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August 12, 2015

Top 15 Facts You Didn't Know about Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin was a ruthless dictator who transformed the Soviet Union into a world superpower. Here are 15 facts that help paint a picture of this man who changed the world.

1. Man of Steel

Joseph Stalin was actually born Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili. He started using his assumed name Stalin, roughly translating as ‘man of steel’, in 1910. In addition to fostering his hard-lined image, the moniker was supposedly adopted in an effort to shield his real identity from the police whilst involved in evasive revolutionary activity. Some commentators suggest the son of a modest cobbler chose the name in order to distance himself from his Georgian roots.

2. His birthday is up for debate

Mugshot of Joseph Stalin held by Okhrana, 1911. He was 33 years old.

According to official accounts, Stalin was born on December 18, 1878. However, the Old Style Julian calendar (the Russian calendar) marks his birthday as December 6. Stalin himself, however, changed his birthday to December 21, as well as his birth year (allegedly) to 1881, to throw off tsarist officials.

3. He was not actually Russian

Stalin was actually not a native Russian. Rather, he hailed from impoverished beginnings in the country of Georgia. However, he did have an impact on his native country, as he played a major role in the forced imposition of the communist movement, as he would stop at nothing to spread Marxist thought to the masses.

4. He had a rough childhood

Young Joseph Stalin

Stalin’s father, Besarion, was an alcoholic, leading to business failures and violence towards Joseph and the boy’s mother. On top of this, Joseph experienced many physical calamities in his youth. He grew up constantly getting into brawls with others his age, and smallpox left his face extremely scarred. Moreover, he was struck by a horse-drawn carriage not once, but twice, leading to permanent damage of his left arm, which in turn exempted him from fighting in World War I, where he would likely have died.

5. Stalin left school because... of multiple theories

Joseph Stalin as a young man

Stalin is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a murderous dictator (wrapped in a mustache). And adding to this mystery is the question of why Stalin left school: according to some reports, the future leader couldn’t pay his tuition. Others claim he was expelled for his anti-Nicholas II political views. And another states he missed too many exams. And arguably, we will never actually know.

6. He loved movies

Josef Stalin with his ZIS-101, 1936.

Stalin was a film guy. So much so that each of his houses had a private movie theatre, which inspired him to eventually “rule by cinema.” He was also pretentious: according to the Communist Party archives, the leader considered himself a producer, director, and screenwriter, as well as the ultimate censor.

7. The Wild, Wild East

John Wayne and Marsha Hunt in Born to the West (1937)

The dictator was apparently a huge fan of American western movies, and would even host screenings for his friends in his private cinema – and he could understand it perfectly as he had his very own in-house translator.

8. He loved to drink wine

Don’t rush to call the man a drunk or an alcoholic because he wasn’t one; instead, he was into the art and culture of wine and loved everything about it: the bottles, the smell, the color, and the taste of course. It is believed that his favorite wine was Khvanchkara, a Georgian wine with raspberry notes.

9. He trained as a priest

Joseph Stalin sitting at a table in 1918.

Before being swayed by the leftist ideas of Marxism and anti-religious thought, Stalin intended to become an Orthodox priest. Following the wishes of his mother, he attended the Tbilisi Theological Seminary on a full scholarship, with the goal of becoming ordained at the Russian Orthodox Church. However, as fate would have it, Stalin would pick up the works of Karl Marx and forgo the priesthood.

10. He was very paranoid

His goal of uniting the nation with him as the leader grew to frightening heights. Stalin enacted a series of purges known as “Stalin’s Terror,” whereby millions of people were sent to forced labor, assassinated, or publicly executed, out of fear that they were enemies of the state. With the state police, the NKVD, at the helm of the purges, millions were condemned for having even a single contact with questionable individuals on Stalin’s hit list. Interestingly enough, it was found out after his death that Stalin had been suffering from atherosclerosis (fatty tissue build-up in the arteries) of the brain, possibly explaining his deranged “terror.”

11. He ordered the development of a half-human, half-ape hybrid

With a desire to create a new human that would be resilient to pain beyond normal man and would not care about the quality of food eaten, Stalin ordered his top scientists to create a hybrid ape-man. In the dictator’s eyes, this hybrid man would be the greatest solider, capable of great strength but with an underdeveloped brain so as to be easily controlled. Aside from military purposes, such a man would provide greater manpower to speed up Russia’s industrial development. Unfortunately, the chief scientist for the job, Ilya Ivanov, was unsuccessful. Because of this failure, in typical Stalin-fashion, Ivanov was arrested and exiled to Kazakhstan.

12. He would not even give ransom for the return of his own son

Stalin's son Yakov Dzhugashvili shot dead by the camp guard.

During World War II, Stalin’s son, Yakov, was taken prisoner by the Nazis and of course, Hitler was ready to make as audacious a ransom offer as possible. True to his Man of Steel moniker, Stalin refused any ransoming agreement. No matter what torture Hitler threatened would befall his son, Stalin did not budge. His son would go on to die in prison. Tough love.

13. He had a city named after him

Soviet soldier waving the Red Banner over the central plaza of Stalingrad in 1943.

The famous siege of Stalingrad was fought during World War II. Because the city was named after its leader, Stalin ordered a victory at Stalingrad, and there was no arguing with the man. Though pushed to the fringe of survival, the Russian Army was able to achieve a decisive victory. Some speculate that this victory was the turning point in favor of the Allies in the war against Adolf Hitler. Following the victory, the Russians would go on to push the Nazis all the way back to Berlin.

14. Stalin was responsible for the death of at least 20 million people

He said it himself: “One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic,” and Stalin sure left one. Throughout his reign (of terror), the dictator was responsible for the death of 20 million citizens, and 20 million soldiers and civilians who died in WWII. He also imprisoned, tortured, exiled, starved, forced persons into labour. (And if you’re talking about my family, he sent some to Siberia, just because they were Lithuanian.)

15. Nobel Peace Prize

Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943.

Stalin was responsible for the murder of millions of people from the Baltic regions under his reign. So it is rather surprising that he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 and 1948. He was also nominated for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Twice – and so was Hitler!


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