Stalin’s daughter defected to U.S. in 1967, but returned to the Soviet Union in 1984


Although Joseph Stalin helped the Allies win World War II and established the Soviet Union as one of the major world powers, the policies of his ruthless centralized government were responsible for the deaths of almost 9 million people.

Those who were loyal to the Soviet Communist Party considered him to be the champion of socialism and the protector of the Russian people, and those who opposed him were systematically eradicated. However, even those who considered themselves loyal were often imprisoned or killed. He obstructed freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression.

Stalin’s ruthlessness wasn’t limited to his role as leader of the Soviet Union. His family suffered tremendously.  In 1932, his second wife was found dead: The medical examiners of the time concluded that she died of a burst appendix, but many historians suspect that she was in fact killed by Stalin’s agents or even Stalin himself. In 1943, his oldest son, Yakov Dzhugashvili, died in a Nazi concentration camp because Stalin refused to exchange him for a Nazi general who was imprisoned by the Russians.

Joseph Stalin

Stalin’s only daughter, Svetlana Stalina, had a tumultuous life. Her father insisted on absolute control over her social life and education: he forbade her from studying literature at the Moscow State University and employed his agents to spy on her when she was meeting friends.

Yakov Dzhugashvili (1907-1943), the eldest son of Joseph Stalin

Also, he decided to be in charge of her love life. Since he was anti-Semitic, he banned her from having Jewish boyfriends and wanted her to marry one of the high-ranking members of the Communist Party. Despite this, her first husband was a Jew named Grigori Mozorov. Stalin never acknowledged him; the couple divorced in 1947.

A young Svetlana sitting on Lavrentiy Beria’s lap with Stalin (in background) and Nestor Lakoba

When Stalin died in 1953, Svetlana thought that the state would finally stop meddling in her affairs. She adopted her mother’s maiden name of Alliluyeva and began dating an Indian Communist named Brajesh Singh, whom she met in Moscow. To her horror, the state continued controlling her life: they pressured her to refuse Singh’s marriage proposal and forbade her from traveling out of the Soviet Union for any reason. However, when Singh died in 1966, Svetlana managed to obtain a permit to attend his funeral in New Delhi.

Svetlana with her father, Joseph Stalin, in 1935

The brief visit to New Delhi proved to be a perfect chance for Svetlana’s escape: she hailed a cab and drove to the nearest U.S. embassy, where she asked for political asylum. The Americans were not aware of the fact that Stalin had a daughter, but, fortunately for her, they transferred her to Switzerland so that she could wait until they verified her identity and decided whether to allow her to enter the United States. After it was proven that Svetlana indeed was Stalin’s daughter, President Lyndon Johnson was faced with the problem that giving her political asylum would possibly worsen the U.S.’s already shaky relations with the Soviet Union.

After several weeks of contemplation, Johnson welcomed Svetlana to the United States. Upon arrival, she publicly denounced communism and condemned the authoritarian terror enforced by her father. The media across the world reported on her defection, and the Soviets were infuriated. They reportedly planned to engage covert agents in the U.S. to execute her, but the plans were never carried out.

Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Josef Stalin, in 1970.

Svetlana changed her name to Lana Peters and became a nationwide sensation. She published her memoirs in which she described the harsh living conditions of the common people of the Soviet Union and openly criticized her father’s tyranny and bloodshed. The books she wrote made her a millionaire: she used the money to travel across America, give lectures, and enjoy a life of luxury for a time.

Svetlana Alliluyeva in 1967, after defecting.

However, Svetlana was never completely happy in the United States. She moved from one city to another. Her children were still in the Soviet Union, and she couldn’t contact them. She exhausted most of her earnings by the 1980s and fell into severe financial troubles. To the surprise of many people in the Western world, she returned to the Soviet Union in 1984, reunited with her family, and publicly apologized for denouncing communism.

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She stayed in the Soviet Union for two years, moving to England after falling out with her relatives. She remained in Bristol until 2009, when she again relocated to the United States and obtained a permanent visa. It seems that she never managed to escape the horror that surrounded the legacy of her father.

On November 22, 2011, Svetlana died in Wisconsin at the age of 85.