Stalin – a name that’s familiar to most people, but in truth, I knew very little about him. However, a visit to the Stalin Museum in the Georgian town of Gori where he was born, provided an insight into the man who helped save his nation from Nazi domination and as the mass murderer who oversaw the deaths of between 8 to 20 million of his own people.
Although visits are usually conducted by in-house guides, our time was limited and so our tour guide Sergi got permission to take us around the six large halls, and he did a fantastic job with many memorable aspects.
At the entrance was a statue of Stalin and then in the two-storied rather grand building, we began with Stalin’s real name, Iosif Djugashvili, and portraits of his parents, two wives and three children.
More exhibits followed highlighting significant points in his life, from his expulsion from a theology college in Tbilisi for reading works by Marx, his relationship with Lenin and Trotsky, through to World War II and the Yalta Conference.
A model of what had been a nondescript crumbling house in the capital Tbilisi showed the creation of a series of rooms, accessed by climbing down a well, where in 1904, the young Stalin printed literature calling for the removal of the Tsar. It really was an underground press in more ways than one.
Stalin was sent into exile on six occasions, but escaped five times, and a large wall map of the USSR showed the various locations.
There was his desk and furniture from the Kremlin, gifts donated from different countries, including a clog from Amsterdam, and personal possessions such as cigarettes, pens, and cigars.
Following his death in 1953, 12 bronze death masks were made, and one was displayed in the museum – whilst another was sold in Suffolk in 2018 for $17,000.
We also learned that Stalin had a number of issues: firstly, his height, or rather lack of it, with a photograph showing him as a young theology student, chin held high in an attempt to disguise his stature. As his left arm was shorter as a result of a childhood accident, he avoided having his photograph taken in positions which exposed this, and due to facial smallpox scarring, official photographs were airbrushed. If this wasn’t enough, the thickness of his hair meant his military cap didn’t fit well.
An additional extra was a replica of the simple house where he was born, and his personal train carriage: he had a fear of flying and the train was bullet proof, but he took his own cook who had to try the food.
This was a fascinating visit which made me want to learn more, and on return I ordered a book recommended by our guide, Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore.