Joseph Stalin dies

Joseph Stalin dies

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Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union since 1924, dies in Moscow.

Ioseb Dzhugashvili was born in 1878 in Georgia, then part of the old Russian empire. The son of a drunk who beat him mercilessly and a pious washerwoman mother, Stalin learned Russian, which he spoke with a heavy accent all his life, in an Orthodox Church-run school.

While studying to be a priest at Tiflis Theological Seminary, he began secretly reading Karl Marx and other left-wing revolutionary thinkers. In 1900, Stalin became active in revolutionary political activism, taking part in labor demonstrations and strikes. Stalin joined the more militant wing of the Marxist Social Democratic movement, the Bolsheviks, and became a student of its leader, Vladimir Lenin.

Stalin’s first big break came in 1912, when Lenin, in exile in Switzerland, named him to serve on the first Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party—now a separate entity from the Social Democrats. The following year, Stalin (finally dropping Dzugashvili and taking the new name Stalin, from the Russian word for “steel”) published an article on the role of Marxism in the destiny of Russia.

In 1917, escaping from an exile in Siberia, he linked up with Lenin and his coup against the middle-class democratic government that had supplanted the czar’s rule. Stalin continued to move up the party ladder, from commissar for nationalities to secretary general of the Central Committee—a role that would provide the center of his dictatorial takeover and control of the party and the new USSR.

Stalin demanded—and got—absolute state control of the economy, as well as greater swaths of Soviet life, until his totalitarian grip on the new Russian empire was absolute.

Stalin proceeded to annex parts of Poland, Romania, and Finland, and occupy Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In May 1941, he made himself chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars; he was now the official head of the government and no longer merely head of the party.

After Germany’s surrender in the spring of 1945, Stalin oversaw the continued occupation and domination of much of Eastern Europe, despite “promises” of free elections in those countries.

Stalin did not mellow with age; he pursued a reign of terror, purges, executions, exiles to the Gulag Archipelago (a system of forced-labor camps in the frozen north) and persecution in the postwar USSR, suppressing all dissent and anything that smacked of foreign, especially Western European, influence.

To the great relief of many, he died of a massive heart attack on March 5, 1953. He is remembered to this day as the man who helped save his nation from Nazi domination—and as the mass murderer of the century, having overseen the deaths of between 8 million and 20 million of his own people.

READ MORE: How Joseph Stalin Starved Millions in the Ukraine

Stalin suffered a major stroke on March 1, 1953, but treatment was delayed from reaching him as a direct result of his actions over the previous decades. He slowly died over the course of the next few days, apparently in agony, finally expiring on March 5th of a brain hemorrhage. He was in bed.

The myth of Stalin’s death is often given by people wishing to point out how Stalin seemed to escape all legal and moral punishment for his many crimes. Whereas fellow dictator Mussolini was shot by partisans and Hitler was forced to kill himself, Stalin lived out his natural life. There’s little doubt that Stalin’s rule—his forced industrialization, his famine-causing collectivization, his paranoid purges—killed, according to many estimates, between 10 and 20 million people, and he did most probably die of natural causes (see below), so the basic point still stands, but it isn’t strictly true to say he died peacefully, or that his death was unaffected by the brutality of his policies.

The funeral of Joseph Stalin

Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, born 18 December 1878 and died 5 March 1953, was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. The first politburo was created in Russia by the Bolshevik Party in 1917 to provide continuous and strong leadership throughout the course of the Russian Revolution occurring during the same year. The first Politburo had seven members: Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, Sokolnikov and Bubnov. Except for Lenin, who died in 1924, Stalin had all the original members of the Politburo executed from 1937–1940. He managed to strengthen his power following the 1924 death of Vladimir Lenin by putting an end to Lenin’s criticisms (in the postscript of his testament) and expanding the functions of his role, all this while his opposition was being eliminated.

