18 Little Known Facts About Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin, or Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, is a man who, unfortunately, needs no introduction. He was one of World War II’s most infamous leaders, next to Adolf Hitler. Stalin’s legacy has been one as a Communist icon and a mass-murdering tyrant.overty

Stalin was born into poverty at the tail-end of the 19th century. He worked his way up the ranks of the Communist Party and became General Secretary, ultimately installing himself as dictator in the wake of Vladimir Lenin’s death. He then began dragging Russia into the modern era with rapid industrialization, which inadvertently sparked a famine that killed millions, before putting his famed Red Army to work defeating the Nazis.

Stalin’s role in WWII is well-documented; his politics and his values well-known. There are some facts, however, that are not as widely discussed. He was a man deeply in love with the arts, who had desires for a more spiritual profession, and had dreams of leading an army of mutant half-human hybrids. Joseph Stalin committed atrocities, but that does not make him a one-dimensional human. Keep reading and discover a more complex man.

He Changed His Own Birthday

It was mentioned earlier that Stalin was born in the latter part of the 19th century. Official Russian records state that he was born on the 18th of December in 1878. An Old Style Julian Calendar which was used at the time, however, lists Stalin’s birthdate as the 6th of December. Furthermore, Stalin himself changed his birthdate (the day to the 21st of December and the year to 1881), in a move to confuse the Tsarist Officers. The idea was that it would remove him from their official documents and records. What actually happened was that it created more confusion over the issue.

Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943.
Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943.
A Man Of Many Names

Joseph Stalin was a man of many names, but one of the stranger nicknames he acquired was “Comrade Index Card”. This nickname was awarded to Stalin by his former Communist Party rival Leon Trotsky. The story goes that when Stalin took his first major political position as General Secretary of the Communist Party, he was merely serving as little more than a secretary. His duties included sorting and organizing files. Thus, the name “Comrade Index Card”.

He went photoshopping before it got fashionable

Before the days of airbrushing models on the cover of Vogue and Cosmopolitan, Joseph Stalin was managing his personal image with clever photo manipulation. As a child, Stalin suffered from smallpox, which left scars on his face. He was self-conscious about these scars and would request that alterations be made during the processing of all his photos. It was also reported that he would have portrait artists shot for creating unflattering images of him.

He never said his most famous words

The quote “A single death is a tragedy, a million dead is a statistic” is largely attributed to Joseph Stalin, but this is surely not the case. On top of that, the quote was initially reported by a German writer named Erich Maria Remarque, who would have almost certainly never met Stalin. So, it is a safe bet that Stalin never uttered that quote.

The half human soldiers

World War II was full of “out there” ideas and innovations. One of Stalin’s ideas was to create an army of half-human soldiers. Human soldiers are weak, feel pain, and require food. Stalin wanted soldiers who were strong, ferocious, cheap to look after, and without any of those troublesome feelings of morality and conscience. It should be noted that the nature  of Stalin’s role in this is debated today, but the program itself is well-documented, with a scientist named Ilya Ivanov performing some very real and horrifying experiments, to create mutant soldiers.

He wanted to become a priest
From left: Friedrich Gaus from Germany, Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Joseph Stalin, Soviet head of state and his Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov pose 23 August 1939 in Kremlin in Moscow after signing the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, making the outbreak of a European war virtually inevitable. After the ceremony, Stalin proposed a toast: "I know how much the German people love their Fuehrer" (Hitler), he said. "I should therefore like to drink to his health".
From left: Friedrich Gaus from Germany, Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Joseph Stalin, Soviet head of state and his Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov pose 23 August 1939 in Kremlin in Moscow after signing the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, making the outbreak of a European war virtually inevitable.

It is not well known that Joseph Stalin almost did not go into politics. Had his first ambition been realized, he would have been an ordained priest in the Russian Orthodox Church. Such was his passion that he attended the Tbilisi Theological Seminary on a full scholarship. However, the corruption and lack of religious feeling he witnessed led him to doubt then lose his faith.

