My wife (may G_D keep her close) was Russian, who had family members in the Gulag, so I have some thoughts on this. (Of course, saying that you’re Russian with some family in the Gulag is like saying you’re a fish who has fins – it kinda goes with the territory.)
Stalin may or may not have had Jewish ancestry; however, at one point he was in the seminary to become a Russian Orthodox priest.
Anyone who has had to live with someone with paranoia will understand life in the Soviet Union under Stalin. He managed to rig things so that he became the leader after the death of Lenin (which he may or may not have arranged). He perfected the art of saying the exact opposite of what he meant: if he said that the family of Comrade Proklov would be cared for, it was understood that the family of Comrade Proklov would be sent to the Gulags and/or executed.
There was no way for anyone to know if or when they would be arrested. Under Stalin, it became a crime (punishable by 10 to 15 years in the work camps) to be SUSPECTED of crimes against the state, or to be a family member of such a person. In other words, if you were arrested (conviction is guaranteed) on suspicion of being an enemy of the state, your brothers, your sisters, your children could also all be sent to prison for 10-15 years for being related to you. MAYBE if they were convincing enough in denouncing you, they might get off with a lighter sentence. They might even be set free, for a time, until one of your neighbors denounced them.
The point of this was not to find traitors; it was to provide slaves for the work camps. Canals were dug and forests leveled entirely by slave labor with the work camps. One effect this had was give the entire population a prison mentality. Thieves, rapists, and murderers were all mixed in with the politicals in the prison camps, and were all treated the same. When these politicals were released after 10 years or so, they had adopted the mindset of these other prisoners. Imagine how much respect for law there would be in a society where literally 90% of the families have had one or more members imprisoned on a whim? You don’t come to respect the law, you come to respect the strength. And Stalin was strong.
Stalin was literally everywhere: films, billboards, songs – everywhere. Children grew up singing songs to Uncle Stalin. People who have grown up in abusive families will recognize the process: It’s your fault that you got sent to prison; it’s your fault that your group didn’t make their quota; it’s your fault for everything wrong. If only you followed Comrade Stalin’s directions, we would not have the problems we have. If you didn’t have Comrade Stalin, we would all be slaves now. Comrade Stalin has the answers – you need only follow him without question.
There was a saying, still popular in some quarters. We Catholics may recognize it, as it’s very similar to something we say at every Mass:
Stalin budet zivut.
Stalin will live.
When Stalin died, people waiting in line to see his body fainted, because without Stalin there to guide us, what will we do? Who will protect us? Stalin died in 1953. There are still many people alive today who lived under Stalin, who grew up with this attitude, and who passed this attitude on to their children. It’s no wonder that Stalin ranked #3 in that survey.