The number of deaths Joseph Stalin is responsible for is not exactly known, but everybody agrees that those figures run into millions. During his last years alive, he suffered from arterio-sclerosis and there are theories that this might have exacerbated his temper. When his doctor suggested he should take things more easily, Stalin had him arrested. This was the start of a number of doctors being arrested, mainly Jewish doctors, and thus leading to an outbreak of anti-Semitism and Jews being attacked in the streets. In the meantime, Stalin was considering deporting all Jewish Soviets in Siberia.

The last time Stalin left the Kremlin for his dacha at Kuntsevo, outside Moscow was in mid-February 1953. Nobody knows exactly what has happened, but after a night of heavy drinking until the early morning hours of March 1st, the guards started panicking when nothing was heard from their master all day and late in the evening a guard or a maid decided to check his bedroom and found him lying on the floor. According to his daughter Svetlana, who stayed near his bed, at 9.50pm on the 5th Stalin’s eyes opened with ‘a terrible look – either mad or angry and full of the fear of death’. He raised his left hand, pointing upwards, perhaps threateningly, and then death took him.

The political memoirs of Vyacheslav Molotov, published in 1993, claimed that Beria had boasted to Molotov that he poisoned Stalin: “I took him out.”

The granddaughter of Dwight Eisenhower stated that “It very clearly laid out the basic principles of the free world … and it told the Soviets what they could do to indicate that a new era had begun,”. “This speech made it obvious that the United States would not attack the Soviet Union during its period of high vulnerability.”

Stalin's health deteriorated towards the end of World War II. He suffered from atherosclerosis as a result of heavy smoking, a mild stroke around the time of the Victory Parade (May 1945), and a severe heart attack in October 1945. [1]

The last three days of Stalin's life have been described in detail, first in the official Soviet announcements in Pravda, and then in a complete English translation which followed shortly thereafter in the Current Digest of the Soviet Press. [2] As described by Volkogonov, [3] On 28 February 1953, Stalin and a small number of his inner circle, consisting of Malenkov, Molotov, Beria, and Khrushchev and a few others gathered together for an evening of entertainment and drinking. The guests dispersed at approximately 4:00 a.m. on 1 March and Stalin retired to his private quarters with strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed until sounds were heard indicating that he had awakened. Time passed and no sounds were heard throughout the day. At approximately 11:00 p.m. on 1 March his housekeeper cautiously entered his room and found him lying on the floor, wearing his pajama trousers and a shirt. He was unconscious, breathing heavily, incontinent, and unresponsive to attempts to rouse him. Beria was called and, upon seeing him, discounted the fact that he was unconscious, attributing this to alcohol consumption, and departed. [ citation needed ]

At 7:00 a.m. on 2 March, Beria and a group of medical experts were summoned to examine him. Based on their examination, which revealed a blood pressure of 190/110 and a right-sided hemiplegia, they concluded that Stalin, who had a known history of uncontrolled hypertension, had sustained a hemorrhagic stroke involving the left middle cerebral artery. Over the next two days he received a variety of treatments and, in an attempt to decrease his blood pressure, which had risen to 210/120, two separate applications of eight leeches each were applied to his neck and face over the next two days. However, his condition continued to deteriorate and he died at 9:50 p.m. on 5 March 1953.

His body then was taken to an unspecified location and an autopsy was performed, after which it was embalmed for public viewing. Attempts to locate the original autopsy report have been unsuccessful until recently, [4] [5] but the most important findings were reported in a special bulletin in Pravda on 7 March 1953, as follows:

"Pathological-Anatomical Examination of the Body of J. V. Stalin"