He was a family man

At odds with his reputation as a brutal tyrant, Stalin was a family man, and he doted on his daughter. For his politics activities, Stalin was regularly exiled to Siberia. It was on such exile that he met an orphan named Lidia Pereprygina, who apparently looked much older than her actual age. She was, in reality, thirteen, and the two had a brief affair. She even became pregnant  but lost his child. This information would have been catastrophic to his reputation and the story was thoroughly buried. It would be eighty years later before the truth was discovered.

He was run over and beaten as a child
Stalin aged 23
Stalin aged 23

When Stalin was twelve, he had the unfortunate experience of being run over by a horse-drawn carriage. His childhood was not an easy one to start with, as he was relentlessly beaten by his father in his early years. His accident required that extensive surgery be performed on his arm, the result of which was that his left arm was left significantly shorter than his right. In the long run, his accident actually saved his life. Stalin was considered unsuitable for military service and therefore was not sent to the front lines, which would have certainly resulted in his death, like so many other Russians.

He had brain damage

Stalin’s viciousness might not have been entirely voluntary – not that this excuses his actions and their consequences. The Russian leader suffered from a brain condition called atherosclerosis. This condition causes build-up of fatty tissue in the brain and has been linked to a number of severe mental conditions. It was this condition that was likely partially responsible for the paranoia and malice which made him infamous and so cruel.

He changed the spelling of his name too

As briefly mentioned, Joseph Stalin’s full name was Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. He eventually changed the spelling of his first name, and then adopted “Stalin” as his surname. Although “Stalin” literally translates as “man of steel”, he was hardly Superman.

Stalin the weatherman

One of Stalin’s less horrific achievements has been buried in the annals of history. Joseph Stalin was, at one point, a weatherman. He worked at the Tiflis Meteorological Observatory, which provided a great expanse of Russia with weather reports. His main duties were to record data such as rainfall and atmospheric pressure.

He enjoyed Westerns

The leader’s affinity for cinema and film is well-documented. His favorite genre? American Westerns. Specifically, he liked the films of John Wayne. He was reportedly also fond of Clark Gable and the director John Ford. Surprisingly, Stalin had a penchant for the written word as well. He would write poetry in his spare time under the pen name os Soselo. Some of it was even published. Here is an example:

The pinkish bud has opened,
Rushing to the pale-blue violet
And, stirred by a light breeze,
The lily of the valley has bent over the grass.

Bad health or no money for school?


Stalin’s health in his younger years was not great, which probably explains why he never finished school. It could also be that his family was unable to afford to pay for his education. Of course, official Communist Party doctrine states that it was his love for the party’s ideology that drew him away from school. Whatever the reason, Joseph Stalin never completed his education before becoming the leader of the Communist Party.

Nobel Peace Price

Stalin was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. To be fair, his nominations came before the full extent of his murders and brutal policies were widely known to the Western world. It was his role in bringing the Second World War to an end which landed him on the shortlist in both 1945 and 1948.

He was a vain man

Recall the portrait artists that Stalin had shot and the photos he airbrushed? It didn’t stop there. Stalin insisted on being photographed only from angles which disguised the fact that he was only 5’4”. In fact, U.S. President Harold Truman gave Stalin the nickname “The Little Squirt”, which is a bit rich, considering Truman was only about 5’7” himself!

His son died in Nazi Germany

Joseph Stalin took the phrase “tough love” very seriously. During World War II, Stalin’s son Yakov was taken prisoner by Nazis, and Hilter, realizing who exactly he had captured, made a ludicrous demand for ransom. Despite almost constant negotiation for the release of Yakov, Stalin refused to accede to any of the demands. Yakov would later die in prison.

He caused death and destruction, at home

Going back to the more tragic side of history, Joseph Stalin was responsible for the deaths of 20 million people. This includes citizens of his own country, soldiers in the war, and captives who were mistreated, exiled, starved, and worked to death. He was never held accountable for any of his actions. This was because he was an absolute rule and one of the most powerful men in the world.

Stalin wasn’t Russian

Finally, Joseph Stalin, despite being one of Russia’s most famous political figures and the man most responsible for the shape of the country over the century, wasn’t even Russian. His beginnings were in  Georgia, one of Russia’s neighbors. His mother never left that country. Stalin moved to Russia, as a young man to find more opportunities.

Stalin is a complex figure but ultimately, we must judge him to be a tyrant and mass murderer.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE