Earlier this week, we published a piece of mine about Svetlana Alliluyeva (née Stalin). It was adapted from my new book, Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators. I received some mail about the Svetlana piece, and would like to share some with you — all from colleagues, as it happens.
Listen to Peter Kirsanow:
My one remembrance of Svetlana is that she was gracious enough to have once entertained my father, a steelworker from Cleveland, Ohio, who had escaped from Stalin’s NKVD. They met in 1968 or ’69.
I was young and don’t recall much, other than my father felt compelled to drive to her residence somewhere in New Jersey to speak with the daughter of one of the great tyrants in human history. My father had no invitation or appointment, yet she spent a considerable amount of time conversing with him about her father and what he had done to the Soviet Union.
Naturally, when my father returned home, he was ebullient. I didn’t grasp what a big deal this was until I was much older. It was no surprise to me that my father had the testicular enormity to pull a stunt like that, but the fact that Svetlana Stalin — Stalin — would take the time to discuss geopolitics with him — a stranger who happened to be one of the faceless millions her father had terrorized — still amazes me.
In a blogpost, related to my Svetlana piece, I mentioned the alarming popularity of Stalin in today’s Russia. Rick Brookhiser writes,
I may have told you this, but it is pertinent to your post.
I once was in a cab with Jeanne going to the Port Authority. Driver had a Russified Jewish name and was a chatty man. Turned out he was an émigré from Tashkent or Samarkand — some stan. He ticked off with disgust all the Soviet leaders. (Putin he called, contemptuously, “a little officer.”) All but one.
His reasons for liking Stalin? “He killed Germany, and he wore one coat” (i.e., he was a simple guy).
There you have it.
Finally, Fred Schwarz and his wife were watching a clip from 1967 — the year in which Svetlana defected to the United States. The clip is of Woody Allen and WFB. There are questions from the audience.
One young woman asks Allen, “Do you know George Hamilton?” (This is at the 7:30 mark. And Hamilton was a big young star at the time.) Allen says no, he does not know him. Then the young woman says, “Why do you think he went to the wedding?”
The wedding was the White House nuptials of Lynda Bird Johnson and Charles Robb. Lynda Bird had dated Hamilton.
Allen quips, “I had heard a rumor that he was going to announce his engagement to Svetlana Stalin.” The crowd roars.
By the way, I recorded an interview a few days ago with Brian Lamb, the great C-SPAN maestro. When he was in the military, he was a social aide in the White House. Guess who escorted the First Lady down the aisle at her daughter’s wedding? Yup.