A Soviet archive has yielded up one of the last secrets of World War Two that dictator Josef Stalin took to his grave – the fact his son Yakov gave himself up to Nazi forces during the 1941 invasion of his country.
The party line in Stalin’s Russia was always that Yakov Dzhugashvili, the eldest son of the murderous Communist tyrant, was captured.
Now a file of the Defence Ministry suggests that he gave himself up because of his disillusionment with the conduct of the war which saw 1.3 million Red Army men captured, killed or disabled in the first weeks of the Nazi invasion in June 1941.
Spiegel Magazine has accessed the files and prints the story of Stalin’s son, known as Yasha, in its latest edition.
Stalin disowned him in 1928 following a dispute about a girl and the defence ministry archive in Podolsk reveals Stalin writing to his mother in April 1928: ‘Tell Yasha that I think he behaved like a thug and an extortionist, someone with whom I no longer have anything in common and with whom I no longer want a relationship. Let him live where and with whom he wants. J. Stalin.’
Yakov volunteered for the army in 1937, became a lieutenant in 1940 and was a commander in the 14th Howitzer Regiment of the 14th Tank Division at the time Hitler unleashed three million men in Operation Barbarossa on June 22 1941.
By July 9 Soviet forces were in retreat from Vietbsk in what is now Belarus and Yakov’s battery was ordered to give covering fire. He was recommended for a medal by his commanding officer for bravery, but he vanished – presumed captured.
The division sent a unit to the area where he went missing, the papers say, and the men came across Red Army soldier Popuride, ‘who had managed to escape with Yakov. He said they buried their papers together and put on civilian clothing. When they reached the lakeside, Comrade Dzhugashvili told Popuride to keep going, but that he wanted to stay and rest.’
‘The episode suggests that Yakov had allowed himself to be taken prisoner,’ said Spiegel, and Stalin seemingly concurred, which explains why the archive was also sealed for so long.
Stalin never told the Russian people – 27 million of whom were to die fighting the Nazis – that his son was captured. In his eyes this was treason, and hundreds of thousands of Russians who returned from Nazi captivity marched straight into the Siberian prison gulag for 25 year stretches for their ‘crime.’
Also hidden in the archive were Yakov’s equally treasonous statements that were found in Berlin after the war in which he poured scorn on the Red Army his own father commanded.
Of the leadership he stated: ‘When they were surrounded, they went into such a panic that everyone scattered in different directions… We had no maps at all. In our unit, everything was slovenly and poorly organized…The division wasn’t prepared for the war at all…’
Marshal Georgy Zhukov, who would go on to capture Berlin in 1945, recalled in his memoirs a conversation he had with ‘the chief’ during the war in which Stalin said: ‘Yakov will not escape captivity. The fascists will shoot him.’
This proved to be true: in April 1943 he was shot while trying to escape from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin.
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