Stalin's funeral procession on Okhotny Ryad.
|Date||9 March 1953|
|Location||Red Square, Moscow, Soviet Union|
|Participants||Nikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Lavrentiy Beria and other Soviet and foreign dignitaries|
Joseph Stalin, the second leader of the Soviet Union, died on 5 March 1953 at the Kuntsevo Dacha aged 74 after suffering a stroke. After four days of national mourning, Stalin was given a state funeral and then buried in Lenin's Mausoleum on 9 March. Nikita Khrushchev, Georgy Malenkov, Vyacheslav Molotov and Lavrentiy Beria were in charge of organizing the funeral.
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 (May 1945), and a severe heart attack in October 1945.
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. As described by Volkogonov, on February 28, 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 imbibing alcoholic beverages. The guests dispersed at approximately 4:00 a.m. on March 1 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 March 1 his housekeeper cautiously entered his room and found him lying on the floor, wearing his pyjama trousers and a shirt. He was unconscious, breathing heavily, incontinent, and unresponsive to attempts to rouse him. Beria was called and, upon seeing him, discounted the fact that he was unconscious, attributing this to alcohol consumption, and departed.
At 7:00 a.m. on March 2, 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; and, 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 he died at 9:50 p.m. on March 5, 1953. His body then was taken to an unspecified location and an autopsy was performed, after which it was embalmed for public viewing. Attempts to locate the original autopsy report have been unsuccessful until recently, but the most important findings were reported in a special bulletin in Pravda on March 7, 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."
This was the prevailing view until 2002 when Brent and Naumov suggested a more nefarious explanation for the pathologic findings of hemorrhage in several other organ sites. More specifically, they speculated that Lavrenti Beria, head of the secret police, eventually called the NKVD, either alone or with accomplices, had surreptitiously added the potent anti-coagulant warfarin, or possibly a warfarin-containing rodenticide, to Stalin's drinks. Warfarin first came into commercial use in 1948 as a rat poison. A more likely explanation for the gastrointestinal (GI) petechial and myocardial hemorrhages is that they were stress-related, secondary to the prolonged time interval between the onset of his stroke, the ensuing hypoxia, and subsequently and his death.
As summarized above, rather than suggesting a plot by Beria, who purportedly at one point had told Molotov "I took him out" [], including his willful delay in obtaining medical treatment for Stalin. The changes seen were consistent with extracranial changes that can be seen in stroke victims. As quoted by Sergo Beria, his son, his wife purportedly told Lavrenti Beria after Stalin's death, "Your position now is even more precarious than when Stalin was alive." []. This turned out to be correct; for several months later, in June 1953, Beria was arrested and charged with a variety of crimes but, significantly, none relating to Stalin's death. He subsequently was executed at the order of his former Politburo colleagues, but there are conflicting stories as to when and where this occurred.
|Official Soviet documentary on Stalin's funeral|
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. On 9 March, the body was delivered to Red Square prior to interment in Lenin's Mausoleum (where it would lie in state until 1961). 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 along with China, Mongolia and North Korea. Immediately after the silence ended, a military band played the Soviet State Anthem, and following this, a military parade of the Moscow Garrison was held in Stalin's honor. In the public's efforts to pay their respects to Stalin's casket, a number of people were crushed and trampled to death. Khrushchev later provided an estimate that 109 people died in the crowd, although the real number of deaths may have been in the thousands.
Czechoslovak leader Gottwald died shortly after attending Stalin's funeral on 14 March 1953 after one of his arteries burst. Fearing the encouragement of 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.
APCs headed to Red Square
On 6 March, the coffin with Stalin's body was displayed at the Hall of Columns in the House of Trade Unions.
On 9 March, Stalin's embalmed body was interred in the Lenin Mausoleum, which was renamed the Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum from 1953 to 1961.