BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of "Stalin," what was the "great terror"?
SIMON SEBAG MONTEFIORE, AUTHOR, "STALIN: THE COURT OF THE RED TSAR:" The "great terror" was when, in a complete paroxysm of a witch hunt, really, Stalin and his top people decided to cull the whole leadership of the Communist Party, and killed about a million of them.
LAMB: What year?
MONTEFIORE: In 1937. The bizarre thing -- we always -- we always knew that Stalin had really started the "great terror," Stalin and his top people. What we`ve only realized now is that -- how exactly it was done. And there are memos in this -- in this treasure trove of archives that I`ve used for this book -- there`s a memo in which -- Stalin, Molotov, the others send it out to the provinces, and they say, basically, You`ve got to kill people at random. You`ve got to kill -- for example, they sent out to the different cities -- Minneapolis, kill 20,000 people. Dallas, kill 30,000 people. New York, 15,000 people. LA, 10,000 people. Just kill them, kill the enemies.
LAMB: For what? I mean, how did they decide who?
MONTEFIORE: Well, this is the heart of Bolshevism. This is what people often don`t realize. It`s often always, like, Stalin did everything, Stalin was the great monster of this period. True, he was the great monster, but the Bolshevik mindset was the real -- was the real culprit here, as well.
LAMB: What is a Bolshevik? What does that mean?
MONTEFIORE: A Bolshevik is -- the Bolsheviks were the -- were their name for themselves. It means "the majority" in Russian, but in fact, they were a tiny group of people, less than 10,000 people. And when they seized power in 1917, they were so small, it was like Lyndon Larouche taking power in America, literally, a weird sect of extremists taking power in a giant empire.
LAMB: Where was Stalin in relationship to Lenin in 1917?
MONTEFIORE: Pretty close. Lenin came -- came back to Petersburg and arranged the seizure of power. Stalin had been in exile. When the tsar abdicated, he`d come back to St. Petersburg, as well. Lenin had two most trusted troubleshooters, Trotsky and Stalin -- absolute opposites. Trotsky -- intellectual, haughty, Jewish, a man of -- a European intellectual. Stalin, a cobbler`s son from Georgia -- rough, ruthless, highly intelligent, sharp, cunning. They hated each other. Stalin had a huge chip on his shoulder. Trotsky had a sort of superiority complex, if you like.
LAMB: Where was Lenin from originally?
MONTEFIORE: Well, he was from -- he was a Russian. He was from -- he was -- he was from the Urals, I think, and he was -- he was -- he was of a descent of sort of -- of Jewish and German and -- and Russian descent. He was mixed descent. And...
LAMB: Where was Trotsky from?
MONTEFIORE: He was from Odessa.
LAMB: And Georgia would be how many people back in those days?
MONTEFIORE: Oh, it was tiny. It was, like -- now it`s, like -- it`s five million people, so it`s tiny. Then it was, like, a million people, probably.
LAMB: Was the Soviet -- when was the -- when was the Soviet Union put together?
MONTEFIORE: Well, it remained together after the -- you know, the civil war. It didn`t fall apart during the civil war. It was held together, finally. I mean, it fell apart for a while, but...
LAMB: But was it together before `17, 1917?
MONTEFIORE: Yes. It was -- it was -- it was -- the tsars had Finland, they had Poland and they had the Baltic states and they had the Caucasus. So they had this kind of vast empire. And then when the revolution happened, it all fell apart for a while, and these different things became independent. They lost the Baltic states then, in 1918. They lost the Caucasus, but they got the Caucasus back. It`s very complicated, but basically, the Soviet Union took over what it could of the tsarist empire.
LAMB: When the Soviet Union was together, I remember they had about 286 million people. Russia itself had about 150 million. What was it back in 1917, that whole conglomeration of 15 countries?
MONTEFIORE: I`m not sure what the total population -- the population was, but it was -- it was -- it was a powerful -- you know, powerful empire then. And the Bolsheviks never found -- they never found it a contradiction that they would have kept an empire together. They regarded that as power behind the hand, as it were, of Marxism.
And just to go back to what Bolsheviks are -- they were this -- they were this powerful, armed order of professional revolutionaries, fanatics to the religious Nth degree. And in fact, when people said, Did Stalin believe? I think it was Beria that said he was a fanatic, a quasi-Islamic fanatic. Interesting use of language, considering what we`re facing now, because this really is the story -- I mean, yes, it`s a story of all the disgusting things -- this is, like, the sort of 12 Caesars. It`s like the 12 Caesars meets the Godfather. You know, it`s about depravity and murder and sadism and privilege. But it`s also about an ideal, an ideal that was rotten from the beginning.
You know, a lot of people said there was wonderful Lenin, and then this -- this aberration, Stalin, ruined the revolution, but the idea was good. It wasn`t good. It was never good. It was based on murder from the beginning. It was always based on blood-letting.
LAMB: What year did Lenin die?
MONTEFIORE: In 1924, January. And Stalin was already very powerful by that point. Before he died, Lenin wrote -- wrote a testament in which he tried to, basically, destroy both his obvious successors, Trotsky and Stalin. And this is pretty usual for dictators. They never want anyone to succeed them. You know, without -- the world without them is unimaginable. And of course, he failed, Lenin, to get rid of either of these successors. But Stalin was much the superior politician to Trotsky, and using cunning and his political machine, he was a superb political manager and personal manager. And Trotsky was haughty, had a sort of messiah complex and was really very easy to get rid of.
I mean, this great -- the idea of a great struggle, as it appears in the history books, is nonsense. Stalin destroyed these people very quickly and very easily, really.
LAMB: You say that today, it`s Robert Conquest (ph) versus the revisionists.
LAMB: And Robert Conquest has been here, and we talked about the "great terror"...
MONTEFIORE: He`s the great man of this subject...
MONTEFIORE: ... he and Richard Pipes.
LAMB: Why is he the great man of this subject?
MONTEFIORE: He said -- he understood instinctively what this whole regime was about, and he said that Stalin ordered the "great terror" from the center and that -- and that, you know, it was Stalin`s deviant personality and communism`s deviant nature that caused it. He was then attacked by a lot of people in academia, who said it was -- the terror didn`t really happen, it was all exaggerated, you know, the terror was a local thing, less -- that much less people were killed, so on and so forth.
Now, in 2000, we suddenly had these documents arrive, which confirm him to the Nth degree. But it also confirmed the revisionists, in a strange sort of way, because it showed from this memo, this kind of random killing, killing by quota, showed that Conquest was right that it was all done from the center from Stalin. But actually, when you look at it, you find out -- in these letters that I`ve read, you find out that all these people were killing their enemies locally, too. A lot of people wanted the terror to happen. A lot of the Bolsheviks wanted to kill their enemies. The reason why it happened, really, was because Stalin wanted to destroy his old enemies. He wanted to make the Communist Party absolutely subservient. And a lot of people agreed with him because the war was coming. That`s what it was about. The war was coming.
