Zbarsky, I.B. 1913–

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ZBARSKY, I.B. 1913–

(Ilya Zbarsky, Ilya B. Zbarsky, Ilya Borisovich Zbarsky)

PERSONAL:

Born October 26, 1913, in Kamenetz Podolsky, Russia (now Ukraine); son of Boris Il'ich (a chemist and embalmer) and Faina Nikolaevna (a biologist) Zbarsky; married Irinia Petrovna Karouzina (a biologist and teacher), 1939 (deceased); married Maya Pavlovna Orlova (a doctor), June 13, 1970; children: (first marriage) Alexei, Dmitry. Ethnicity: "Jewish." Education: Moscow State University, graduated, 1935; First Moscow Medical Institute, graduate study, 1936-39. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Orthodox. Hobbies and other interests: Science, fiction, hiking.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Moscow, Russia. Office—N.K. Koltzov Institute of Developmental Biology, Russian Academy of Sciences, 26 Vavilov St., 119334 Moscow, Russia; fax: 7-495-135-8012. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER:

Laboratory of Lenin's Mausoleum, Moscow, U.S.S.R. (now Russia), assistant, 1934-52; First Moscow Medical Institute, Moscow, assistant professor, 1939-45, associate professor, 1945-46; Central Oncological Institute, head of biochemistry lab, 1945-59; Russian Academy of Sciences, W.K. Koltzov Institute of Developmental Biology, Moscow, head of biochemistry laboratory, 1956-89, advisor to the director, 1989—.

MEMBER:

Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, Biochemical Society, European Cell Biology Organization.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Order of Honor, 1939; Order of Labor Red Banner, 1944; Order of Friendship of Nations, 1983; various medals.

WRITINGS:

in english translation

(Editor, with J.R. Harris) Nuclear Structure and Function, Plenum Press (New York, NY), 1990.

(With Samuel Hutchinson) A l'ombre du mausolee, Actes Sud (Paris, France), 1997, translation by Barbara Bray published as Lenin's Embalmers, Harvill (London, England), 1998.

in russian; english translation of titles provided by the author

(With B.I. Zbarsky and A.I. Solntzev) Laboratory Guide on Organic Chemistry, Meditsina (Moscow, U.S.S.R.), 1949.

(With B.I. Zbarsky and A.I. Solntzev) Laboratory Guide on Biological Chemistry, Meditsina (Moscow, U.S.S.R.), 1949.

(With S.S. Debov) Chemistry and Biochemistry of Nucleic Acids, Meditsina (Moscow, U.S.S.R.), 1968.

Organization of the Cell Nucleus, Meditsina (Moscow, U.S.S.R.), 1988.

(With P.F. Nikolaev) Boris Il'ich Zbarsky (scientific biography), Meditsina (Moscow, U.S.S.R.), 1990.

(With S.N. Kuzmina) Skeletal Structures of the Cell Nucleus, Nauka (Moscow, Russia, 1991.

From Russia to Russia, Polina (Tver, Russia), 1998.

Object Number One, Vagrius (Moscow, Russia), 2000.

Author of over 400 scientific and popular articles for publications in Russian, English, and French.

Zbarsky's book on Lenin's embalmers has been published in German, Italian, Japanese, Hungarian, and Norwegian.

SIDELIGHTS:

I.B. Zbarsky is most well known as the son of the man in charge of the embalming of the body of Soviet icon Vladimir Lenin. Even though Ilya was only ten years old at the time of Lenin's death, he later worked with his father in the mausoleum where Lenin's body was treated. A wealth of macabre information is presented by the junior Zbarsky, now in his nineties, in his 1998 book Lenin's Embalmers. Zbarsky obtained much of the factual information from his father, when he was alive, who spent years as the laboratory supervisor where the famous political figure's corpse was repeatedly embalmed after his death in 1924. The book also draws from Zbarsky's own personal experience.

Early in life Zbarsky worked with his father at the Laboratory at Lenin's Mausoleum created for the purpose of preserving Lenin's corpse. After surviving the Communist purges of the 1930s, Zbarsky worked as a biochemist while his father oversaw the periodic reembalming of Lenin's body. In 1952 the senior Zbarsky was jailed by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, and young Ilya was fired from his position at the mausoleum laboratory. Ilya went on to work in biological research and in 1990, coedited a book on nuclear structure and function. Many years after his father's arrest, Ilya learned of the existence of government documents handwritten by Joseph Stalin stating that he and his father should be arrested for revolutionary activity, but only after replacements for their jobs were found.

Zbarsky and Samuel Hutchinson's Lenin's Embalmers explores numerous odd and morose details surrounding the Soviet leader's initial embalming in 1924 and subsequent re-embalming every eighteen months until 1991. Thomas Lynch of the Detroit Free Press said that Lenin's Embalmers offers "part thumbnail history, part personal memoir, part political text, part grim photo album. … it is a great read in a small package, well crafted inside and out, made more compelling by the ongoing unraveling of the Soviet experiment."

In this volume, Zbarsky discusses the obsession of many Communist governments to embalm deceased leaders from the 1940s well into the 1990s. He looks at evidence indicating that this odd practice was performed in a number of countries outside the Soviet Union. The book covers, in great detail, the technological side of human embalming, including the actual "recipe" used on Lenin's body. According to a Publishers Weekly critic: "Zbarsky shines when it comes to corpse preservation: he recounts the evacuation of Lenin's body to Siberia during WWII" and discusses "the process used to preserve the leader of the World Proletariat." Zbarsky and Hutchinson also analyze the psychological implications of political regimes that seek to elevate their deceased leaders to a level equaling if not surpassing religious deities. Contemporary issues surrounding Moscow's economic turn toward capitalism are also addressed. For example, Lenin's embalming institute is now known to offer its services to Soviet gangster families for a fee. Nathan Ward of Library Journal wrote of the book: "The author has now outlived the Soviet state he so oddly served and looks on with irony in the present era of Russian gangster embalmings."

Zbarsky once told CA: "After graduating from Moscow University in 1935 I worked as a scientist in the field of biochemistry, molecular and cell biology (mostly on structure), and biochemistry and function of the cell nucleus. I published several monographs, more than 400 scientific publications, including some fifty reviews, making me well-known in the scientific community of the world."

"In 1989 I retired due to my age and the very poor situation in science in Russia, and I have written a few books of memoirs, including Lenin's Embalmers, containing archive material and my memories on embalming and preserving Lenin's body."

Zbarsky later added: "During my work at the oncological institute and institute of developmental biology my collaborators and I found some new natural events in molecular and cell biology. Thus, our description of the nuclear skeleton (nuclear matrix) was registered as a 'discovery.' We also were the first to find the ribosomal type of DNA in nucleoli and the uniformity of base composition of the DNA and RNA in whole development of Bombyx mori, and we isolated the nuclear envelope and described it in biochemical terms. After retirement I could not continue my experimental work, and so I wrote my memoirs, including the history of Lenin's embalming."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

periodicals

Detroit Free Press, April 4, Thomas Lynch, review of Lenin's Embalmers, 1999.

Library Journal, April 15, 1999, Nathan Ward, review of Lenin's Embalmers, p. 122.

London Review of Books, March 18, 1999, James Meek, review of Lenin's Embalmers, pp. 30-31.

Publishers Weekly, March 29, 1999, review of Lenin's Embalmers, p. 80.