Pathologic examination revealed a large hemorrhage, localized to the area of subcortical centers of the left cerebral hemisphere. This hemorrhage destroyed important areas of the brain and resulted in irreversible changes in the respiration and circulation. In addition to the brain hemorrhage, there were found significant hypertrophy of the left ventricle (of the heart), numerous hemorrhages in the myocardium, in the stomach and intestinal mucosa atherosclerotic changes in the vessels, more prominent in the cerebral arteries. These are the result of hypertension. The results of the pathologic examination revealed the irreversible character of J.V. Stalin's disease from the moment of brain hemorrhage. Therefore, all treatment attempts could not have led to a favorable outcome and prevent a fatal end." [6]

As summarized above, rather than suggesting a plot by Beria, on whom suspicion fell for his purportedly telling Molotov "I took him out" [7] at one point, and his seemingly willful delay in obtaining medical treatment for Stalin, the physical changes seen during autopsy were consistent with extracranial changes that often occur in stroke victims. Lavrenti Beria's son, Sergio Beria, later recounted that after Stalin's death, his mother Nina informed her husband that "Your position now is even more precarious than when Stalin was alive." [8] This turned out to be correct several months later, in June 1953, Beria was arrested and charged with a variety of crimes but, significantly, none relating to Stalin's death. [9] He subsequently was executed at the order of his former Politburo colleagues, but there are conflicting stories as to when and where this occurred. [10] [11]

On 6 March, the coffin with Stalin's body was put on display at the Hall of Columns in the House of the Unions, remaining there for three days. [12] On 9 March, the body was delivered to Red Square [13] prior to interment in Lenin's Mausoleum (where it would lie in state until 1961). [14] [15] Speeches were delivered by Khrushchev, Malenkov, Molotov, and Beria, after which pallbearers carried the coffin to the mausoleum. As Stalin's body was being interred, a moment of silence was observed nationwide at noon Moscow time. As the bells of the Kremlin tower chimed the hour, sirens and horns wailed nationwide along with a 21-gun salute fired from within the precincts of the Kremlin. Similar observances were also held in other Warsaw Pact countries along with China, Mongolia and North Korea. Immediately after the silence ended, a military band played the Soviet State Anthem, and following this, a military parade of the Moscow Garrison was held in Stalin's honor. In the public's efforts to pay their respects to Stalin's casket, a number of people were crushed and trampled to death. [16] Khrushchev later provided an estimate that 109 people died in the crowd, although the real number of deaths may have been in the thousands. [17] [18]

According to Ogoniok, the mourners included the following foreign dignitaries: [19]

    – President of the State Council and Prime Minister of Romania, First Secretary of the Romanian Workers' Party – Prime Minister of Poland, Secretary General of the Polish United Workers' Party – Defence Minister of Poland – First Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the German Democratic Republic – General Secretary of the Communist Party of Spain – Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the German Democratic Republic – Chairman of the West German Communist Party – Prime Minister of Bulgaria, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Bulgaria – General Secretary of the Hungarian Working People's Party – Secretary of the Italian Socialist Party – General Secretary of the Italian Communist Party – Interim General Secretary of the French Communist Party – President of Czechoslovakia, Chairman of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia – Vice-Premier of the People's Republic of Albania – Premier of the People's Republic of China – Prime Minister of Finland[20] – Prime Minister of Mongolia – General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain – Chairman of the Communist Party of Austria – Acting Chairman of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas-1930

Czechoslovak leader Gottwald died shortly after attending Stalin's funeral on 14 March 1953 after one of his arteries burst. [21]

Fearing the encouragement of rivals within the ranks of the Party of Labour of Albania, neither Prime Minister Enver Hoxha nor Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu risked traveling to Moscow to attend the funeral, with Hoxha instead pledging eternal allegiance to the late Soviet leader. [22] Officials in the government of Jacobo Árbenz eulogized Stalin as a "great statesman and leader . whose passing is mourned by all progressive men". [23] The Guatemalan Congress paid tribute to Stalin with a "minute of silence". [24]

Preparation for Eternity

Though Stalin's body had been embalmed, it was prepared only for the three-day lying-in-state. It was going to take much more to make the body seem unchanged for generations.

