop. It’s been said that it was proposed to lay two concrete slabs for fear that he would return.
- Vyacheslav Molotov (yes, that Molotov!) and the Commissariat for Internal Affairs, Lavrentiy Beria showed no grief, only relief, as they provided Stalin’s eulogies. Besides being cruel and unjust themselves, it’s reported that they deeply feared Stalin.
- Stalin’s personal interpretation of Marxist writings were removed from mandate and millions of prisoners released after his death.
- Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor, initiated a war crimes investigation into Stalin’s activities posthumously; however, he made no mention of the millions Stalin murdered and ended up making similar policies during his own reign.
- Stalin and his successor, Khrushchev, possessed many similarities concerning corruption. For example, Khrushchev had the head of the MVD (formerly NKVD), Beria, executed for fear of a Coup d’ etat.
- Author and Stalin biographer, Adam Hochschild has argued that Russians did not repress the memory of Stalin’s crimes after his death, but repressed the feelings to be angry about it.
- Although it is officially stated that Stalin died of a stroke, speculations suggests that he may have been poisoned during the banquet he held the night before. Again, Lavrentiy Beria’s name arises as the possible culprit.
- After his death, Stalin’s former maid, Maria Nemchemko, was quoted as saying, “I personally think well of Stalin. He did nothing bad to me. It was [Lavrentiy] Beria who did the bad things. That scum, I hated him!"
Hochschild, Adam. Russians Remember Stalin. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.
Radzinsky, Edvard. Stalin. New York: Doubleday Publishing, 1996.
Service, Robert. A History of Twentieth- century Russia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997.
Service, Robert. Stalin. London: Macmillan Publishing, 2004.
© 2012 Nicole Paschal