And you`ve got to realize, in 1938, they were already at war. The Spanish civil war was going on. Russia was supporting the republic against the fascists, who were supported by Hitler and Mussolini. They were already skirmishing with the Japanese in the Far East in 1938. Hitler was risking. War was coming. So they were destroying the "5th column" or any sort of spies who might -- who might undermine them when the war came. That was the -- one of the ideas.
Then there was the enormous economic efficiency. How to explain it? Well, they were going to blame the corruption among the top Bolshevik people. And then -- yes?
LAMB: You referred to the memoranda and the letters and all that.
LAMB: Where did you find them in 2000?
MONTEFIORE: Yes. I was just so lucky. What happened was, I realized that no one had written a book like this before. No one had written an intimate biography of Stalin. And the reason why they hadn`t was because they didn`t have material, but also because, oddly, there was this kind of myth about these communist leaders, that they had no private lives, which is kind of ridiculous. And there`s also sort of -- there`s also the feeling that their private lives were not relevant to their political lives. This book is really about how the private and the political and the public were all the same. I mean, power was private. Power was intimate. Gossip really mattered. People died of gossip at Stalin`s court. And that`s what this is about.
But what happened was, I arrived and they said, You know, we could -- we`ve got all this -- all these archives are opening now. And I went, like, Well, what is it? And they said, It`s Stalin`s papers. We`ve just opened half of the presidential archive. You know, Go right in.
MONTEFIORE: In the Regaspe (ph), which is the Communist Party archive in Moscow. And there they had Stalin`s archives. And you know, you can imagine my joy when I found this material.
LAMB: And no one else knew that you were doing this?
MONTEFIORE: Well, yes, other people knew about it. I mean, people at Yale have published various collections from this -- but it`s millions of documents, you see. Various American historians have sort of begun to penetrate it. But it was opened then, so they could only begin then, really. And you know, it is such a wealth of material.
LAMB: Did you worry that -- that there were people right over your shoulder?
MONTEFIORE: Of course. There were.
LAMB: I mean, how did you keep track of them?
MONTEFIORE: Well, I -- you know, well -- well, I mean, I just -- I just worked very hard. I mean, I was so excited by what I was finding that every day in there was just a daily excitement.
LAMB: You were just newly married.
MONTEFIORE: I was newly married then, yes. And my poor wife had to tolerate Stalin in our lives.
LAMB: Did she come to Moscow with you?
MONTEFIORE: No. She`s never been to Russia, actually, which is funny because I -- that`s my sort of hobby-turned-career. But she`s never been.
LAMB: By the way, you keep hearing that these archives wouldn`t be available today.
LAMB: Is that true?
MONTEFIORE: I think they`re closing a lot of them now. I mean, the mystery of the archives opening and closing in Russia is just another enigma, another -- another enigma of the East. The KGB archive opened and closed, and I`m sure many of these archives will now close. It`s just -- well, it`s just one of the mysteries of Russia.
LAMB: Just for a moment, take us through the process of how you did this. You know, how do you get the actual papers out of the archive?
MONTEFIORE: It all depends on the archivist. And what you do is, you know, you just ask them for what -- what they have. Now, what -- the great thing this book is based on is that all the -- most of the American academics were interested in the Politburo archives. They were just going through the official -- the official sort of decrees and stuff. But I noticed in the archive, there was this thing, just said, Miscellaneous correspondence A to Z. So I looked -- I said, Well, that`s interesting. And I began to look at it, and in that thing, I found everything. You know, I found a whole world...
LAMB: Are they huge boxes?
MONTEFIORE: They brought it in in boxes and -- and files. And they -- you know, it`s just fascinating. Suddenly, you`re in the world of Stalin. You can smell his pipe smoke. Sometimes you could see tears on the letters sent to him. Some of the letters -- I mean, the letters are such a variety. You know, there are letters from groupies to Stalin, for example, which Stalin has answered himself. There`s one letter that says, Dear Comrade Stalin, I am a 23-year-old school teacher, you know, female school teacher from somewhere in the provinces, Saratov (ph) or somewhere. I`d love to come and meet you on your own. I have fantasies and dreams about you. Any chance I could come and see you? You know, signed, whatever. And then it says, PS, photograph enclosed, you know? Stalin`s reply is there. Dear Comrade Unfamiliar, he writes, I`m afraid I don`t have time to see you, though I respect your request. Yours, Josef Stalin. Then typical Stalin, sort of slight humor. PS, photograph returned -- you know, very Stalin, sort of dry.
LAMB: But is this a big place and there are a lot of people there?
MONTEFIORE: Yes. It`s a hideous -- it`s a hideous concrete building, sort of 1970s concrete building...
MONTEFIORE: ... with a thing of Lenin -- right near Pushkin Square, right in the center of Moscow. And it`s got this kind of place downstairs that serves hideous borscht soup. You know, but you got to eat in the archive when you`re in the archive. It`s part of the sort of experience. And you know, I got -- managed to get a private room, so I could look at massive -- you know, I think if you did it properly, you had to -- you had to -- you could only take out 10 files a day. But I had a private room, and I was sitting there with piles this high of documents.
LAMB: Now, did you have a translator with you on the documents?
MONTEFIORE: Sometimes, but mainly not because my Russian -- I have -- I have enough Russian that I can read this stuff with a dictionary. I mean, I learned Russian very late. When you learn things in your 30s, you suddenly find out your brain isn`t as good as it was when you were...
LAMB: Where did you learn it?
MONTEFIORE: I had -- I had a teacher. I had a tutor. And...
LAMB: In Russia or in Great Britain?
MONTEFIORE: In Great Britain.
LAMB: And how long did you study it?
MONTEFIORE: Well, I started studying it to write my first book, "Prince Potemkin: Prince of Princes." And it was really necessary then, as well, because, you know, I was in the Ukraine researching Potemkin, and no one speaks English in the southern Ukraine, so I really needed it. And you know, you really do need some Russian just to sort of -- you`re going through these -- you`ve got to decide which is -- what`s interesting and what isn`t. And fortunately, my Russian is just good enough to be able to do that.
LAMB: Now, did you make copies of what you got?
MONTEFIORE: Yes. I wrote out everything. I wrote out everything on little notes. I`m very old-fashioned. I wrote the whole thing on bits of notepaper, which I put in boxes and filed in different places. And I`ve got about 50 of those boxes.
LAMB: But you didn`t make a Xerox copy?
MONTEFIORE: No, I didn`t. Not of all of them. I`ve got Xeroxes of some of them. I translated them myself or I got help. I mean, oftentimes, it was very hard to understand Stalin`s writing. There was a lady in there called Larissa, who is the great Stalin handwriting expert in the world. So you`d go and see her, and you`d say, This is Stalin, isn`t it. She`d say, yes. You`d say, What the hell`s that say? You know? And she`d say -- she`d tell you. And she -- she was very good-natured and helped me a lot. And -- but she -- the wealth of the material is what -- is what struck one, and that`s what -- I mean, as I said, there were -- there was an amazing intimacy in ---There were love letters, Molotov`s love letters to his wife. There were Stalin`s love letters to his -- to his wife, and her love letters to him, which are very warm and normal.
