The Children of History's Monsters

When the Nazis captured Stalin’s son during their invasion of Russia, it was a huge propaganda coup. Wikipedia.

6. Yakov Dzhugashvili might have been Stalin’s son, but the dictator was happy to see him killed by the Nazis

Yakov Dzhugashvili did not get along with his father. In fact, the two hated each other. Which was bad news for Yakov, since his father was Josef Stalin, one of the cruelest tyrants who ever lived. In fact, Stalin despised his son so much that, according to most historians, he was happy to have him killed in the opening months of the Second World War.

Yakov was born to Stalin and his first wife, Kato Svanidze, in 1907. Tragedy struck early. Kato died when her boy was less than a year old, and Yakov was sent to live with his aunts. At 14, he left his hometown in Georgia and went to Moscow to pursue his university studies. He also hoped to get married, though his partner-to-be was a Jewish girl. When Stalin learned of this, he ordered his estranged son to end the union. Famously, Yakov was so distraught that he attempted to kill himself. But instead of shooting himself in the heart, the bullet entered his lungs and his lived. Stalin is reported to have quipped: “He can’t even shoot straight!”

When Russia went to war against Nazi Germany, Yakov served as a lieutenant in the Red Army. In July 1941, he was taken prisoner. The Germans offered to trade Stalin’s son for one of their own officers. Stalin flatly refused. Some say he believed Yakov actively surrendered, though even if he was taken prisoner, it was still testament to Stalin’s ruthlessness. With no prisoner exchange deal on the table, Yakov was taken to a Nazi concentration camp. He died a prisoner in April 1943, most probably by suicide. While the Soviet press mourned his death, Stalin did not, nor did he show any remorse at their fractured relationship.

Yakov had two children of his own, and both survived the Second World War. His son went on to serve as a colonel in the Soviet Air Force, while his daughter worked as a translator. Both actively worked to challenge the official accounts of their grandfather’s account. They maintained that he was not a coward who surrendered to the Nazis at the earliest possible opportunities but a brave defender of the Motherland.