Josef Stalin is widely remembered as one of the most controversial and brutal figures in Russian governmental history. Associated with the likes of the KGB, Stalin was the wartime leader of the country when Russia was at direct odds with the Nazis. He was a charismatic, revolutionary leader, however, when you get deeper into the history of his regime, the atrocities start to emerge.
Therefore, you will likely have learned about Stalin during history lessons as one of the more brutal leaders in World War II. That said, Stalin led a fascinating life otherwise, and he is therefore ripe for a fact file. Regardless of how long ago it may have been that you last learned about Russian military history, here are a few interesting facts about Stalin to help fill in a few gaps.
Stalin was born in 1879 to a washerwoman and a cobbler. Despite his eventual rise to power, he was actually born into poverty, and his father was a known alcoholic.
He was actually born in what is known today to be Georgia. At this point, his birthplace of Tiflis fell under the jurisdiction of Russian forces, though Stalin himself was never technically considered a Russian native.
Despite his various controversies and atrocities, Stalin was actually named the third most influential Russian in history via TV poll in 2008.
Stalin experienced a fairly rough childhood. He actually contracted smallpox from a young age, having fallen ill through the disease from the age of seven, which would actually leave him with scarring he would possess for the rest of his life. This led to bullying from others at school.
Stalin was embalmed after his death and preserved on show at Red Square, where fellow Russian leader Vladimir Lenin lies in state. However, he was actually buried elsewhere by the 1960s, as favour for the leader had dropped sharply.
Stalin was something of a movie fanatic. In fact, he had movie screens in each of his properties, and was actively involved in the odd screenwriting and directing of various projects over the years. Quite whether he stood to become the Russian Martin Scorsese will always be unknown.
However, it was the Western movie that Stalin was said to enjoy the most. He was thought to be a huge fan of John Wayne, though he also enjoyed watching Spencer Tracy movies. Believe it or not, Stalin was actually a bit of a prude when it came to film-making – he banned all movies in Russia from showing kissing or any form of nudity.
Stalin was seen as more of a practical revolutionary, while previous statesmen such as Lenin would have led the way in terms of oratory skills. Stalin was never one for big speeches, instead preferring to act over speaking.
Things weren’t especially clear when it came to Stalin’s birthday. Officially, it seems that his birthday was December 18th, though he claimed it was December 21st. Why the three-day move? No one’s too sure – something to do with horoscopes?
Stalin was seen as a huge revolutionary force within the Soviet stronghold following the death of Lenin. It was his aim to start dismantling the old regime as early as the mid-1920s, weeding out the old guard by demoting and removing staff from the government entirely. He was certainly a fan of reshuffling on the bureaucratic side of things!
Stalin was, of course, an major leader during World War II. While in charge of Russia and while plotting military strategy, it’s thought that he once intended to breed a form of half-human super-soldier. Yes – Stalin had military ideas which were perhaps more fitting to read as part of a sci-fi novel! His reasoning was completely genuine, and what’s more, he proposed that human soldiers felt pain and needed sustenance – his reasoning was that he wanted soldiers who required little maintenance, and who wouldn’t ever feel any moral objection. It’s thought that some horrific experiments did actually take place – by all means read into them at your own risk.
Stalin was something of an aggressor, though some suggest this may have been as a result of intense bullying in his youth. However, before heading up the ladder to power, he would actively fund Bolsheviks and rob wealthy people. Stalin and his fluctuating gang would even take lives in the process, and despite these crimes being known, he was never brought to task for them.
Stalin wasn’t always destined to lead the country. In fact, he once had a fairly less glamorous job as a weatherman. Yes – believe it or not, one of Russia’s most brutal dictators was once a weather recording assistant at a laboratory.
However, the world would certainly have remained a safer place if he had stuck to this particular industry and line of work. He would go on to lead Russia for more than two decades, and in that time, would commit a number of atrocities, with many lives lost. He was seen as something of a tyrant, though the Soviet Union was ultimately poised to fight against Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. That said, there was a time where Stalin may have been in talks to meet a deal with Hitler.
Stalin is thought to have been something of a big softy behind the scenes – which, when you’re a brutal dictator, is an image that’s always going to be at odds. Specifically, he was a doting father.
It’s thought that Stalin once got a 13-year old girl pregnant while on exile in Siberia. This news would likely have impacted hugely – in a negative way – on his reputation, which is why the Soviets buried the truth. It wouldn’t be until the 21st century that the truth finally came out.
Stalin was not just a movie buff, but also a big fan of music in general. He was a huge classical music lover and was in particular a firm follower of the classical pianist Maria Yudina. It’s thought that he had requested her version of Mozart’s Piano Concerto 23 in the form of a recording. However, there was a snag – Yudina hadn’t recorded her performance. So, in an attempt to appease the dictator – and rather than tell him he couldn’t have his recording – she made sure to set up a special recording just for Stalin.