LAMB: And no one else had used those?
MONTEFIORE: No, some people have dipped into them. I mean, I`m not the only person who`s ever seen all these materials, but I think about -- there probably are 500 documents in this book that are -- that no one`s ever used before.
LAMB: But you rated the archival material and your private interviews, in terms of what`s the most valuable. And what is the most valuable?
MONTEFIORE: The archives. And this sort of book has to be based on archives because the archives are real. And you know, the interviews -- you know, you`ve got to be very careful. I mean, for example, you know, if you`re going to ask Beria`s, you know, daughter or grandchildren or something, you know, or sort of Beria`s, you know, daughter-in-law, if you`re going to ask her a question. she`s not going to know about politics. There`s no point in asking what went on in the Politburo. But you can ask her how often did Stalin visit their house. She`ll know that. You know, so you`ve just got to sort of -- with -- with -- with interviews, you`ve got to very carefully evaluate what -- what use these people are, what can they know. I mean, you -- because they all -- they all think they can talk about anything, of course, but in fact, as a historian, you`ve got to decide what they -- what`s worth -- what`s worth having from them.
LAMB: By the way, did you write as you went, or did you write...
LAMB: ... after you...
MONTEFIORE: I wrote it all in one -- at one go when I had everything.
LAMB: And how long did that take you?
MONTEFIORE: It took me a full year to write, and rewrite and rewrite.
LAMB: OK, I want to go back to some stories and some names in here.
LAMB: One name -- and this -- I think this is connected with the "great terror," is -- is it Yezhov?
MONTEFIORE: Yes. Yezhov, yes.
LAMB: Who was he?
MONTEFIORE: One of the great monsters of all history -- fascinating character.
LAMB: How big was he? How...
MONTEFIORE: He was a dwarf. He was a dwarf.
LAMB: Literally a dwarf?
MONTEFIORE: A dwarf. He was under 5-foot or just 5-foot, I think, on the -- you know -- and he was -- he was dark, good-looking, blue-eyed, had a nice singing voice, tiny. He was a very coarse character. He was bisexual, incredibly promiscuous, slept with men and women throughout his career, a heavy drinker, uneducated, peasant upbringing. And he was made Stalin`s absolute top man...
LAMB: By the way, you say his hobby -- his only hobby, "apart from partying and fornicating, was collecting and making model yachts."
MONTEFIORE: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: Now, I got to read that again. "His hobby, apart from partying and fornicating, was collecting and making model yachts."
MONTEFIORE: And killing people. I mean, he was frenzied torturer. He was one of -- you know, one of the fascinating things about this is how close the murdering and killing was to the cabinet table. You know, in other words, how close these people -- the people were going from their version of the Oval Office, and they actually were going straight to the torture chambers and back, you know. There`s a great scene, for example, in the middle of the terror. Yezhov is secret police chief.
Now, I found some fascinating correspondence between Stalin and Yezhov which no one had ever seen before. And one of the things, Stalin says, You know, the great thing about you, Yezhov, is that if I give you something to do, it`s always done. And Stalin took immense trouble with Yezhov, and this is also one of the lessons of this book, is, like, Stalin, the people person, the manager. You know, Stalin didn`t sort of arrive as fully as -- as a -- as the living god, like Hitler. He wasn`t the Fuehrer. He had to -- he had to win his -- he had to win his way and charm his way to power, and he did that by taking care of people.
LAMB: Why did he call him "my blackberry"?
MONTEFIORE: Because -- because -- because the word "yezhov" sounds very like the Russian for blackberry.
LAMB: You say he was Russia`s greatest killer.
MONTEFIORE: He was Russia`s greatest killer. He was a frenzied killer. Before he came to power as secret police chief, he was quite popular. Everyone thought he was a very good bloke. But when he came to power, he threw himself into this with a frenzy. Now, Stalin had taken great care of him, as I said. He -- when he was ill, Stalin gave him an enormous amount of pocket money and sent him to Italy to recuperate. And then when he came to power, Yezhov proved a frenzied killer who arrived at the cabinet table with his cuffs speckled with a brown -- brown-red substance. And Khrushchev, who was there, said, Oh, Nikolai Ivanovich, what have you got on your cuffs? And little -- the little poison dwarf said, I`ve been in -- working the torture chambers all night. I`ve just come from there now. And this is the blood of an enemy of the people.
LAMB: Footnote: "In one of the most sinister parts of the research for this book, the author" -- meaning you...
LAMB: ... "stayed almost alone in this strange but historic house, probably in Mandelstam`s attic."
LAMB: And that`s all connected to this story.
MONTEFIORE: Yes. Well, one of the -- I went to all of Stalin`s houses. And in one of them, in Sekumi (ph), which is -- which is on the Black Sea, Stalin had a beautiful house which he often stayed in. In fact, many of the party leaders stayed in it. It`s actually a millionaire`s mansion, and it looks like one of those kind of Vanderbilt palaces. You know, it`s a great, big, white, towered sort of palace, really. And I went and stayed in that, and...
LAMB: Anybody else in there?
MONTEFIORE: No one else was in there. And it was terrifying. And, when they heard I was writing a book about Stalin, they said, Well, you could go and stay in -- it`s complete chaos in Abkhazia. You got to realize it`s a sort of -- it`s civil war. It`s a bandit republic. They said, Do you want to go and stay in Stalin`s house? I said, like, Well, I suppose I must. You know, it`d be rude to turn that down. So I went and stayed in there.
And what happened in this house, apart from Stalin stayed there a lot, was that the great poet Ossip Mandelstam, you know, the -- one of the few good people in this book, brave man, brilliant, Russia`s great poet -- stayed there with his wife when he was quite a favored poet in about 1930. And at exactly the same time, Yezhov was staying there as a young party leader with his wife, and he was trying to seduce the next wife. There was a lot of sort of -- there was a lot of sex going on in this group. There was a lot of seduction, a lot of debauchery, especially among the secret police chiefs. The secret police chiefs were always priapic. They -- they could have any women they wanted. And they could also have access to any amount of money they wanted. So there was a lot going on, a lot of partying going on among these disgusting people.
LAMB: You say that Yezhov suffered constant nervous illnesses, including sores and itchy skin, TB, angina, sciatica, psoriasis, a nervous condition he probably shared with Stalin...
LAMB: ... and what they called -- and I can`t even pronounce this -- neuras...
LAMB: Neurasthenia. What is...
MONTEFIORE: That was -- neurasthenia was just one of those 1930s diseases which, you know, late Victorian diseases that went on until sort of the Second World War. It just meant nervousness. It was an old-fashioned word. We don`t use it anymore.
LAMB: What happened to Yezhov?
MONTEFIORE: Yezhov was, in the end, arrested. He`d got out of control, and he started killing too many people, even for Stalin. And he went...
LAMB: Well, wait a minute. Wait a minute. He killed too many people, even for Stalin?
LAMB: You say Stalin might have killed 30 million people.
