Klaus Larres, the Henry Alfred Kissinger Scholar in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library's John W. Kluge Center, assembled 13 historians and "historical witnesses" to discuss "The Death of Stalin: A Missed Opportunity to Overcome the Cold War?" He moderated the discussion.
Participants engaged in a lively discussion of Eisenhower's actions in the days and months after Stalin's death, the cause of Stalin's death (was it murder?), the impact of his death on the Soviet Union, and the future need to study and decry Stalin's slaughter of 25 million Soviets.
The roundtable participants also spent time debating the cause of Stalin's death. The conclusion? He succumbed to natural causes. Sergei Khrushchev said, emphatically, "No, he was not poisoned." He argued that Stalin did not taste any food unless his closest advisers, including Malenkov and Nikita Khrushchev, tried the food first. Also, Stalin was tightly guarded. "I don't see any technical possibility for murder," Khrushchev said.
Stalin collapsed on March 1, 1953, and remained unconscious until he died on March 5. Khrushchev said he didn't receive immediate medical care because Stalin's advisers at first thought he was drunk and would regain consciousness. "He was on the floor and they brought him [up] on the sofa," said Khrushchev.
A member of the audience, Vladimir Shamberg, described himself as a close friend of Svetlana, Stalin's daughter. "I believe I was the first person she saw after her father's death, and she never spoke about something fishy," he said. Shamberg said he believes Stalin's advisers failed to get him immediate medical care because they were afraid of the consequences, not because they wanted him dead. "They thought if he regained consciousness and saw the doctors, he would suspect a plot and have them all executed," said Shamberg, adding that Stalin eventually received treatment from a major in his guard who happened to be a veterinarian.