Joseph Stalin’s mother, Ekaterina Dzhugashvili, born 5 February 1858, married at the age of fourteen. Her first two children, both boys, died within their first year. Her third child, Joseph Dzhugashvili, was born 18 December 1878, and although struck by a bout of smallpox, he survived. History would remember him better as Joseph Stalin.
‘A sensitive child’
Ekaterina Dzhugashvili, known as Keke, dictated her memories in 1935, two years before her death. The transcript was stored by the Georgian archive of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and was only released in 2007 on the specific request of British author, Simon Sebag Montefiore, who, at the time, was writing his second biography of Stalin, Young Stalin.
She called her son ‘Soso’, Georgian for ‘Little Joey’: “My Soso was a very sensitive child,” she wrote.
Seeing her son’s survival as a gift from God, Keke was determined to see Soso enter church school to train to become a priest, fighting off, often physically, her husband’s insistence that he become a cobbler. “Mummy,” said the young Soso, “what if, when we arrive in the city, father finds me and forces me to become a shoemaker? I want to study. I’d rather kill myself than become a cobbler.” “I kissed him,” wrote his mother, “and wiped away his tears. Nobody will stop you studying, nobody is going to take you away from me.”
Having freed herself from her violent husband, Ekaterina Dzhugashvili moved from one accommodation to another picking up work where she could.
Like a tsar
In later life, Stalin arranged for his mother to move into a large mansion in Tiflis, capital of Georgia (now Tbilisi), but a woman of humble needs, she felt uncomfortable with such luxury and confined herself to one small room.
She turned down his requests to visit him in Moscow and Stalin, never fond of travelling, visited her only rarely. She once asked her son, ‘Joseph, what exactly are you now?’ He replied, ‘do you remember the Tsar? Well, I’m like a tsar.’ ‘You’d have done better to have been a priest,’ she said in response. When he asked her why she had beaten him so much as a child, she shrugged and said, ‘it’s why you’ve turned out so well.’
She wrote a short book about her ‘dear son’, still available today.
Ekaterina Dzhugashvili died 4 June 1937, aged 79. Stalin upset Georgian tradition and sensibilities by not attending her funeral, sending Laventry Beria, at the time Stalin’s man in Georgia, in his stead.
Rupert Colley’s novel, The Black Maria, a chilling tale set in Stalinist Moscow, is now available.