Stalin: An Unknown Portrait

Stalin: An Unknown Portrait

Stalin: An Unknown Portrait

Stalin: An Unknown Portrait

Excerpt

As Tolstoy famously said, all happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. In the same way, the chronicle of Stalin's many biographies is long and unending. They range from unscrupulous apologies to personal diatribes of hatred. Bulky Stalin biographies that are still quoted today by some writers frequently use "double entry bookkeeping" that forgives the Soviet dictator's genocide—or even justifies it. There are also after-the-fact explanations by former leading Soviet politicians who for decades worked with die Master of the Kremlin, and who likewise have bloody hands.

Just as varied is the phylogenesis of Stalin biographies; they have been created for many different personal reasons, more reasons than usual for historiography. At first glance, this book which puts a number of unpublished documents from the dictator's archives into the reader's hands, is similar to its predecessors. I was eight years old, living in a small Russian town called Orekhovo-Zuyevo, when I read Aleksei Tolstoy's Peter the First. I was enthralled. In many ways, it was this book, full of monumental battle scenes and unexpected adventures, that helped me decide to become a historian. Of course, at that point I didn't know that the "Soviet Count", had brazenly lifted some of the best parts of the book from the works of the noted Russian writer, Dmitry Merezhkovsky, who had been forced into emigration. Nor did I know the that the descriptions of the tsar had been covered with a gloss of class warfare—that this, too, had been made to fit the wishes of Joseph Stalin. The tableaux created by Aleksei Tolstoy, like a Byzantine picture, were made to illustrate political points, and, thereby, humble the reader. Anyone who has picked up Peter the First comes face to face with the similarities between the empire-building tsar and the man who, from a pockmarked Georgian Seminary student, became the Generalissimo who expanded the Soviet Empire to the Vistula and Bug rivers. The parallels probably hit me in the little school in Orekhovo-Zuyevo, too, since I carefully pasted a small photograph of Joseph Stalin on the title page. In large letters I scrawled "December 21st, 1879". This was the Soviet dictator's official birthday, a day celebrated each year by millions. I am proud that, decades later, I was able to successfully piece together how Stalin and his circle changed this from the original date, December 6th, 1878.

However, for a long time I was convinced that I had seen the Master of the Kremlin myself. At the end of April 1952, when I was six year old, to my great delight I was able to go to Moscow. I left my parent's sewerless wooden house, which was built next to and owned by the penniless rural hospital. And I went to a metropolis, ornamented with brilliant skyscrapers and shinning holiday decorations. I went riding on the shoulders of a doctor colleague of my father's, to take part in the May Day parade. My memories of the colorful group of party leaders, quite a few of them uniformed, waving from the Lenin mausoleum, are cloudy. But I would have been ready to swear that the one in the middle, with his army cap in his hand, the "Master," waved to me.

Not long ago, I talked again with that "young" doctor, who had since emigrated. I realized I had been living half a century with the wrong impression. My old acquaintance, who is a retired professor living in New York, said that when he carried me on his shoulders to Red Square in 1952, Stalin—who was having

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