Mistakes All Around
Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs.
- Joseph Stalin
Josef and Nadezhda in better days
by Jerry Tallmer
Review of a documentary film by Slava Tsukerman in English and Russian, with English subtitles about Josef Stalin and his brutalized wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva
She was 16, he was 39.
That’s not so unusual, but the 39-year-old in this case was the a rough-hewn Georgian from Tiflis named Iosif Vissanonovich Dzhugashvili, back from 4 years exile in Siberia just in time for the Revolution ... though on the great dangerous day itself, 7 November 1917 (old calendar), he was, as they say, nowhere to be found. Be that as it may, during the next 3½ decades this gentleman, Joseph Stalin, who in 1919, having lost an earlier wife to typhus, became the husband of 16-year-old Nadezhda Alliluyeva, would directly or indirectly be responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of human beings.
Was one of those millions she herself, that onetime child bride? And had he raped her, during a train ride, at night, before he married her? Was he in fact not only her husband but (a la John Huston in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown) her father? "The devil himself knows whose daughter you are, maybe mine," he had bellowed at her when the fury was upon him. At that, Stalin might not improbably have been one of the many revolutionaries whom Nadezhda’s mother, strong-willed free-thinking Olga Federenko, took to bed now and again. We know that Olga thought her daughter too young and Stalin too old for them to marry.
Natasha Alliluyeva probably didn’t say anything. Her prettiness, according to photographs, was of the somewhat bovine sort, and on top of that, all during her 14 years with Stalin (that is, the 14 remaining years of her life) she’d been "forcing herself to be dull" we are told. She’d also had 10 abortions (plus 2 children, Vasili and Svetlana). We are told these and many other fascinating things ... "truths, lies, contradictions" ... in a 104-minute documentary film called Stalin’s Wife, made by Slava Tsukerman, resident of Greenwich Village on 14th Street where he has lived with his wife and co-producer, Nina V Kerova, for 20 years.
"You’ll recognise him," press rep Samantha Dean had said. "He’s short and round and, well, he looks like a Russian." And so he does. A short, rotund Russian. Jovial. Jewish. Round pink face. Round head. Cannonball crown. Fringe of greying back hair behind the ears, like a lamp shade. Intelligence bubbling from the eyes, like champagne.
Now about those 10 abortions ...
"I’ve seen the documents!" Tsukerman exclaims. "At the Russian National Archives! Held them in my hand! In Russia," he said (with fewer exclamation marks) "many women have more than 10 abortions." Slava (Vladislav) Tsukerman got out of Russia in 1973; he has only vestigial, fragmented, small-boy memories of growing up under Stalin. "He was like a god. When I was 6 or 7 years old, I remember standing with a neighbour boy on a 5th-floor balcony. He said to me: ‘If Stalin ordered it, would you jump?’ And I said yes."
Moscow: Novo-Devichy Convent and Cemetery, grave of Nadezhda Alliluyeva-Stalina,
The film opens with the profile, in stone, of a beautiful woman. It is the flattering, idealised carving over the tomb of Nadezhda Alliluyeva Stalin in Moscow’s Novo-Devichy Monastery cemetery (considered a government cemetery, burial there is allowed only with the permission of someone is high quarters). "Her burial there is very unusual," said Tsukerman. "Most Communist leaders are buried in the Kremlin walls. She lies surrounded by famous artists and writers. There were legends that Stalin would come at night and sit there. I think I remember that." The film paints a picture of the hell on earth in which Nadezhda lived with a husband who slept where he wanted to, fathered various illegitimate children, drove his son Jakov (from his first marriage) to attempt suicide and then sneered at him for botching the job ("Here’s the way you shoot yourself!"), abused and insulted the pain-wracked Nadezhda over the years, threw cigarette butts at her, raved drunkenly at her.
Finally, in a phrase Tsukerman borrowed from Tolstoy, "The screw had screwed out." Her personality was used up. On or about 7 November 1932, the 15th anniversary of the Revolutionary, Nadezhda Alliluveya went upstairs to bed; when the housekeeper came to wake her in the morning, she found the lady of the house dead, shot through the right temple, a pistol on the bed beside her. But Nadezhsda Alliluveya, though left-handed, was shot through the right temple and there were no powder marks on her. She’d left a letter: There is no getting away from him, it said. The doctor who did the autopsy reported she was shot from a distance of 4 metres. (That doctor was subsequently executed.)
