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1953 - Death of Stalin

Death of Stalin - the leader of the Soviet Union dies, bringing to an end the often brutal period of 'Stalinsim' that had helped shaped the USSR since the 1920s

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Just how many millions of deaths Joseph Stalin was responsible for is disputed, but that the figure runs into millions is not in doubt. Even to the end, when he was in his seventies and approaching his own death, his subordinates continued to carry out his murderous orders.

Stalin was paranoid in any case and in his later years he suffered from arterio-sclerosis. There’s a theory that this may have exacerbated his temper, which became ever more savage as he grew older. His doctor, Vladimir Vinogradov, noticed a marked change for the worse in Stalin’s health early in 1952. When he suggested that the dictator start to take things more easily, the patient flew into a furious rage and had him arrested.

However, Stalin himself had indeed begun to feel his age and tell his subordinates that he had not long left to live. His senior colleagues, their homes and offices bugged by the security police, were all terrified of him. At a meeting of the Central Committee of the Party in October 1952 Stalin announced that he was too old to cope any longer and asked to be relieved of his post as Secretary General. Georgi Malenkov, in the chair, paled for fear that the other members would not instantly stand up to protest and demand that the request be denied. Fortunately for him, they did.

Stalin left the Kremlin for his dacha at Kuntsevo, outside Moscow, in mid-February 1953, for the last time. There are conflicting reports of what happened, but after a routine night of heavy drinking until the early hours of March 1st, the guards became alarmed when there was no sound from their master all day and late in the evening a guard or a maid ventured in and found him lying on the floor of his bedroom. One account says he was conscious, but only able to make incoherent noises, and had wet himself. Nikita Khrushchev recalled that he and Malenkov, Beria and Bulganin went out to Kuntsevo after a telephone call from the guards to Malenkov. At the dacha they were told that Stalin had been put on a sofa in the small dining room ‘in an unpresentable state’ and was now asleep. The four men, embarrassed and not realising that anything was seriously wrong, went back to Moscow.

Not until the next day, with Stalin paralysed and speechless, were doctors summoned. Almost too frightened to touch him, they announced that he had suffered a massive stroke. Leading Politburo members went to the dacha every day, hesitating and dithering, apparently unsure what to do, while rumours spread that they or some of them had taken a hand in putting an end to the dictator.

According to his daughter Svetlana, who was at the bedside, at 9.50pm on the 5th Stalin’s eyes opened with ‘a terrible look – either mad or angry and full of the fear of death’. He raised his left hand, pointing upwards, perhaps threateningly, and then death took him. It was announced on the radio the next day, with appeals for calm, and the funeral was held in Red Square on March 9th in the presence of a huge crowd – so large that some were crushed to death. Stalin’s veteran colleague Vyacheslav Molotov, whose wife was in a prison camp where she was known as Object Number Twelve, spoke in praise of the dead tyrant. So did Malenkov and Beria, but in private Beria made no secret of his relief at the dictator’s passing. Stalin’s body was embalmed and was presently put on display with Lenin’s corpse in the renamed Lenin-Stalin Mausoleum.

Malenkov, Molotov and Beria had taken steps to secure their own positions. At a meeting on March 6th Malenkov was appointed Chairman of the Council of Ministers. Molotov was to be foreign minister. Beria, appointed minister of internal affairs, organised an exhibition for members of the Central Committee at which tapes of Stalin’s conversations with security police were played and the late dictator’s responsibility for the arrest of innocent officials was clearly established. Nothing was said in public as yet, but the demolition of Stalin’s image had begun.


Further Reading


Smithsonian - The True Story of the Death of Stalin

Radio Free Europe - Stalin's Funeral: The Manhoff Archive

17 Moments in Soviet History - Mourners Crushed at Stalin's Funeral

English RussiaFuneral of Stalin And How Soviet People Recollect That Day

BBC - Joseph Stalin: National hero or cold-blooded murderer?

1953- East German Uprising

East German Uprising a wave of strikes and protests turns into a widespread uprising against the communist German Democratic Republic government, which was violently suppressed by Soviet troops

The East German uprising began as a series of strikes and protests at living standards; it soon turned political, with town halls being stormed amid vocal demands for German reunification. The immediate trigger for the unrest was an announcement by the Communist government that it would increase working hours for factory employees while simultaneously drastically raising the price of groceries.

The backdrop to the uprising was a policy of "expanding socialism according to plan" by East Germany's communists in the early 1950s. It involved a combination of expropriating farms to create massive industrial-scale farming collectives and stepping up construction of the heavy-industry sector. That combined with crushing World War II reparations payments plunged the East German economy into chaos. As austerity measures became the order of the day, the country fell into economic crisis as more and more people left for the relative prosperity of West Germany. By the spring of 1953, close to 30,000 people left East Germany every month.

Then came the strikes. During the last days of May and early June, dissatisfied workers began laying down their tools. But the first massive wave of protest came on June 16, as thousands of construction workers, emboldened by the death of Stalin, protested on Berlin's Stalinallee (today's Karl Marx Allee) against wage cuts, forming a long protest march through East Berlin.

The following day, more than a million people went on strike and took to the streets in more than 700 cities and communities. What began as an uprising for better wages quickly turned into a protest for freedom, democracy and unity in Germany. The workers called for greater government transparency, a better quality of life, the resignation of the GDR's government, free elections by secret ballot and reunification.

