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Lenin's Mausoleum

“Due to planned maintenance work, the mausoleum will be closed for visitors from Feb. 16 until April 16,” said the the Federal Protection Service (FSO) in a statement 09 February 2017. Mausoleum maintenance normally takes place once every six months. Rossiskaya Gazeta reported that this time a biochemical treatment will be applied to Lenin’s body of Lenin, and that he will get new clothes.

Vladimir Lenin was the first head of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic and from 1922, the first de facto leader of the Soviet Union. The founder of Soviet communism died in 1924, having suffered from strokes in his last two years. The Soviet government invited Otfrid Foerster, a German neurologis, as a specialist to attend Lenin during his illness, and Foerster was appointed Lenin's personal physician. Foerster lived in Russia from 1922 to 1924, and was a great admirer of Lenin's personality and political achievements. After Lenin's death, Foerster participated in the autopsy and Lenin's brain was removed before his body was embalmed. Foerster was asked to suggest the name of a scientist who could examine Lenin's brain and he named the German neuroscientist Oskar Vogt to locate the neurons that are responsible for genius.

Lenin's embalmed body has been on public display there since the year he died in 1924. On January 21, the day that Lenin died, the Soviet government received more than 10,000 telegrams from all over Russia, which asked the government to preserve his body somehow for future generations. On the morning of January 23, Professor Alexei Ivanovich Abrikosov—a prominent Russian pathologist and anatomist (not to be confused with physicist Alexei Alexeyevich Abrikosov, his son)— embalmed Lenin's body to keep it intact until the burial. Several holes were drilled into Lenin's skull, to allow the chemicals to penetrate the brain tissue as well. Lenin's eyeballs were removed, and replaced with glass eyes. His mouth was sewn shut. Parts of his skin were injected with vinegar, and this actually worked to remove the unsightly stains.

On the night of January 23, architect Aleksey Shchusev was given a task to complete within three days: design and build a tomb to accommodate all those who wanted to say their goodbyes to Lenin. On January 26, the decision was made to place the tomb at the Red Square by the Kremlin Wall. By January 27, Shchusev built a tomb out of wood and at 4 p.m. that day they placed Lenin's coffin in it. More than 100,000 people visited the tomb within a month and a half. By August of 1924, Shchusev upgraded the tomb to a bigger version. The architect Konstantin Melnikov designed Lenin's sarcophagus.

In 1929, it was established that it would be possible to preserve Lenin’s body for a much longer period of time. Therefore, it was decided to exchange the wooden mausoleum with the one made of stone (architects Aleksey Shchusev, I.A. Frantsuz, and G.K. Yakovlev). They used marble, porphyry, granite, labradorite, and other construction materials. In October 1930, the construction of the stone tomb was finished. The top tier has a stand, from which Soviet leaders right up to Mikhail Gorbachev welcomed the parades in Red Square. In 1973, sculptor Nikolai Tomsky designed a new sarcophagus.

On January 26, 1924 the Head of the Moscow Garrison issued an order to place the Guard of Honour at the mausoleum. Russians call it the "Number One Sentry". After the events of the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993, the Guard of Honor was disbanded. In 1997 the "Number One Sentry" was restored at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden.

The first weeks of the war against Nazi Germany were a calamity for the USSR. The Wehrmacht smashed the Soviet Western Front in no time, occupying most of the Baltic region as well as western Ukraine and Belarus. Although Moscow was not immediately threatened, the Soviet leadership, showing foresight at last, began to think about moving the capital’s valuables, one of which was undoubtedly the body of the “leader of the Russian Revolution.” A special commission set up to assess the potential damage that German air raids might cause to the mausoleum concluded that even small bombs would reduce both it and its precious contents to dust. The decision to move the body was duly made, and on July 3 an order was issued by the People's Commissariat for State Security (NKGB), which later dropped its first letter to become the KGB. It stated that Lenin's body was to be sent by special train to Siberia, to the small city of Tyumen, without delay. The changing of the Red Square mausoleum guard of honor continued. The tradition also carried on as usual back in Moscow, so that no one would suspect that the mausoleum was now empty. Lenin's body stayed in Tyumen for three years and nine months, until in early 1945 the Soviet leadership decided to bring it back.

Though supposedly "rejuvenated" annually by Russian undertakers, Lenin's body currently gives off a waxed appearance, prompting many to wonder if it is still real. Some parts might be fake, or partially fake for the needs of predictability. Neither the former Soviet government nor the current Russian authorities would comment on the topic of the body's authenticity. The family of Lenin's embalmers states that the corpse is real and requires daily work to moisturize the features and inject preservatives under the clothes. When Lenin's body was dissected and prepared for the exposition, his internal organs were removed and fluids in the body were replaced by a special embalming solution, which slowed down the process of decomposition. Scientists still keep the body in good condition, injecting preservatives and immersing the body in a bath of preservative solution every year and a half.

Lenin's sarcophagus is kept at a temperature of 61 degrees and kept at a humidity of 80-90 percent. The chemical used was referred to by the caretakers as "balsam", which was glycerine and potassium acetate. Every eighteen months the corpse is removed and goes under a special chemical bath. The chemicals that were unknown until after the fall of the Soviet Union were kept secret by authorities. The bath consists of placing the corpse in a glass bath with potassium acetate, alcohol, glycerol, distilled water, and as a disinfectant, quinine. This was the process used for all subsequent treatments of Lenin's body and continues to be used even now.

Now no more than 23 percent of the body is still there, however, it retains its physical appearance, skin elasticity and flexibility of joints. But the suits in which Lenin lies deteriorate and have to be changed. State Duma deputy Vladimir Medinsky is certain that the Russian authorities had highly serious reasons to bury the body of Vladimir Lenin, the mummy of which is currently resting in Lenin’s Tomb on Moscow’s Red Square. “Let us not deceive ourselves with illusions of preserving Lenin’s body at Mausoleum. There is only ten percent of his body resting there,” the official said in July 2008.

Visits take place according to strict regulations. The sarcophagus with the body sits on a plinth, and it is forbidden to get close to it or stay for a long time. Under the watchful eye of armed guards, vistors walk around the sarcophagus in a semicircle, observing the ever-still revolutionary, before exiting to the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. Here lies the cream of Soviet society: from Stalin to Brezhnev to cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Visitors may lay flowers at someone's grave – or just wander, thinking about the transience of human life.

Joseph Stalin was also embalmed and placed next to Lenin. When Stalin died in 1953, Professor Vorobyev had already passed away. Thus, the job of embalming Stalin went to Professor Vorobyev's assistant, Professor Zharsky. The embalming process took several months. In November 1953, seven months after Stalin's death, the tomb was reopened. Stalin lay in a coffin, under glass, near the body of Lenin.

At the Twenty-second Party Congress in October 1961, an old, devoted Bolshevik woman, Dora Abramovna Lazurkina stood up and said: "My heart is always full of Lenin. Comrades, I could survive the most difficult moments only because I carried Lenin in my heart, and always consulted him on what to do. Yesterday I consulted him. He was standing there before me as if he were alive, and he said: "It is unpleasant to be next to Stalin, who did so much harm to the party." This speech had been pre-planned yet it was still very effective. Stalin's body was buried in 1961 during de-Stalinization.

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Page last modified: 23-07-2018 13:38:28 ZULU