Sixty years ago today, Josef Stalin, one of the worst men to have ever lived, died. (He had already sent scores of millions into the next world.) Allen Bullock’s Hitler and Stalin cites a description of his passing from his daughter Svetlana:
“The death agony was terrible. God grants an easy death only to the just. He literally choked to death as we watched. At what seemed like the very last moment he suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance, insane or perhaps angry and full of fear of death. . . . Then something incomprehensible and terrible happened that to this day I can’t forget. . . . He suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something up above and bringing down a curse on us all. The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace. . . . The next moment, after a final effort, the spirit wrenched itself free of the flesh.”
I take no pride in the fact that, for nearly two months, Stalin and I occupied the same planet.
By contrast: On the same day, just a few blocks away, one of my favorite composers, Sergei Prokofiev, also died. His contributions to humanity had been infinitely more positive, and I recommend them. For three days, massive crowds gathered to mourn Comrade Stalin, making it impossible to carry Prokofiev’s body out for the funeral service at the headquarters of the Soviet Composer’s Union.
Among the strongest motivations for hoping that there is an afterlife is to see such disparities rectified.