When Lenin died in 1924, his body was quickly embalmed through a complicated process that required an electric pump to be installed inside his body to maintain constant humidity. When Stalin died in 1953, his body was embalmed by a different process that took several months.

In November 1953, seven months after Stalin's death, Lenin's tomb was reopened. Stalin was placed inside the tomb, in an open coffin, under glass, near Lenin's body.

7 Atrocities Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin Committed

In any recounting of the horrific deeds of Joseph Stalin, know this: You'd better settle in, because the list is long, painful to recite, and rife with incalculable suffering and death. Stalin grew his power as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the early 1920s after the Russian Revolution. He later became the unquestioned and de facto dictator of the Soviet Union and was shockingly ruthless when it came to killing his people.

Yet it could be argued that Stalin was simply a product of his time, one of many cruel, evil men in the 20th century. In China, Mao Zedong killed millions, while tens of millions more Chinese died from starvation and suicide in the Great Leap Forward.

Stalin is often compared to Adolf Hitler, who killed some 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. In the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the 1900s, leaders carried out the near-genocide of millions of Armenians. Many millions died as the result of Japanese war crimes during World War II under Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and Emperor Hirohito.

Even in the Soviet Union, Stalin's predecessor, Vladimir Lenin, was unforgiving in leading his party through a brutal revolution that claimed some 9 million lives.

"The problem in teaching Stalinism," says Matthew Payne, a professor who specializes in teaching modern Russian and Soviet history at Emory University in Atlanta, "is how not to dismiss what was a very brutal regime while also contextualizing it in a very unstable part of world history. For me, it's always a question of, 'Did Stalin make the revolution, or did the revolution make Stalin?' Mostly, I would have to say the revolution made Stalin."

Stalin clearly has his place among history's most murderous ideologues. The numbers of dead under Stalin's rule (what came to be known as Stalinism) are somewhat disputed, given the secretive and oft-times sketchy record-keeping during his terrorist reign. But through his direct order, millions in the Soviet Union died by execution, and more perished in labor camps. Millions more starved to death through his ill-conceived and often purposely cruel policies. Seven of the most heinous acts he committed are below.

1. The GULAG System

Lenin founded the GULAG (an acronym for, in English, Main Administration of Collective Labor Camps), the network of prisons and forced labor camps throughout the Soviet Union. But it was Stalin who employed them to their most hideous and at least semi-effective ends. The camps, like prisons throughout the world, were used to house criminals. The GULAG's primary purpose, though, was to gain control of the population through fear — by imprisoning, torturing and killing undesirables, critics of Communism and anyone who defied Stalin — to drag the Soviet Union from its agrarian past into an industrialized society. More than 3.7 million Soviet citizens were forced into the camps, many in the most remote and barren areas of the country, between 1931-1953, according to one report. Almost 800,000 of them were shot.

The GULAG at one time totaled nearly 500 camps. More people passed through the GULAG system, for a much longer time, than were imprisoned in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany in their entire existence.

"The purpose of the GULAG was not to kill people," Payne says. "[It] was designed to discipline society . It's really about social control."

4. Early Life of Joseph Stalin

The house where Joseph Stalin was born and where a young Joseph Stalin lived. Editorial credit: Igor Batenev /

Joseph Stalin was born Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvilli on December 18, 1878 in Gori, Georgia. The region was part of the Russian Empire and later on the USSR before it became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Later on in life, the man who was born Josef Djugashvilli would adopt the name Stalin, meaning "Man of Steel" in Russia. Stalin's father was an alcoholic shoemaker who subjected the young Stalin to abuse and often beat him when drunk. As a child, Stalin was afflicted by small pox but eventually recovered. His parents took him to a seminary in Tblisi hoping he would become an Orthodox priest. However, Stalin got expelled in 1899 after failing to observe the rules. He began to flirt with Marxism and later on joined the Bolsheviks who were against the Tsarist regime. Stalin was captured by Tsarist secret police and imprisoned in Siberia on account of his activities in organizing strikes and rebellions.

