I read "Stalin: Triumph and tragedy" by Dmitri Volkogonov and (I believe) it said that Stalin didn't kill anyone with his own hands. He signed a lot of "death lists", but those are just pieces of paper.

Did he kill anyone with his own hands or watch any executions?

  • 13
    Note that Charles Manson never personally killed a person, and he's still generally considered a serial killer. Most people don't find the distinction all that important.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 17, 2012 at 21:46
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    Well this is true. But killing someone or see someone dying, can change a person. So, all this death was just piece of paper for him?
    – Rodrigo
    Apr 18, 2012 at 0:08
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    Possibly George Bush also did not kill anybody with his own hands ;-) Seriously the question is not that simple especially given the role of Stalin during the civil war and the defense of Tsaritsin.
    – Anixx
    Apr 18, 2012 at 2:14
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    I doubt that Stalin actually killed anybody himself in Tsaritsin, he already had a leadership position by then. Even if you look at the Tiflis bank robbery, it seems that Stalin merely supervised the operation and wasn't involved personally. Still, it is likely that somewhere during his early career he had to kill somebody with his own hands (e.g. when he escaped his Siberian exile). Apr 18, 2012 at 10:09
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    I have only guesses and these: after Stalin earned the supreme power: not. Before or under the communist revolution: possibly. He fought against czarist police force, robbed, commited terrorist activity. I can't really imagine that he never killed anybody in those time. It is hard to tell, I don't think it is easy to get information about him from those times, since he wasn't in scope. Mar 28, 2013 at 14:09

5 Answers 5


I thought for sure he had actually killed someone himself, and early on around the Tflis bank robbery period there were times he almost did.

But Simon Sebag Montefiore recently wrote a biography on Stalin's earlier years (Young Stalin, 2007, Vintage Books), and he states a few times that Stalin himself never pulled a trigger during his whole life (that resulted in someone getting killed), he always had someone else do it. There was a military officer assassinated by small grenades (known as "apples") back in the pre-revolution days and he was close enough to get hit with shrapnel pretty seriously, but never threw them himself.

Even when imprisoned, others would beat or threaten for Stalin, he seemed to enjoy being able to ply others to get their fists bloody on his behalf, and seemed to be one of the self-affirmations of his power.

I would expect that he did not purposely witness any executions- his whole persona was that he didn't take responsibility for his ordered actions. He was rarely present during any major power plays during the revolution itself (grabbing money, traveling Europe, or being exiled/imprisoned) and was always known for disappearing when least expected. His biggest enemies were often 'dispatched' while nowhere near him (Trotsky in Mexico, various enemies sent to Siberia and elsewhere).

There isn't (as far as I've seen, fwiw) a single eye-witness claim that he killed anyone himself. People feared him from his childhood up to the day he died, but few ever saw him actually lose his temper, much less actually become physically violent. His normal behavior was to openly brood when 'disappointed', threaten to become violent, and to offer small bits of threats prior to an untimely incident taking place (carried out by a henchman).

His power was cultivated by the company he kept, and it helped keep him from being a solitary target as he moved his way up the political food-chain. If you hated him, you knew you had to deal with a bunch of his supporters, not ever merely himself, and he cultivated that by associating with criminals throughout his life. You had to worry about his friends as much as the man himself.

So it's doubtful that he'd take the time to watch someone die- only if it served a purpose towards the others present at that moment would I surmise that he'd "take the time" to engage in witnessing something like an execution.


He could have killed his wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva.

After a public spat with Stalin at a party dinner, Nadezhda was found dead in her bedroom, a revolver by her side.[2] Regardless, the official announcement was that Nadezhda died from appendicitis. Two doctors, who refused to sign a certificate stating false conclusions[citation needed] about the cause of her death (Levin and Pletnev), were later convicted during the Trial of the Twenty-One and executed[citation needed]. Some claim the gun was found beside the hand she didn't use, apparently indicating a framed suicide; many in Russia allege that Stalin killed her himself.[3][4]

(I decided to leave all "citation needed" references)

I remember I read a book about Stalin written by some Soviet dissident and he claimed it was true that he killed her. I perfectly remember that it was done so, that he was working by the table, sitting back to a door. He heard something and without facing pulled his gun and shot, fearing of danger. This was his wife who wanted to bring him a tea or something.

