Thursday, October 11, 2018

Lenin wasn’t the First or the Only Russian to Be Embalmed for Public Display

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 10 – The mummification of Vladimir Lenin and the display of his remains on Red Square which gave rise to similar actions for other leaders in other countries is often thought to be the first in Russian history and the only case of such remains on public display, but both of those notions are false, Kristina Rudich says.

            An earlier case involves Nikolay Pirogov, a prominent Russian doctor who is sometimes credited with the creation of modern military surgery during the Crimean War. After his death in 1881, his widow and followers sought his mummification – and succeeded, the Russian7 journalist say (

                They received permission for this exception from Orthodox church rules by arguing that he was “a model Christian” and that his remains would inspire others.  The embalming process was remarkably successful and following repairs in 1945, his body even now remains in even better share than Lenin’s – even though it has been preserved more than 40 years longer – as visitors to his memorial can see.

            After Lenin’s death, at least two Soviet leaders were mummified; but the fate of their embalmed remains were less successful than Lenin’s or Pirogov’s, the journalist says.  Red Army Grigory Kotovsky who was killed in his dacha in 1925 was embalmed and put in a mausoleum in a village in what is now Ukraine, Birzula, that was later renamed Kotovsk.

            When German forces arrived in August 1941, they took Kotovsky’s body out of the mausoleum and consigned it to a mass grave where their Jewish victims had been thrown.  One local resident nonetheless gathered what he could in a paper bag, and in 1965, Kotovsky’s mausoleum, albeit in a smaller way, was restored.

            At present, Rudich says, the preserved body is in bad condition, as shown by photographs published two years ago.  It is now less a mummy than a skeleton, and a partial one at that given that vandals have broken into the mausoleum and taken away portions of Kotovsky’s remains.

             The other prominent mummy who suffered a sad fate, she continues, was of course Joseph Stalin.  He was initially embalmed in “quite favorable” circumstances, and witnesses report that those who carried out this process were “able to create the impression that the all-powerful dictator was simply sleeping in his grave.”

            Externally, they say, “in contrast to Lenin, [the dead Stalin] looked almost alive,” Rudich says. But in some ways, Stalin was initially treated just like Lenin: his brain was removed and transferred to the Moscow Brain Institute for study. (On this strange history, see

                However, Rudich concludes, “by an irony of fate, the body of Stalin which could have been preserved better than other mummies of the fatherland, was in general view for an extremely short time – all of eight years,” after which he was reburied like other, lesser Soviet leaders in the Kremlin wall. 

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