02 , 2006 | By Boris Sopelniak

Ten Years in Jail for a Kiss from Stalins Daughter (3984)

If a daughter at her father’s deathbed is thinking about the man who suffered because of that father, is pining for the man and lamenting his sorry plight, what would you say should be the proper name for the feeling she has for the man, even ten years after their last meeting? Love, I suppose. 

It all started with Svetlana, Stalins little girl– how shall I put it? showing signs of precocity, puberty-wise. Actually, there is nothing unusual in that the call of blood is not to be ignored, and Svetlanas ancestry, ethnically speaking, was a hodge-podge Russians, Germans, Gypsies, Georgians, you name it. 

Here is what she writes in her memoirs about late 1942 and early 1943. Let me remind the reader that just then the Battle of Stalingrad was raging, Leningrad was wasting away under German siege, Ukraine, Belorussia, and the Baltic states were crushed by the tread of the Nazi army, and Moscow was practically within enemy reach. 

“Life in Zubalovo (the pleasant Moscow suburb where Stalins family was living. B.S.) was far from nice during that winter of 1942-1943. Our home witnessed the hitherto unknown atmosphere of drunken orgies. Vasily (Svetlanas elder brother. B.S.) entertained a steady stream of visitors: athletes, actors, his pilot friends, who reveled away to a blaring radiogram. They were making merry as though there was no war on. 

And yet it was awfully boring not a face to talk to in earnest about what was happening in the world, or in the country, or within ones soul… It had always been boring in our home; I was used to loneliness and isolation. But while the boredom had been quiet before, now it was boring and noisy. 

At the end of October 1942, Vasily brought over Alexei Kapler to the dacha. They were planning to make a new movie about pilots, and Vasily undertook to act as a consultant. At first we did not seem to impress each other in any way. But eventually the whole company was all invited to film-watching sessions in Gnezdnikovsky Lane in the center of Moscow, and there we started talking cinema.

Alexei was amazed to discover that I could talk sense at all, and pleasantly surprised to see that I did not think much of a Hollywood movie with tap dancing girls. Then he offered to show me ‘good films of his own choice, and the next time he came to Zubalovo he brought Queen Christina starring Greta Garbo. I was utterly captivated by the film, and Alexei was very pleased with me.” 

Then came the November 7 festivities, feasting and dancing 

I got to feel so cozy, warm and secure beside him, Svetlana Alliluyeva writes further. I had developed an unusual trust in that stout, friendly guy; suddenly I had this urge to lay my head on his chest and close my eyes

That night we grew a strong bond with each other, we were no longer strangers, we were friends. Alexei was surprised and deeply moved. He had a way with all kinds of people. He was friendly, genial, he took interest in everything. At the same time he was sort of lonely and may have been looking for someones support too. 

We were irresistibly drawn to each other. We tried to meet as often as we could, though given my way of life, it was quite a problem. But Alexei would come to my school and wait in the entrance to the house next door watching me. As to me, I felt my heart contract blissfully because I knew he would be there We went to the bleak, unheated Tretyakov Gallery to see an exhibition about the war. We wandered about the gallery halls till the last bell telling visitors to leave had stopped ringing we had nowhere to go. 

Then we took to going to theaters. At the time Korneichuks The Frontline had just premiered, and Alexeis verdict was that there isnt a trace of art in it. In the viewing room of the Cinematography Committee in Gnezdnikovsky Lane Alexei showed me Disneys Snow White and Seven Dwarfs and a fantastic movie about Abraham Lincolns young years.There were just the two of us in the smallish hall. 

Indeed, the situation was anything but orthodox. A sixteen-year-old schoolgirl and a man of 38, twice divorced to boot, and with a fourteen-year-old son the kind of love affair that even by todays standards might well raise a few eyebrows. While the young girls infatuation seems understandable damsels in their teens tend to resent their peers and fall for grown men Mr. Kapler should have known better. Didnt he realize that he was going a bit too far? Didnt he see what he was letting himself in for? 

Alas, love must have rendered blind Kapler the man of the world, and he lost his head. This is the only explanation I can think of for his seemingly chivalrous act, which was really extremely imprudent, when he, on a trip to besieged Stalingrad, wrote a letter to his lady love on behalf of some lieutenant and, worse, published it in the countrys premier daily Pravda. The hints were so transparent that it did not take a mastermind to guess the girls name. 

