I’ve been listening to biographies for the last couple of years, just to branch out of theology and biblical studies. Having made my way through some of the big “good” WW2 allies (FDR, Churchill, De Gaulle), I figured it was time to work my way around to the other side, so I picked up Simon Montefiore’s work Stalin: The Court of the Red Czar. There’s much to be astonished at when surveying the life and legacy of this prolific butcher, statesmen, spy, tyrant, mass-murderer, and generalissimo, but I think the most surprising thing so far was finding out how good he was with kids. Apparently they loved him. At least early on.
Stalin had issues with many of his sons, but by all accounts he doted on his daughter Svetlana as a child. He used to tease his magnates’ children at the dinner table, throwing orange peels in their ice cream, joking with them, and so forth. Once, when one of their children called into the office asking for him so that he could help them on their math homework (could have been Malenkov, I can’t remember), Stalin told the child he was unavailable and then helped them with their homework over the phone. All of this while he was orchestrating the terror and having their parents arrested and tortured in Beria’s dungeons or something similarly horrible.
I don’t have a much say beyond two quick points.
Stalin being good with kids makes his legacy all the more terrifying. It’s one thing to think of a cartoonish, inhuman, supervillain being guilty of Stalin’s staggering crimes. It’s quite another to connect them with the face of a one-time friendly neighbor, a tutor, someone whom many plausibly experienced as “Uncle Joe”, (despite the fact that the Roosevelt admin gave him the name ironically). It chills the bones.
Secondly, this sure puts flesh on Jesus’s saying, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:13).
Soli Deo Gloria