By Gideon Rachman

“A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” Stalin’s famous statement is often taken as the epitome of inhumanity — the very opposite of the humane and liberal values cherished in the democratic west.

Residents of Stalin's home town of Gori, Georgia, parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the former dictator's death

Mikhail Kalik remembers March 5 1953, as “a day that was like a second birth for me”. It is a private holiday he has not missed for the last 60 years, a day when he and his fellow former prisoners in Soviet gulags phone each other with congratulations or meet at restaurants to drink toasts.

Exactly six decades ago, he and the other prisoners at Ozerlag, a prison camp in eastern Siberia, were called to the frozen parade ground and told by the camp commandant that the vozhd, or leader, had died.

“He literally wept and told everyone to take off their hats,” Mr Kalik said. “But we could hardly contain our joy. Many of us were silently cheering.”

In other prison camps, the news broke stealthily. Georgy Von Zigern Korn, a prisoner in Karaganda, a mining camp in Kazakhstan, described in his memoirs waking up on March 6 and finding that the camp commandant was nowhere to be seen. The camp guards, reminisced Von Korn, “looked subdued, lost, and suddenly were polite and gentle as willow tree buds”. Read more