A recently opened exhibition in Moscow’s State Historical Museum is shedding some light on a long-guarded Russian secret: the origins of Soviet founding father Vladimir Lenin. Lenin’s maternal grandfather, the exhibition revealed, was born Jewish.
This fascinating morsel of information, gleaned from declassified KGB files, is not a minor detail in a country where anti-Semitism was a recognized state doctrine for decades. Starting in the 1930s, the Soviet regime —spurred on by its leader Joseph Stalin — launched a violent discriminatory campaign against Jewish citizens.
Born in 1870, Lenin identified himself simply as Russian. His official biography mentions only his Russian, German and Swedish origins. But one of the exhibition’s priceless pieces adds a key new element to the official narrative.
In a letter to Stalin in 1932 — six years after Lenin’s death — Anna Ulyanova, Lenin’s older sister, wrote that their maternal grandfather “came from a poor Jewish family and was, according to his baptismal certificate, the son of Moses Blank.” Blank was born in Zhitomir, Ukraine. In her letter, Ulyanova said her brother “had always thought highly of Jews.” She also urged Stalin to reveal Lenin’s Jewish background, concluding that “it would be wrong to hide it from the masses.”