Alexei Kapler was the bravest of men.
Put it this way: there are two kinds of brave:
- Alexei Kapler brave.
Alexei Kapler was Alexei Kapler brave.
By profession, Kapler was a screenwriter, journalist, director, and actor. By avocation, he was an accomplished womanizer. One night, Kapler, a man of forty years, met a sixteen year old girl at a party. This young woman was intelligent, strong-willed, attractive, and sad. It was the tenth anniversary of her mother’s death. No one seemed to remember. Kapler was happy to listen, comfort, sympathize, and seduce.
Since his new conquest came from a sheltered background, Kapler decided to show her the wild side of life. He lent her forbidden adult books. He took her dancing, took her to see avaunt garde theater, and took her to meet outrageous people at outrageous parties. Kapler was a man of the world, witty, knowledgeable, a skilled raconteur. The young woman was swept off her feet by this urbane sophisticate. There were problems though: Kepler was married. And he was having an affair with a sixteen year old girl.
Hiding the affair from her family was a must. Hiding it from the girl’s father was especially important. Kapler was a smooth enough operator that he might have kept their affair secret from the girl’s father under normal circumstances. Unfortunately for him, this girl’s father had a particularly suspicious temperament. While something like this temperament is not unusual in any father of a sixteen year old girl, this father was different:
He could have phones tapped.
Young Svetlana, for that was her name, was the daughter of one Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. Early in life, instead of becoming a priest like his mother wanted, Ioseb decided he wanted to be a superhero. So he adopted the name “Joe Steel” for his superhero persona. Steel became the local Caucasian Robin Hood, pulling off the largest gold robbery in Russian history. Then he spent the money on “liberating” the Russian people. Later in his career, Steel achieved some prominence as the humble secretary of a prominent Russian political party.
To his American fans, Ioseb was known as kindly Uncle Joe. To the Russians, he was known as Joseph Stalin.
Stalin was shown phone intercepts of calls between Svetlana and Kapler by the ever helpful NKVD. Enraged, he confronted Svetlana, revealing that he knew everything about the affair and demanded that she hand over all of her letters from Kapler. When Sventlana dramatically protested her love for Kapler. Stalin, as Svetlana later wrote in Twenty Letters To A Friend, was not pleased:
“Love!”, shrieked Stalin, “with hatred of the very word” and “for the first time in my life,” slapped [Svetlana] twice across the face.
Stalin gathered up the letters and took them to the dining room where he sat at the table where Churchill had dined—and, ignoring [World War II] altogether, started to read them. He did not appear [at work] that day.
When Svetlana came home from school, Stalin ripped up Kapler’s letters in front of her. As he savagely ridiculed Kapler, Svetlana fled the room in tears. Stalin and his daughter didn’t speak for months afterward. Even then, their relationship never recovered: Kapler had forever damaged the fragile bloodthirsty communist dictator-daughter bond.
Montefiore offers this analysis of the situation:
This is often presented as the height of Stalin’s brutality yet, even today, no parents would be delighted by the seduction (as he thought) of their schoolgirl daughters, especially by a married middle-aged playboy. Yet Stalin was a traditional Georgian steeped in nineteenth-century prudery and to this day, Georgian fathers are likely to resort to their shotguns at the least provocation. “Being a Georgian, he should have shot that ladies’ man,” says [Stalin's nephew] Vladimir Redens. Long after she wrote her memoirs, Svetlana understood that “my father over-reacted”: he thought he was “protecting his daughter from a dirty older man”.
Kapler, not satisfied with the bravery he demonstrated by seducing the teenaged daughter of an evil totalitarian dictator, insisted on boasting about the affair to his friends. However, Alexei Kapler brave demanded more. Montefiore continues:
Dispatched to cover Stalingrad for Pravda, filing his “Letters of Lieutenant L from Stalingrad” in which he daringly paraded his affair with the words: “It’s probably snowing in Moscow. You can see the crenelated wall of the Kremlin from your window.”
So, even before Stalin confronted Svetlana, Kapler found himself staying at the Lubyanka. The Lubyanka has some charming fin de siècle architectural features:
The Lubyanka was originally built in 1898 as the Neo-Baroque headquarters of the All-Russia Insurance Company, noted for its beautiful parquet floors and pale green walls. Belying its massiveness, the edifice avoids an impression of heroic scale: isolated Palladian and Baroque details, such as the minute pediments over the corner bays and the central loggia, are lost in an endlessly-repeating classicizing palace facade, where three bands of cornices emphasize the horizontal lines. A clock is centered in the uppermost band of the facade.
The Lubyanka is also one of the great scenes of mass murder in history, up there with Auschwitz, the killing fields of Cambodia, Srebrenicia, or the forests of Rwanda. People went inside and never came out. Kapler went inside, found himself convicted of being a “British spy”, and disappeared into the GULAG. That’s the kind of risk you run when you’re Alexei Kapler brave.
Kapler was lucky: he survived Stalin. After his release from the GULAG, Kapler lived to see the age of 75, dying on September 11, 1979.
Svetlana “Lana” Iosifovna Stalin Morozov Zhdanov Alliluyeva Peters died on November 22, 2011 at Richland Center, Wisconsin. She was 85.