So what does Slava Tsukerman think? Was she shoved or did she jump? Did she commit suicide or was she murdered? "Everybody asks me this question," he said. "When I started on this film, I didn’t believe in any of the legends. I believed her suicide was perfectly logical, made perfect sense. Lots of great Russian poets and other people were committing suicide around that time. "But! When I started to study the whole thing, I found too many documents [leading to the conclusion] that he killed her.
"Was she Stalin’s daughter? Even that, like an ancient Greek fantasy, or the tragedy Œdipus Rex, even that is very probable. These days, it is easy enough to find out through DNA testing - all one would have to do is exhume Nadezhda. "I’m not afraid to use a strong word about the Russians," the filmmaker said. "They are a pagan people. Look how many changes there have been of men in power, and all of them were afraid to take Lenin out of that tomb."
Slava Tsukerman already made a deep imprint on Greenwich Villagers and filmgoers in general with his Liquid Sky, characterised by him as "a movie about punks, rock-and-roll, and sex" that "was a huge event at the Waverly Theatre" in 1983 and has played here and there ever since. "A lot of people say it was weirdest movie ever made, realistic and surrealistic at the same time. Nobody expected me to return to documentaries - I didn’t expect it myself." But one day a couple of years ago he received a call from a producer friend of long standing, a woman in Moscow named Myra Todorovsky. "She told me there was a book out in Russia about Stalin’s wife, a book of fiction." What now was needed was fact. "I called an American producer with whom I’d worked, and so we made the movie. This project took me longer than anything else in my life. Usually I’m very fast. This took a year and a half."
The son of a doctor (Stalin was the son of an incompetent, abusive cobbler), Tsukerman was one of the few Jews admitted to Russia’s National Film School on the basis of a prize-winning 10-minute short, I Believe in Spring, about "small love between a boy and girl." Graduating with honours in 4 years instead of the usual 5, he was, in Russia "where everything was regulated," dispatched to a studio that made scientific educational films, "a strange genre, impossible to put into ordinary terms." He became, he says, "very famous in the Russian newspapers, even Pravda, not because I was young and talented but because of my name, Tsukerman, which was like a bomb" to anti-Semites. "To pursue my career, I needed to do two things: change my name, and become a member of the Communist Party. I never did either one."
In 1973 he emigrated to Israel. "There was some chance you leave, some chance you stay forever. It was a game. I was lucky." In Israel, his new boss said: "You know nothing about Israeli life and everything about Russian life, so go make a film about the Russian church in Jerusalem." Slava did and it won prizes. "He was right." In 1976 Slava made it to the US and soon thereafter to Greenwich Village. But certain things don't change. "This film provokes on the Internet so many letters from Russia saying things like: ‘We don’t want to discuss anything that a shit with a name like Tsukerman has to say." What Tsukerman has to say is what the statistics have to say: between 1935 and 1941, following the death of Nadezhda Alliluyeva, 19 million citizens of the Soviet Union were arrested and 7 million of them died. Maybe, Slava Tsukerman theorises, if Joseph Stalin had only had a softer, more compliant, more mature, less self-willed dullard of a wife, who knows?
Source: thevillager.com The Villager Volume 74, Number 50 | 20 - 26 April 2005
Gulag Is an Acronym of "Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei" - Russian for "Main Camp Administration"
Stalin's son, Jakov Dzhugashvili (to whom his father had given a sarcastic lesson in how to commit suicide), was a 2nd Lieutenant in the artillery corps. He was captured on 16 May 1942 and interned in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp where he was later shot while trying to escape (although some sources say he - finally successfully? - committed suicide). In 1943, an attempt was made by the Germans to exchange Jakov for Field Marshal Paulus who was captured after the fall of Stalingrad. The request was refused by Stalin. Although he (supposedly) grieved for his son, he was quoted as saying, "I will not exchange a private for a Field Marshal!"