Was the Death of Joseph Stalin Really Murder?

On March 1, 1953, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin suffered an alleged stroke that led to his death on March 5, 1953 at the age of 74. Although the official reason the brutal dictator died was a common medical malady, high blood pressure leading to a cerebral hemorrhage complicated by a stomach hemorrhage as well, speculation that he may have been murdered persists to this day. (You may note that there are various spellings of Stalin’s name, the one we have used is the Anglicized version.)

Digging Deeper

Born Ioseb Jughashvilli in Gori, Georgia of the Russian Empire in 1878, Stalin became involved with the revolutionary communist movement that eventually executed the Czar and established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. When venerated initial Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, Stalin seized power for himself. Incredibly brutal, Stalin murdered millions of his own people and those of other countries during his tenure as dictator, certainly one of the greatest butchers in History.

Stalin (right) confers with an ailing Lenin at Gorky in September 1922. Photograph by Maria Ilyinichna Ulyanova (1878–1937).

Stalin executed numerous “enemies” during his time, as many as around a million and a half officially executed. Adding to that, he purposely starved 6 to 8 million Ukrainians during the 1930’s in an effort to pacify that Republic, a crime against humanity known as Holodomor, and another 5 million that died in Gulag prison camps. Around 1.7 million of the 7+ million people he had deported and relocated died, and about a million German POW’s died in his custody during and after World War II. On his orders, many German civilians were also murdered. His horrible death toll could well approach 20 million people, and estimates vary from as little as 3 million to as many as 60 million! (The higher number would have to include starvation and malnutrition from ruinous agricultural policies.)

To say Stalin had enemies and that plenty of people existed with the motive to get rid of him is an understatement. It has been pointed out that although Stalin’s health had declined since World War II ended in 1945 and he had suffered at least a minor stroke and heart attack, compounded by hard drinking and a lifetime as a heavy smoker, the stomach hemorrhage is inconsistent with a high blood pressure induced cerebral hemorrhage. On the other hand, being poisoned with the blood thinner warfarin could cause such a combination of problems. (This drug is used to prevent strokes in carefully administered and monitored small doses. It is also used as rat poison.)

Stalin at his seventieth birthday celebration with (left to right) Mao Zedong, Nikolai Bulganin, Walter Ulbricht and Yumjaagiin Tsedenbal

Months after the original report of cause of death, the part about the stomach hemorrhage was mysteriously deleted, adding to suspicions of foul play. In addition, Lavrentiy Beria, Interior Minister (and evil incarnate), was quoted by Vyacheslav Molotov, Foreign Minister, (in Molotov’s memoirs) as saying Beria claimed “I took him out.” The official autopsy was made in 1953, but not released until 2011, and the shocking information contained included both cardiac and gastrointestinal hemorrhage, neither of which is normally associated with stroke caused by high blood pressure. Need more evidence of poisoning by warfarin? Stalin also suffered renal hemorrhage, another symptom not caused by high blood pressure, but certainly a possible result of warfarin poisoning.

Stalin, for all his brutality, was portrayed as a larger than life hero to both the Soviet people and those people under Soviet occupation, and admitting an assassination in 1953 would have caused an uproar. Question for students (and subscribers): Was this terrible man actually murdered? After all, he was 74 years old and not in great health. Please let us know what you think about this half century mystery, and share your thoughts with your fellow readers in the comments section below this article.

A mourning parade in honor of Stalin in Dresden, East Germany. Photograph by Erich Höhne and Erich Pohl.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

The featured image in this article, the front page of the Komunist’i Newspaper from the Georgian SSR, featuring a picture of the death of Stalin, was first published in Georgia and is now in the public domain because its copyright protection has expired by virtue of the Law of Georgia on Copyright and Neighboring Rights (details). The work meets one of the following criteria:

  • It is an anonymous work or pseudonymous work and 70 years have passed since the date of its publication
  • It is another kind of work, and 70 years have passed since the year of death of the author (or last-surviving author)
  • It is one of “official documents (legislative acts, court decisions, other texts of administrative and regulatory nature), as well as official translations thereof
  • It is one of “official state symbols (flags, coats-of-arms, anthems, reward, banknotes, other state symbols and insignia)

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About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.

