Even the last report about Joseph Stalin before the news of his death began with a lie: "In his Moscow apartment" the "Comrade General Secretary" had suffered a stroke, Radio Moscow broadcast to the world on the morning of March 4, 1953.
In reality, the 74-year-old was at his dacha in Kunzevo, a spacious villa 15 kilometers west of the Kremlin - and had been since the late evening of February 28. In general, the two-story house, painted dark green, had been Stalin's favorite place for many years, to which he was chauffeured as often as possible.
"Malenkov, Beria, Bulganin and I spent a Saturday night with him at his dacha after watching a movie in the Kremlin," Nikita Khrushchev recalled. Together with Georgy Malenkov, the most powerful of the deputy chairmen of the Council of Ministers, Lavrenty Beria, the long-standing chief of the secret police who had been deprived of part of his power since 1946, and the former Minister of War and Politburo member Nikolai Bulganin, Khrushchev formed the innermost leadership of the CPSU around Stalin . They had nothing to decide; their job was to carry out orders.
"Dinner lasted as usual until about five or six in the morning," Khrushchev reported further on February 28, 1953: "Stalin was quite drunk after dinner and in a very happy mood. You couldn't tell at all that he wasn't physically well."
Apparently in a good mood, the supreme ruler said goodbye to his guests in the dark, two to three hours before sunrise. He jokingly jabbed Khrushchev “in the stomach” and called the man who was born in Russia but grew up in the Donbass “Nikita” with a mock Ukrainian accent. The four visitors were happy, because "meals at Stalin's did not always end so pleasantly".
The next day Khrushchev woke up restless, constantly expecting a call from Kuntsevo or the Kremlin. It was typical of Stalin that he would summon the men closest to him to any meeting without warning – even if there was absolutely nothing to discuss.
"On Sunday evening, because I was expecting his call at any moment, I postponed dinner at home," Khrushchev dictated for his memories: "In the end, however, I gave up waiting and ate a little something." Even after dinner, contrary to expectations, came no call: "I could hardly believe that a whole day went by without Stalin calling us."
The Kremlin gentleman could no longer summon anyone. The members of his personal bodyguard, made up of selected KGB men, noticed late in the morning that their superior had not gotten up as usual. But because entering his private rooms in the villa without being asked could lead to deportation to the Gulag, they did nothing at first.
The staff waited for about ten hours. Then, around 10 p.m., urgent mail came from the office in the Kremlin. A lieutenant colonel of the bodyguards then entered the ruler’s suite of rooms – and was shocked: Stalin was lying on a carpet in the private dining room, wearing only short pajama bottoms and an undershirt, with a copy of the party newspaper “Pravda” next to him. It smelled unpleasant, because the almighty lord of the Eastern bloc had wet himself. He was conscious but could not speak or move.
The bodyguards placed their master on a sofa in the neighboring dining room. Then they called the Kremlin and reached Georgy Malenkov, who immediately alerted members of his closest circle. "Suddenly the phone rang. Malenkov was on the line and said: 'Listen, the Cheka boys just called from Stalin's dacha. They think something happened to him. I think we better go out there.'”
In Kunzewo the head of the bodyguards had meanwhile imposed a total blackout on news. Now the KGB men awaited the arrival of the highest officials who could decide what should happen.
But things turned out differently. Around midnight between March 1 and 2, 1953, Khrushchev, Bulganin and Malenkov arrived at the dacha, but by then Stalin's trusted housekeeper Matryona Petrovna had checked on him. She thought he was fine; he's just drunk. Not an unusual condition.
"After listening to all this, we came to the conclusion that it was inappropriate for us to make our presence felt while Stalin was in this unrepresentable state," Khrushchev recalled. "We split up and all went home."
Another call followed that same night – at least according to these memoirs. According to other sources, Khrushchev, Bulganin and Malenkov stayed in Kunzewo and waited for the arrival of the fourth man, Lavrenti Beria, who was probably the most powerful man after Stalin's failure because of his close ties to the secret police.
Meanwhile, a personal physician, who was hurriedly called, examined the patient and found that Stalin's right arm could not be moved. His left leg was also paralyzed. Apparently at least partially conscious, he still could not speak. No doubt Stalin's condition was grave. deadly serious
On the morning of March 2, 1953, the closer leadership of the Soviet Union met in the Kremlin to hear the report of the several medical professionals who had been consulted. The diagnosis was clear: cerebral hemorrhage on the left. "The doctors told us that after such an illness it was extremely unlikely that he would ever be able to return to work," Khrushchev noted.
The men from his closest circle took turns keeping watch in Kunzewo – except for the longtime head of the secret police: “Stalin had hardly fallen ill when Beria was already going around, spitting poison and bile at him and making fun of him. It was just unbearable to listen to Beria.” However, Khrushchev was a declared mortal enemy of his competitor; its presentation should therefore be treated with caution.
Bulganin and Khrushchev agreed to ally against Beria. A life-threatening game, because it was unclear which side Malenkow would take. In fact, he was talking to Beria about power-sharing. Eventually, however, distrust won out, both among Malenkov and among members of the extended party leadership.
She laid down the four top comrades on a "collective leadership". Malenkov took over from Stalin as prime minister, Beria returned to the top of the secret service, Khrushchev rose to become the strongman of the CPSU, and Bulganin again became defense minister.
When this successor arrangement was agreed, on the morning of March 4, 1953, the public was informed about Stalin's health collapse. The world held its breath. About 40 hours after the announcement, Josef Stalin died on March 5 at around 9:50 p.m.
The news was announced about six hours later. After a dull drum roll, Radio Moscow reported: "The heart of Lenin's comrade-in-arms, the wise leader and teacher of the Communist Party and the Soviet people has stopped beating."
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