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Svetlana Alliluyeva: The Continuing Saga of Stalinís Daughter

by Blaine Taylor

Photo: As the West First saw her in 1967.
Inset: Papa Joe Stalin cradles "Setanka housekeeper: 1940


In his 1970 memoirs, Khrushchev Remembers, the late Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev---then deposed and in exile himself---made a surprising prediction about the future of Svetlana Alliluyeva. The only daughter of the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin had defected to the West three years before, then published two books highly critical of Communism in general and the Soviet Union in particular.

Stripped of her Soviet citizenship, she was considered an outcast in her own land, but seen as a sort of heroine in the rival West.

Thus it was that NSK's statement was taken very lightly, but has turned out to be strangely prophetic in the light of her later return trip home to Moscow: "... I still think that everything has not yet been lost. She can still return. Her thoughts about returning to her children might grow stronger. She should be given another chance. She should know that if she wants to come back, she's welcome, and that the weakness she showed when she left and went to America won't be held against her... "

This is, of course, exactly what later happened, although Khrushchev, who died in 1971, didn't live to see it. After she moved to England in 1982, she had long telephone conversations with her children from two previous marriages, Josif Morozov, 38, and Yekaterina Zhdanova, 32, as well as with her grandchildren, whom she had never seen.

At her landing at New York's Kennedy Airport in 1967, however, she was all smiles, while in Moscow her new look was shorter hair, brushed back severely. Heavier and grim-looking, Svetlana's smile had long since faded in the light of her divorce from a fourth husband, American architect William Wesley Peters, the father of her teenaged daughter, Olga.

The earnings of her critically acclaimed books---Twenty Letters to a Friend (describing life with father) and Only One Year (depicting her US transition)---had run out, and she had become disillusioned with the West. She stated, "Having found myself in the so-called 'Free World,' I was not free for a single day," she said once "back in the USSR."

Since her second defection back home, it has become fashionable for Western commentators to attack her motives and question her mental stability, much as the Soviet press did in 1967, but it should be recalled now that she arrived in the US, via India and Switzerland, to universal media acclaim here.

Svetlana Alliluyeva (she took the maiden name of her mother, Nadya) had two brothers. Yakov Djushgashvili---his father's real last name---captured by the Nazis during the 1941 German invasion of the USSR, had been shot by an SS trooper at Sachsenhausen concentration camp while trying to escape.

The Germans had offered to trade him back to Stalin for surrendered German Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus of Stalingrad fame, but he had refused. "War is war," Stalin shrugged. Yakov was photographed for Nazi propaganda purposes stretched out grotesquely in death, lying face down on barbed wire fencing.

Brother Vasily, a high-ranking, free-wheeling and alcoholic Soviet Air Force general, died in an automobile accident in 1962.

The young Svetlana, in marked contrast, led a quiet life and was seldom seen in public, an exception being in November 1937---on the 20th anniversary of the Russian Revolution---when she appeared in Stalin's box at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow with her father, the late Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and other Red worthies. Clad in the uniform of the Pioneers---the Soviet youth organization---she wore its red neckerchief and waved to the audience, the moment frozen in time by a photographer.

Stalin---brutish and coarse in most ways to his public confidantes---loved Svetlana in a rough fashion, and sent her cute sentimental letters addressing her as "little sparrow" and "Setanka-housekeeper," all signed by her "little papa." They played a game called "orders" until she was 16 in which she playfully "ordered" him to do this or that, and it always amused one of history's most ruthless dictators---a man who had killed millions of his own people before the bloodletting of the Second World War began!---to submit.

Despite this near-idyllic childhood, there was also great tragedy, as Stalin slaughtered many of their own relatives, who knew him well before he was powerful and famous and didn't hesitate to criticize his handling of Soviet affairs in the early days of his dictatorship, to their peril. Then, too, there was the strange death of her mother, Stalin's second---and last---wife, Nadya Allilyueva, in 1932.

As NSK wrote in 1970, "... Nadya committed suicide. She died under mysterious circumstances. However she died, it was because of something Stalin did, and Svetlanka (an NSK nickname for Svetlana) must have known that. There was even a rumor that Stalin shot Nadya."

Two traumatic events occurred during her adolescence, moreover, to cause her gradual estrangement from her "little papa." The first was the German invasion: "I was 15 when the war began," which took up most of her now-Generalissimo's time. The second was her marriage to a Jew, Morozov, with which the anti-Semitic dictator strongly disagreed. (After an affair with a previous Jew---a respected Soviet filmmaker--- Stalin sent the man to a camp in Siberia for a decade!) He forced the couple to divorce, but not before her son was born.

Stalin compelled her to marry next the son of one of his top lieutenants, Zhdanov, but she rebelled later and divorced him, too. Her first daughter was born of this unfortunate union. The divorce occurred after Stalin's death, however, and later she had a common-law marriage with an already gravely ill Indian Communist journalist, Brajesh Singh. When he died, she journeyed to India to bury his ashes, and it was in New Delhi that she decided in March 1967 to seek political asylum in the West at the American Embassy there.

That is the sad backdrop of her life and, indeed, her story isn't finished yet. My judgment is, however, that her true place in history will ultimately rest mainly on the strength of her memoirs of life inside the Soviet Union under the rule of her father and his Stalinist successors of the former Soviet Union.

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* Svetlana Alliluyeva: The Continuing Saga of Stalinís Daughter


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