Most people get their fifteen minutes of fame, whereas some have fame that lasts a lifetime, or even for generations, going down in the history books. Joseph Stalin is one of those people, being one of the most famous dictators, who was known for turning the Soviet Union into a superpower force to be reckoned with.
Aside from what we see in the history texts, there is a lot to know about Stalin, since a man with this level of fame has just as many interesting factual pieces of trivia out there about him as he does myths, untruths and legends that aren’t actually true.
Stalin was known for being a terrifying, ruthless dictator who was responsible for the loss of life of millions of his own people with seemingly no thought, regret, or remorse. No matter how heinous he may have been as a leader, the mark he made on history remains, and will continue to be talked about for generations to come. There was much more to Stalin than his life as a leader, and there is not denying that he was an interesting, albeit cut-throat person. Here are 15 facts, myths, and legends about the historical figure known as Joseph Stalin.
15. The Cruelty That Made Him Infamous Was Actually A Disease
Stalin is legally blamed for the death of almost 20 million citizens, with a staggering number of innocent Soviets killed, executed, and even more imprisoned, tortured, exiled or forced into labor because of their religious or political views. An autopsy of Stalin showed that he suffered from something known as cerebral arteriosclerosis, essentially a build-up of plaque in the blood vessels of his brain.
Some believe this disease might have been one of the causes behind his cruelty and intense paranoia. The dictator was also known for loving his privacy so much that not even his guards were allowed to enter his bedroom. Sometimes the paranoid maniac would pretend to need help and scream in agony. It’s rumoured that anyone who would rush in to help him during these tests would immediately be executed.
14. He Had A Thirteen-Year-Old Secret Lover
If you have to ask if someone is 18, they’re probably underage, but that didn’t stop Stalin from “taking” a young lover. During a time period when he was exiled to Siberia in his mid-thirties, Stalin met a 13-year-old orphan named Lidia Pereprygina who apparently looked quite mature for her age. She and Stalin began dating a short time after they met, but fortunately for him, his “PR” team was able to keep the star-crossed love affair under wraps from the public for a very long time. The KGB took extreme measures to make sure that his torrid affair was hidden far into their archives, and news of the affair didn’t surface until 80 years later. Some sources report that the girl was pregnant at one point with Stalin’s child; however, she lost the baby.
13. Did He Want A Planet Of The Apes, Or Not?
It is often cited that Stalin had many of his top scientists working to create a hybrid creature that was half-ape and half-man. This creature was supposed to be resistant to pain in a capacity beyond a regular soldier and would not care about trivial things like the quality of food it received. It was said this soldier in the making was supposed to be a real asset with great strength, but lesser intelligence for ease of control.
This project was reported in only one resource – Scientific America was the only publication that ever quoted Stalin about his connection to chief scientist Ilya Ivanov and the ape army. It’s also believed that because of Ivanov’s inability to put the monkey where his mouth was scientifically he was arrested and sent away to Kazakhstan (the home of Borat). Note: I understand that apes aren’t monkeys, just roll with it for the sake of the joke.
12. Stalin Wanted To Be A Cowboy
I’m not defending Stalin, but even dictators have hobbies and ways they like to unwind too, as a long day of ordering executions can wear on you. Many of us like to relax in front of a great film and Stalin was no different and loved to immerse himself in the world of film. Each of his homes had a private movie theatre, and Stalin liked to think of himself as a screenwriter, producer, director, and naturally a controlling censor.
At one point he banned French kissing and nudity in films because he didn’t like it. Stalin created poetry under the pen name of Soselo. He liked to provide actors with his own coaching and even wrote some song lyrics. He was a huge fan of cowboy movies, specifically John Wayne films. His favourite Hollywood heavyweights included Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable, and of course The Duke. His top choice for director was John Ford.
11. Stalin Was An Oenophile
Before you click to an online dictionary, an Oenophile is simply a person who loves and has an appreciation for wine. While it’s easy to presume that there might be some alcoholic tendencies that ran in the family because of Stalin’s father’s problems with imbibing, this doesn’t appear to be the case for the moustache adorned dictator.
