Bearing Her Burden
When a reporter for the London Evening Standard, acting on a tip, visited her at the home in the shabby end of Ladbroke Grove last month, an angry Lana would say only, "You must know I don't give interviews. Please leave me alone." Fellow residents at the home refused to talk about her with reporters, affording her the privacy she seems to crave.
One thing is clear, though: Lana Peters still bears the burden of her past. In a rare 1990 interview with the London Independent, she said, "I don't any longer have the pleasant illusion that I can be free of the label 'Stalin's daughter.'... You can't regret your fate, though I do regret my mother didn't marry a carpenter.... I was born under that name, that cross, and I never managed to jump out of it."
Svetlana Stalin was born in 1926, the daughter of Stalin's second wife, Nadezhda. Although her father ruled the Soviet Union ruthlessly from 1929 to 1953, Lana likened her childhood to paradise. "I was his favorite," she said in the 1990 interview, "because I resembled his mother." But when Lana was only 6½ and her brother, Vassily, 11, their mother committed suicide, disillusioned with the revolution and her marriage. Furious, Stalin had most of his wife's relatives exiled or executed because, said Lana, they "knew too much and talked too much."
At 16, a rebellious Lana had a platonic love affair with a 40-year-old Jewish man. The anti-Semitic Stalin sent the man to Siberia. In 1944, Lana married another Jewish man, against Stalin's wishes. After the birth of a son, Joseph, she divorced her husband in 1946 and later married Yuri Zhdanov, the son of one of Stalin's most trusted associates. In 1950, after the birth of a daughter, Katherine, that marriage also collapsed. By 1951, the septuagenarian Stalin was still all-powerful—and paranoid. "I trust no one, not even myself," he said. In March 1953, he suffered a stroke and died with Lana at his bedside. She inherited only a few small brooches that belonged to her mother.
In 1967 she traveled to India and enjoying her freedom, defected to the United States later that year. Although she left behind her children, then 22 and 17, she settled here and was dubbed the Kremlin Princess. Lana spoke out against her father's reign of terror and wrote two books, Twenty Letters to a Friend, a memoir, and Only One Year, describing her first year away from Russia. The books are reported to have earned some $1.7 million, but the money has apparently run out. In 1970, Lana married her third husband, the American architect William Wesley Peters, with whom she had a daughter, Olga, in 1971.
The marriage lasted only 20 months. After a decade of living in various parts of America, Lana moved to Cambridge, England, and placed Olga, 11, in a Quaker boarding school in Essex. In 1984, Lana took Olga on an unhappy visit to her other children in Russia. Katherine, a widowed scientist with a small child, refused to see them, and Lana quarreled with Joseph, a physician. Eighteen months later, Olga returned to England, and Lana moved to Wisconsin to work on more memoirs. In 1987 the Washington Post reported that Lana was "living on borrowed money," and later that year she returned to England.
"I think I would be happiest in the place where I am least reminded of my father," she told the Independent. Today, at Ladbroke Grove, where room and board are only $132 a week, she shares household chores with her fellow residents and waits for someone to publish her memoirs. "I would hope I can convince readers that I had nothing to do with my father's philosophy and what he did," she said in 1990. "Then I shall feel I have done something. Without that, I see my life as totally useless."
LIZ CORCORAN in London