Stalin’s full name at birth was Joseb Besarionis dze Jugdhashvili. He took his revolutionary name much in the same manner that Stalin did. His name actually means ‘Man of The Steel hand’. This was an intentional choice.
Stalin would face exile to Siberia in the early 20th century, mainly as a result of his conducting of a labor strike. He’d face arrests and exiles multiple times on route to leading the country.
The relationship between Stalin and Adolf Hitler was actually more complex than many might have imagined. While the Soviet Union would eventually fight against Nazism, there was a nonaggression pact in place between Germany and the Soviets. However, Stalin soon found that Hitler and the Nazis were starting to make their way across Europe, claiming various territories and pieces of land along the way. Stalin, true to form, was having absolutely none of this – and decided enough was enough by 1941.
Stalin’s route towards becoming leader of the USSR, as you’ve clearly seen so far, wasn’t destined to be simple. He’d actually started out as the Communist Party’s General Secretary, seizing power from Lenin following his death in the mid-1920s. It was at this time when Stalin began tearing apart the establishment.
Stalin’s rise to power was fraught with famine and death. His ascension to leader involved industrialising farmland across Russia – leaving many to die from starvation or face imprisonment. It’s safe to say Stalin’s human rights record wasn’t as clean as he probably would have had you believe.
Stalin was only thought to have escaped exile so many times as a result of his knack for a cunning disguise or two.
Leon Trotsky referred to Stalin as ‘Comrade Index Card’. Trotsky was something of an intellectual, while Stalin was seen as something more of an action-taker. Trotsky was actually trying to rib him for his relative illiteracy. Stalin being Stalin wouldn’t take kindly to this, and eventually had his associate killed.
Stalin actually received more nicknames from overseas, too. US President Harry S Truman, for example, used to refer to him as a ‘little squirt’ thanks to his height. Stalin was only 5 feet 4! Truman wasn’t much taller at 5 feet 7, mind.
Stalin was so preoccupied with his short stature that he would only ever be photographed at specific angles. That’s why, if you ever seen photographs of the dictator, there are very few which make him look particularly short.
Stalin is credited in helping to end World War II by eventually bringing the Soviets into the conflict. However, the USSR would eventually help to instigate the Korean War, with Stalin in particular backing North Korea’s invasion of the South. As for North Korea – we all know how well that turned out!
Stalin doted on his first wife – so much so that he grieved heavily than many may have expected him to upon her death. In fact, he had to be pulled out of her open grave after he ceremoniously threw himself into it.
It’s thought that Stalin was the original orator of the phrase ‘a single death is a tragedy; a million dead is a statistic’. However, this phrase is thought to actually have emanated from the writings of Erich Maria Remarque.
Stalin was also a budding poet as well as being an aspiring movie director. He actually had much of his poetry published under a pen name – Soselo. Surprisingly, he’d publish multiple volumes of his work, with no one the wiser that it came from the hand of a bloody dictator.
Stalin was said to be obsessed with trying to pull the USSR through a new age of revolution. This was what led to the mass famine that supposedly killed more than 20 million people. The famine didn’t just affect people in his own country, but those who were soldiers. Stalin’s regime also took a harsh line with captives, often working many of them to death.
Stalin was untouchable – while his atrocities and actions are well-known, he was never brought to task. Therefore, he got away, effectively, with the deaths of millions of people – one of the biggest injustices in history, and not just in modern times.
Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, would in fact renounce her connection to the USSR in later life. She would relocate to the US.
His son, Vasily, was involved in a pretty macabre cover up regarding a hockey team. Specifically, it’s documented that the Soviet national side was killed in a plane crash. Vasily would, instead of telling his father about the incident, simply replace the players – and Stalin was none the wiser.
Stalin with Winston Churchill and William Harriman
It’s been suggested that Stalin may have actually only been aggressive and vicious as a result of a brain condition. While no one is really sure if a condition caused his aggressive tendencies, it’s thought that a build up of fatty tissue in his brain may have triggered intense feelings of paranoia. It would go some way to explain some of the more bizarre choices he made while in charge of the USSR.
Even stranger is the fact that modern Russians don’t seem to despise Stalin or his work too much. Believe it or not, only around 65% of Russians polled actually believe that he was responsible for the deaths of millions of people.
Stalin may have kicked off what was seen as an early airbrushing craze. As a result of his smallpox scars, he was keen to edit photographs in any way he could.
Do you know any interesting facts about Stalin that we’ve missed? Share them here in the comments section below!