Death and state funeral of Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin, second leader of the Soviet Union, died on 5 March 1953 at his Kuntsevo Dacha after suffering a stroke, at age 74. He was given a state funeral in Moscow on 9 March, with four days of national mourning declared. On the day of the funeral, hundreds or thousands of Soviet citizens visiting the capital to pay their respects died in a human crush.[1][2]

Death and state funeral of Joseph Stalin
Stalin's funeral procession on Okhotny Ryad
Date5–9 March 1953
LocationRed Square, Moscow, Russian SFSR, USSR
Organized bySoviet state
ParticipantsNikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lavrentiy Beria, Patriarch Alexy I, Nicholas (Yarushevich) and other Soviet, Church and foreign dignitaries

Stalin's body was embalmed and interred in Lenin's Mausoleum until 1961, when it was moved to the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. The members of Stalin's inner circle in charge of organizing his funeral were Nikita Khrushchev, then-head of the Moscow branch of the Communist Party; Lavrentiy Beria, head of the NKVD; Georgy Malenkov, the chairman of the Presidium; and Vyacheslav Molotov, previously the Soviet Union's Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Illness and death

Joseph Stalin's health had begun to deteriorate towards the end of the Second World War. He had 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.[3]

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.[4] Decades later, former senior officer and historian Dmitry Volkogonov[5] described how, on 28 February 1953, Stalin and a small number of his inner circle, consisting of Lavrentiy Beria, Nikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov and a few others, gathered together for an evening of entertainment and drinking. After the guests dispersed at approximately 4:00 a.m. on 1 March, 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, Stalin's 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 Stalin. Based on their examination, which revealed blood pressure of 190/110 and 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, Stalin's condition continued to deteriorate and he 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 and access the original autopsy report were unsuccessful until the 2010s,[6][7] 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."[8]

As summarized above, rather than suggesting a plot by Beria, on whom suspicion fell for his purportedly telling Molotov that he "took him out"[9] 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.

Beria's son, Sergo Beria, later recounted that after Stalin's death, his mother Nina told her husband that, "Your position now is even more precarious than when Stalin was alive."[10] 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.[11] He was subsequently found guilty of treason, terrorism and counter-revolutionary activity by the Supreme Court of the Soviet Union on 23 December 1953,[12][13] and executed the same day, shot by General Pavel Batitsky.[14]

Funeral service

External videos
  Official Soviet documentary on Stalin's funeral
  Part of Soviet footage of Stalin's funeral

On 6 March, the coffin containing Stalin's body was put on display at the Hall of Columns in the House of the Unions, remaining there for three days.[15] On 9 March, the body was delivered to Red Square[16] prior to interment in Lenin's Mausoleum.[17][18] 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 Clock 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 Eastern Bloc countries including Mongolia, China 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 was held in Stalin's honor.

In their efforts to pay their respects to Stalin, a number of Soviet citizens, many of whom had travelled from across the country to attend the funeral, were crushed and trampled to death in a crowd crush.[19] They were crushed against building walls and Soviet Army trucks, which had been deployed to block off side streets. Mourners, along with mounted police and their horses, were trampled to death in Trubnaya Square [ru].[20] The Soviets did not initially report the event, and the exact number of casualties is unknown.[2] Khrushchev later provided an estimate that 109 people died in the crowd, although the real number of deaths may have been in the thousands.[1]

Foreign dignitaries in attendance

According to Ogoniok, the mourners included the following foreign dignitaries (listed alphabetically by last name):[21]

Czechoslovak leader Gottwald died shortly after attending Stalin's funeral, on 14 March 1953, after one of his arteries burst.[23]

Other 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.[24]

Guatemalan officials in the government of Jacobo Árbenz eulogized Stalin as a "great statesman and leader ... whose passing is mourned by all progressive men".[25] The Guatemalan Congress paid tribute to Stalin with a "minute of silence".[26] At the request of President Eisenhower, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles transmitted a message of condolence through the American Embassy to the Soviet Foreign Ministry.[27]

Church tributes

After Stalin's death, Patriarch Alexy I composed a personal statement of condolence to the Soviet Council of Ministers:

"His death is a heavy grief for our Fatherland and for all the people who inhabit it. The whole Russian Orthodox Church, which will never forget his benevolent attitude to Church needs, feels great sorrow at his death. The bright memory of him will live ineradicably in our hearts. Our Church proclaims eternal memory to him with a special feeling of abiding love."[28]

Alexy I also gave a eulogy on the day of Stalin's funeral.[29]

Other orthodox officials, including Nicholas (Yarushevich), attended the funeral and mourned for Stalin.[30]


See also


  1. ^ a b Khlevniuk, Oleg (2017). Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-21978-4.
  2. ^ a b Langewiesche, William (9 January 2018). "The 10-Minute Mecca Stampede That Made History". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  3. ^ Medvedev, Zhores A. (2006). The Unknown Stalin. London: I.B. Tauris. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-85043-980-6.
  4. ^ "Announcement of Stalin's Illness and Death". The Current Digest of the Soviet Press. V (6): 24. 1953.
  5. ^ Volkogonov, D. (1999). Autopsy for an Empire. The Free Press.
  6. ^ Chigirin, I (2018). Stalin, Illness and Death. Moscow: Publisher Veche. ISBN 978-5-4484-0279-1.
  7. ^ 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. S2CID 78094148.
  8. ^ Pravda, vol. 66, no. 1264, p. 2, March 7, 1953 (translated by S. Brodsky and M. Ruzic)
  9. ^ Radzinsky, E (1997). Stalin. Anchor Books.
  10. ^ Beria, S (2001). My Father: Inside Stalin's Kremlin. Gerald Duckworth, and Co. Ltd.
  11. ^ Knight, A (1993). Beria: Stalin's First Lieutenant. Princeton University Press.
  12. ^ Kramer, Mark (1999). "The Early Post-Stalin Succession Struggle and Upheavals in East-Central Europe: Internal-External Linkages in Soviet Policy Making (Part 2)". Journal of Cold War Studies. 1 (2): 3–38. ISSN 1520-3972. JSTOR 26925014.
  13. ^ Schwartz, Harry (24 December 1953). "Beria Trial Shows Army's Rising Role; Beria Trial Shows Army's Rising Role". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 23 October 2021.
  14. ^ "Лаврентия Берию в 1953 году расстрелял лично советский маршал" (in Russian). 24 June 2010.
  15. ^ Ganjushin, Alexander (6 March 2013). "Joseph Stalin's funeral: how it happened". Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Retrieved 17 January 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.
  16. ^ "The Manhoff Archive: Stalin's Funeral - Part One". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  17. ^ Ganjushin, Alexander (5 March 2013). "Russia on the day of Stalin's funeral: A photo look back". Rossiyskaya Gazeta. Retrieved 17 January 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.
  18. ^ Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Why Did Russia Move Stalin's Body?". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 6 August 2017.
  19. ^ Evtushenko, Evgenii (1963). "Mourners Crushed at Stalin's Funeral". Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Retrieved 5 May 2018.
  20. ^ Pozner, Vladimir (1990). Parting with illusions. Atlantic Monthly Press. pp. 77–78. ISBN 0-87113-287-7.
  21. ^ "Mourning of millions". Ogoniok. Vol. 11, no. 1344. 15 March 1953.
  22. ^ 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 10 December 2017.
  23. ^ "Czechoslovakia: Death No. 2". Time. 23 March 1953. Retrieved 17 August 2019.
  24. ^ Pearson, Owen (8 September 2006). Albania as Dictatorship and Democracy. I.B. Tauris. p. 454. ISBN 978-1-84511-105-2.
  25. ^ Gleijeses 1992, pp. 141–181.
  26. ^ Gleijeses 1992, pp. 181–379.
  27. ^ "Message Conveying the Government' s Official Condolences on the Death of Joseph Stalin | The American Presidency Project". Retrieved 15 January 2024.
  28. ^ Religion in the Soviet Union. Walter Kolarz. 1966. p. 65.
  29. ^ "Патриарх Алексий. Речь перед панихидой по И. В. Сталине".
  30. ^ Generalissimo Stalin Funeral, retrieved 14 November 2022