Mennonites Visiting Lenin’s Tomb

A few years ago Andrew and I visited Russia. It’s a huge country and we only saw St. Petersburg and Moscow, so we definitely need to go back to see more. While we were in Moscow we visited the Kremlin, which is actually a large fortress with many important government buildings and historic churches. We also saw Red Square, Izmailovsky Market and, of course, Lenin’s Tomb.

Now, Mennonites have a complicated history when it comes to Russian leaders. We tend to like Katherine the Great, because she invited us to the country. Stalin, we definitely do not like. But Lenin? Well, I suppose we’re not big fans of his either. My family immigrated to Canada in the 1870s. So did one half of Andrew’s family (which is probably why we’re fifth cousins). His other half, the Bergmans, however, came as refugees in the 1920s, fleeing from the Bolsheviks and Makhnovists.

So, we were a bit conflicted about paying our respects to Lenin. Anyway, it’s the thing to do in Moscow, right? Well, we woke up one weekday morning and joined the line. It actually moves pretty quickly. You can’t take any pictures once you’re inside so, no, I don’t have a snapshot of Lenin’s body, just the outside of the mausoleum. They also move you through pretty quickly. Andrew once joked on the Daily Bonnet that his body is preserved with Mennonite pickle juice. Sounds about right to me.

Well, anyway, some visitors where quite reverent, even bowing. The fact that Russia is no longer a Marxist-Leninist state has not seemed to diminish the popularity of this particular site…at least for tourists. We just politely glanced and moved on. It was more of a curiosity than anything.

Anyway, a few years later, Andrew’s grandma gifted all the grandkids were a memoir, including the unfinished life-story of Andrew’s grandfather, who was born in Molotschna, which at the time was part of the Soviet Union.

And in these writings we discovered that Andrew’s grandfather had visited Lenin’s tomb, too!

Moscow was a long way off from southern Ukraine, but on their journey out of the country they stopped at Lenin’s tomb. This would have been in the mid-1920s, just after Lenin died, so I assume the elaborate mausoluem had not yet been built.

I’m curious though. Why did they visit? This man was basically the reason they were leaving. Where they forced to? Was it to keep up appearances? Some kind of protocol? Or, like, us, was it pure curiosity?

It’s interesting to think of Andrew’s grandfather (who passed away in 1999), as a little boy, restlessly waiting in line with his parents to see the body of Lenin.

And then us…80 years later doing the same.