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Stalin Admitted Knowledge Of English, Roosevelt’s Son Says

February 6, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ Josef Stalin claimed that he used a secret understanding of English to his advantage during World War II conferences with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, Roosevelt’s son says.

In an article in Parade magazine, Elliott Roosevelt also said that Stalin told him in a post-war interview that he believed the president had been poisoned by members of the British prime minister’s ″gang.″

He wrote that Stalin told him in late 1946 that his mother, Eleanor Roosevelt, was barred from the Soviet Union because she had refused to allow Soviet diplomats to see FDR’s body after his death in 1945.

Stalin said he wanted his ambassador to have a look at Roosevelt’s corpse ″because they poisoned your father, of course, just as they have tried repeatedly to poison me,″ Elliott Roosevelt wrote.

When Roosevelt asked who ″they″ were, Stalin replied, ″The Churchill Gang 3/8 They poisoned your father, and they continue to try to poison me.″

Roosevelt also reported that Stalin, who reacted to questions in the interview before they were translated into Russian, admitted he could speak and understand English and used that ability to his advantage during wartime conferences, when the Soviet Union, the United States and Britain were allies in the war against Germany.

″Ha 3/8 Caught me out, have you?″ Stalin said in heavily accented English when asked if he understood the language. ″Yes, I speak a little English. Understand more.″

Asked if that gave him an edge in the war talks, Stalin said, ″Yes. And I fully intended to have that advantage and make the best use of it.″

″He gained a tremendous advantage, because neither Roosevelt nor Churchill spoke a word of Russian,″ Roosevelt said in a telephone interview Thursday from his home in Palm Desert, Calif. ″While a question was being translated, Stalin had more time to think out what he was going to say.″

Roosevelt said he did not ask Stalin if his ″advantage″ produced any particular results. Stalin died in 1953.

Several scholars expressed skepticism Thursday about Stalin’s alleged proficiency in English and its possible significance.

″Stalin may have known a few words, but he didn’t know any foreign language very well,″ said Mark Beissinger, a fellow at Harvard University’s Russian Research Center.

Robert C. Tucker, author of ″Stalin as Revolutionary,″ said any English the dictator might have known would have been of little use in the strategy sessions. ″It wasn’t as if he was under some kind of deadline to answer, like a lie detector test,″ he said.

Harvard professor Adam Ulam, author of a 1973 Stalin biography, said that dictator’s alleged knowledge of English was ″news to me″ and that ″Elliott Roosevelt must have been under the wrong impression.″

But William Emerson, a military historian and director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, said ″it was evident to (military) officers during the war that Stalin was able to follow an English conversation with some degree of accuracy.″

As for Stalin’s poisoning accusation, Ulam said, ″That sounds like absolute fantasy on Elliott’s part. Stalin would never have made such a silly statement.″

But Bessinger said it sounded like Stalin, who after the war ″was so suspicious of anyone and everyone that he was losing his grip on reality. ... He had food tasters.″

Emerson said there was ″no indication of foul play″ in the 63-year-old Roosevelt’s death: ″The cerebral hemorrhage was a reasonable outcome of the circulatory problems that had been diagnosed a year earlier.″

He also said Mrs. Roosevelt’s inability to obtain a visa to travel in the Soviet Union after the war was not remarkable, since the Soviets strictly limited foreign access to the war-ravaged country.

Elliott Roosevelt and Emerson agreed that Mrs. Roosevelt did not discriminate against the Soviets after her husband died, opening his casket only to a few members of the immediate family.

Roosevelt, 75, said he included Stalin’s remarks about English and poison in an article for Look magazine in 1946, but that they were edited out.

Roosevelt is the author of several books and articles about his family, including ″As He Saw It,″ an account of FDR’s wartime conferences.

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