Josef Stalin’s Daughter Had Remarkable Life, Is Dead

Today we’re talking obits, one in particular, that of Lana Peters. Age: 85. Residence: Richland County, Wisconsin. Survived by two daughters. Oh, and she was formerly known as Svetlana Stalina, the daughter of Joesf Stalin. I know what you’re wondering–what kind of a father was the Man of Steel? And while apparently Stalin was a loving father to his “little sparrow,” evidently “In her teenage years, her father was consumed by the war with Germany and grew distant and sometimes abusive.”

[Read the whole NY Times obit here]

I think we’re all familiar with the idea of a father who puts his work before his children to deleterious effect at home. But… I mean, this is the guy who said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic,” and was speaking from personal experience (Science later proved him right). So, yeah, not entirely surprising.

Also, as it turns out, Josef Stalin proved to be a pretty difficult father-in-law:

In her memoirs she told of how Stalin had sent her first love, a Jewish filmmaker, to Siberia for 10 years. She wanted to study literature at Moscow University, but Stalin demanded that she study history. She did. After graduation, again following her father’s wishes, she became a teacher, teaching Soviet literature and the English language. She then worked as a literary translator.

A year after her father broke up her first romance, she told him she wanted to marry another Jewish man, Grigory Morozov, a fellow student. Stalin slapped her and refused to meet him. This time, however, she had her way. She married Mr. Morozov in 1945. They had one child, Iosif, before divorcing in 1947.

Not since Jack Bauer pulled a trigger on a gun aimed at her daughter’s boyfriend (it was unloaded! The Salazars were testing his loyalty! Excitement!) has there been a more intimidating father-in-law. But things only got worse when Stalin wasn’t around to protect his daughter:

Her world grew darker in her father’s last years. Nikita S. Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor as Soviet leader, wrote in his memoirs about the New Year’s party in 1952 when Stalin grabbed Svetlana by the hair and forced her to dance.

A couple things about this: The Soviet Union had New Year’s parties? That seems a little decadent and Western. How did this come up in Khrushchev’s memoirs? How thorough are those things if they include this sort of seemingly minor incident? Am I missing something here where “forced her to dance” is code for something far more horrible in a way that’s going to make me regret pulling this quotation out of context? How is the best evidence of her darkening world being forced to dance with a (presumably) drunken Khrushchev?

No, things got worse when the Politburo proved to be equally uncompromising about her choice in men by refusing to let her marry an Indian Communist. When he died in 1967, they grudgingly gave her permission to travel to India to dispose of his ashes. At which point she defected to the United States.

Unknown to Washington at the time, the K.G.B. was discussing plans to assassinate Ms. Alliluyeva [she had changed her name from Stalina to Alliluyeva before finally settling on Peters later], according to former agency officials who were quoted by The Washington Times in 1992. But, they said, the K.G.B. backed off for fear an assassination would be traced back to it too easily.

They were probably right about that. But they had their reasons to want her dead.

She denounced her father as “a moral and spiritual monster,” called the Soviet system “profoundly corrupt” and likened the K.G.B. to the Gestapo.


As the Kremlin feared, Ms. Alliluyeva became a weapon in the cold war. In 1968, she denounced the trial of four Soviet dissidents as “a mockery of justice.” On Voice of America radio, Soviet citizens heard her declare that life in the United States was “free, gay and full of bright colors.”

Is it me or are Soviet defectors always talking about how America has bright colors? Something about those drab olive outfits that Communists are always wearing really seems to bum people out.

Then she moved to America, married William Peters, ex-husband of Frank Lloyd Wright’s adopted daughter, and lived in some fancy house he built, commune-style with Frank Lloyd Wright’s widow, Olgivanna Wright.

There, Ms. Peters began chafing at the strict communal lifestyle enforced by Mrs. Wright, finding her as authoritarian as her father.

Uf. I can’t imagine that Mrs. Wright’s tombstone reads “As authoritarian as Stalin,” but that’s one hell of a claim to levy. But this is where things get weird(er):

Abruptly, however, [her son] Iosif was refused permission to travel. So in November 1984, Ms. Peters and [her American daughter] 13-year-old Olga — who was distraught because she had not been consulted about the move — went to Moscow and asked to be taken back. Lana Peters now denounced the West. She had not known “one single day” of freedom in the West, she told reporters. She was quoted as saying that she had been a pet of the C.I.A. Any conservative views she had expressed in the United States, if they still existed, went unexpressed. When an ABC correspondent in Moscow tried to question her a few days later, she exploded in anger, exclaiming: “You are savages! You are uncivilized people! Goodbye to you all.”

Ms. Peters and Olga were given Soviet citizenship, but soon their lives worsened. The son and daughter who lived in Russia began shunning her and Olga. Defying the official atheism of the state, Olga insisted on wearing a crucifix. They moved to Tbilisi, Georgia, but it was no better than Moscow.

That last sentence seems pretty credible to me. Apparently her times in the Soviet Union didn’t work out so great because:

In April 1986, they returned to the United States, with no opposition by the Soviet authorities. Settling at first in Wisconsin, Ms. Peters disavowed the anti-Western things she had said upon her arrival in Moscow, saying she had been mistranslated, particularly the statement about being a pet of the C.I.A.

And like that, she was gone.

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2 thoughts on “Josef Stalin’s Daughter Had Remarkable Life, Is Dead

  1. kita says:

    Props for tackling an obituary (and life!) so convoluted that it must have been hard to figure what to leave OUT of your posting.

    Personally, I could have seen you running with this quote from Svetlana:

    “You can’t regret your fate,” Ms. Peters once said, “although I do regret my mother didn’t marry a carpenter.”

    (which could, had her mother chosen the right Jewish carpenter, made her the daughter of the Christians’ God and not the Russian Devil.

  2. […] brings another dispatch from our Russian bureau, as Vladimir Putin is on track to win yet another Russian election. And it […]

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