Over two million Soviet prisoners of war were liberated by the Red Army. All were to suffer at the hands of Stalin who always maintained that Russia had no POW's, all were considered traitors to the Motherland for allowing themselves to be captured.
There is some indication that Stalin was in fact poisoned by Laventi Beria, his secret police chief. According to Stalin's daughter (who hated the police chief), Beria seemed gleefully pleased at Stalin's death and forced the family to vacate quarters within a couple of days - perhaps anticipating (wrongly, as it turned out) that he would be chosen to live there instead? It was even reported that he bragged to Molotov that he had poisoned Stalin - indeed, the symptoms of the poison he said he used would have mimicked that of a stroke (the official cause of death). But perhaps that was merely wishful thinking on Beria's part?
in the ensuing struggle for power Beria was arrested on charges of conspiracy. He and six alleged accomplices were tried secretly and shot in December 1953. Despite partial opening of Soviet archives since 1991, most of the Beria-related material remains classified. Memoirs by the people close to Beria, such as his son Sergo Beria and a former Soviet foreign intelligence chief Pavel Sudoplatov deny these charges and draw a very different portrait of Beria.
Stalin's daughter, Svetlana, lives in a nursing home in the west of England. She no longer gives interviews.
Journal Reveals Hitler's Dysfunctional Family
Adolf Hitler (circled) with his fellow pupils at school in Lambach, Austria
by Krysia Diver
Beaten by his father, the future dictator used to bully his sister...
Two historians yesterday acclaimed the discovery in Germany of a journal written by Adolf Hitler's sister, saying it offers remarkable insights into the dysfunctional nature of the Führer's family. Paula Hitler's journal, unearthed at an undisclosed location in Germany, reveals that her brother was a bully in his teens, and would beat her. Recounting the earliest memories of her childhood, when she was around 8 and Adolf was 15, Paula wrote: "Once again I feel my brother's loose hand across my face."
The typewritten journal is among an assortment of documents which have been disclosed by historians Timothy Ryback and Florian Beierl. Dr Ryback is the head of Germany's Obersalzberg Institute of Contemporary History, which is dedicated to research into Hitler, while Mr Beierl has written several books about the Nazi party leader and Third Reich chancellor. They said that scientific tests had verified the documents' authenticity.
Other insights include the revelation that Paula, always thought of as the innocent bystander of the Hitler family, was engaged to one of the Holocaust's most notorious euthanasia doctors. Dr Ryback told the Guardian: "This is the first time that we have been able to get an insight into the Hitler family from a very young age. "Adolf was the older brother and father figure. He was very strict with Paula and slapped her around. But she justified it in a starry-eyed way, because she believed it was for the good of her education."
The two historians have also located a joint memoir by Hitler's half-brother, Alois, and half-sister, Angela. One excerpt describes the violence exercised by Hitler's father, also called Alois, and how Adolf's mother tried to protect her son from regular beatings. "Fearing that the father could no longer control himself in his unbridled rage, she [Adolf's mother] decides to put an end to the beating. "She goes up to the attic, covers Adolf who is lying on the floor, but cannot deflect the father's final blow. Without a sound she absorbs it."
Mr Beierl said: "This is a picture of a completely dysfunctional family that the public has never seen before. The terror of the Third Reich was cultivated in Hitler's own home." Mr Beierl's research also led him to Russian interrogation papers, which exposed the fact that Paula Hitler was engaged to Erwin Jekelius, responsible for gassing 4,000 people during the war. Mr Beierl said: "Until this point, Paula Hitler had a clean slate. But the portrayal of her being a poor little creature has suddenly shifted. In my opinion, the fact that she was due to marry one of Austria's worst criminals means that she was also connected with death, horror and gas chambers."
And Dr Ryback added: "To me, discovering that Paula was going to marry Jekelius is one of the most astonishing revelations of my career. She bought into the whole thing - hook, line and sinker."
Paula, who later lived under the pseudonym Wolf, did not marry Jekelius, as the wedding was forbidden by her brother. Dr Ryback said: "It was like a scene from Monty Python. Jekelius goes to Berlin to ask Hitler for his sister's hand; he is met by the Gestapo, shipped off to the Eastern front, and snapped up by the Russians."