MONTEFIORE: Yes. So you can imagine what -- what an absolute psychopath this man was. Yezhov -- he became an alcoholic. See, one of the things was -- one of the things that I discovered in this book is that these Bolsheviks were often ill. The pressure of the work was amazing. And only Stalin -- I mean, even Stalin suffered from -- you know, I discovered that he suffered from sore throats and skin problems, and so on. But the other ones often just -- they just couldn`t take the pace of this incredible pressure and stress and all-night hard work and the vast scale of work of building the Soviet Union. And they often got ill. They died of strokes, and they had nervous illnesses, and so on. So that was -- that was very much part of it.
And by the way, in these letters, you know, they were building the Soviet Union, they were killing millions of people. The peasants were starving. I`ve read all the letters of the leaders among themselves. Twenty percent of those letters, I suspect, were -- were really discussing their health. They were enormous hypochondriacs. I mean, in one sense, they were very ill. But on the other sense, it was like a hypochondriacs` convention, you know. They`d always be saying, I`ve got kidney stones. How`s your -- how`s your shadow on your lung? I`ve got a sore throat. You must try these new -- this new spa I`m -- they talked about it. The other 20 percent of their letters is all about what holiday to take because they were great holidayers. Holidays were very important.
LAMB: Right in the middle of the terror.
MONTEFIORE: Right in the middle of the -- no, not so much -- actually, in the terror, no one went on holiday, but in the...
LAMB: How long did that last, by the way, the terror?
MONTEFIORE: The terror lasted for some two years, really -- `37 -- `36 to `38.
LAMB: And what was the total count of people that were killed?
MONTEFIORE: About a million, because it was -- it -- it was really against the party, the terror. It was really -- it was really directed at their own -- their own group, their own people. And what they were basically doing was extending their idea of the random killing of classes to their own ruling class. And Stalin reckoned they`d gone soft.
And you see, you`ve got to realize that -- I mean, Stalin -- Stalin realized that they weren`t subservient, these people. A lot of them had known him for 30 years, and they were over-familiar with him. I found many letters where he wrote to the provinces, telling them to do something. They just ignored his letters, which is quite fascinating. They were -- they felt they knew him so well that they could -- you know, they weren`t afraid of him. You know, he had a girlfriend. His mistress was his sister-in-law. She...
MONTEFIORE: Her name, Yevgenia, Zhenia. Yevgenia.
LAMB: And there`s a picture in the book...
LAMB: -of -- and explain what that picture is, and we`ll get a close-up.
MONTEFIORE: Well, that`s an amazing picture that I -- that I discovered. I mean, you can imagine how my heart was thrilled (ph) when I found that picture. What it -- what it is, is Stalin surrounded by his women, essentially. And it`s a very informal picture. It was a birthday party in 1934, and sitting right between his legs, smiling like the cat that`s got the cream, is his mistress.
LAMB: With the bib on.
MONTEFIORE: With the bib on, with the sort of -- she always wore frilly -- these frilly collars. And that`s his mistress. And that`s an amazing, uninhibited picture, isn`t it. And to her left, to the right of her, is Bronca (ph) Poskrebyshev, the very pretty wife of his chief of staff, of his chef de cabinet, who -- who -- she was later shot by Stalin. And she`s a pretty girl, as well. So fascinating picture. And that really is the court of the red tsar.
And I found that picture -- it had never been published before, as far as I know, and I was also able to find exactly who was at that party, what they were doing, who -- and what they said at the party because we have the diaries of some of the people. One of the things that these -- these papers contain is the diaries of some of the women at that -- in that group. And they`ve never been published before, either.
LAMB: How about the photographs? How many other photographs -- here`s one, for instance. Has this one been seen before?
MONTEFIORE: Yes, that one has been seen before. That one has been -- that`s a fascinating picture. That`s Stalin, and Beria is the one with the round glasses. And in the foreground is his mother, Stalin`s old mother, then in her 80s, ill and about to die. And this is Stalin`s last visit to her. And that`s -- this is the famous time, when they had amazing conversation. Stalin said to her, Why did you beat me so much as a child? And his mother said, It was good for you. You haven`t turned out so badly, have you. And then his mother said to him, So Josef -- she called him "so-so (ph)," in fact. She said, So what do you do now? What`s your job now? And he said, Remember the tsar? And she said yes. And he -- and he said, Well, I`m something like the tsar. And then she was -- she smiled and she said, I think you`d have done better to become a priest.
LAMB: As long as we`re looking at photographs, what`s this one right down here?
MONTEFIORE: That`s a great picture. That`s Stalin meeting some -- some sort of female sugar beet -- sugar beet farmers, who`ve won a record for harvesting sugar beet. And the man with the walrus mustache behind, a little to Stalin`s right, is Marshall Pedyoni (ph), one of the great sort of military heroes of the regime and a man who -- and a man who didn`t think tanks would catch on. He thought that -- he said, We don`t need tanks. Horses are much more important. And they`re lucky they didn`t take his advice. Otherwise, they`d have lost the Second World War.
LAMB: This is out of context, but the Mountbatten story.
MONTEFIORE: Yes. That`s fascinating, isn`t it. I mean, Lord -- you know, Lord Mountbatten, King George VI`s cousin, later viceroy, the last British viceroy of India, member of the royal family -- he was -- he wanted to meet Stalin, and he went and -- he went to Potsdam, where Stalin was, to meet Stalin. And he wanted to get in -- he wanted to basically to -- he wanted to drop that his grandfather or his -- or his cousin or whatever, was the last tsar. He was very closely related to the last tsar, and he`d visited the last tsar, Nicholas II. So Mountbatten wanted to tell Stalin this in the hopes of being invited to visit the Soviet Union. And Stalin -- Stalin was very unimpressed with Mountbatten, and he -- he said to him -- he said, Well, I think it`s changed a little bit since you were last there. And he said -- and Mountbatten said, Well, I was related to the last tsar. I visited often. Any chance I could visit again? And Stalin just ignored this comment. And that`s one of the stories that -- that is told here for the first time.
LAMB: One of the threads in the book is Svetlana. And here she is about how old?
MONTEFIORE: I`d say about -- about 11, I think, or -- yes, it`s hard to tell. But there she is in her Pioneers uniform. That`s what every girl in the Soviet Union wore. And that scarf is a red scarf of a Young Pioneer. And this is a photograph that was very typical of their relationship. As she began to grow up, Stalin began to -- to clash swords with her. She was very strong. She was actually very like Stalin himself. As a young girl, she was his absolutely beloved favorite. He used to sign her homework, like every other parent in the Soviet Union would sign their child`s homework every evening. During the "great terror," he would -- she would come to the Kremlin, to their flat, and he would check her homework, ask her how she did, sit on -- she would sit on his knee. He`d feed her from his own fork. And she`d write him notes. And he had this game with her, which -- I found all the notes that -- in the archive that tell this story. It`s absolutely amazing. She would write notes to "her little secretaries," Stalin and Molotov and Yezhov, and so on. And she`d say, You are ordered to cancel homework for this year in the Soviet Union and delay the beginning of school by two weeks. Signed, "the boss," Svetlana. And Stalin -- she`d pin the -- she`d either send them to Stalin by airplane, if he was outside Moscow, or she`d pin them in the -- to the board in the dining room. And Stalin would pass these `round at the Politburo, and all the Politburo would sign. We obey. We`ve canceled school this year. Signed, Your little secretaries, Stalin and Molotov.