What if Joseph Stalin died one second after the battle of Berlin?

I cannot take that comparison seriously. There is a order of magnitude difference between men struggling over policy differences in a representative republic's opposition political party, (I am backdating the example to the Dewey Republicans circa FDR's death prior to Eisenhower's subsequent takeover of that party, since NO CURRENT POLITICS.) and a bunch of gangsters and murderers, which Stalin's Politburo actually was.

Those bastards killed people by diktat and proscription.





Deleted member 94680

James Ricker



That seems to be based on hearsay and included in a work of fiction.

Remember what I wrote about gangsters and murderers?



Yes. The GUGB (State Security) was split from the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, which had been run by Beria since Yezhov got purged) and became the NKGB . However, Merkulov was one of Beria's cronies - he was a member of the 'Caucasian mafia'. So at this point in time the secret police is still in Beria's pocket. Plus he ran the Gulag, regular police, NKVD troops etc. and was responsible for the deportations during the war. Merkulov was in charge of the NKGB until 1946.

Both bodies later became the MVD and MGB respectively. In 1946 Abakumov was put in charge of the MGB. He wasn't part of Beria's clique. In fact, he was a rival. He was replaced in 1951. Similarly, the MVD wasn't run by Beria at the time of Stalin's death in OTL. Beria merged both bodies again after Stalin died, with himself as minister. 'Death of Stalin' simplifies things a bit by portraying Beria as having been continuously in charge since the Great Purge. Beria was a disgusting, reprehensible, murderous piece of shit regardless.

As for who takes over in 1945, my money's on Molotov heading a 'collective leadership' at first. Will he last? Open question, but he's a competent administrator and ruthless bastard (Death of Stalin's portrayal of him as a kindly, naive granddad is. really off), and this is before he lost favour Stalin's favour and was booted out of the Politburo. He wouldn't have Stalin level power, but he's a known quantity and someone people can live with. They may split the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars (as the position of head of government was still called at the time) and General Secretary positions again like they did in OTL.

At this time, Krushchev is still First Secretary of Ukraine, and hasn't been brought in to head the Moscow party organisation. Zhukov would not even be in Russia at this point. and the Bolsheviks were very sensitive when it came to even a whiff of Bonapartism. He's in a better position to be relevant since he hasn't spent years in the wilderness, but it's not like Krushchev had trouble pushing him out of politics in OTL after he no longer needed him. At the end of the day, STAVKA was still subordinate to GKO during the war.

How Many People Did Joseph Stalin Kill?

Joseph Stalin, who died 60 years ago in Moscow, was a small man -- no more than 5-foot-4. The abused son of a poor, alcoholic Georgian cobbler, Josef Vissarionovich Djughashvili (the future Stalin) also had a withered arm, a clubbed foot and a face scarred by small pox, but he stood very tall as one of history’s most prolific killers.

Stalin’s extremely brutal 30-year rule as absolute ruler of the Soviet Union featured so many atrocities, including purges, expulsions, forced displacements, imprisonment in labor camps, manufactured famines, torture and good old-fashioned acts of mass murder and massacres (not to mention World War II) that the complete toll of bloodshed will likely never be known.

An amoral psychopath and paranoid with a gangster’s mentality, Stalin eliminated anyone and everyone who was a threat to his power – including (and especially) former allies. He had absolutely no regard for the sanctity of human life.

But how many people is he responsible for killing?