Other eye-opening documents that shed light on the Hitler household include a family account book. One entry mentions a loan of 900 Austrian crowns given to Hitler in the spring of 1908, enough for the teenager to live on for one year, and dispels the myth that he existed as a "starving artist" when in Vienna.
The historians were asked to carry out their extensive research almost 6 years ago for the German television station ZDF. Their findings, due to be broadcast in a 45-minute documentary in Germany next week, also include interviews with two of Hitler's relatives. Dr Ryback said: "This is the first time that these people have spoken publicly about living under the shadow of Hitler. They do not romanticise their past. They are very humble and have suffered their whole lives under the curse of Adolf. It is an incredible closing of a loop: Hitler came from a family of poor farmers. After he rose and fell as a dictator, his family today is back where they started."
Hitler's relatives requested to remain anonymous in the documentary and their faces are digitally altered.
Krysia Diver wrote from Stuttgart
Source: guardian.co.uk The Guardian 4 August 2005 photo credit Three Lions/Getty Images
The photos and films taken immediately after the blast were confiscated and suppressed by the US government for more than 60 years.
On the Winning Side: Curtis LeMay's Brand of Hell
by Mickey Z
This month marks a grim reminder: 58 years since General Curtis LeMay, head of the 21st US Bomber Command, brought his brand of hell into the Pacific theatre.
Acting upon General George C Marshall's 1941 idea of torching the poorer areas of Japan's cities, on the night of 9 - 10 March 1945, LeMay's bombers laid siege on Tokyo. Tightly packed wooden buildings were assaulted by 1,665 tons of incendiaries. LeMay later recalled that a few explosives had been mixed in with the incendiaries to demoralize firefighters (96 fire engines burned to ashes and 88 firemen died).
One Japanese doctor recalled "countless bodies" floating in the Sumida River. These bodies were "as black as charcoal" and indistinguishable as men or women. The total dead for one night was an estimated 85,000, with 40,000 injured and one million left homeless. This was only the first strike in a firebombing campaign that dropped 250 tons of bombs per square mile, destroying 40% of the surface area in 66 death-list cities (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki). The attack area was 87.4% residential.
It is believed that more people died from fire in a 6-hour time period than ever before in the history of mankind. At ground zero, the temperature reached 1,800° Fahrenheit. Flames from the ensuing inferno were visible for 200 miles. Due to the intense heat, canals boiled over, metals melted, and human beings burst spontaneously into flames.
By May 1945, 75% of the bombs being dropped on Japan were incendiaries. Cheered on by the likes of Time magazine - who explained that "properly kindled, Japanese cities will burn like autumn leaves" - LeMay's campaign took an estimated 672,000 lives. Radio Tokyo termed LeMay's tactics "slaughter bombing" and the Japanese press declared that through the fire raids, "America has revealed her barbaric character... It was an attempt at mass murder of women and children... The action of the Americans is all the more despicable because of the noisy pretensions they constantly make about their humanity and idealism... No one expects war to be anything but a brutal business, but it remains for the Americans to make it systematically and unnecessarily a wholesale horror for innocent victims."
Rather than denying this, a spokesman for the 5th Air Force categorised "the entire population of Japan [as] a proper military target." Colonel Harry F Cunningham explained the US policy in no uncertain terms: "We military men do not pull punches or put on Sunday School picnics. We are making War and making it in the all-out fashion which saves American lives, shortens the agony which War is and seeks to bring about an enduring Peace. We intend to seek out and destroy the enemy wherever he or she is, in the greatest possible numbers, in the shortest possible time. For us, THERE ARE NO CIVILIANS IN JAPAN."
On the morning of 6 August 1945, before the Hiroshima story broke, a page 1 headline in the Atlanta Constitution read: 580 B-29s RAIN FIRE ON 4 MORE DEATH-LIST CITIES. Ironically, the success of LeMay's firebombing raids had effectively eliminated Tokyo from the list of possible A-bomb targets - there was nothing left to bomb. LeMay's was later US Air Force chief of staff from 1961 to 1965 when he immortalized himself by declaring his desire to "bomb [the North Vietnamese] back into the Stone Age." LeMay also served as vice presidential candidate on George Wallace's 1968 ticket. When asked about his role in the Tokyo firebombing, he remarked: "I suppose if I had lost the war, I would have been tried as a war criminal. Fortunately, we were on the winning side."