Alexei returned from Stalingrad shortly before the New Year celebrations of 1943, Sveltana Alliluyeva writes on. Soon we met and I implored him to do just one thing to discontinue our meetings and phone calls. I felt it could have truly horrendous results. 

We desisted from phoning each other for a couple of weeks for the rest of January. But that only made us think the more about each other. In the end, I could no longer stand it and was the first to ring him up. And we were off again My family was horrified. 

The family consisted not only of her nurse, nephews and aunts; the family was first and foremost her father. Stalin was aware of the relationship, of course, but thus far had pretended to ignore it. True, his security chief, General Vlasik, suggested, through his aide Colonel Rumiantsev, that Kapler leave Moscow on a business trip somewhere, but the latter had already thrown all caution to the winds and told the colonel to go to hell. 

In February 1943 Svetlana turned 17, and the lovers got a chance to be on their own. True, Svetlana insists that her minder her bodyguard Mikhail Klimov was in the next room. This is how she recounted the episode twenty years later when she had plucked up courage to write her Twenty Letters to a Friend

We just could not talk any more. We knew we were seeing each other for the last time. Alexei realized that there was no getting away with it and resolved to leave; he had a permission to go on a business trip to Tashkent in Uzbekistan where a movie to his script, She Is Defending Her Motherland, was being shot. What we felt was bitterness and sweetness. We did not say anything, just looked into each others eyes and kissed. We were divinely happy, although both were tearful. 

Then I went home, tired, spent and haunted by an awful foreboding. 

Svetlanas fears proved justified. Disaster did strike. And how! Stalin was literally ranting and raving. 

On March 3, in the morning, as I was getting ready for school, father unexpectedly came home, she recalled somewhat later, which was most unusual. He marched into my room at his normal brisk pace and glared at my nurse, which left her petrified with her feet glued to the floor in the corner. I had never seen father in this state. Usually sparing with words and emotion, he was choking with rage and could barely speak. 

Wheres the lot? Wherere the letters from your precious writer? 

The word writer he uttered with inimitable scorn. 

I know it all! All your phone conversations are here, all of them, he patted his pocket. Here, give them to me, quick! That Kapler of yours is a British spy, hes been arrested! 

I took out of my desk drawers all the notes by Alexei and the snapshots he had inscribed. There were his notebooks, too, and a new script on Shostakovich. And there was his long sad letter of farewell. 

But I love him! I said defiantly at last finding my tongue. 

Oh, you love him, do you?! Father roared with incredible hatred for the very word love and I got two slaps on the face for the first time in my life. Just think, nurse, what shes come to, father went on with undisguised contempt. Theres such a war on, and shes busy and he spat out the coarse, peasants words he did not know any other. 

After a while, as he cooled off a bit, he eyed me up and down and said something that absolutely crushed me. 

Look at yourself in the mirror! Whod be tempted by the likes of you? Hes got women galore, you fool. 

He scooped up all the papers and went to the dining room to read them. My soul was a ruin. Fathers parting shot had touched me to the quick. Who indeed could be tempted by the likes of me? Surely, Alexei could never have really fallen in love with me. 

What would he want with me? The words about that Kapler of mine being a British spy took some time to sink in. It was not till I finished going through the motions of packing my school satchel that I finally realized what had happened to him. 

I returned from school dazed. Father was in the dining room tearing up my letters and photos, which he dropped in the wastepaper basket. 

A writer, he muttered. Cant even write Russian properly. Couldnt even choose a Russian, he said through his teeth with a grimace of distaste. 

The fact that Kapler was a Jew seemed to vex him more than anything else. From that day on my father and I were strangers. I was no longer his little girl he used to love. 

From Writer to Gofer 

If all Svetlana had to endure as a result of her romance with Kapler was a family row, Alexei was in for much more unpleasantness. On March 3 he was arrested and dispatched to the KGB offices in the sinister building on Lubyanka Square. On the same day he was subjected to the first interrogation that lasted an hour and a half. The trouble is though that there is a blank interrogation form with the time marked, but no trace of questions or answers. What did they wish to know? What could the investigator be asking Kapler that it was impossible to record in writing either the questions or the answers?

