Beria, Sergo 1924-2000
BERIA, Sergo 1924-2000
PERSONAL: Born 1924, in Republic of Georgia; died 2000; son of Lavrenti and Nina Beria.
Moi Otets, Lavrentii Beriia, Sovremennik (Moscow, Russia), 1994.
Beria, My Father: Life inside Stalin's Kremlin, translated by Brian Pearce, Duckworth (London, England), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Sergo Beria spent much of his adult life in exile. He was the son of Lavrenti Beria, described by Mathew Campbell of the London Sunday Times as "the sinister chief of the Soviet secret police" during the years of Josef Stalin's reign. After his father was murdered, Beria and his mother were imprisoned and later sent to Kiev, forced to change their names and to live under close surveillance by the KGB. Although Campbell quoted Beria as stating that he got "quite worked up" when he thought about all the troubles that his family endured, it was his father's reputation as a mass murderer and rapist that disturbed him the most. In an attempt to clear his father's name, he wrote Beria, My Father: Life inside Stalin's Kremlin, published in English in 2001.
"This biography," wrote a reviewer for Contemporary Review, "gives us a view of the man feared by millions of Soviet citizens as 'Stalin's Butcher.'" Lavrenti, who was considered second-in-command only to Stalin, was often characterized as an ambitious man who let nothing stand in his way. He has also been linked to the death of Stalin.
Another reviewer, from Time International, described the senior Beria as "the Soviet Union's sinister and sadistic police chief, a spymaster with ruthless ambition and insatiable libido who for decades did fellow-Georgian Josef Stalin's dirty work." In an attempt to soften this statement, this same reviewer recounted that this was the description of Lavrenti that Soviet historians wanted to be portrayed, especially under the guidance of Nikita Khrushchev, who might have painted this portrait in order to explain his own involvement in the subsequent sentencing and execution of Lavrenti. Lavrenti's son also believed that the negative image of his father was part of a scheme to discredit his father; and after forty years of exile and silence, Beria, Jr. made an attempt to clear his father's name.
The Time International reviewer recommended reading Beria, My Father, "for its vivid revelations about the claustrophobic atmosphere around Stalin." Beria, Jr., after all, spent his first thirty years surrounded by the most powerful men of the Soviet Union. He overheard their conversations; and due to his skills in English, Beria, Jr. was even recruited by Stalin to spy on President Roosevelt. Beria is credited with having some very interesting insights into Stalin's personality as well as into some of the Soviet strategies during Stalin's regime. "More clearly than ever before, Sergo Beria shows how Stalin was plotting World War III in the 1950s," stated the Time International reviewer.
However, Beria's attempts to clear his father's name were "daunting," wrote Robert Johnston for the Library Journal. Beria's book attempted to gloss over his father's involvement in the darker side of Stalin's plans and instead painted him as a "family man who quite naturally loathed Stalin and despised most of his colleagues." Johnston also pointed out that even Francoise Thom, who wrote the introduction to Beria's book, questioned "some of the author's more benign judgments" of his father.
In an article for the Guardian Unlimited, Robert Service also noted the bias in Beria's book. "This is clearly a work of filial piety," Service concluded. However, he added, "this does not prevent it from being full of important information." Beria, My Father may not exonerate his father from the role he played in Soviet history, but, as Service stated, "as a record of the private lives of Stalin's murderous elite it has no rival."
In 2000, Beria, Jr. went before Moscow courts, seeking a judgment that would wipe away, as Service put it, "the blot of shame from the official records."
Many other Soviet citizens had done the same in the past, clearing their names of slander. Beria hoped he too could cleanse, or at least repair, his father's name. "The case was given due consideration, but in the end the plea made by his son Sergo was rejected." Beria died shortly afterward.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Review, September, 2001, review of Beria, My Father: Life inside Stalin's Kremlin, p. 189.
Library Journal, February 15, 2002, Robert Johnston, review of Beria, My Father, p. 153.
Sunday Times (London, England), April 24, 1994, Matthew Campbell, "Stalin, Philby, and Me, by Lost Son of Beria the Terrible," p. 18.
Time International, October 29, 2001, "The Name of the Father: Lavrenti Beria, Stalin's Hatchet Man, Was a Radical Reformer Too—If a Son's Biography Is to Be Believed," p. 83
Guardian Unlimited,http://books.guardian.co.uk/ (April 7, 2002), Robert Service, "At Stalin's Right Hand."*