Surrender or Capture? Files Shed Light on Fate of Stalin's Son
Part 2: Disappearance and Capture
On July 26, brigade commissar Alexei Rumyanzev typed a three-page letter to the political director of the Red Army. The disappearance of Stalin's son had become an important matter. Rumyanzev, knowing that the report would end up on Stalin's desk, insisted that the army had treated the Soviet leader's son very carefully.
Rumyanzev wrote that the army: "had tried from the start to assign Comrade Dzhugashvili to the regiment staff, but that he had stubbornly insisted on being deployed as a battery commander. Comrade Dzhugashvili even asked the commissioner of the regiment to speed up his acceptance into the battery."
The letter describes Yakov's behavior at the front as "impeccable and fearless." When his unit came under bombardment from the fascists, Rumyanzev wrote, the head of the operations division had offered to drive him to a safer area. But Comrade Dzhugashvili reportedly replied: "I will only return with my battery."
On July 21, the division sent a motorcycle unit to the area where it believed Stalin's son was to be found. The men encountered Red Army soldier Popuride, who had managed to escape with Yakov. Rumyanyev's letter reads: "They buried their papers together and put on civilian clothing. When they reached the lakeside, Comrade Dzhugashvili told Popuride to keep going, but that he wanted to stay and rest." The episode Rumyanzev described suggests that Yakov had allowed himself to be taken prisoner.
On July 25, a group of intelligence officers set out to find Yakov once again, but they also returned empty-handed. By then, Yakov was already in German hands.
Dzhugashvili's first interrogation took place on July 18. After the end of the war, the Soviets found the original interrogation report in the archives at the Aviation Ministry in Berlin. The document provides insight into the young officer's mind. Stalin's son was proud and defended the political system in his country, and yet he made no secret of his disappointment in the Soviet army, whose commander-in-chief was his own father:
When they were surrounded, they went into such a panic that everyone scattered in different directions We had no maps at all. In our unit, everything was slovenly and poorly organized The division wasn't prepared for the war at all
Question: How did this affect the leadership?
Dzhugashvili: They were completely worthless because they spent all their time in the field camps. That's all they did for three years. We lost about 70 percent of the tanks.
Question: What exactly are the reasons for your army's poor fitness for action?
Dzhugashvili: The German Stuka bombers, the unwise actions of our leadership, the stupid and idiotic actions They sent the units into the fire, directly into the fire.
Another segment of the interrogation is noteworthy -- when the Germans discuss the role of the Jews with Yakov.
Dzhugashvili: Based on my personal experience, I can tell you that the Russian people have never shown any sympathy for the Jews Jews and Gypsies are the same -- they simply don't want to work. In their view, making business deals is the most important thing. The Jew doesn't want to work because he can't.
What Stalin's son said about the Jews reflected popular opinions in the Soviet Union. It just sounded especially disconcerting because his wife, Yulia, was Jewish. When the Germans asked him whether she was to be notified of his capture, Dzhugashvili said: "If you want to do me one favor, then don't do it." Perhaps he had an idea of what was in store for her.
In fact, Stalin had Yulia Dzhugashvili arrested that fall. "Yasha's daughter should stay with you for now," he told his daughter, Svetlana, referring to Yakov's daughter Galina. "His wife is apparently a dishonest person, and we have to look into that."
Disputes about His Fate
In her memoirs, Svetlana Alliluyeva wrote that their father had believed that Yakov, instigated by his wife, had deliberately surrendered to the Germans. "That absurd idea got Yulia Isaakovna several years in prison. First it was Lubyanka, with nightly interrogations, the ice chamber and constant electric light. Then the prison in the city of Engels, and then back to Moscow, to Lefortovo (Prison)."
Stalin remained suspicious when it came to his son. In the winter of 1943, after the Battle of Stalingrad, he told Svetlana that the Germans had proposed trading Yakov for a few of their own. "I will not negotiate with them," Svetlana quoted her father as saying.
In his memoirs, Marshal Georgy Zhukov, the winner of the Battle of Berlin, describes a walk he took with Stalin, during which he had asked the Soviet leader about Yakov. According to Zhukov, Stalin said nothing for a while and then replied: "Yakov will not escape captivity. The fascists will shoot him."
Zhukov also said that Stalin was pained by his son's fate, but that seems unlikely. When director Mikheil Chiaureli later made the 1949 film "The Fall of Berlin," he tried to portray Yakov Dzhugashvili as a tragic war hero, but Stalin prevented him from doing so. And when Stalin received a telegram from the Soviet military administration in Germany in 1945 that informed him about the search for his son's remains, Stalin didn't even feel the need to respond.
Dzhugashvili's odyssey through the German camps lasted almost two years. From Hammelburg in the Franconia region of Bavaria, he was transferred to Lübeck in northern Germany in the spring of 1942, just as the British had started bombing the city. After that, he was sent east to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
The years leading up to his death are well documented. Nevertheless, to this day, many Russians do not believe that Stalin's son was ever in German captivity. Some believe he later fled to Italy, the United States or Canada, while others were convinced that he had gone to Iraq and married into the family of former dictator Saddam Hussein.
His daughter, Galina, who saw her father for the last time when she was three, also believed that the Germans had presented the world with a look-alike and claimed that her father had been killed in an unevenly matched battle in the middle of July 1941. The Germans, she insisted, had merely acquired his papers.
Of course, the documents contradict such claims, but there was a reason why the speculation over how Yakov died never ended: The urn containing the ashes of the man killed in Sachsenhausen arrived in Berlin, but then it mysteriously disappeared -- and, with it, the last traces of Yakov Dzhugashvili.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Files Shed Light on Fate of Stalin's Son
- Part 2: Disappearance and Capture