Case 6863 to charge Alexei Yakovlevich Kapler is generally most unusual and mysterious. Let me just say for a start that every page of the case materials has been numbered and filed, in accordance with the standard procedure, but some pages bear the same numbers, while others have an odd look. Why? What is the matter? Who had to do that crude juggling? I am afraid we will never know the truth. And yet I would like to hazard a guess. 

The thing is that not one of the many interrogation sessions contains any mention whatever of the name of the leaders daughter Svetlana, her brother Vasily or any other member of Stalins family. Meanwhile, if Svetlana Alliluyevas reminiscences are anything to go by, her father knew quite a lot of what none but herself and Kapler could have known. How did he learn those facts? From those very interrogation records, I suppose, that are conspicuously absent from the case file; the reason why they are not there is precisely that they were handed over to Stalin. It is a safe bet that he destroyed the papers. As for Kapler, he must have been terrorized into silence so that neither in the labor camps nor later, after release, he so much as said a word about his love affair with the leaders daughter. 

In the years when Kapler was the anchor of Kinopanorama, a weekly TV program devoted to the cinema, I was introduced to him, and once even met him informally at a banquet. After a third glass of vodka I plucked up either courage or cheek and asked Alexei about Svetlana Alliluyeva. It had to be seen to be believed, the way this nice person with a ready smile was instantly transformed. His face darkened, he grunted something incoherent, and changed the subject abruptly. 

Well, now that Alexei Kapler has long since been gone, I believe I can write about the most difficult and grim period of his life. 

As I have said before, Kapler was arrested on March 3. An odd coincidence, that; precisely ten years later he whom Kapler had angered so by daring to fall in love with his daughter would depart this world. So, arrest him they did, and they promptly got out of him everything to do with his relationship with Svetlana, too, but they couldnt very well pack him off to a prison camp on a charge of love for Stalins daughter. So they had to frame him up for something else. 

A British spy? But why British if he did not know personally a single Briton? Besides, the British were our allies, werent they? Then Americans perhaps? But they were allies too. Now what if Americans were referred to simply as foreigners, especially since Kapler had indeed met some American journalists? Good idea. So the investigator asks the following question: 

Which of the foreigners were you close to? 

None, answers Kapler, but I was on business terms with American journalists Shapiro and Parker. I met Shapiro in November 1942 at the premiere of Korneichuks play The Frontline at the Maly Theater. At the time I was planning to go to Stalingrad, and he asked me to write an article on General Chuikov. I promised and eventually did so: the article on Chuikov I sent to him through the Press Department of the Foreign Ministry, as is the usual procedure. As for Parker, he wished to publish in his magazine an extract from my movie script The Leningrad Symphony, but nothing came of it in the end. 

Did you discuss your remuneration? the investigator tried another lane of approach. After all, receiving money from foreigners, and in hard currency at that, could be viewed as payment for handing over sensitive information. 

But Kapler dashed his hopes.

No, we did not discuss remuneration, he said sharply. I thought it embarrassing to raise the matter, and they also kept silent, for reasons of their own no doubt. 

Well, what can one get out of this interrogation? On the face of it, precious little. A prominent Soviet scriptwriter, fiction writer and journalist talks to his colleagues from an allied power, a member of the anti-Hitlerite coalition. Whats criminal in that? Speaking of Americans, nothing. Now, what if one speaks of foreigners in general? Remember that this gem ofan idea had already been approved, and Lubyanka investigators worked hard to flesh it out with concrete names, dates and meeting places. So the interrogation was not entirely pointless after all. 

Kaplers family ties had also been probed into. It turned out that before the Bolshevik coup his father had owned a clothes-making shop and hired 15 workers; that one of his sisters had married a Frenchman, and at the outbreak of the war moved either to Britain or to the United States, and although Kapler denied keeping in touch with her, this had to be looked into. The search of Kaplers apartment proved most rewarding; they found several books in German there, and all of them anti-Soviet. Another piece of extraordinary luck was the fact that among Kaplers personal friends there were several ex-Trotskyites.

Lieutenant Colonel Zimenkov who conducted the case was rubbing his hands in glee. What more could one want? Links with foreigners? Undeniably there. Anti-Soviet literature? Ditto. Meeting Trotskyites? You bet. Basically, more than enough to refer the case to the court; ample grounds for a guilty verdict. But to be on the safe side, Zimenkov decided also to charge Kapler with anti-Soviet utterances and defeatist mood, which was a powerful trump card, particularly in wartime.

