The Shmooze

What To Make of Lenin's Jewish Grandfather

By Nathan Burstein

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Lenin, his sister said, “always thought highly of the Jews” — and with good reason, since he apparently had Jewish ancestry.

That, at least, is the claim being put forward at a recently opened exhibit at the State Historical Museum in Moscow, where the founding ruler of the Soviet Union is revealed to have had a Jewish grandfather.

A 1932 letter written to Stalin by Lenin’s older sister, Anna Ulyanova, reports that their maternal grandfather “came from a poor Jewish family and was, according to his baptismal certificate, the son of Moses Blank.” Ulyanova used the information to suggest that Stalin reveal Lenin’s background to the Soviet people — an idea the dictator rejected.

Instead, Stalin had the details suppressed, with Lenin’s official biography continuing to state that he was of Russian, German and Swedish background. The letter was retrieved from declassified KGB files.

Time magazine notes that the revelation puts some far-right Russian nationalists in a tricky spot, since their admiration for Lenin conflicts with the anti-Semitism that often accompanies it. The articles predicts that “even if latent anti-Semitism does not play an active role in contemporary Russian politics, the Lenin exhibition could end up cutting into the famed revolutionary’s enduring popularity.”


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