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Nikolai Timofeev-Resovsky: genetics, Nazis and Lenin's brain
Nikolai Timofeev-Resovsky: genetics, Nazis and Lenin's brain

Nikolai Vladimirovich Timofeev-Resovsky was born in Moscow on September 7 (September 19, NS) 1900 in the family of a railway engineer. In 1917 he graduated from the Flerov gymnasium, where zoology was taught by the famous zoologist S.I. Ognev, and enters the natural sciences department of the Physics and Mathematics Faculty of Moscow University with a degree in Zoology.

Preparation number 1

The story of Nikolai Vladimirovich Timofeev-Resovsky's protracted German business trip began with the death of Vladimir Lenin on January 21, 1924. Naturally, the brain of such a significant person could not remain without study, and for this procedure, on December 31, the Bolsheviks invite the German Oskar Vogt. He was a well-known scientist dealing with the morphology of the human nervous system. In addition, Vogt was remarkably similar to the object of study - Vladimir Lenin. The researcher quickly agreed, ordered to carefully preserve the brain of the leader of the revolution and demanded to pay all travel expenses. Later, under the leadership of Vogt, the Moscow branch of the Berlin Institute of the Brain appeared, which was later transformed into the State Institute of Lenin's Brain under the Scientific Committee of the Central Executive Committee of the USSR. A separate scientific organization was mainly engaged in the study of the brain of one person, trying in vain to understand what morphological features caused his genius. Probably, in those days, many understood the initial absurdity of this work, and the activities of the Institute were, over time, strictly classified. Later, after the study of microtomic sections of Lenin's gray matter ("Preparation No. 1") along and across, the institution was renamed the Institute of Brain of the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences with a significant expansion of the functionality and objects of research.


Oscar Vogt. Source:

Vogt, who openly sympathized with Soviet Russia, discovered in the very first months of research that pyramidal cells were found somewhat less frequently in Lenin's brain, but they were much larger than on preparations of an ordinary brain. Whatever that means, differences were found in Lenin's brain, and they could well be interpreted in favor of the leader's genius. However, Vogt quickly lost interest in examining the contents of Vladimir Lenin's cranium and was packing up home. Back in Moscow, the scientist was captured by the idea of ​​organizing genetic research at the Berlin Brain Institute of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. In the mid-1920s, the personalities of German geneticists did not differ in a special variety, and the nasty character of Vogt with openly left-wing political views could hardly seduce anyone. After consulting with the leading Soviet biologist Nikolai Koltsov, Vogt invited the young and talented Nikolai Vladimirovich Timofeev-Resovsky to Berlin with him. It must be said that the researcher did not immediately agree to the long trip. Later, he spoke about the reasons for consent as follows:

"… Russians usually went abroad to study something, but I was invited not to study, but on the contrary, to teach the Germans. This is such an outstanding case, and Koltsov and Semashko (People's Commissar of Health of the RSFSR) persuaded me."

By that time, Nikolai Timofeev-Resovsky had become famous as one of the leading experts in mutagenesis.


Brain and microtome. Source:

A scientist with a group of geneticist Sergei Chetverikov studied the effect of radioactivity on the mutational variability of Drosophila, and also evaluated natural mutations in wild populations. In addition to purely professional qualities, contemporaries noted in the manners of Timofeev-Resovsky a rare nobility and uncompromising attitude. He was well versed in science and spoke two languages ​​- French and German.The family of the scientist dates back to the time of Peter the Great and belongs to the nobility, which was later joined by the roots of the Russian clergy. Timofeev-Resovsky's wife, Elena Aleksandrovna Fidler, was distantly related to Immanuel Kant himself, and the closest relatives founded the famous Fiedler gymnasium and the Ferein pharmacy chain. The wife was also a biologist and, as much as she could, helped her husband in scientific research at the Institute of Experimental Biology under the leadership of the aforementioned Nikolai Koltsov.

