Lenin and Stalin

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Even today, photographers who attempt to take pictures inside the mausoleum on the Red Square where Vladimir Lenin lay in repose are stopped by the sentries. In 1955, that didn’t deter British tourist Christopher Scott, who had bought his first camera only fourteen days earlier.

Entering the tomb with his camera conspicuously hanging from his neck, Scott kept close to the person in front of him in the line, hoping to hide his camera from the guards. Reaching the bodies, he focused and took a single photo and walked out. Not only until three weeks later, when he returned from his holidays, did he discover the perfectly framed photo he took of the biers above.

All the more remarkable was that Scott captured a rare historical moment: For seven years, until his body was taken out and buried by the Kremlin Wall, Joseph Stalin’s embalmed body shared a spot next to Lenin’s. Although the photo above didn’t show it clearly, Stalin’s body was dressed in his uniform as the Marshal of the Soviet Union, decorated with golden buttons and epaulets and state orders, while Lenin was in a simple black suit, devoid of any awards. “Bathed by spotlights set in the ceiling, preserved by paints, cosmetics and all the arts of embalming science, their faces bear none of the marks of the bitter, turbulent years in which, by conspiracy, revolution and brutal dictatorship, they made modern Russia,” Life magazine wrote of their bodies.

At his death, Stalin had been the paramount leader of the Soviet Union for twenty-nine years – after years of unleashing his ire onto the peoples of Eastern Europe, he too succumbed to his own fickle terror. Having purged doctors of Jewish ancestry by accusing them of conspiring to assassinate Soviet leaders and having cowed his staff with orders not to disturb him during sleep under any circumstances (disobedience punishable by death), there was no one to revive him when he didn’t wake up at his usual time. Roy Medvedev, author of the dissident history of Stalinism, Let History Judge, placed the number of victims killed by Stalin’s regime at forty million people.

De-Stalinization began in 1956, with gradual removal of his decrees, photos, and statues all over the USSR. His embalmed body however remained in the Mausoleum stubbornly until 1961, when Dora Lazurkina, an arch-Bolshevik who had been an apartment mate of Lenin once and was exiled by Stalin, denounced its presence. Proving that ironically in a godless Soviet Union, such views still prevailed, Lazurkina couched her words in metaphysical terms: “I consulted with Ilyich, as if he stood before me as if alive and said: it is unpleasant for me to be next to Stalin, who brought so much trouble to the party”.

The very next day, the body moved out of the mausoleum and was reburied.

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