So there`s a lot of sort of warm sort of games going on. And then, as she got older -- and at the time that that photograph that we`ve shown was taken, she began to become a woman, and Stalin began to find this difficult to take. And when she sent him that picture, he wrote her back a note saying, I don`t like your -- your sort of bold -- sort of bold almost sort of fearless expression because she was sort of beginning to blossom as a -- as a sort of little woman, really. And he -- he found that very difficult to take.
LAMB: You told that --- that she now lives in Wisconsin?
MONTEFIORE: Yeah, she lives --- now lives in Wisconsin.
LAMB: And when you went to -- tried to talk to her, who did you deal with to try to get there?
MONTEFIORE: I knew people in England who knew her, and I asked them to write to her. But fortunately, you know, she`s written two biography -- two autobiographies, splendid books. I mean, she is a very intelligent woman who`s had a tragic life. I also had access to 10 hours of our news tapes, of her talking, which someone in England -- I found someone who had these. So I felt that her story was actually quite well know. And though I found out many new things about her, particularly her relationship with Beria`s son, I -- I didn`t feel -- I would have seen her, of course, if I could have. I tried, and I didn`t -- she wouldn`t see me. But frankly, you know -- I had so many new people who no one had ever spoken to before that I concentrated on them.
LAMB: Now you`ve got two pictures upfront. The one with her when she was about how old with Stalin?
MONTEFIORE: She must be about 3 or 4 there I think, or 5.
LAMB: But it`s the one below it that I want to ask you about.
MONTEFIORE: Yes. That is -- that is her with Nadya. That`s her mother. And that was her kind of characteristic oval face, her black hair, black eyes. Nadya Allilueva, Stalin`s second wife, who died tragically, committed suicide. And, of course, the children never quite recovered from her death.
Funny enough, you know, one of the ironies I`ve found out about this is that the marriage between Nadya and Stalin is normally spoken of as this sort of sacrifice of this angelic and this brutal ogre. Sure enough, Stalin was an ogre, but she was hardly -- she wasn`t quite the way we expect. I mean, she was -- she had this hysterical, schizophrenical interludes that were impossible for Stalin to deal with. He just didn`t -- he didn`t know how to handle her. She was very puritanical, humorless. Stalin had a much --you know, was much warmer with the children than her, ironically. And as she got ill and, more -- I mean, these psychological crises came about, someone said to her like, you know, are you all right? And she said, No, I just -- I just -- I want to end it all. And they said, what about the children? And she said, I don`t even care about the children anymore.
So, you know, she was -- she was a very difficult person to be married to. I am not saying Stalin wasn`t absolutely an appalling person to be married to.
LAMB: You have a picture of Stalin in the garden.
MONTEFIORE: Yeah. I mean, in this book, this one set of pictures, I think is the most remarkable in the book. Which are Stalin going camping, Stalin gardening, Stalin shooting and Stalin weeding his garden.
LAMB: Who is he camping with here?
MONTEFIORE: He is camping with Voroshilov and Marshal Budenny. You know, these pictures -- as far as I know -- they`ve never been seen before. They`re from Stalin`s own private personal album.
LAMB: Who is he here with at the bottom?
MONTEFIORE: That is going shooting with Marshal Budenny and Voroshilov.
LAMB: Who is Voroshilov?
MONTEFIORE: Voroshilov was his dandyish but brutal old friend, a lave turner turned soldier. Who was -- who was a hopeless soldier, in fact. But that was one of his closest -- closest people.
LAMB: Here is a picture of Kirov, and you say that he -- he lost his life ...
MONTEFIORE: Yeah, he was assassinated in 1934.
LAMB: Who was he?
MONTEFIORE: He was Stalin`s -- one of Stalin`s best friends. He was -- Stalin was very attracted to these kind of affable -- these affable, bluff, cheerful sort of people. And Kirov was always singing opera to himself. In fact, singing plays a huge part in this book. You know, Stalin was a great singer and had a beautiful tenor voice, and they would always sing.
They would actually -- even though they were arresting priests, killing priests, they would sing hymns together, these people. You know why? Because they`d all been to church school, these people. They were all priests, trainee priests: Mikoyan, you know, Enukidze (ph), Stalin were all trained as priests at the seminary. And they used to sing hymns.
LAMB: Molotov, who was he?
MONTEFIORE: That`s Molotov playing tennis. Molotov was quite middle class. He was -- he was pretty humorless. He was one of those people -- in his office, he used to say, I`m going to sleep for 13 minutes. And after 13 minutes, he`d wake up, you know. He was that punctilious.
But he was absolutely brutal. He became foreign minister during the war years, made the pact with Ribbentrop. But essentially, during the terror, he was an absolute slaughterer. He often used to write "Execute this person," next to the wives of people who were being arrested, quite unnecessarily.
You know, these people really are -- these were diabolical people. And the way they killed, the enthusiasm with which is killed is part of the story. And it`s funny. One sort of --- you know, I was sort of reading their love letters one day, and their death lists the next day. And I guess that`s what this book is about. On the one hand, I was finding out what they ate, what they sung, who they made love too, how they wrote love letters, where they went on holiday, and their illnesses, and so on. Yet next time I was talking about, like, how they had vendettas against their enemies, how they believed in killing enormous numbers of people at random, how they visited torture chambers, and how they suggested more and more people should be thrown into this meat grinder of death.
LAMB: How much of this did we know?
MONTEFIORE: We knew the big picture. Now, this is -- this book is -- this book is an intimate, private -- the private world, this is the intimate portrait of Stalin and his inner circle, which has never been really written before. We knew -- we already knew about the terror. We already knew about the war, we already knew about industrialization. And I don`t ....
LAMB: Did we know that during the war, when we were going to Potsdam and Tehran and Yalta?
MONTEFIORE: Yeah, we knew -- we always knew about all this killing. Don`t let anyone tell you they didn`t know. They knew about it. Everyone knew about it, and in the West -- just people just chose to ignore it. I mean, for example, the biggest imbecile of the lot was the American ambassador to Moscow, Joseph Davies, whose memoirs were later made into a movie, "Mission to Moscow," which you might have seen. But, you know, during these show trials -- the Stalin`s trials of his enemy -- which were complete, clearly faked, completely ludicrous. Where you had these people who had been tortured speaking like automatons and they were confessing to all sorts of absurd terrorists activities -- Ambassador Davies was telegraphing President Roosevelt that this were absolutely -- as a lawyer, he said, these are absolutely legalistically watertight, he said, you know. So there were some very stupid people. And there were a lot of willful people, who just chose to ignore this absolute -- this absolute chronicle of murder and slaughter.