 But Kapler stood his ground and would not acknowledge defeatism even under threat of torture. 

Although, he added for some reason, I must say that being a quick-tempered person by nature, I sometimes made uncomplimentary remarks about various aspects of the Soviet states development. But that cannot be viewed as anti-Soviet utterances; simply I did not properly consider the wording of my ideas. 

Thus, bit by bit, word by word, the investigator gathered material that enabled him to write, on completing investigation: The available materials expose A.Ya. Kapler as a person of anti-Soviet views who in the company of his associates conducted hostile conversations and slandered the leaders of the Communist Party and the Soviet state. Kapler maintained close ties with foreigners suspected of espionage. 

Interrogation records are normally kept by the examining official, while the person under investigation merely signs them, either page by page or at the end. Now, here we see something altogether incredible: Lieutenant Colonel Zimenkov let Kapler add a few words in his own hand. And do you know what Kapler wrote? I have never engaged in slander against the leaders of the Party and the state. I have been and still am infinitely faithful to Stalin and deeply respectful of all the leaders of the Party and the state. 

None of it helped, though On November 25 the Kapler case was referred for the examination of the Special Consultative Panel, which passed a fairly mild sentence by the standards of the times: Alexei Yakovlevich Kapler shall be sent to a correctional labor camp for five years for anti-Soviet agitation. 

At the close of 1943 the winner of the Stalin Award, holder of the Order of Lenin, and author of extremely popular movies about Lenin found himself in the Far North in Vorkuta. Fortunately, he was not sent to work in the mines there, or to build roads, or to fell trees Alexei Ke[ler would not have survived the physical exertion. What he did there and how he lived I will tell by quoting actress Valentina Tokharskaya, a well-known name at the time. 

Her life was hardly to be envied either. As an actress of the Satire Theater she joined a frontline entertainers brigade early in the war, got captured by the Germans, and went from one German camp to another till Victory in May 1945. Once she was freed from those, she was sentenced to four years in a far more fearsome Soviet camp. Few people know that Vorkuta then boasted a fairly good theater where both convicts and members of the prison staff used to act. Tokharskaya became one of the leading actresses there. Here is what she writes in her memoirs: 

Every first night was followed by reviews in newspapers, just like in the metropolis. And the cast was photographed beforehand. The photographer was Alexei Kapler. At the time he was finishing his five-year term. He was what was popularly known as a gofer rushing about the city from morning till night taking snapshots or taking the developed pictures to people. 

Kapler was a person of great charm and willing to help, and so was uniformly liked. The entire city went to his studio to get photographed. I was no exception. I knew that I was risking loss of permit to move about or a spell of physical labor, but still I broke the rules. Eventually we got married. 

Thus, Kapler became a gofer and was serving sentence in Vorkuta, but lived not within the camp grounds but in a tiny room partitioned off in the corner of the local photo studio, and by the end of his term even became a happy spouse. But what about the other protagonist of our narration? How was she faring? Having lost Kapler, Svetlana Alliluyeva did not pine for long. 

In the spring of 1944 I got married, she recalled. My first husband, a university undergraduate like myself, was an old friend. We had gone to the same school. He was Jewish, and that was not to my fathers liking. But he put up with it somehow; he did not feel like going overboard again, and so gave his consent to our marriage. 

I went to father specifically to discuss the matter. He was now generally difficult to talk to. He had been disaffected with me once and for all; I was a disappointment to him. 

Cant wait to get married, can you? he asked. Then, after a long silence, during which he looked at the trees, he added: To hell with you, do what you like. 

The marriage did not last long; they separated three years later. Stalin did not once see his son-in-law. Moreover, he was glad to see his daughter divorce a Jew of the name of Moroz and marry the son of the high-ranking Party functionary Zhdanov shortly afterwards. True, his grandson by his daughters first marriage who had been named Joseph what else Stalin acknowledged and was rather fond of. 

Socially Dangerous Person No.1225 

If you think that the story of the unfortunate love affair between Alexei Kapler and Svetlana Alliluyeva ends there, you are very much mistaken. 

