History is stranger than fiction. As the Second World War raged on, Joseph Stalin, the Premier of the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic (USSR), became fearful for his life. To alleviate this fear, the Soviet secret police, later called the KGB, recruited people to act as a political decoy for Stalin. It is suspected that Stalin used political decoys for much of his life. When Stalin died on March 5, 1953, it became a common truth that Stalin did indeed use body doubles. Some even suspected that Stalin had faked his own death and it was a political decoy in his coffin and tomb. A portion of the truth trickled out, finally, in 2008.
To state that Joseph Stalin was a powerful leader is an understatement. Stalin was born to ethnic Georgians and grew up speaking the Georgian language. The majority of Gori’s 20,000 residents were ethnically Georgians but there were also ethnic Armenians, Russians, and Jews in the small Georgian town. Stalin’s father was a cobbler, who failed to keep up with foot-fashion trends. As his business failed, Stalin and his parents moved from apartment room to apartment room and lived in poverty. As Stalin’s father turned to a state of drunkenness that resulted in repeated beatings, Stalin and his mother fled to the home of a family friend, Father Christopher Charkviani. Living in the Charkviani home allowed Stalin to attend the Gori Church School, where he excelled academically and displayed talent as a painter, poet, and dramatist.
Stalin became involved in the illegal fight toward revolution. He was arrested several times for organizing illegal workers’ rights marches and political rallies. At one point, he was sent to Siberia as part of his punishment. After the Revolution and civil wars, Stalin became an important figure in Vladimir Lenin’s socialist government. While the two men squabbled over the implementation of government, Stalin was handed a gift when Lenin suffered a series of strokes in 1922. Shortly thereafter, Stalin gained control of the Soviet Union.
During Joseph Stalin’s rise to power, he implemented controversial murderous plots against the citizens of the Soviet Union. Ministers and people who opposed him were executed after fake trials or they just disappeared. Stalin increased the role of the Soviet secret police as he became an absolute power in the 1930s. For a man that relied upon the covert operations of the secret police, it made sense to use political decoys as a way to protect himself from his growing list of enemies. While there may be many more, two of Stalin’s political decoys are known.
Political decoys are not new in human history. Leaders have used them long before the invention of the internet, fake news, and alternative facts. The use of a decoy could give an ailing leader the sense that he or she was fine. It has long been rumored that Winston Churchill used a voice impersonator, Norman Shelley, to record his breakfast chats during the Second World War. A former aid to Harry Kissenger has gone on record as stating that when Kissinger went on his secret China visit in 1971, he used an impersonator at least once.
The difficulty with proving that a leader used a political decoy is evidence. Any leader that used a body double would want to keep that information as close to the vest as possible. The sanctioned use of a body double goes far beyond a doppelganger or look-a-like. A stand-in for a president or powerful leader must undergo extensive training to ensure that their deception is 100% accurate. A political decoy must know all of the visual mannerisms of the person that they are standing in for; otherwise, chaos could ensue. Imagine if a political decoy used his right hand to sing a letter when the real leader was left-handed. There would be some serious ramifications for such a misstep.
In April 2008, Felix Dadaev came out to officially proclaim that he was one of at least four of Joseph Stalin’s political decoys. Gaining approval from the Vladimir Putin government, Dadaev wrote an autobiography about his days as Stalin’s body double. Dadaev was a young man when the Second World War broke out, yet he states that his friends thought he could pass for Stalin. An actor, illusionist and musician, Dadaev was to travel to Britain as a member of the State Singing and Dance Band of Ukraine. When war broke out, he was reassigned to a concert brigade as a dancer, juggler, and illusionist. As with all members of the military, he had to fight as well. In 1942, Dadaev was badly wounded during the Russian liberation of Grozny. His family was notified that Dadaev was dead. This is where his life as Stalin’s double begins.