Stalin’s favourite wine comes from his home Soviet state, Georgia, and it’s becoming popular again. His wine of choice was Khvanchkara, known for its raspberry notes. Stalin loved the culture of wine including the bottles, smell, colour, and taste. Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world, with Khvanchkara being a high end semi-sweet red wine with a dark ruby colour. This wine has been produced since 1907 and has been awarded two gold and four silver medals at a variety of international wine exhibitions and competitions.
10. Stalin Was A Trendsetting Hipster
Despite being self-conscious about the way he looked, particularly because of his scars from smallpox and his injured, shorter, left arm, he was actually a trendsetter. As someone who got bullied a lot as a child and was ridiculed by being called “Pocky”, in some ways it was as if he got the last laugh on those who mocked him as people deliberately sought out a look that mirrored Stalin’s. His moustache became one of the most iconic facial trends of the 20th century. When people think about Stalin – one of the first things they describe is the infamous cookie duster. It was no Nike Swoosh or the McDonald’s arches, but Stalin inspired the look of moustache adorning dictators everywhere. It’s believed that Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein borrowed their look from the original dictator “fashion” icon, Joseph Stalin.
9. He Was A Weatherman And Photoshopped His Face Regularly
Most of us start out in other jobs before we find our true callings. This was no different for “the man of steel”. Stalin had only one “real job” before conquering many areas of Europe and Asia and bringing forward his reign of terror. He was a weatherman at the Tiflis Meteorological Observatory. His job was to record rainfall and atmospheric pressure statistics, which presumably he didn’t find riveting since it didn’t stick. In addition to his “talents” related to weather and meteorology, Stalin could “Photoshop” his pictures like he was a Kardashian, to always put his best foot (or face) forward. He would routinely airbrush photos of himself to remove any trace of facial scars. He also had numerous portrait artists executed because of their unflattering, although likely realistic, portrayals of him.
8. Stalin Wouldn’t Even Negotiate For The Life Of His Son
In the midst of World War II, the Nazis took a rather notable prisoner, Yakov, who was Stalin’s son. Hitler wanted to make Stalin agree to all of their demands with the threat of his son’s well-being at stake, only it didn’t work. The Nazis brought Yakov to a concentration camp and said they would release him in a trade for a captured Field Marshal named Friedrich Paulus. Even though no one can give a true account about what was really said in this failed negotiation, the results remain a part of history. In 1943 Yakov died in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp located in northeast Germany, under suspicious circumstances. Many historians believe that Yakov lost his life because his father wouldn’t enter a negotiation. Apparently the ‘family first’ motto wasn’t one that Stalin believed in.
7. Although He Was Mocked For Being A “Secretary” He Got The Last Laugh
In addition to having a name in his leadership that was an alias, he had another name that he was called – which he wasn’t a big fan of. His other nickname was “Comrade Index Card” which was invented because of a joke from his competitive rival within the communist party, Trotsky. It was meant to discredit him and draw to attention that he was never really seen as a charismatic speaker. Since Stalin’s first official position within the party was a secretarial one, as Secretary General, it was used to mock his duties and contributions. In that regard Stalin had the last laugh (so to speak) with his position of running the country while Trotsky was on the run for his life when Stalin ordered Trotsky’s execution. Other leaders also liked to poke fun at Stalin’s Napoleonic stature at only 5’4” with President Truman referring to him as “the little squirt”, which certainly he wouldn’t have loved if he ever got wind of it.
6. His Famous Quote Might Not Be His
For those who haven’t been to history class in a while, or never studied Stalin, it was reported that Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy, a million dead is a statistic.” Harsh, right? This quote aptly portrayed the cold and cruel realities of Stalin’s regime, which is why to this day everyone believes that he said it. With the fear created and the fact that people would suddenly go missing, it makes sense – he was a leader who didn’t care about the loss of life. That being said, there isn’t much evidence that this quote was from the man, who was not known for eloquent speeches. This quote was initially reported by a German writer and pacifist named Erich Maria Remarque. Because of the writer’s vocal position against war many suspect that he was reporting “fake news”.
