Seweryn Bialer

Robert and Renée Belfer Professor Emeritus of International Relations
Columbia University

Born in Berlin in 1926, he was raised in Lodz in a prominent Polish Jewish family. He was driven into the Lodz ghetto at age 13, where he discovered the works of Karl Marx, which would become a lifelong study. There he joined the communist underground. In 1944 he was sent to Auschwitz/Birkenau concentration camp and from there, with the dismantling of this camp, to Friedland, which was liberated by Soviet troops in May 1945. In 1951 he was admitted to the Polish Academy of Sciences Institute for the Education of Scientific Cadres. There he prepared his doctoral dissertation on the U.S. Marshall Plan, while serving as lecturer and member of various Central Committee commissions dealing with propaganda, publications and education. In January 1956, he defected to the West while attending an international conference in Berlin. 

His first book, Stalin and His Generals. Soviet Military Memoirs of World War II (1969) was translated into several European languages. Harrison Salisbury hailed the work as “an unprecedented glimpse of Stalin through the eyes of his associates” (New York Times, April 27, 1969). Bialer’s next book, Stalin’s Successors: Leadership, Stability and Change in the Soviet Union (1980), secured his position as a leading expert in Soviet studies, which was recognized three years later when he was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, the first ever given to a political scientist, and the only one awarded to a Sovietologist.
Seweryn Bialer is survived by his wife of 51 years, Joan Afferica, L. Clarke Seelye Professor Emeritus of History, Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.  
Read his obituary in the New York Times (21 Feb. 2019), here.