Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.
Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died on March 5, 1953, at 9:50PM Moscow time. First word of his final illness was announced by Soviet authorities a day earlier. The Soviet bulletin announced that Stalin had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage which led to some paralysis, loss of speech, and unconsciousness. Upon hearing that news on the BBC, a member of the staff of the U.S. embassy in Brussels prepared a bit of doggerel about the situation. Ambassador Myron M. Cowen sent the verse to Charles E. (“Chip”) Bohlen at the Department of State in the following telegram.
Bohlen was one of the Department’s leading experts on the Soviet Union and held the senior position of Counselor at the time. A career Foreign Service Officer, he had served in the U.S. embassy in the USSR during the 1930s, had attended the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences as the Russian interpreter for Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, and was then in the midst of contentious hearings on his nomination as U.S. ambassador to the USSR, where he served from 1953 to 1957. He was later ambassador to the Philippines and to France and retired from the Foreign Service in 1969. His final position was Secretary of State ad interim.