Death and State Funeral of Joseph Stalin
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Death and State Funeral of Joseph Stalin
Death and state funeral of Joseph Stalin
Stalin's funeral procession on Okhotny Ryad.jpg
Stalin's funeral procession on Okhotny Ryad [ru]
Date9 March 1953; 68 years ago (1953-03-09)
LocationRed Square, Moscow, Soviet Union
ParticipantsNikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lavrentiy Beria and other Soviet and foreign dignitaries

Joseph Stalin, second leader of the Soviet Union, died on 5 March 1953 at the Kuntsevo Dacha, aged 74, after suffering a stroke. He was given a state funeral, with four days of national mourning declared. His body was subsequently embalmed and interred in Lenin's & Stalin's Mausoleum until 1961. Nikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov and Lavrentiy Beria were in charge of organizing the funeral.

Illness and death

Stalin's health deteriorated towards the end of World War II. He suffered from atherosclerosis as a result of heavy smoking, a mild stroke around the time of the Victory Parade in May 1945, and a severe heart attack in October 1945.[1]

The last three days of Stalin's life have been described in detail, first in the official Soviet announcements in Pravda, and then in a complete English translation which followed shortly thereafter in the Current Digest of the Soviet Press.[2] As described by Volkogonov,[3] on 28 February 1953, Stalin and a small number of his inner circle, consisting of Malenkov, Molotov, Beria, and Khrushchev and a few others, gathered together for an evening of entertainment and drinking. The guests dispersed at approximately 4:00 a.m. on 1 March and Stalin retired to his private quarters with strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed until sounds were heard indicating that he had awakened. Time passed and no sounds were heard throughout the day. At approximately 11:00 p.m. on 1 March, his housekeeper cautiously entered his room and found him lying on the floor, wearing his pajama trousers and a shirt. He was unconscious, breathing heavily, incontinent, and unresponsive to attempts to rouse him.

At 7:00 a.m. on 2 March, Beria and a group of medical experts were summoned to examine him. Based on their examination, which revealed a blood pressure of 190/110 and a right-sided hemiplegia, they concluded that Stalin, who had a known history of uncontrolled hypertension, had sustained a hemorrhagic stroke involving the left middle cerebral artery. Over the next two days, he received a variety of treatments. In an attempt to decrease his blood pressure, which had risen to 210/120, two separate applications of eight leeches each were applied to his neck and face over the next two days. However, his condition continued to deteriorate, and despite the doctors' efforts to save him, Stalin died at 9:50 p.m. on 5 March 1953.

Stalin's body was then taken to an unspecified location and an autopsy performed, after which it was embalmed for public viewing. Attempts to locate the original autopsy report have been unsuccessful until recently,[4][5] but the most important findings were reported in a special bulletin in Pravda on 7 March 1953, as follows:

"Pathological-Anatomical Examination of the Body of J. V. Stalin"

Pathologic examination revealed a large hemorrhage, localized to the area of subcortical centers of the left cerebral hemisphere. This hemorrhage destroyed important areas of the brain and resulted in irreversible changes in the respiration and circulation. In addition to the brain hemorrhage, there were found significant hypertrophy of the left ventricle (of the heart), numerous hemorrhages in the myocardium, in the stomach and intestinal mucosa; atherosclerotic changes in the vessels, more prominent in the cerebral arteries. These are the result of hypertension. The results of the pathologic examination revealed the irreversible character of J.V. Stalin's disease from the moment of brain hemorrhage. Therefore, all treatment attempts could not have led to a favorable outcome and prevent a fatal end."[6]

As summarized above, rather than suggesting a plot by Beria, on whom suspicion fell for his purportedly telling Molotov "I took him out"[7] at one point, and his seemingly willful delay in obtaining medical treatment for Stalin, the physical changes seen during autopsy were consistent with extracranial changes that often occur in stroke victims. Lavrenti Beria's son, Sergio Beria, later recounted that after Stalin's death, his mother Nina informed her husband that "Your position now is even more precarious than when Stalin was alive."[8] This turned out to be correct; several months later, in June 1953, Beria was arrested and charged with a variety of crimes but, significantly, none relating to Stalin's death.[9] He subsequently was executed at the order of his former Politburo colleagues, but there are conflicting stories as to when and where this occurred.[10][11]

