Stalin's daughter who fled to the West but could never escape his shadow
Published 04/12/2011 | 05:00
LANA Peters, who has died aged 85, was better known as Svetlana Stalin. She spent a lifetime trying to escape the notoriety of being daughter to the man who vies with Adolf Hitler for the title of most vicious tyrant of the 20th century.
At the height of the Cold War, in 1967, Svetlana defected to the West, abandoning her two children by previous marriages. The world's most unlikely political refugee duly denounced her father and all he stood for, while her two volumes of memoirs made her a wealthy international celebrity. In 1970, she married the American architect William Wesley Peters and at the age of 46 had a daughter, Olga, her third child.
But she could never settle. The marriage to Peters ended in acrimony after four years, and she quickly ran through the $2.5m (€1.8m) she had earned from her memoirs. She moved to England, but in 1984 returned to the USSR -- where she declared a temporary truce with the authorities by writing a third book, outlining her disenchantment with the West. Having failed to fit back into Soviet life, she renounced her Soviet citizenship once again and in 1987 returned to America.
Svetlana Josifovna Stalin was born on February 28, 1926, the youngest child and only daughter of Josef Stalin and his second wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva. While her mother never showed her any physical affection, Stalin doted on Svetlana. She loved the time they spent at their dacha at Zubalova, a "happy, sheltered place" with "sunny and abundant" gardens, orchards and a farm.
Yet Svetlana's childhood was punctuated by unexplained disappearances. When she was six, her mother shot herself after an apparently trivial argument with her husband. Enraged by what he partly interpreted as Nadezhda's treachery, Stalin had many of her relatives -- including some known to Svetlana -- exiled or executed.
Svetlana grew into a freckly redhead who resembled her father in being stubborn, passionate and unpredictable. While he doted on her as a child, Stalin found it difficult to cope with her adolescence. When, maturing early, she appeared in her first skirt, Stalin gave her a lecture on Bolshevik modesty.
Shortly afterwards, Svetlana fell in love with a Jewish filmmaker, Alexei Kapler, a married playboy 22 years her senior. Though their dalliance was probably innocent, Stalin found an excuse to have Kapler arrested and sentenced to 10 years in a Siberian labour camp, where he later died.
When she then developed a crush on her childhood companion, Sergo Beria, son of the secret police chief, his family were understandably horrified. Svetlana was determined to marry Sergo but the Berias put a stop to it.
Smarting from the rejection, she announced her intention to marry a fellow student at Moscow University, Grigori Morozov, also Jewish. Stalin made a point of never meeting the bridegroom. In 1945 Svetlana had a son, named Josef, but she and Grigori divorced in 1947 for reasons which are not entirely clear -- though Stalin had been heard threatening to have Morozov arrested if Svetlana did not divorce him. Two years later Svetlana married Yuri Zhdanov, son of Stalin's right-hand man, Andrei Zhdanov. "I like that man," Stalin had told her. "He has a future and he loves you. Marry him." They had a daughter, Ekaterina, in 1950, but this marriage was also dissolved soon afterwards.
On the night of February 28, 1953, Stalin suffered a stroke. After his death, Svetlana adopted her mother's maiden name of Alliluyeva and worked as a teacher and translator. In 1963, she met an Indian Communist visiting Moscow, Brajesh Singh. There are varying accounts of whether or not they married but it seems likely that they did, for in 1967 Svetlana was allowed to travel to India after his death to take his ashes back to his family. It was there that she went to the American embassy and formally petitioned for political asylum.
During her years in exile, Svetlana was never happy. Disowned by the children she left behind in the Soviet Union and perpetually short of cash, she flirted with religion, becoming first Greek Orthodox, then Roman Catholic. At one point she was said to have harboured hopes of becoming a nun.
"I no longer have the pleasant illusion that I can be free of the label 'Stalin's daughter'," she said in an interview some years ago: "You cannot regret your fate, although I do regret my mother didn't marry a carpenter."