Timofeev-Resovsky remains in Germany

In 1925, an official invitation from the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Promotion of Science came to Timofeev-Ressovsky, and he went abroad with his wife and son. It must be said that from the point of view of scientific communications, the scientist certainly won. Despite the deplorable state of Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s, business trips and research were generously paid. What could not be said about the Soviet Union: only a few researchers could afford to communicate with the world scientific elite. Nikolai Vladimirovich, at the expense of the Kaiser Society, managed to get to the seminars of Niels Bohr, which for their time were a real mainstream of the scientific world. There is evidence that a promising Russian researcher was even invited to the United States at the Carnegie Institute in 1936. Then there was a period of intensive flight of the learned elite from the country, and our compatriot could well find himself overseas. But he stayed on as director of the genetics department of the Brain Institute in Berlin's Buch district. The Nazis did not touch him, since they did not find Jewish roots in Timofeev-Resovsky, and his authority in the scientific community was already high at that time. And so far the Germans did not have an interest in some kind of mutations caused by radioactive radiation. A year earlier, in 1935, Nikolai Vladimirovich, together with Karl Zimmer and Max Delbrück, published, probably, his most famous work "On the nature of gene mutations and the nature of the gene." In it, in particular, scientists substantiate the approximate size of the gene. This work could well qualify for the Nobel Prize, and also laid the foundation for new, much more resonant discoveries.


In 1937, in the midst of the purges in his homeland, the scientist decides not to return to the USSR. He is deprived of his citizenship for this. Interestingly, Timofeev-Resovsky is twice warned about the danger of returning to his homeland by his teacher Nikolai Koltsov, who also later became a victim of terror. You can talk a lot about the reasons for the transition of a scientist to the not most honorable category of "defectors", but, quite possibly, it was this decision that saved his life. In the USSR, out of the three remaining Timofeev-Resovsky brothers, two were shot, and they did not stand on ceremony with more significant figures, for example, Nikolai Vavilov.

The Nazi regime, even with the attack on the Soviet Union, did not take any special measures against the director of the genetics department of the Brain Institute. This was largely a consequence of Nikolai Vladimirovich's good relations with the German scientific establishment - many simply covered him up, not seeing a threat to the regime. Timofeev-Ressovsky not only knew various botanists and zoologists, he was friends with scientists and engineers involved in the Nazi atomic project. Do not discount the fact that the researcher supervised the program of radiation mutagenesis at the institute, and since the end of the 30s, the Nazis' interest in the atomic problem has definitely grown. Timofeev-Ressovsky (or, as Daniil Granin called him in his book, Bison) was even presented with a fast neutron generator to continue experiments on fruit flies.


In 1943, the Gestapo throws him to Mauthausen for participating in the resistance of the Bison's son, Dmitry, who was preparing an attempt on the life of Vlasov and Rosenberg himself.There is a version that Nikolai Vladimirovich is offered, in exchange for his son's freedom, to participate in a program of forcible sterilization of gypsies - the Germans appreciated the achievements of the genetics department of the Brain Institute in the field of radiomutagenesis. The scientist refuses, and Dmitry is left in a concentration camp, and on May 1, 1945, he was shot for participating in an underground resistance group.

Timofeev-Resovsky, who barely survived the grief, not only waits for the arrival of Soviet troops in Bukh, but also persuades three scientists involved in the German atomic project to stay and not be evacuated to the Americans. In the future, this trinity, physicist K. Zimmer, radiochemist G. Born and radiobiologist A. Kach, will take the most direct part in the creation of atomic weapons for the Soviet Union.

Nikolai Timofeev-Resovsky: genetics, Nazis and Lenin's brain

And Nikolai Vladimirovich, unexpectedly for him and absolutely natural for everyone else, was arrested in 1945 and convoyed to Moscow. As a result - 10 years in the camps, 5 years of defeat in rights and complete confiscation of property. The verdict did not take into account numerous scientific merits, the tragedy of his son and the patronage of fugitive prisoners of war and Ostarbeiters during the war. After being released with a bunch of illnesses in 1951, Timofeev-Ressovsky will work for the country's defense complex as the head of the radiobiology department at the Sverdlovsk Research Institute. In 1964, it was disbanded, and Nikolai Vladimirovich moved to Obninsk, where he headed the Department of General Radiobiology and Radiation Genetics of the Institute of Medical Radiology. Throughout his life, the scientist was never removed from the stigma of "a professor who worked in Hitler's lair." Timofeev-Resovsky died on March 28, 1981, in 1986 his students made an attempt at his rehabilitation, which ended successfully only on June 29, 1992.


Several significant facts about the life of the great Bison. Research associate Max Delbrück won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1969. There is information that the Swedes once sent a request to the USSR regarding the fate of Timofeev-Resovsky, but did not receive an answer. Was this request somehow related to the Nobel Committee? After the death of the scientist, in 1986, the book "Berlin Wild" was published in Germany by Ellie Welt, the wife of Peter Welt, who was saved by Nikolai Vladimirovich. Timofeev-Resovsky was a member of many international academies and scientific societies, and UNESCO included his name in the list of the most significant scientists of the 20th century.

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