Unfortunately, I read this book 20 years ago and I don't remember both the author and the title. I'm 100% sure it was not by Solzhenitsyn nor sources referenced as [3][4]. I put the story here, maybe someone could also have read this and recall it.

  • I know that history from the childhood, when such info could be spread by spoken word only. Books appeared later...
    – Gangnus
    Feb 17, 2020 at 20:19

I am of the opinion that, even though he may have been perfectly capable of doing the "heavy work" , he opted not to do this so that he could consistently maintain plausible denial. It is a well-known fact that he considered his henchmen as "blind kittens" and that he could obliterate them with the effort of a puff on his pipe.


I've read a couple of shelves full of books on Stalin and I've never come across any incident in which he personally murdered someone with his own hands (or weapons in his own hands). But I do recall an incident where he apparently beat a man bloody: Marshal Tukhachevsky when he was being interrogated in the Lubyanka and was apparently reluctant to sign his confession. I believe I read this in Robert Conquest's The Great Purge (30th Anniversary Edition) but I could be wrong. Supposedly, this incident was revealed by prisoners who saw Stalin there in the Lubyanka and then ultimately survived their brush with the secret police. Conquest said that when the Kremlin archives were opened, he personally saw Tukhachevsky's confession and there was indeed some blood spatter on it. While this doesn't definitely prove Stalin hit Tukachevsky - some minion in NKVD could have done it - or that it was Tukachevsky's blood on the confession - someone else could have bled on the document at some point in time - it's certainly tempting to believe it if you revile Stalin.

I remember reading about another incident that I thought was very telling about Stalin. A new man had been assigned to work closely under Stalin. His job involved handling some of the paper flowing to Stalin. This man received a list of names where all or most of the names had a check mark beside them; Stalin's initials were visible on each page. The man was told to "handle this". The man was not naive; he knew the sort of man Stalin was and made what seemed a reasonable assumption: he sent orders to the appropriate people to have the people with check marks beside their names shot. As it turned out, he had made a wrong assumption; apparently, the person who told him to "handle this" merely wanted the document filed in the appropriate place! Stalin's initials apparently just acknowledged that he had READ the document, not that he wanted these individuals murdered. I can't recall any resolution to the incident, which is what made it stick out in my mind. If Stalin had been horrified, he probably would have had the new man shot or at least sent to the gulag and that would have been an important part of the story. Stalin NOT reacting to this incident seems very telling of something, perhaps pragmatism - "no harm done, I was going to have these people shot in due course the new guy just jumped the gun a little".


I remember reading somewhere that when Stalin first started his courtship of his young wife - the one who allegedly committed suicide - he was supposed to have raped her while on an overnight train travelling through to Moscow. She's supposed to have ran screaming through the carriage and ran to her father - who was also on the train - crying that she'd been dishonoured. Her father immediately grabbed his pistol and confronted Stalin, who was supposed to have got down on his knees and begged him not to pull the trigger. He only managed to avoid being killed because he promised to marry his daughter, and, the girl implored her father not to murder him. That story always stuck with me. I think Stalin was a sociopathic bully throughout his life, who had no qalms about manipulating others to do his dirty work. And the horrific upheaval and violence of WW1 - and the civil war that followed - allowed him to Become such an evil monster. However, when the tables were turned on him and he had to face the barrel of a gun he became a pathetic coward down on his knees begging for his life. Laventri Beria was the same way; he tortured, raped, and helped kill millions, yet when it was his turn to face the firing squad he begged, cried and screamed for his life.

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    Hi Ithamar Ragenald and welcome to History SE. Interesting story but it doesn't really answer the question 'Did Joseph Stalin kill anyone personally?'. Oct 14, 2018 at 0:16

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