- Full name: Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili
- Adopted name: Joseph Stalin
- Born: 18 December 1878
- Died: 5 March 1953
- Leader of: The Soviet Union
Stalin was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee from 1922 until his death in 1953. This meant he was the leader of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ("USSR"), which was also called the Soviet Union. That country doesn't exist any more. It was made up of a large number of other countries like Russia, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Georgia. In many ways he was very similar to Hitler - an absolute dictator.
The USSR was created in 1919 after the end of the Russian Civil War. Stalin became leader of the USSR after its first leader, Vladimir Lenin, died in 1924. Stalin tried to turn the USSR into a "communist" state. His ideas sometimes worked but sometimes went wrong. His plan to change the way crops were grown is believed by some to have lead to the death of up to 6 million people.
Then, in the 1930s, Stalin began to kill his enemies and rivals. He executed millions of his own people. These included many army officers and other people he saw as threat to his power. This greatly weakened the Soviet army. Although it was huge and well armed, its officers were very new and were scared of being shot if they seemed to be clever. They were at a loss as to how to fight the clever and experienced German army.
Before the war, Stalin did a deal with Germany and they both agreed to invade Poland. He thought that Germany wouldn't attack the USSR as they had made this deal. In fact, some historians think Stalin was planning to invade Germany but the Germans attacked first! Anyway, Germany did attack and to start with it looked like the Germans would win easily, but Stalin was ruthless. He was willing to sacrifice any number of soldiers to stop the Germans capturing important machinery (like tank factories) and to slow their advance on the capital, Moscow. Despite millions of deaths, this worked and in the end the USSR beat the Germans.
It might have ended differently if Hitler hadn't made mistakes. Many people in the USSR welcomed the Germans as "liberators". They had been living with Stalin and his "purges", where he killed those he didn't trust. Many people, especially outside of Russia, might have joined the war on the German side. But Hitler didn't want their help, and by being even more cruel than Stalin and killing even more of them, turned them against the Germans.