Funeral service

On 6 March, the coffin with Stalin's body was put on display at the Hall of Columns in the House of the Unions, remaining there for three days.[12] On 9 March, the body was delivered to Red Square[13] prior to interment in Lenin's Mausoleum (where it would lie in state until 1961).[14][15] Speeches were delivered by Khrushchev, Malenkov, Molotov, and Beria, after which pallbearers carried the coffin to the mausoleum. As Stalin's body was being interred, a moment of silence was observed nationwide at noon Moscow time. As the bells of the Kremlin tower chimed the hour, sirens and horns wailed nationwide along with a 21-gun salute fired from within the precincts of the Kremlin. Similar observances were also held in other Warsaw Pact countries and China, Mongolia and North Korea. Immediately after the silence ended, a military band played the Soviet State Anthem, and then a military parade of the Moscow Garrison in Stalin's honor. In the public's efforts to pay their respects to Stalin, a number of people were crushed and trampled to death.[16] Khrushchev later provided an estimate that 109 people died in the crowd, although the real number of deaths may have been in the thousands.[17][18]

Foreign dignitaries in attendance

According to Ogoniok, the mourners included the following foreign dignitaries:[19]

Czechoslovak leader Gottwald died shortly after attending Stalin's funeral on 14 March 1953 after one of his arteries burst.[21]

Other foreign tributes

Fearing their departure might encourage rivals within the ranks of the Party of Labour of Albania, neither Prime Minister Enver Hoxha nor Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Shehu risked traveling to Moscow to attend the funeral, with Hoxha instead pledging eternal allegiance to the late Soviet leader.[22]

Guatemalan officials in the government of Jacobo Árbenz eulogized Stalin as a "great statesman and leader ... whose passing is mourned by all progressive men".[23] The Guatemalan Congress paid tribute to Stalin with a "minute of silence".[24]


See also


  1. ^ Medvedev, Zhores A. (2006). The Unknown Stalin. London: I.B. Tauris. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-85043-980-6.
  2. ^ "Announcement of Stalin's Illness and Death". The Current Digest of the Soviet Press. V (6): 24. 1953.
  3. ^ Volkogonov, D. (1999). Autopsy for an Empire. The Free Press.
  4. ^ Chigirin, I (2018). Stalin, Illness and Death. Moscow: Publisher Veche. ISBN 978-5-4484-0279-1.
  5. ^ Barth, Rolf F.; Brodsky, Sergey V.; Ruzic, Miroljub (2019). "What did Joseph Stalin really die of? A reappraisal of his illness, death, and autopsy findings". Cardiovascular Pathology. 40: 55-58. doi:10.1016/j.carpath.2019.02.003. PMID 30870795.
  6. ^ Pravda, vol. 66, no. 1264, p. 2, March 7, 1953 (translated by S. Brodsky and M. Ruzic)
  7. ^ Radzinsky, E (1997). Stalin. Anchor Books.
  8. ^ Beria, S (2001). My Father: Inside Stalin's Kremlin. Gerald Duckworth, and Co. Ltd.
  9. ^ Knight, A (1993). Beria: Stalin's First Lieutenant. Princeton University Press.
  10. ^ Knight, A (1993). Beria: Stalin's First Lieutenant. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  11. ^ Beria, S. (2001). My Father: Inside Stalin's Kremlin. Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd.
  12. ^ Ganjushin, Alexander (6 March 2013). "Joseph Stalin's funeral: how it happened". Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Retrieved 2018 – via Russia Beyond. On 6 March, the coffin with Stalin's body was displayed at the Hall of Columns in the House of Trade Unions.
  13. ^ "The Manhoff Archive: Stalin's Funeral - Part One". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 2019.
  14. ^ Ganjushin, Alexander (5 March 2013). "Russia on the day of Stalin's funeral: A photo look back". Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Retrieved 2018 – via Russia Beyond. On 9 March, Stalin's embalmed body was interred in the Lenin Mausoleum, which was renamed the Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum from 1953 to 1961.
  15. ^ Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Why Did Russia Move Stalin's Body?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2017.
  16. ^ Evtushenko, Evgenii (1963). "Mourners Crushed at Stalin's Funeral". Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Retrieved 2018.
  17. ^ Khlevniuk, Oleg (2017). Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-21978-4.
  18. ^ Langewiesche, William (9 January 2018). "The 10-Minute Mecca Stampede That Made History". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2020.
  19. ^ "Mourning of millions". Ogoniok. 11 (1344). 15 March 1953.
  20. ^ Tikka, Juha-Pekka (18 October 2017). "Kun Josif Stalin kuoli - näin Urho Kekkonen ryntäsi tilaisuuteen" [When Josef Stalin died - Urho Kekkonen rushed to the event]. Verkkouutiset (in Finnish). Retrieved 2017.
  21. ^ "Czechoslovakia: Death No. 2". TIME. 23 March 1953. Retrieved 2019.
  22. ^ Pearson, Owen (8 September 2006). Albania as Dictatorship and Democracy. I.B. Tauris. p. 454. ISBN 978-1-84511-105-2.
  23. ^ Gleijeses 1992, pp. 141-181.
  24. ^ Gleijeses 1992, pp. 181-379.


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