Either Svetlana let drop that she could not forget Kapler, or the man himself tried to contact her, but Stalin seemed to have learned all about it and gave orders accordingly. 

To make matters worse, Kapler himself supplied a suitable excuse:

against his better judgment he came to Moscow. He knew that turning up in the capital was sheer madness, that he was taking tremendous risks, for after he had done his fiver he was forbidden to go anywhere near Moscow.  Still Alexei Yakovlevich, by hook or by crook, got himself sent on a 45-day business trip to Moscow, Leingrad, Kiev and Kishinev. 

On March 31 he arrived in Moscow and went on a round of hectic activity, meeting with writers Fadeev and Simonov, composer Bogoslovsky, looking up his sister and his ex-wife Tayana Zlatogorova, spending nights now at his fellow prisoners mothers place and now at his new Moscow friends apartment.

Kapler had no inkling that all that time he was under surveillance. But they decided to apprehend him not on the street or in someones apartment, but on the train. As soon as Alexei Kapler concluded his business in Moscow and boarded the train to go to Kiev, he was arrested. In Naro-Fominsk, southwest of Moscow, he was taken off the train and sent to the Lubyanka Inner Prison that was so thoroughly familiar to him. 

Thus appeared Case No.1225 charging A.Ya. Kapler with all those things he had already served five years for, plus with the fact that upon serving his sentence he illicitly arrived in Moscow and, having procured various documents, attempted to renew his old Trotskyite connections. 

Considering that the arrest warrant was approved by State Security Minister Abakumov, the connections that worried the authorities were not Trotskyite (after the war they were nonexistent), but of a very different kind. Remember that Svetlana was at a marriageable age at the time, and did not marry Yuri Zhdanov till the spring of 1949. 

I have no proof that Kapler managed to see Svetlana then her name is never mentioned during interrogations, as before. But if so, why arrest him, and on the train, of all places? Why instigate another criminal charge against him? Particularly since, as the interrogations revealed, his business trip was not a fake: Kapler had been sent on that trip by the Vorkuta municipal committee with a view to purchasing photographic materials and all manner of processing waste so badly needed in the North. And if the law banned him from appearing in Moscow, surely the persons to be held criminally liable must be those who had authorized his business trip, not Kapler. 

What was your purpose in visiting Fadeev, Simonov and Romm? the investigator inquired. 

I applied to them about my further literary and cinema work. While discussing those matters, I also asked Fadeev to help me move from Vorkuta to some major city with a large library that I need to continue work on my script about Leo Tolstoy. Fadeev suggested that I write an application to enable him to file a petition with the Interior Ministry for me to move to one of the regional centers. When talking to Simonov and Romm I discussed these things too. Actually, Romm said that there was a far more urgent and important matter to attend to, namely making a film about Lenin, and he wished to raise the issue with the minister for cinematography so that I could be allowed to write the script for it. 

So that was the only reason for your trip to Moscow? asked the investigator sarcastically. 

Certainly not, replied the convict of five years standing who was not easily taken in. The chief purpose of my business trip was executing the order from the Vorkuta municipal committee. 

Well, and did you manage to do anything? 

I did indeed, Kapler tossed his head proudly. I managed to get warrants for photographic film and paper. Besides, I contrived to wring some materials from the Regional Industry Ministry. I was hoping to get the rest in Kiev.

At the moment of arrest security officers found on your person a card of the holder of the Stalin Award First Class. How did you come by it? And is it really yours? 

I received it several days ago at the Stalin Awards Committee. In fact, I won the award in March 1941, but the holders cards were not introduced till 1944. As I happened to be in the prison camp at the time, I had to wait till my present trip to Moscow to get it. 

For a while they let Kapler alone But then hours-long interrogations resumed, although all they yielded were the briefest of notes. What was it all about? What did they want to hear from Kapler? I think I have found the answer. Whatever a particular interrogation focused on, it invariably ended with the crucial question: Whom did you meet during your stay in Moscow between March 31 and April 4? 

So the Lubyanka guys could not be sure that Kapler had not shaken off his tail and seen the girl whose awesome parent wanted them to guard her against this person who was turning so prematurely grey. 

Finally, orders were given to wind up the case, and at the April 21 interrogation the investigator stopped beating about the bush and asked: 

Is the charge clear to you? 