5. Stalin Wasn’t Even Russian
Even though we associate Stalin with Russia, he wasn’t born there, he’s from Georgia, a country that both borders on Europe and Asia near Turkey and Armenia. Official records show that Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili was born on December 18, 1878, making him a Sagittarius. Sagittarius are known to be straight forward, intellectual, and philosophical. They are also known to be careless, tactless, inconsistent, and overconfident. Stalin changed his birth date and year to December 21, 1881 to “throw off” the Russian autocracy. He also changed his name when he was in his thirties to Stalin for two reasons, 1) because it means “man of steel” which I assume he thought was a money nickname and, 2) to protect him and his family from the threat of assassination, although we all know that didn’t work out.
4. He Had A Problematic Childhood
Sometimes we’ll blame a person’s bad behaviour on their childhood; we might be able to do some of this for Stalin. His father, Besarion, was a raging alcoholic who had business failure after failure because of his disease. He was also known to be violent and abusive towards Joseph and his mother.
Likely because of this tumultuous upbringing Joseph was constantly fighting with other children his age. Stalin was incredibly self-conscious about the numerous scars on his face, caused by smallpox – which likely led to his many fisticuffs. He was also struck by a horse-drawn carriage twice, causing permanent damage to his left arm. This meant he was not able to fight in World War I, where many believed he would have died, and history would have been completely different.
3. A Religious School Drop-Out
No one really knows why Stalin was a school drop-out, but there are a lot of speculations and debates about why he didn’t pursue academics. Some say he couldn’t afford his tuition, whereas others believe he was expelled for his intense political views. There’s another theory that he simply missed too many exams and had to drop out. One thing we know for sure, before he embraced the leftism ideals of Marxism and anti-religion practices, he wanted to become an Orthodox priest. Under the guidance of his mother he attended the Tbilisi Theology Seminary and received a full scholarship with the end game of becoming an ordained Russian Orthodox priest. Instead Stalin read up on Karl Marx which changed his perspective on life and decided to skip priesthood and change his path completely.
2. He Was Highly Celebrated Despite His Crimes
When everyone is terrified of you they may bestow numerous honours upon you, even if they don’t really mean it. The famous siege of Stalingrad, a city named for him in 1925 (mainly because everyone knew saying no would result in their execution) was a major Soviet victory of World War II. After this victory the Russians successfully pushed Hitler and the Nazis all the way back to Berlin. Despite being a cold blooded killer, Stalin was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize twice; once in 1945 and again in 1948. Although it should also be noted that Hitler, who was once Stalin’s BFF, presumably before Hitler broke his “Peace Pact” with Stalin and kidnapped and tortured Stalin’s son, was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize at one point. We’re assuming the nomination process was at least a little corrupt at that time.
1. Stalin Imprisoned His Doctors From His Death Bed
It became pretty obvious to his doctors that Stalin’s health was deteriorating quickly. Unfortunately his arteriosclerosis made him a nasty patient, and further increased his rage as he aged. When some of his doctors suggested that he “take it easy”, instead of following their orders he imprisoned them and set up a number of murderous conspiracy theories about their practices. In the wee hours of March 1, 1953 Stalin’s guards were worried when they noted no sounds coming from their master for quite some time. Very late in the day it’s believed that a maid or guard decided to take their chances at entering his bedroom and discovered him lying on his floor. It wasn’t until the next day, when Stalin was paralyzed and unable to speak, before doctors were called in. Naturally, the doctors were terrified to even touch Stalin. His daughter, Svetlana, reported that on March 5th her father opened his eyes with a terrifying look, pointed his left hand up and then died. On March 9th, at the funeral in Red Square, the crowd was so large that some were even crushed to death.