Oleg Yegorov – Russia Beyond
The famous photo of Joseph Stalin with a little girl in his arms portrayed him as a loving leader.
However, this photograph did not have the same conclusion for the little girl who appears in it, Engelsina Markizova, whose parents were killed.
In 1936, Engelsina Markizova, a 7-year-old Soviet girl, spent 15 minutes with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
The meeting of the girl with the leader
Ardan Markizov, Engelsina's father, was a devout communist who named his daughter after Friedrich Engels and his son, Vladlen, after Vladimir Lenin.
Markizov was a successful Soviet official. In 1936, he worked as People's Commissar of Agriculture in the Buryat-Mongol Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in Siberia.
It was a great honor for Markizov to travel to Moscow with an official Buryat-Mongol delegation, just to meet Stalin, but it was his daughter who stole the show.
"I also wanted to go see Stalin and I begged my father to take me with him, but he objected," recalled Engelsina, Gelya for short, several decades later.
"You are not a member of the delegation to be allowed to enter," his father told him. His mother, however, supported him.
Surprisingly, it turned out that the children were allowed to visit the Kremlin without a special permit, so Markizov took Gelya with him. At one point, after being amazed by the officials' endless speeches about the progress on their agricultural farms, the 7-year-old child decided to hug the Soviet leader.
"I took two bouquets of flowers and went to the presidium, thinking that I would give these flowers to Stalin," said Markizova.
Although surprised, Stalin seemed happy, and even took Gelya in his arms and placed her on the presidium table. She gave him flowers and when she hugged him, the reporters started taking pictures.
The iconic portrait
"Do you like watches?", Stalin asks the little girl. "Yes" was the girl's answer, although she had never had one.
And the leader gave Gelya a gold watch and her family a gramophone. But they wouldn't be the only gifts she would receive.
Anatoli Alay, the director of the unfinished film "Stalin and Gelya", quotes the editor-in-chief of the Pravda newspaper, Lev Mekhlis: "God himself sent us this little girl from Buryat. We will make it an icon of a happy childhood".
And so it happened, after the photo of Stalin and Gelya was published in all newspapers and was called "Children's Friend".
"When I entered the hotel hall the next day, the room was filled with toys and other gifts ... and when my parents and I returned to Ulan-Ude, people greeted me the same way they would later greet astronauts," Markizova recalled.
Georgy Lavrov, a famous sculptor, created a monument to Stalin and Gelya, which became very popular. Gelya was everywhere, but not for long.
A year and a half later, in 1937, it all ended: Ardan Markizov, the staunch communist who worshiped Stalin, was arrested.
"Father was sure that it was a mistake and that he would come back," recalls Gelya. But that didn't happen. He was unjustly convicted of spying for Japan and shot in June 1938. His daughter's letters to Stalin, in which she begged for mercy, did not help.
The leader didn't notice when Gelya's life was falling apart. The authorities also arrested her mother, Dominika, and deported her to Kazakhstan, where she was found dead in 1938.
Markizova believed that her mother had also been killed: the head of the local secret service sent a letter to Lavrenty Beria, the chief of Stalin's secret police, expressing concern that Dominika might try to exonerate herself by using the "connection" of her daughter with Stalin. "With this request, Beria wrote with a blue pencil: ELIMINATE," said Gelya.
As for Gelya herself, she was deleted from official reports. A complicated issue. Stalin could not be photographed with the "daughter of the enemy of the people". But the newspapers had already been published and the sculptures had been made, so from that moment on the girl in the picture was called Mamlakat Nakhangova. Gelya Markizova was deleted.
The nine-year-old orphan had arrived in Moscow, where she lived with her aunt, taking her last name - Dorbeyeva. Fortunately, the authorities did not decide to eliminate her.
She married twice and worked as an orientalist specializing in Cambodia. In 2004, just weeks after Anatoli Alay began directing a film about her, Engelsina died. She was 75 years old.
"Only after people started coming back from the labor camps and the truth was revealed about the Stalin era, I understood what he was," she said, recalling that despite everything she cried and screamed on the day of Stalin's death, just as many other Soviets as well. "Children's best friend" was so charismatic.