LAMB: What`s the story of Kulik`s wife, Kira?
MONTEFIORE: That`s a fascinating story. Kulik`s wife -- Kulik was Marshal Kulik -- was a top Soviet general, one of Stalin`s old drinking buddies. Kira Kulik was a countess, a count`s daughter, an ex-aristocrat. She was the most beautiful girl in Stalin`s circle, and a great flirt with Stalin, too. But she made a mistake of asking Stalin to intercede for her brother, who in fact had already been shot. And she also flirted too much, and talked too much, and Kulik talked too much about the terror.
So Stalin and Beria, when they were --- when they were running the terror, they liked to devise this kind of -- this kind of gangsterish, brigand-like kidnappings. So Stalin said to Beria, kidnap the wife Kira, we`ll deal with her. And meanwhile, on the same day, he promoted General Kulik to marshal. So, on the very day that he was promoted to marshal, Marshal Kulik lost his wife. So he went to Beria and said, where is my wife? And Beria knew that Kulik`s wife Kira was in the cellars underneath his office. But he pretended -- Kulik was in his office taking tea, he pretended to ring Stalin, and he said, oh, Stalin, I`m -- It`s Beria here -- where is --- I`ve got Marshal Kulik in my office. His wife`s gone missing. Do we know where she is?
No, said Stalin. Beria puts down the phone. We`ve got no idea where she is. We`ll search the whole Soviet Union for her.
Meanwhile, this girl, who was just beautiful girl, innocent of anything, you know, beautifully dressed, slim, is literally just shot in the head on their orders, down -- in these -- in these dungeons underneath this place. And Marshal Kulik accepts this. He knows after a bit that she has disappeared, and he marries again. These were really disgusting people.
LAMB: Did you go to Lubyanka Prison?
MONTEFIORE: Yeah, I did go there.
LAMB: What is it?
MONTEFIORE: It`s a huge, it`s a huge office complex built of granite.
MONTEFIORE: On Lubyanka Square in Moscow, which is a huge -- huge square. About a couple of miles from the Kremlin. And underneath it, as large as the sort of bit above it, which is huge, underneath it is a huge, a beehive of dungeons. And one of the interesting things was that Yezhov, the poison dwarf that we talked about, he -- he devised the ideal like what he thought was the ideal execution cell under there. And what it was, was had a sloping floor for bodily fluids. It had wooden walls, and it had -- it had hosing facilities. So you could just kill people at a great rate in there.
Of course, the irony was that when he was arrested and shot, he himself was shot in his own -- the own -- special execution room that he`d created. Perhaps there is some justice in that.
LAMB: After you had gathered all your material ...
LAMB: And wrote your book ...
LAMB: ... and it was published in England when?
MONTEFIORE: About a year ago.
LAMB: Has there been new stuff since then that you really wanted to have in here?
MONTEFIORE: No, you know what -- there hasn`t really. I`ve been -- I was just really fortunate that this was the biggest amount of new stuff. I mean, this is based on such a massive archive of new materials, and the interesting -- the nice, exciting thing about it is not only is it absolutely fascinating, you know, in terms of its depravity and its private details, it`s --- I mean, many of these letters for example are very funny. And some are very tragic, where people are begging Stalin for his life. Some are very, very intimate, as I mentioned, these love letters, and so on.
Some are where he passes around -- he draws pictures and passes them around the Politburo table. But the great thing also is that on serious political terms, this changes the way that we write about Stalin`s rule, because it shows that he became dictator much later, and it shows how he built his rule -- by, you know, the way most machine politicians build their rule, by showing favors to people, by being kind to people, by arranging -- one of the first documents I found was the list of cars, because, you know, these people all had Buicks and Packards, American cars.
LAMB: And Cadillacs?
MONTEFIORE: And Cadillacs, and Rolls-Royce`s, got to have some English ones in there, too. And I found this list, it was in Stalin`s handwriting, and I gradually realized that Stalin himself, every year, would assign which family -- the Molotovs, you have two Buicks and a Cadillac. You know, the Kaganoviches -- you can have a Cadillac and two Packards. And he did this himself. I mean, when Beria -- the personal care he took of his people is amazing.
When Beria moved to Moscow, arrived in Moscow, Stalin found his house, arranged his removals, personally. When Beria`s wife didn`t like her house, he found her another house himself. He tucked in Beria`s 10-year old son into bed, read stories to him. It`s just -- the book is just full of Stalin taking this sort of care with people.
You know, the irony of all this is, he may have been a monster, he may have lack empathy, Stalin was one of the great people managers, people persons, if you like.
LAMB: How does this book sell in Great Britain?
MONTEFIORE: It`s pretty solid. I mean, there are enough 50.,000 of these -- in hardback -- in hardback in Great Britain, which is a lot.
LAMB: How about in United States?
MONTEFIORE: Well, it`s just come out in the United States. But it`s selling -- it`s already gone into a second edition, they`re re-printed it. So I`m very excited, and the reviews have been marvelous. I`m very -- I`m just thrilled about this, actually. It`s very exciting.
LAMB: Do you have any advice for somebody -- and as I said earlier, it`s hard to keep track, as you know.
LAMB: ... of all these people.
LAMB: What advice would you give people on how to deal with a book like this? It`s 800 pages.
MONTEFIORE: My advise is just -- my advise is two-fold. I mean, to read -- to take the information about the Soviet regime to heart, the warning from history about how -- about how -- this is what happens when religious maniacs and fanatics have unlimited violence, and that becomes the normal way of governing. On the other hand, this is a personal history about love, and fear, and murder and killing and betrayal. And so, this book can be read either as a very serious work of scholarship, or it can be read as like of sort of Russian version of "The Godfather". And, you know, there are a lot of foreign names in there. It doesn`t matter.
LAMB: Is there a movie in this?
MONTEFIORE: I think there will be a great movie in there. I think it`ll be like "I, Claudius." It would to be sort of "Band of Brothers" meets "I, Claudius." You know, basically, the personal details in this fascinated me. And I was -- I was shocked by so many things. I mean, Stalin the intellectual, Stalin`s reading, for example, his habits just fascinated me. And when I went through his library ...
LAMB: What did he read?
MONTEFIORE: He read -- one of his favorite books was "The Last of the Mohicans." And he used ...
LAMB: ... by Fenimore Cooper?
MONTEFIORE: Yeah. And he ...
MONTEFIORE: Well, it was an acceptable book for the Soviets, of course. Because it was all about sort of -- it included British imperialists behaving appallingly. And --- and white people behaving badly to Native -- Native Indians.
LAMB: Where is this book? Where are his books?
MONTEFIORE: They are all in his archive, too. And I got out piles of them. And again, you can sort of -- I could smell the pipe smoke in them. And he -- and also, he annotated them all the time with his own margin comments. Sometimes he would just put, "ha-ha-ha" in places in the book, which is sinister.
