oesph Stalin was one of the worst men who ever lived. As the leader of the Soviet Union, he oversaw the deaths of millions and justified his crimes in the name of the communist utopia that never came to fruition. Every aspect of society was infected by the state, which hid the truth from its citizens through a combination of censorship, propaganda, and intimidation. Deception was simply part of Stalin’s everyday existence. He even lied to his own children about their mother’s death.
In 1907, Stalin’s first marriage ended after less than a year when his wife died from an illness. The exact cause of death is unknown.
He married his second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, in 1919. Stalin had known Nadezhda’s father for years, as they were amongst the earliest members of the Bolshevik Party.
Stalin stayed with her family after returning from Siberia in 1917. Though she was only sixteen at the time, Nadezhda was already sympathetic with the Bolsheviks’ cause and was very taken with Stalin, despite the fact he was nearly forty.
There was no official union between the two lovers. Ceremonies were rare, and most Bolsheviks didn’t register their marriages. Couples simply started living together and called themselves husband and wife.
A turbulent marriage
Stalin and Nadezhda appeared to feel genuine affection for each other, and their first child, a boy named Vasily, was born in 1921. Their daughter, Svetlana, was born in 1926.
But the marriage was already under strain at this stage. Following Vladimir Lenin’s death in January 1924, Stalin had been battling in the leadership race, and his family had taken a backseat.
During the time they were together, the couple would often quarrel. Their disagreements were both personal and political. Nadezhda received little support from her family, who would often side with her husband, regardless of the issue. Stalin’s ego didn’t help matters. He was gruff and refused to admit his faults.
This took a toll on Nadezhda, and her mental health started to decline, leading to mood swings and symptoms of schizophrenia. She even fled to Leningrad in 1926 but returned after several months due to her husband’s pleas.
Stalin’s sense of pride only increased when he became leader of the USSR at the end of the 1920s. Nadezhda, meanwhile, spent much of her time at the Industrial Academy, where she studied synthetic fiber production. It was normal for wives of party members to have a role outside the domestic sphere, and the children spent most of their day-to-day life with their nanny.
Hiding the truth
Tragically, Nadezhda’s academic pursuits weren’t enough to combat her declining mental health. She spent her last night at a banquet in the Kremlin on the 8th of November 1932. Those in attendance were celebrating the anniversary of the revolution.
During the proceedings, another argument broke out between Nadezhda and her husband. The details of this exchange aren’t clear, though some accounts say Stalin was drunk and threw cigarette butts at his wife. Regardless of whether this is true or not, Nadezhda left the banquet and returned to her room.
In the early hours of the morning, Nadezhda shot herself through the heart with a pistol. The body was discovered by a housekeeper and a nurse several hours later.
There was no ambiguity about the death, but Stalin wanted to hide the truth. The press did not mention suicide. They claimed Nadezhda had died of natural causes due to a sudden illness. Stalin also replaced his household servants as an extra precaution.
Stalin lied to his children by telling them the same story the press had told the public. This is somewhat understandable given how young the children were at the time, but they didn’t discover the truth for over a decade.
Stalin, for all his faults, was shaken by the death of his wife. Concerns were raised about his physical and mental health, so he moved out of the Kremlin to a rural location west of Moscow in order to recuperate.
Nadezhda’s suicide continued to be covered up due to concerns about Stalin’s public image. His wife’s suicide would tarnish his honor, harming the prestigious reputation the communists wanted to portray.
Like all aspects of the Soviet Union, pride was more important than truth.
Purchase my history quiz book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0BLFWPMKL