Stalin's Body Removed From Lenin's Tomb

After his death people acknowledged Stalin's atrocities

The body of Joseph Stalin lying in state in Moscow

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After his death in 1953, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's remains were embalmed and put on display next to those of Vladimir Lenin. Hundreds of thousands of people came to see the Generalissimo in the mausoleum.

In 1961, just eight years later, the Soviet government ordered Stalin's remains removed from the tomb. Why did the Soviet government change its mind? What happened to Stalin's body after it was removed from Lenin's tomb?

Stalin's Death

Stalin had been the despotic dictator of the Soviet Union for nearly 30 years. Though he is now considered responsible for the deaths of millions of his own people through famine and purges, when his death was announced to the people of the Soviet Union on March 6, 1953, many wept.

Stalin had led them to victory in World War II. He had been their leader, the Father of the Peoples, the Supreme Commander, the Generalissimo. And now he was dead.

Through a succession of bulletins, the Soviet people were made aware that Stalin was gravely ill. At 4 a.m. on March 6, it was announced:

"[T]he heart of the comrade-in-arms and continuer of genius of Lenin's cause, of the wise leader and teacher of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union, has ceased to beat."

Stalin, 73, had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at 9:50 p.m. on March 5.

Temporary Display

Stalin's body was washed by a nurse and then carried via a white car to the Kremlin mortuary, where an autopsy was performed. After the autopsy, Stalin's body was given to the embalmers to prepare it for the three days it would lie in state.

His body was placed on temporary display in the Hall of Columns, the ballroom of the historic House of Unions, where thousands of people lined up in the snow to see it. The crowds were so dense and chaotic that some people were trampled underfoot, others rammed against traffic lights, and still others choked to death. It is estimated that 500 people lost their lives trying to get a glimpse of Stalin's corpse.

On March 9, nine pallbearers carried the coffin from the Hall of Columns onto a gun carriage. The body was then ceremoniously taken to Lenin's tomb on Red Square in Moscow.

Only three speeches were made, by Georgy Malenkov, a Soviet politician who succeeded Stalin; Lavrenty Beria, chief of Soviet security and the secret police; and Vyacheslav Molotov, a Soviet politician and diplomat. Then, covered in black and red silk, Stalin's coffin was carried into the tomb. At noon, throughout the Soviet Union, came a loud roar: whistles, bells, guns, and sirens were blown in honor of Stalin.

Preparation for Eternity

Though Stalin's body had been embalmed, it was prepared only for the three-day lying-in-state. It was going to take much more to make the body seem unchanged for generations.

When Lenin died in 1924, his body was quickly embalmed through a complicated process that required an electric pump to be installed inside his body to maintain constant humidity. When Stalin died in 1953, his body was embalmed by a different process that took several months.

In November 1953, seven months after Stalin's death, Lenin's tomb was reopened. Stalin was placed inside the tomb, in an open coffin, under glass, near Lenin's body.

Removing Stalin's Body

After Stalin's death, Soviet citizens began to acknowledge that he was responsible for the deaths of millions of their countrymen. Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party (1953–1964) and premier of the Soviet Union (1958–1964), spearheaded this movement against the false memory of Stalin. Khrushchev's policies became known as "de-Stalinization."

On February 24–25, 1956, three years after Stalin's death, Khrushchev gave a speech at the 20th Communist Party Congress that crushed the aura of greatness surrounding Stalin. In this "Secret Speech," Khrushchev revealed many of the atrocities Stalin committed.

Five years later, it was decided to remove Stalin from a place of honor. At the 22nd Party Congress in October 1961, an old, devoted Bolshevik woman and party bureaucrat, Dora Abramovna Lazurkina, stood up and said:

"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 planned yet was still very effective. Khrushchev followed by reading a decree ordering the removal of Stalin's remains. A few days later, Stalin's body was quietly taken from the mausoleum. There were no ceremonies or fanfare.

His body was buried about 300 feet from the mausoleum, near other minor leaders of the Russian Revolution. It is close to the Kremlin wall, half-hidden by trees.

A few weeks later, a simple, dark granite stone marked the grave with basic lettering: "J.V. STALIN 1879–1953." In 1970, a small bust was added to the grave.

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