In February 1989, two years before the fall of the Soviet Union, a research paper by Georgian historian Roy Aleksandrovich Medvedev published in the weekly tabloid Argumenti i Fakti estimated that the death toll directly attributable to Stalin’s rule amounted to some 20 million lives (on top of the estimated 20 million Soviet troops and civilians who perished in the Second World War), for a total tally of 40 million.

''It's important that they published it, although the numbers themselves are horrible,'' Medvedev told the New York Times at the time.

''Those numbers include my father.''

Medevedev's grim bookkeeping included the following tragic episodes: 1 million imprisoned or exiled between 1927 to 1929 9 to 11 million peasants forced off their lands and another 2 to 3 million peasants arrested or exiled in the mass collectivization program 6 to 7 million killed by an artificial famine in 1932-1934 1 million exiled from Moscow and Leningrad in 1935 1 million executed during the ''Great Terror'' of 1937-1938 4 to 6 million dispatched to forced labor camps 10 to 12 million people forcibly relocated during World War II and at least 1 million arrested for various “political crimes” from 1946 to 1953.

Although not everyone who was swept up in the aforementioned events died from unnatural causes, Medvedev’s 20 million non-combatant deaths estimate is likely a conservative guess.

Indeed, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the literary giant who wrote harrowingly about the Soviet gulag system, claimed the true number of Stalin’s victims might have been as high as 60 million.

Most other estimates from reputed scholars and historians tend to range from between 20 and 60 million.

In his book, “Unnatural Deaths in the U.S.S.R.: 1928-1954,” I.G. Dyadkin estimated that the USSR suffered 56 to 62 million "unnatural deaths" during that period, with 34 to 49 million directly linked to Stalin.

In “Europe A History,” British historian Norman Davies counted 50 million killed between 1924-53, excluding wartime casualties.

Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev, a Soviet politician and historian, estimated 35 million deaths.

Even some who have put out estimates based on research admit their calculations may be inadequate.

In his acclaimed book “The Great Terror: Stalin’s Purge of the Thirties,” Anglo-American historian Robert Conquest said: “We get a figure of 20 million dead [under Stalin], which is almost certainly too low and might require an increase of 50 percent or so.”

Quotes attributed to Stalin reflected his utter disregard for human life. Among other bons mots, he allegedly declared: “Death is the solution to all problems. No man -- no problem,” and “One death is a tragedy one million is a statistic.”

Part of the problem with counting the total loss of life lies with the incompleteness and unreliability of Soviet records. A more troubling dilemma has to do with the fact that many some deaths – like starvation from famines – may or may not have been directly connected to Stalin’s policies.

In any case, if the figure of 60 million dead is accurate that would mean that an average of 2 million were killed during each year of Stalin’s horrific reign – or 40,000 every week (even during “peacetime”).

If the lower estimate of 20 million is the true number, that still translates into 1,830 deaths every single day.

Thus, Stalin’s regime represented a machinery of killing that history – excluding, perhaps, China under Chairman Mao Tse-Tung -- has never witnessed.

How Stalin’s demise resulted in the deaths of dozens of Soviet citizens

Stalin died of a stroke on March 5, 1953 in his country residence. Next day the Soviet Union heard the official announcement on the radio. The journalist said, his voice full of grief: &ldquoThe heart of the collaborator and follower of the genius of Lenin's work, the wise leader and teacher of the Communist Party and of the Soviet people, stopped beating.&rdquo

For most Soviet people, it was like hearing about the death of God. Whether they loved or hated the almighty Stalin, they lived under his will for the previous 30 years. Several decades of rapid industrialization had turned a predominantly rural country into an economic giant but there was also the murderous purges and famines, and a horrifying war against Nazi Germany, and its glorious victory &ndash all this happened on Stalin&rsquos watch. And now he was gone.

National tragedy

The Moscow-based Dynamo engineering works personnel listen to the radio as Joseph Stalin's death is announced.

