Monday 10 September 2007
Galina Yakovlevna Dzhugashvili, translator: born Moscow 1939; married (one son); died Moscow 27 August 2007.
Galina Dzhugashvili was the granddaughter of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin (né Dzhugashvili), and a survivor in a family many of whose members were imprisoned or poisoned, or who committed suicide. Her father, Lt Yakov Dzhugashvili, was the bullied and unloved eldest son of Stalin by his marriage to Yekaterina Svanidze. Galina's mother was Julia Meltser, a well-known Jewish beauty and cabaret dancer from Odessa who was married to her second husband, Nikolai Bessarab, when she met Yakov at one of Stalin's receptions. He became infatuated with her: there was a fight at the reception and shortly afterwards Yakov organised Julia's divorce from Bessarab and married her as his third wife. Bessarab was later arrested by the NKVD, Stalin's secret police, and executed. Stalin, who often humiliated his son – to the point where Yakov once even tried to commit suicide – was against all his marriages .
Galina (known as Galya) saw her father for the last time when she was three years old. He was taken prisoner by the Germans three weeks after the beginning of war in the Soviet Union in 1941 and was kept at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. After Stalin refused the exchange of his son for Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus (commander of the 6th Army at Stalingrad) – "we do not exchange marshals for soldiers" – offered by the German High Command, Yakov Dzhugashvili, according to one account, threw himself on the barbed-wire fence or, according to another version, was shot by a guard when he came close to the fence. He died on 14 April 1943.
Galya told me she believed that Stalin had tried to save her father; that there had been three attempts to free him from the camp which failed. Twice, she said, a group of Chekist operatives tried to break in to the camp and one attempt was made by Communist operatives from Spain who lived in exile in Moscow after the Spanish Civil War.
Stalin regarded Russian prisoners of war as traitors. He had been furious when he was told that his son was a POW in Germany. Julia was arrested shortly afterwards and spent nearly two years in the Lubianka, the notorious Moscow Cheka prison. She had been in Germany before the war for medical reasons and was accused of maintaining connections with some of those she had met there and probably influencing her husband. "This was a lie", Galya said. She also told me that her mother was released from prison by Stalin's security officer, General Nikolai Vlasik. But there were rumours that Julia had become Vlasik's mistress.
Galya Dzhugashvili, when I met her for the first time in 1990, was a stunning beauty, an elegant and intelligent woman. She worked all her life as a French translator and was married to an Algerian Communist living in exile in Moscow. I once asked her whether she was afraid of Stalin. "Of course we were afraid of him," she said, "but behind his toughness, Stalin was like everybody else; he had his weaknesses. Sometimes he visited me and Svetlana, his daughter, at a dacha where one time we lived together - Stalin had five dachas - and he used to say: "You look very much like your father" so he loved us children, otherwise he wouldn't say such words."
During perestroika Galya and her husband lived in poverty, as the institute where she worked as a translator was closed. They only survived thanks to the foreign currency her husband received from Algiers. Their son, Selim, was born severely handicapped.
For many years she was busy with a memoir trying to prove that her father did not surrender to the Germans, and that he had behaved honourably. Recently her book "Mystery of Stalin's Family: my grandfather and my father" appeared under the name Galina Yakovlevna Dzhugashvili-Stalin, and it was claimed she "had disclosed Stalin's many secrets". The name "Stalin" was added no doubt by the publishers.
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