Soviet dictator Josef Stalin lost his eldest son in World War II. Yakov Dzhugashvili died a prisoner in German hands. The German magazine Spiegel obtained in February access to Moscow files detailing Yakov's last days.
Captured in the chaotic days of June 1941, Yakov was identified and held as a hostage.
Dzhugashvili's odyssey through the German camps lasted almost two years. From Hammelburg in the Franconia region of Bavaria, he was transferred to Lübeck in northern Germany in the spring of 1942, just as the British had started bombing the city. After that, he was sent east to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
It's Wednesday, April 14, 1943, a spring evening in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin. A man jumps from a window in Barrack 3 at Special Camp. The special camp is an area for prominent prisoners separated from the rest of the prison population. It's 140 meters (460 feet) long and 50 meters wide, sealed off from the main camp by a brick wall. A 2.6-meter high-voltage fence is intended to prevent inmates from escaping.
The man is wearing high boots and soldiers' trousers, and his black hair is uncovered. "Corporal, corporal," he shouts at SSRottenführer Konrad Hafrich. "Shoot me!"
Hafrich shouts that he should return to the barrack, but the man keeps going. "Don't be a coward," the prisoner yells, as he walks toward the electric fence. "When he grabbed the wire," Hafrich said, "I shot him, as ordered."
It is shortly after 9 p.m. The man at the fence is dead. His body stiffened as he was jumping. The left leg is almost horizontal in the trip wire, and the right leg is bent. The body is left in this position for a considerable amount of time. It's a sensitive case for camp commandant Anton Kaindl, who has notified the Reich Security Main Office in Berlin. When an SS officer and two professors arrive the next day, the dead man is photographed, lifted out of the barbed wire and taken to the camp crematorium.
The coroners examine the body. In their report, they write that a bullet entered the head four centimeters behind the right ear and shattered the skull. But according to their assessment, the victim had already died after being electrocuted by the high-voltage fence. The body is cremated on the spot, and the urn is sent to the Reich Security Main Office along with the investigative report and the death certificate.
Eight days later, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop receives a matter of "secret Reich business" from SS chief Heinrich Himmler. It reads: "Dear Ribbentrop, please find enclosed a report on the fact that prisoner of war Yakov Dzhugashvili, son of Stalin, was shot to death during an attempted escape at Special Camp A in Sachsenhausen, near Oranienburg."