Here's What Really Happened To Joseph Stalin's Body

After the Nazi war machine turned its deadly ambition on the Soviet Union in World War II, Joseph Stalin rallied his country to victory in the global conflict (that's the part American history classes don't get exactly right). This was a good thing. The Nazis killed an estimated 24 million Soviet soldiers and civilians, according to the National WWII Museum, and they would have killed the rest had they not been stopped. So when he died in 1953, he was honored as a national hero. As ThoughtCo notes, his body was embalmed and set up next to the embalmed remains of his predecessor, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. Hundreds of thousands of people visited the pair's rigid remains in Lenin's mausoleum in Red Square.

However, it didn't take long for the country to start to reexamine the brutal dictator's legacy and question the decision to revere him this way. For although he did a good job during WWII, he also killed millions of his own people during his three-decade rule. According to The New York Times, that number could have been as high as 20 million, with another 20 million displaced, arrested, or blacklisted. So less than a decade later, Stalin's body ended up being moved to a much less noticeable eternal resting place.

Soviet leaders moved Stalin's embalmed body in 1961

It didn't take too long for Stalin's reputation to sour in the Soviet Union. Britannica notes that just three years after his death, Communist party leader Nikita Khrushchev officially denounced Stalinism as a "cult of personality" designed to benefit one person in particular. He criticized the former dictator for policies of displacement, torture, forced labor, executions, and other abuses of power, most notably, the terror that permeated the country during the Great Purge of the mid-1930s.

Khrushchev's de-Stalinization campaign took hold, and five years later, the country decided that the creepy way it remembers its great leaders was too good for the ruthless dictator. According to, his body was removed from Lenin's mausoleum on October 31, 1961. His embalmed corpse was buried in an inconspicuous grave nearby. An unassuming headstone marking the grave tersely reads: "J.V. Stalin 1879-1953." Then in 1970, someone figured he deserved a little more pomp and circumstance, despite killing tens of millions of people, so they put a small bust on his grave, as well.