Mickey Z is the author of Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of "The Good War" on which this article is based. He can be reached at: email@example.com
Source: counterpunch.org 3 March 2003
How Good Was the Good War?
by Geoffrey Wheatcroft
On 8 May 1945, the war against Hitler’s Third Reich was won - and some of the victors’ most cherished myths were born...
"No English soldier who rode with the tanks into liberated Belgium or saw the German murder camps at Dachau or Buchenwald could doubt that the war had been a noble crusade." Forty years ago the historian A J P Taylor eloquently expressed what has become a universal belief. Other wars are looked back on with horror for their futile slaughter, but the conflict that ended in Europe in May 1945 is today seen as what Studs Terkel called his famous oral history of it: "The Good War."
In one way it will always remain so. A revisionist case, that defeating Hitler was a mistake, would be not only perverse and offensive, but simply absurd. And yet we have all been sustained since V-E Day, 60 years ago today, by what Giovanni Giolitti, the Italian prime minister of a century ago, once called "beautiful national legends." By "we" I mean the countries that ended the war on the winning side (the Germans and Japanese have some national legends of their own).
Some of these legends are more obvious than others. The French suffered a catastrophic defeat in 1940, and the compromises many Frenchmen made with their conquerors thereafter ranged from the pitiful to the wicked. More Frenchmen collaborated than resisted, and during the course of the war more Frenchmen bore arms on the Axis than on the Allied side. Against those grim truths, Charles de Gaulle consciously and brilliantly constructed a nourishing myth of Free France and Resistance that helped heal wounds and rebuild the country.
Other myths about the war have grown up less deliberately. For Americans, the first national legend concerns the very definition of World War II. In recent decades it has come more and more to mean the war against Hitler’s Germany. But for the American people at the time, "the war" meant the Pacific war. That was where the first and last American blood was spilled, where America was engaged in combat the longest, and where Americans for most of the time watched the war unfold.
Funnily enough, when President Bush says that the war on terror, like World War II, began with a surprise attack on America, he is echoing that original perception. To say that the war started with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 (which is what he means) will come as a surprise to Europeans and especially the Poles, who have an idea it began on 1 September 1939, when the Wehrmacht invaded their country. And yet Bush is harking back unconsciously to the days when the war for America meant "The Sands of Iwo Jima," rather than Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers.
The reason for the subtle shift in American perception is easy to see. If a purely evil regime ever existed, it was the Third Reich, and if any war ever had a moral purpose it must have been the war fought to end its mad persecution. By contrast the morality of the Pacific war was much less clear-cut. To be sure, Japan launched that surprise attack, and Japanese troops behaved horribly to American, British, and Australian POWs and much worse to the Asian peoples they conquered. Still, the Marines scarcely pretended to take prisoners (even when the Japanese wanted to surrender), while the score for Pearl Harbor was more than settled at Hiroshima.
Apart from the way it was fought, that war was pretty much a traditional contest for imperial hegemony. The Philippines did not belong to Japan by right, nor to America. And while the Third Reich practiced a kind of evil different in kind even from Japanese atrocities, the Germans were never demonised and dehumanised in American propaganda and popular culture as the Japanese were a difference grimly reflected in the way Japanese-Americans were interned but German-Americans were not.
For my own country the first nourishing myth is that "we won the war." It’s true that only the British, along with their Commonwealth and Empire, took part in the war from its start in September 1939 to its end in August 1945; true too that British defiance of Hitler in the year from June 1940 to June 1941 was absolutely crucial. But the British, as they knew even at the time, could only play a negative part by not surrendering. They could not defeat Hitler on their own, but had to wait for him to bring about his own doom, by invading Russia in June 1941 and declaring war on the United States (rather than the other way round, be it remembered) in December. Even then, others did the fighting. The best description of how Hitler was defeated was Stalin’s. The old monster said that England provided the time, America provided the money, and Russia provided the blood.