The tense situation escalated further in East Berlin, the epicenter of the unrest. The GDR regime turned to the Soviet Union for help. Soviet tanks rolled into the unarmed crowd of protesters. The troops began firing at the workers on Friedrichstrasse and at Potsdamer Platz, killing dozens of people.

During the days following June 17, as many as 10,000 protesters and members of the strike committee were arrested. More than 1,500 protesters were given lengthy prison sentences.


Further Reading


17 Juni 1953 Live- Causes & Consequences of People's Uprising 

Vintage NewsBefore the Berlin Wall: The 1953 Anti-Communist Uprising in East Germany

Wilson Center - East German Uprising Digital Archive "Like Wildfire"? The East German Uprising of 1953

Korean War Ends  after three years of a bloody and frustrating war, the USA, China, North Korea, and South Korea agree to an armistice, bringing the war to an end

Since Chinese and North Korean troops had driven UN forces back across the 38th parallel in 1951, the war eventually bogged down into a battle of attrition. In the U.S. presidential election of 1952, Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower strongly criticized President Harry S. Truman’s handling of the war. After his victory, Eisenhower adhered to his promise to “go to Korea.” His trip convinced him that something new was needed to break the diplomatic logjam at the peace talks that had begun in July 1951.


Eisenhower began to publicly hint that the United States might make use of its nuclear arsenal to break the military stalemate in Korea. He allowed the Nationalist Chinese government in Taiwan to begin harassing air raids on mainland China. The president also put pressure on his South Korean ally to drop some of its demands in order to speed the peace process.

Whether or not Eisenhower’s threats of nuclear attacks helped, by July 1953 all sides involved in the conflict were ready to sign an agreement ending the bloodshed. The armistice, signed on July 27, established a committee of representatives from neutral countries to decide the fate of the thousands of prisoners of war on both sides. It was eventually decided that the POWs could choose their own fate–stay where they were or return to their homelands.


A new border between North and South Korea was drawn, which gave South Korea some additional territory and demilitarized the zone between the two nations. The true casualty figures for the North and South Koreans and Chinese will never be known. It is estimated that some 46,000 South Korean soldiers were killed and over 100,000 wounded. The Chinese are estimated by the Pentagon as having lost over 400,000 killed (including Mao Tse-tung's son) and 486,000 wounded, with over 21,000 captured. The North Koreans lost about 215,000 killed, 303,000 wounded and over 101,000 captured or missing.


It had been a frustrating war for Americans, who were used to forcing the unconditional surrender of their enemies. The USA bore the brunt of casualties - almost 40,000 of US servicemen died, either in battle or of other causes - but so too did thousands of troops from various UN allies. Many  could not understand why the United States had not expanded the war into China or used its nuclear arsenal. As government officials were well aware, however, such actions would likely have prompted World War III.


Further Reading

Wikipedia The Peace Treaty and Complicated POW Exchange 

National Interest - Nobody Actually Won the Korean War

1953 - Korea War Ends

Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 25, with much pomp and ceremony, Elizabeth was crowned Queen of Britain and the Commonwealth, a position which she still holds today

On June 2, 1953, Queen Elizabeth II is formally crowned monarch of the United Kingdom in a lavish ceremony steeped in traditions that date back a millennium. A thousand dignitaries and guests attended the coronation at London’s Westminster Abbey, and hundreds of millions listened on radio and for the first time watched the proceedings on live television. After the ceremony, millions of rain-drenched spectators cheered the 27-year-old queen and her husband, the 30-year-old duke of Edinburgh, as they passed along a five-mile procession route in a gilded horse-drawn carriage.

Following the death of father, George VI, Elizabeth was immediately proclaimed Britain’s new monarch but remained in seclusion for the first three months of her reign as she mourned her father. During the summer of 1952, she began to perform routine duties of the sovereign, and in November she carried out her first state opening of the Parliament. On June 2, 1953, her coronation was held at Westminster Abbey.

The ceremony at Westminster was one of pomp and pageantry, and the characteristically poised Elizabeth delivered in a solemn and clear voice the coronation oath that bound her to the service of the people of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth. In the procession through the streets of London that followed, Elizabeth and her husband were joined by representatives from the more than 40 member states of the Commonwealth, including heads of state, sultans, and prime ministers. British troops like the Yeomen of the Guard were joined by a great variety of Commonwealth troops, including police from the Solomon Islands, Malaysians in white uniforms and green sarongs, Pakistanis in puggaree headdresses, Canadian Mounties, and New Zealanders and Australians in wide-brimmed hats. After the parade, Elizabeth stood with her family on the Buckingham Palace balcony and waved to the crowd as jet planes of the Royal Air Force flew across the Mall in tight formation.


In more than six decades of rule, Queen Elizabeth II’s popularity has hardly subsided. She has traveled more extensively than any other British monarch and was the first reigning British monarch to visit South America and the Persian Gulf countries. In addition to Charles and Anne, she and Philip have had two other children, Prince Andrew in 1960 and Prince Edward in 1964. In 1992, Elizabeth, the wealthiest woman in England, agreed to pay income tax for the first time.

Although she has begun to hand off some official duties to her children, notably Charles, the heir to the throne, she has given no indication that she intends to abdicate.


Further Reading


Royal UK - 50 Facts About the Queen's Coronation

IndependentThe Queen's Coronation in 1953

1953 - Coronation Elizabeth II
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