Body of Stalin Removed From Lenin's Tomb

Picture of Stalin, after his death, lying in state in the hall of Trade Union House, Moscow.
Soviet Communist leader Joseph Stalin lying in state in the hall of Trade Union House, Moscow. (March 12, 1953). Photo by Keystone/Getty Images

After his death in 1953, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's remains were embalmed and put on display next to 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 their mind? What happened to Stalin's body after it was removed from Lenin's tomb?

Stalin's Death

Joseph 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 had been made aware that Stalin was gravely ill. At four in the morning of March 6, 1953, 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."1

Joseph Stalin, 73 years of age, had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died at 9:50 p.m. on March 5, 1953.

Temporary Display

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

Stalin's body was placed on temporary display in the Hall of Columns.

Thousands of people lined up in the snow to see it. The crowds were so dense and chaotic outside that some people were trampled underfoot, others rammed against traffic lights, and some others choked to death. It is estimated that 500 people lost their lives while 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 the Red Square in Moscow.

Only three speeches were made — one by Georgy Malenkov, another by Lavrenty Beria, and the third by Vyacheslav Molotov. 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 only prepared for the three-day lying-in-state. It was going to take much more preparation to make the body seem unchanged for generations.

When Lenin died in 1924, Professor Vorobyev had done the embalming. It was a complicated process that resulted in an electric pump being installed inside Lenin's body to maintain a constant humidity.2

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, Lenin's tomb was reopened. Stalin was placed inside the tomb, in an open coffin, under glass, near the body of Lenin. 

Secretly Removing Stalin's Body

Stalin had been a dictator and a tyrant. Yet he presented himself as the Father of Peoples, a wise leader, and the continuer of Lenin's cause. After his death, people began to acknowledge that he was responsible for the deaths of millions of their own 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 Twentieth Party Congress that crushed the aura of greatness that had surrounded Stalin. In this "Secret Speech," Khrushchev revealed many of the horrible atrocities committed by Stalin.

Five years later, it was time to physically remove Stalin from a place of honor. 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."3

This speech had been pre-planned yet it was still very effective. Khrushchev followed by reading a decree ordering the removal of Stalin's remains.

The further retention in the mausoleum of the sarcophagus with the bier of J. V. Stalin shall be recognized as inappropriate since the serious violations by Stalin of Lenin's precepts, abuse of power, mass repressions against honorable Soviet people, and other activities in the period of the personality cult make it impossible to leave the bier with his body in the mausoleum of V. I. Lenin.4

A few days later, Stalin's body was quietly removed from the mausoleum. There were no ceremonies and no fanfare.

About 300 feet from the mausoleum, Stalin's body was buried near other minor leaders of the Russian Revolution. Stalin's body was placed near the Kremlin wall, half-hidden by trees.

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

Notes

1. As quoted in Robert Payne, The Rise and Fall of Stalin (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965) 682.

2. Georges Bortoli, The Death of Stalin (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1975) 171.

3. Dora Lazurkina as quoted in Rise and Fall 712-713.

4. Nikita Khrushchev as quoted in Ibid 713.

Sources:

Bortoli, Georges. The Death of Stalin. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1975.

Hingley, Ronald. Joseph Stalin: Man and Legend. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1974.

Hyde, H. Montgomery. Stalin: The History of a Dictator. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1971.

Payne, Robert. The Rise and Fall of Stalin. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965.

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Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Body of Stalin Removed From Lenin's Tomb." ThoughtCo, Jun. 12, 2017, thoughtco.com/body-of-stalin-lenins-tomb-1779977. Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2017, June 12). Body of Stalin Removed From Lenin's Tomb. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/body-of-stalin-lenins-tomb-1779977 Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Body of Stalin Removed From Lenin's Tomb." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/body-of-stalin-lenins-tomb-1779977 (accessed November 19, 2017).