Not only did it take the Western Allies nearly 3 years after the German attack on Russia seriously to engage the German army in Normandy, but even then most of the fighting was still on the other side of Europe. In the campaign from D-Day to V-E Day, something like 110,000 American soldiers were killed, as well as about half as many from the combined British-Canadian armies. That sounds formidable, and indeed is by today’s standards, until you remember that in the same 11-month period more than half a million Russians were killed on the Eastern Front. Leaving aside the respective Allied casualties, to see how the war was won you need only compare 2 figures. In all the western campaigns of the war against French, British, Americans, and troops of many other lands, some 200,000 German soldiers died. Four million Germans died on the Eastern Front.
Behind this lies an awkward truth, one we didn’t learn in the cheerful war comics and books of my boyhood in the 1950s, but on which all serious military historians are now agreed. From the beginning to the end of that war, whenever the British Army met the Wehrmacht on anything like equal terms, the Germans always prevailed. And that pretty much goes for the US Army too, from their first disastrous encounter with the Germans, at Kasserine Pass in North Africa, in early 1943. American and British commanders always took good care thereafter that they had an overwhelming superiority in men and especially in weaponry before engaging the enemy.
That is not a cause for shame. The British were haunted by memories of the Great War and its vast carnage. As much to the point, Great Britain and the US were democracies. Their soldiers were not brutalised peasants, or even an "army of mercenaries," as A E Housman called the 1914 British regular army. As the British military historian Max Hastings puts it in his excellent recent book Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944 - 1945 (Pan), they were citizens in uniform, and they could not be treated as German or Russian soldiers were.
For that fighting spirit of the Germans had another side to it. Hitler ruled by glamour and terror; his soldiers were driven by fear as well as zeal. In a war during which no British soldier, and only one GI, was shot for cowardice, at least 15,000 German servicemen were executed for dereliction of duty. And that went for the Russians even more so. A heroic Russian narrative of the war, and the memory of the tens of millions of Russian dead, is still potent and plays a part in the sinister nostalgia for Stalin resurfacing in Russia but Russian heroism also has to be qualified.
We now know that in the first winter of the war on the Eastern Front in 1941 - 1942, more than 8,000 Russian soldiers died not in action but shot by their own army for cowardice or desertion. During the battle of Stalingrad alone, another 12,000 men of the Red Army were put to death pour encourager les autres. This was a regime fighting a desperate war that could nevertheless put to death well over a full infantry division of its own men. On the other hand, the Russians relaxed at the end of the war, with Stalin’s encouragement, by indulging in the greatest act of gang rape in history against millions of women in Hungary, Austria, and eastern Germany.
For the Western Allies, the "good war" was compromised in other ways, particularly by the bombing campaign that reduced the cities of Germany to rubble. Here is another somber comparison, between the 300,000 British servicemen killed in the war and the 600,000 German civilians killed by Allied mainly British bombing. At the time consciences were numbed the war had to be won, and "they had it coming" but it is not now easy to look back with pride on the scores of thousands of women and children incinerated in Hamburg in July 1943 or Dresden in February 1945.
Nor on the other moral compromises at the war’s end. Great Britain did not go to war to save the Jews from Hitler’s torment (and did not succeed) but to protect the freedom and integrity of Poland, an aim that Churchill, with Roosevelt’s encouragement, abandoned at Yalta. Worse still was the forcible repatriation of prisoners to torture and death in Russia and Yugoslavia. And yet all this was not simply conspiracy or betrayal: The Iron Curtain, with half of Europe under Soviet rule, was a painful but logical consequence of the way the West had let Russia do most of the fighting.
Was it "a noble crusade"? For the liberation of western Europe, maybe so. Was it a just war? That tricky theological concept has to be weighed against very many injustices. Was it a good war? The phrase itself is dubious. No, there are no good wars, but there are necessary wars, and this was surely one.
Geoffrey Wheatcroft is an English journalist and author. His most recent book is The Strange Death of Tory England.
Source: boston.com/news 8 May 2005
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