But he really -- he read a lot. He knew -- he knew Balzac, he knew Zola, he read Goethe. He read books of American history. You know, he -- he read books about British history. When he was meeting Churchill, he read about the Duke of Marlborough, Churchill`s ancestor. So when he met Churchill, he was able to charm Churchill by saying, by the way -- he was teasing him, you see -- he said, by the way, the Duke of Wellington is a much greater man than the Duke of Marlborough.
LAMB: Did he speak English?
MONTEFIORE: No, not really. He could -- he claimed to able to look and recognize the words in it, I don`t think he could.
LAMB: You mentioned the pipe, and you could tell, according to what you`ve written here.
LAMB: What kind of the mood he was in on whether the pipe was lit...
LAMB: ... or was not?
MONTEFIORE: Yeah. If it was unlit, you could be -- if it was just left unlit, and he was just chewing it nervously, you could be in big trouble. I mean, dealing with Stalin was like -- in the end, you had to learn how to deal with this terrifying man, and dealing with him was a bit like those instructions that they give to -- to campers about what to do if a bear comes into your tent.
But he could be charming to people. I mean, one of the fascinating people I met was a guy who at 25, could -- Alex Troyanovsky (ph), whose father was the first ambassador to America of the Soviet Union -- he went down to do some interpreting for Stalin, and at the end of the interpreting the guests left. And Stalin said to him -- he was about 25. He said, hey, why don`t you stay with me for a week? And he said, you know what we`ll do? He said, we`ll get you drunk and see what kind of person you are. So this poor boy of 25 stayed with Stalin for a week. And this story has never really been told. But I went to -- he just died., Troyanovsky.
LAMB: How old was he?
MONTEFIORE: Oh, he must have been 80 or something. He was a marvelous man. I can`t believe he died, because he died soon after -- you know -- I published the book. But he basically told me the story of how -- how Stalin -- how he stayed with Stalin for a week. I mean, this is extraordinary. You know, he said that Stalin, he had dinner with Stalin. He was very careful not to sort of say anything that would -- his father had know Stalin very well, so he was very -- he was a very savvy person.
And Stalin told him stories from his youth. Stalin once said, I once did -- he said, you know, when I was staying with your parents in Vienna -- Stalin went to Vienna in 1913, and he stayed with Troyanovsky`s father. And he told him the story, he said, you know, when I was staying with your father in 1913, I wanted to see if a child could be weaned off its parents. So you see, what I did was I gave your sister sweets every day, and at the end of the fifth day, your mother and I stood, and we called your sister. And he said, she came to me because she wanted a sweet. It was a very interesting story. Staling told him that himself.
LAMB: What`s Stalin`s real name?
MONTEFIORE: Dzugashvili. Joseph Dzugashvili.
LAMB: Where did he get the name Stalin?
MONTEFIORE: He made it up. He was the ultimate self-made man. He believed in himself as a sort of messianic character, special, a Marxist Messiah, and ...
LAMB: Does it mean anything, Stalin?
MONTEFIORE: Man of steel. Man of steel. But they all adopted names that meant things. Name Molotov means "hammer", the man hammer person.
LAMB: It`s not his real name?
MONTEFIORE: Skryabin is his real name. And -- and ...
LAMB: What about Malenkov?
MONTEFIORE: No, Malenkov is his real name. I mean the ones who were underground revolutionaries all had many names, nom de guerre, you know, it was sort of names -- names of the revolutionary movement. But once the revolution happened, they didn`t need to change them anymore.
Stalin once lost his temper with his son Vasily, the crown prince, spoiled, pathetic son who said, who was throwing his weight around. And in fact, in the book, one of the fascinating things we have all his letters. We have all Vasily Stalin`s letters, to his guards, and he was always writing them ordering them to do things.
And one of the things he said was he said, I`m Stalin, he said. I`m Vasily Stalin. Stalin said, "No, you`re not." He said, You`re not Stalin. I`m not Stalin. He said, Stalin is Soviet power. Stalin is what`s in the newspapers. Stalin is the image of the Soviet Union. Not even I am Stalin. Very interesting sort of esoteric point there Stalin was making.
LAMB: One time I was interviewing a fellow in Moscow by phone within the last year, and he was maybe in Moscow staying, or something. And I just asked him the last question, who in history do you admire? And he said, Marshal Zhukov.
MONTEFIORE: Yeah, Marshal Zhukov. The real -- the greatest soldier of the second world war.
LAMB: You write -- there is an incident about Marshal Zhukov that I want to ask you about. When he broke down and cried.
LAMB: ... in Stalin`s presence.
MONTEFIORE: One of the really exciting things -- one of the really exciting things at the moment is that -- you know, the materials I have now, I can talk a lot more about how the World -- World War II -- how Stalin was commander in chief, how he functioned as commander. And what really happened in the early days of the war.
LAMB: Let me just show a picture first.
LAMB: The picture on the screen is -- where is Zhukov?
MONTEFIORE: Zhukov is on the left, as you look at it, on Stalin`s right, in other words.
LAMB: Who are the other two?
MONTEFIORE: The other two are Marshal Voroshilov, useless political general who I mentioned, was -- was a great dandy. And on the far right, as we look at it, is Marshal Bulganin, another political general. So, typical Stalin. On one side, he`s got these useless political generals, and one side he`s got the greatest general of the second world war, the man who won Stalingrad, the battle of Moscow, the battle of Berlin, saved sieged Leningrad. I mean, our General Montgomery or your Eisenhower. I mean, Zhukov was far and away the greatest general.
MONTEFIORE: He won all the decisive battles of the second world war. He saved Moscow. He saved Leningrad. He helped devise the battle of Stalingrad. He took Berlin. Pretty unbelievable.
LAMB: So when did he break down and cry?
MONTEFIORE: The first two days of the war -- it`s fascinating: Stalin had got it really wrong. And he misunderstood Hitler.
LAMB: What year?
MONTEFIORE: This is 1939 to 1941. Those two years, Stalin made a pact with Hitler to divvy up Europe, basically, between them, and they cut Poland in half. Fascinating thing is, people often say, why did he misunderstand Hitler? Did he admire Hitler?
Well, he misunderstood Hitler for this reason, and this is a fascinating thing, I found in Georgia a bit of paper that explained this, story of someone who was with Stalin. When he was reminiscing of the war, the only time he ever discussed how he got it wrong. And what he said was, my big mistake was to put myself in Hitler`s place, to imagine that Hitler was like me. In other words, Stalin was a cautious statesman. Hitler was a gambler, a sleepwalker, as Hitler told it. That was his big mistake. That`s why he thought Hitler wouldn`t -- wouldn`t invade, or would invade later.
No, when the war started, Stalin was humiliated, caught unawares. And it -- first of all there, he thought that he was fine. He could -- the Red Army would defeat the invasion. And then, suddenly, Minsk fell after about a week since the opening of Operation Barbarossa. Stalin ...
LAMB: Where is Minsk?
MONTEFIORE: Minsk is on the road to Moscow, it`s in Byelorussia now, but it`s -- it`s a big city, and, you know, it`s far -- it`s deep in the Soviet Union. And when -- when Minsk fell, Stalin suddenly realized he was in big trouble, and the whole thing had collapsed. So, he went see his chief of staff, with all his -- Beria and him and Molotov went to see -- went to see Marshal Zhukov, then General Zhukov.