Oh yes, nodded Kapler not attempting to conceal a bitter smile. All of it has long since been clear to me, he concluded emphatically. 

Until mid-June Kapler was left in peace; something was brewing in the upper echelons, and the Lubyanka people, anxious to please the great leader, vied with one another suggesting increasingly harsh sentences. At long last it was agreed that five years in the labor camps would be adequate punishment. Thus Alexei Kapler ended up in Inta, a coal-mining town in the north, doing manual work, which was rather worse than running about Vorkuta streets with a camera. 

When things got altogether unbearable, Kapler wrote a letter to secret police chief Lavrenty Beria saying that he had deeply repented everything bad he might have done in life, whether knowingly or otherwise, and asked for imprisonment to be commuted to exile. Beria ignored the letter, and a staff member of his secretariat ordered Kaplers appeal to be left unsatisfied. 

And so it went on till 1953 Older people will remember the notorious March amnesty on Stalins death; it is said to have been proposed by Beria who thus gained points to become number one in the state and take Stalins place. 

Alexei Kapler was included in the amnesty, but instead of releasing him, the authorities for some reason deported him under guard to the Inner Prison. 

Before long he was due for release anyway, that is to say he had served the whole of his second five-year term, but still they kept him behind bars. The situation was so glaringly absurd that head of the USSR Interior Ministry First Special Department Lieutenant Colonel Kuznetsov had to interfere and send a report to Deputy Interior Minister Serov.

Colonel General Serov was prompt to respond: Check why release has been delayed was the angry instruction he made in the margin of the report. The checking done, Serov and his deputy were in a state of shock; apparently, the order to keep Kapler on at Lubyanka had come from none other than Beria, while the man sent to interrogate him was one of Berias most appallingly bloody maniacs Colonel General Kobulov. To have a common convict interrogated by the first deputy minister of the interior was utterly unprecedented. So the case must have been too important to be known to anyone but the most trusted persons. 

I believe I have guessed what was discussed at those interrogations: it must have been about Svetlana, Vasily and other members of Stalins family. Beria was very well aware that Vasily resented him, while Svetlana positively loathed the sight of him. And if she dared open her mouth and make some unfavorable comment on Beria, Kaplers hypothetical confessions, needless to say, could prove absolutely invaluable. If Stalins daughter were portrayed as a loose girl who chased men twice her age, the country would just laugh at her accusations. As for Beria himself, he would look not the monster he was, but merely a reluctant executor of Stalins evil will and that of his precious family. 

Indeed, the idea was quite promising, but Beria did not have the time to put it into practice; in June 1953 he was arrested and subsequently, in December, executed.

As for Kapler, he found himself free on sun-drenched streets of Moscow on July 11, 1953. In 1954, he was fully rehabilitated and resumed the work he loved so well literature, movies, television and training budding filmmakers. 

In fact the story could end here, but I would really like to finish it on a different note. Please read the following short extract from Svetlana Alliluyevas memoirs and you will see what kind of note I mean 

Throughout those ten years I had no news of Alexei; my way of life was such that it would have been impossible for me to meet any of his friends without this becoming known at once. All I had left was a memory of those happy moments Alexei had given me. 

Then came the year 1953.  And once more it was March 3, ten years after the day when father had strode into my room in fury and slapped me on the face. And there I was by his bedside, him a dying man. I sat there watching the fussing doctors and thought of various things. Of Alexei, too, for it had been ten years since he was arrested. What had become of him? What was happening to him now? 

Now, if a daughter at her fathers deathbed is thinking about the man who suffered because of that father, is pining for the man and lamenting his sorry plight, what would you say should be the proper name for the feeling she has for the man, even ten years after their last meeting? Love, I suppose. The kind of love that comes once in a lifetime and is preserved in a persons heart till their dying day whatever the vagaries of fate. 

It must be for that reason that providence granted our protagonists one more meeting, this time the last. The year was 1954. The brightly-lit St. George Hall of the Kremlin was the venue of a Writers Union Congress.  Despite the crush, they spotted each other in the crowd. Eyewitnesses allege that Alexei Kapler and Svetlana did not pretend to be strangers, but withdrew to the window and talked there in private long and earnestly. They had a lot to recall and share with each other



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