For those who grew up on official propaganda and knew nothing about the scale of Stalin&rsquos terror, his death came as a catastrophe, something worse than their own father&rsquos death. All over the country, people were bawling their eyes out. Today, we could see something close to this when Kim Jong-Il died in 2011 and millions of North Koreans were hysterically crying as they marked his passing.

Anastasia Baranovich-Polivanova, who was a student in 1953, recalled: &ldquoIn our univer,sity I saw a party official weep so hard that she couldn&rsquot even stand&hellip and our Marxism teacher, a very nice person, actually, said: &lsquoIf one would ask what&rsquos most important for me&hellip I&rsquod say my daughter, of course. But if I could give her away to resurrect him I would do that.&rsquo&rdquo

Stalin&rsquos personality cult was so strong that even those related to victims of his repressions mourned him. &ldquoMy mom told me that they all cried when they heard about Stalin&rsquos death, and she, a child, also cried, because of senselessness, powerlessness, because life lost its meaning&hellip My grandma cried as well, which sounds surprising to me, because my grandpa had been repressed,&rdquo recalls Tina Kandelaki, a TV presenter of Georgian origin.

Cause for celebration

The coffin of Soviet political leader Joseph Stalin (1879 - 1953) is carried by his closest officials.

Of course, not everyone was hypnotized by Stalin&rsquos charisma and propaganda machine, especially those who languished in prison and in the GULAG, or were exiled under false charges. They saw the death of Stalin as deliverance.

&ldquoWe were in Siberia, near Norilsk (2,800 km northeast of Moscow), digging a foundation pit,&rdquo said Anatoly Bakanichev, who was imprisoned in a camp after being a POW in Germany. &ldquoI was slogging the permafrost with a pickaxe when I heard my partner from above: &lsquoTolya, get out here, the bastard is dead!&rsquo Every camp inmate was joyful, you could notice it. Someone even was told to shout &lsquohooray!&rsquo after the news.&rdquo

The stampede

Moscow streets during Joseph Stalin's funeral.

While prisoners in Siberia were silently cheering, in Moscow the party bosses organized a farewell ceremony. This was not an easy task given that a TV was a rare thing in the USSR in the early 1950s .So , for thousands of people, the last opportunity to see Stalin was to attend the funeral ceremony and view his body in the coffin. And so they tried to, rushing to the House of Unions in the Moscow center, where the leader&rsquos body was lying in state.

The viewing line that stretched through the center of Moscow was clearly marked and guarded by the police and army, which used vehicles to maintain order (as they hoped). Then, on March 6, 1953, people came in large crowds to Trubnaya Square from the narrow Rozhdestvensky Boulevard, and found the square partly blocked with cordons of trucks and troops on horseback.

There wasn&rsquot enough room for people to pass, yet they couldn&rsquot go back as the others were still coming. &ldquoThe crowd got more tightly packed and you couldn&rsquot move, you just had to go with it, unable to escape the flow,&rdquo said Yelena Zaks, one of the thousands of people caught in the crowd. She was lucky enough &ndash when she was passing by the guarded fence, one of the soldiers standing up above grabbed her and took her out of the crowd, possibly saving her life.

Many others were less fortunate. &ldquoThe whole crowd was moaning&hellip some people died, pressed hard against lampposts and trucks&hellip My grandfather, who was there, told me that at some point he heard a strange chomp under his legs he looked down and saw human guts,&rdquo tells TV journalist Anton Khrekov. The next morning many people had to look for their relatives and friends in hospitals and morgues.

Today, 66 years later, it&rsquos still unclear how many people died that day: estimates differ from several dozens to several thousands, and official statistics remain classified. Yet the one thing is clear: even in death, Stalin&rsquos power loomed large over the country, and carnage literally followed him to the grave .

This is how Stalin died. If you want to find out some information on the ruthless power struggle that followed his death, read our text.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

Watch the video: Stalins final moments - Timewatch: Who Killed Stalin - BBC


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