Joseph Stalin Dies
At the end of January 1953 Stalin's personal physician Miron Vovsi (cousin of Solomon Mikhoels who was assassinated in 1948 at the orders of Stalin) was arrested within the frame of the so-named Doctors' Plot.
On 1 March 1953, after an all-night dinner in his Kuntsevo residence some 15 km west of Moscow centre with interior minister Lavrentiy Beria and future premiers Georgy Malenkov, Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin did not emerge from his room, having probably suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body.
Stalin's Grave by the Kremlin Wall Necropolis
Although his guards thought that it was odd for him not to rise at his usual time, they were under orders not to disturb him. He was discovered lying on the floor of his room only at about 10 p.m. in the evening. Lavrentiy Beria was informed and arrived a few hours afterwards, and the doctors only arrived in the early morning of 2 March. Stalin died four days later, on 5 March 1953, at the age of 74, and was embalmed on 9 March. His daughter Svetlana recalls the scene as she stood by his death bed: "He suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance. Then something incomprehensible and awesome happened. He suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something above and bringing down a curse upon all of us. The next moment after a final effort the spirit wrenched itself free of the flesh." Officially, the cause of death was listed as a cerebral hemorrhage. His body was preserved in Lenin's Mausoleum until 31 October 1961, when his body was removed from the Mausoleum and buried next to the Kremlin walls as part of the process of de-Stalinization.
It has been suggested that Stalin was assassinated. The ex-Communist exile Avtorkhanov argued this point as early as 1975. The political memoirs of Vyacheslav Molotov, published in 1993, claimed that Beria had boasted to Molotov that he poisoned Stalin: "I took him out."
Khrushchev wrote in his memoirs that Beria had, immediately after the stroke, gone about "spewing hatred against [Stalin] and mocking him", and then, when Stalin showed signs of consciousness, dropped to his knees and kissed his hand. When Stalin fell unconscious again, Beria immediately stood and spat.
Was Stalin Murdered?:
Is it unclear whether Stalin would have been saved if medical help had arrived shortly after his stroke, partly because the autopsy report has never been found (although it is believed he suffered a brain haemorrhage which spread). This missing report, and the actions of Beria during Stalin’s fatal illness, have led some to raise the possibility that Stalin was deliberately killed by those afraid he was about to purge them (indeed, there is a report saying Beria claimed responsibility for the death). There is no concrete evidence for this theory, but enough plausibility for historians to mention it in their texts.
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.
Panel participants agreed Stalin probably was not murdered, but they did speculate over the lack of medical care. "There was a motivation to letting him die,"Garthoff said. "Stalin was planning a major purge in which most of them [his advisers] would be swept aside." Larres pointed out that in February 1953, Stalin ordered construction of four new giant prison camps.