And when they said, what the hell -- he said, what the hell is going, Zhukov? Where are the armies? What`s happened to Minsk? Has it fallen or hasn`t it? And Zhukov just said, we don`t know. And Zhukov, you got to realize, is the toughest, most ruthless general. I mean, he was as ruthless as Stalin. He didn`t care many losses he had. A great general, but, you know, his brutality is often underestimated. He didn`t -- he would clear minefields by making people run across them.
So, at this point, so bad was the crisis that Zhukov actually burst into tears and ran out of the room. Molotov, another brutal man, followed him out and lent him his handkerchief. And when they came back in, Stalin famously realized that he was in trouble, and he`d blown up. And he said, we`ve screwed up, we`ve lost everything Lenin built. He then went to his dacha, his country house, shut himself in, and abandoned commands, and abandoned Russia to it. He had a -- he had some sort of breakdown. No one could reach him for three days. It`s a fascinating moment in the history -- in the history of the second world war.
LAMB: You write about the Little Corner?
MONTEFIORE: The Little Corner.
LAMB: Where is it?
MONTEFIORE: It`s in the Yellow Palace. It`s still the place where the Soviet Union is ruled from, funny enough. That the rooms where Stalin ruled, the Little Corner, as it was called, where Lenin ruled, where Putin rules today. And of course, Putin has a special connection to Stalin. Putin`s grandfather was Stalin`s cook. And that was just one of those another sort of just gripping details, isn`t it? I mean, Putin`s grandfather serves as a waiter Rasputin, was an underchef for Lenin in Lenin`s kitchen, and then was Stalin`s -- was one of Stalin`s chief cooks. Which is amazing -- he must be the most (UNINTELLIGIBLE) historical cook in all of history.
LAMB: When -- you said the Politburo lived together....
LAMB: And they visited all the time.
LAMB: Who were the ones that were -- name the ones that were the closest to Stalin and that were in and out of his apartment. It was an apartment?
MONTEFIORE: Yeah, yeah. They lived in these apartments. They lived basically in two buildings in the Kremlin, which -- one of which you can still see...
LAMB: Have you been there, by the way?
MONTEFIORE: I haven`t been in there, but I`ve seen it. I`ve been -- you can`t actually go in there. They`re not very keen to let you see sort of Stalin`s flats and stuff, apart from the fact that they`re now -- the offices are now used by the president of Russia.
But they had such a world of intimacy. It was almost like a university where you`d go and borrow sugar from the people next door. You know, there would be Kaganovich, Molotov, Mikoyan, these people, Enukidze (ph). These people would pop in on each other -- Andreev -- they would pop in on each other all the time. Their children played together. Stalin played with their children. I mean, you`ve spoken to many people who played with Stalin. Stalin was very good with the children. He used to -- he used to say, "what should we do now? Shall we throw our -- shall we take a cork from a bottle of wine and throw it into the ice cream?" And he`d throw it down there. And they had competitions throwing it down the table. He was very sweet to children.
And one of the children who used to play with him said the great thing about him was we loved talking to him, because he would talk just like we were adults and listen to what we said. He was a very -- he was a bundle of contradictions, and that`s what this book is about. This book is about how he wasn`t -- when one comes across true evil, it`s not going to appear wearing -- as a grotesque; it`s going to appear as someone one trusts, someone normal, someone charming.
LAMB: Could you conclude after all this that they were mentally ill?
MONTEFIORE: It`s too easy to conclude that. I mean, we`ve just got away with far too long with saying, Hitler and Stalin killed 30 million people each. They were just -- that`s a copout for us. As a historian, we`ve got to answer how it worked, what really happened, and also give the warning from history. And what really happened was is there were millions of murderers in Stalin`s Russia, and that Stalin was surrounded by people -- and actually, often the wives, the women were the worst. They were the most brutal. They were the ones who were having these witch hunts, pointing at people and saying, "that`s an enemy of the people, I`ve seen in his eyes."
You know, there were lots of killers around Stalin. They all believed in this Marxist Bolshevik idea of killing enemies, killing vast classes at random. That was the Bolshevik way. That`s what this book is about, Stalin -- this is an intimate, private picture of Stalin as man and monster.
LAMB: You tell the story that in 1943 he wanted to pay for lodging at some occasion...
MONTEFIORE: Oh, yes.
LAMB: He looked for money, and he had never -- he`d never spent a dime or a kopek since 1917.
MONTEFIORE: That`s right. Because, of course, he`d been in the state machinery, and they never paid for anything. They had their own -- they had these amazing cars, Packard cars. They had special shops. They received food. I mean, one of the most hilarious -- one of the most hilarious things I found was from his wife Nadya to the head of state -- from Mrs. Stalin to the head of state, and it said, "Dear Comrade Kalinin, Stalin must have his chickens. Stalin is on a chicken diet. Stalin has been assigned 15 chickens, but he`s already eaten seven. Stalin cannot run out of chickens. He must have roast chicken. Please send us more chickens. Signed, Nadya Stalin." Which gives you an idea, just a little glimpse of ordinary life.
These top leaders were all involved in the good life, the houses they had, the holidays. What food they ate. They were given loads of money, which were called paket, packets, basically money in a brown envelope, cash. And all of this was supervised by Stalin himself. He took enormous interest in everything.
LAMB: What`s next for you?
MONTEFIORE: Well, I think I`m going to get back -- and I think I -- I am very tempted to write about Stalin more. I mean, you know, this book encompasses him, his reign of power, his reign of fear, but there are large parts that I haven`t written, he`s younger, younger Stalin. And "Stalin and Lenin" would be an interesting book to do.
LAMB: Break down the name Simon Sebag Montefiore. Where do they come from?
MONTEFIORE: Well, Simon is a good, old-fashioned English name. Sebag Montefiore is -- I`m a sort of Jewish mongrel. My mother`s family comes from Russia; hence my interest in Russia. They come from Poland and Ukraine and so on, like many people here. The Montefiores -- Sebag Montefiore is a Sephardic Jewish, which means from the Arab world or the Mediterranean. The Montefiores are Italians, and the Sebags, or the Sebakhs (ph), are Moroccans, Arab Jews. So I`m a Jewish mongrel. Very proud of it, too.
LAMB: And if you`re going to do more on Stalin, are there more archives to read?
MONTEFIORE: No, they may be closing and opening. I mean, this was such a great opportunity. I was so lucky to be able to write this book. And that`s why I worked so hard and got it out as quickly as possible, because I knew that it was just a one-off opportunity.
LAMB: When would you like to do this next book?
MONTEFIORE: I`m having a rest this year. I`m on tour in America, then in Sweden, in Holland, and then it`s coming out in paperback in England. So I`ve got -- I`m still -- I`m still living at the court of the red tsar.
LAMB: We`re out of time. "Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar." Simon Sebag Montefiore, thank you very much.
MONTEFIORE: Thank you so much.
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