It was a name that obviously rankled the Communists who had brought down the Tsar and put the royal family to death.
In 1925 it was renamed Stalingrad to honor dictator Josef Stalin who had held the territory during the Russian civil war (or revolution).
Stalin was an assumed name. Born Josif Dzhugashvili the Georgian son of a cobbler, he renamed himself after the Russian word for steel. As a teen he lost interest in the Georgian Orthodox seminary and became involved in the Bolshevik Revolution. His ruthless bank robberies, kidnapping and extortion made him a more than an armchair theorist though he was also talented at propaganda. He would soon show his mastery of political infighting and upon the death of Lenin he was able to ascend to ultimate control of the Soviet Union.
Stalin had been in power for a year when the Volga town was renamed in 1925 as a tangible way to assert personal authority.
It wasn’t the only Soviet city to be renamed for political reasons. During the World War II, the city of St. Petersburg was known as Lenningrad, erasing religious overtones from the name.
Both Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin placed high symbolic importance on Stalingrad.
In addition to symbolism the Volga River was the strategic highway for supplying the Russian South.
Stalingrad was also wartime manufacturing center. The German summer offensive objectives seemed clear and the Soviets were still struggling to counter the mechanized rapid attack force.
United Press Correspondent Hanry Shapiro cabled from Moscow, “The enemy advance within less than 180 miles of Stalingrad is the most serious threat of 13 months of war.”
The Soviet Army was still struggling to find solid leadership after years of Stalin lead purges had decimated the ranks. Many were either banished to gulags in Siberia or executed. Now Stalin would comb lists from the gulags, bringing some back under control of strict political handlers. Times were desperate.
Today the city is renamed once again, now as Volgograd. Stalin’s replacement Nikita Khrushchev wanted to deflate the legacy of Stalin after the death of the feared leader.
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