Notebook

In his will Lenin had expressed the wish to be buried next to his mother’s grave in Petrograd. That was also the wish of his family. But Stalin wanted to embalm the corpse. If he was to prove that “Leninism lives”, there had to be a body on display, one which, like the relics of the saints, was immune to corruption… The idea of the embalmment was partly inspired by the discovery of Tutankahmen’s tomb in 1922…

Lenin’s brain was removed from his body and transferred to the Lenin Institute. There it was studied by a team of scientists, charged with the task of discovering the “substance of his genius”. They were to show that Lenin’s brain represented a “higher stage of human evolution”. It was sliced up into 30,000 segments, each stored between glass plates in carefully monitored conditions, so that future generations of scientists would be able to study it and discover its essential secrets. The brains of other “undisputed geniuses” – Kirov, Kalinin, Gorky, Mayakovsky, Eisenstein and Stalin himself – were later added to this cerebral collection. They formed the beginnings of the Institute of the Brain, which still exists in Moscow today. In 1994 it published its final autopsy on Lenin: his was a perfectly average brain.

Orlando Figes, “A People’s Tragedy”.

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