Joseph Stalin, the ruthless leader of the Soviet Union, had a complicated and tragic family life. He had two wives, both of whom died young, and four children, who suffered from his cruelty and neglect. But one of his children was born out of wedlock and kept a secret for most of his life. This is the story of Yakov Dzhugashvili, Stalin’s illegitimate son who became a Nazi prisoner.
Yakov was born in 1907 to Stalin’s first wife, Yekaterina Svanidze, a laundry woman and dressmaker. Stalin loved her dearly, but she died of typhus when Yakov was only eight months old. Stalin was devastated by her death and threw himself into revolutionary work, leaving Yakov with Yekaterina’s aunt in Georgia.
Yakov did not see his father again until he was 14 years old, when he moved to Moscow to join him. But they did not get along. Stalin had a new family – he had married Nadezhda Alliluyeva, who gave birth to two more children, Vasily and Svetlana. Yakov reminded Stalin of his beloved Yekaterina, and this irritated him. Yakov also struggled to speak Russian, and was shy and taciturn.
Stalin treated Yakov harshly and showed little affection for him. He disapproved of Yakov’s marriage to a priest’s daughter, and mocked him for his lack of ambition and intelligence. Yakov tried to please his father by studying engineering and joining the Communist Party, but nothing seemed to work.
In 1930, Yakov attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head, but he survived. Stalin was furious and said: “He can’t even shoot straight.” He also reportedly said: “He left us just as he came – without saying goodbye.”
Yakov’s relationship with his father worsened during World War II, when Stalin insisted that he sign up to go to the front. In August 1941, Yakov was captured by the Nazis near Smolensk. He was taken to a concentration camp, where he endured torture and humiliation.
The Nazis tried to use Yakov as a propaganda tool, offering to exchange him for a German field marshal who had been captured by the Soviets. But Stalin refused, saying: “I will not trade a soldier for a field marshal.” He also said: “There are no prisoners of war, only traitors.”
Yakov died in the camp in 1943, under mysterious circumstances. Some sources say he committed suicide by throwing himself onto an electric fence. Others say he was shot by a guard for refusing to obey orders.
Yakov left behind three children by three different women. His first daughter died in infancy, but his other two children survived. His son Yevgeny Dzhugashvili became a colonel in the Soviet Air Force and defended his grandfather’s legacy until his death in 2016. His daughter Galina Dzhugashvili became a translator and lived a quiet life in Georgia.
Yakov Dzhugashvili was one of history’s most influential illegitimate children, but he never enjoyed the benefits of his father’s power. He was a victim of Stalin’s tyranny and a pawn in Hitler’s war.