For example, one leading rival of Stalin’s, Leon Trotsky, had escaped to live in exile in Mexico City. But he was assassinated in 1940 by a Soviet agent who thrust an ice pick into his skull. Another rival, Grigor Zinoviev, one of the leaders of the 1917 revolution, was subjected to a show trial in 1936. He pled guilty to spurious charges on Stalin’s promise that he would be spared. Stalin had him shot the day after the trial.
But it wasn’t just Stalin’s senior political rivals that were killed off. Millions of ordinary Soviet citizens died during Stalin’s rule in the vast network of forced labor prison camps run by the Soviet regime. Numbers of deaths in the camps are notoriously hard to pin down, but some researchers have put the figure as high as 10 million.
So this was the man that was Svetlana’s father: a cruel absolute ruler. Stalin even eschewed the chance to save the life of his own son, Svetlana’s half-brother Yakov. He fought for the Red Army in World War II and was captured by the Germans at the Battle of Smolensk in 1941. Hitler offered to swap him for a captured German field marshal. Stalin refused, and Yakov died in a concentration camp.