I'm looking for historical documentation for the following story. It
was something I heard when I was in my teens, and I never forgot it.
It accounts at least in part for my deciding to work in sustainable
ag, starting in the late 70s.
I may have some of the details wrong, but here's what I remember.
During World War II, the Nazis held Leningrad under siege for three
years. Half a million people died of starvation in that time, and
much of Leningrad's food production was accomplished in small
gardens. There was a seedbank near Leningrad, and one of the people
responsible for it was the geneticist Nikolai Vaviloff. I seem to
recall there being hundreds of thousands of species there, but that
could be a distortion of memory.
The story I recall is that when Allied soldiers found the facility
after the siege, they found researchers and staff lying starved to
death among sacks of grain, seeds, and potatoes. These people saw the
collected genetic heritage of these seeds as more important than
their own lives.
Vaviloff was the geneticist whom Lysenko led Stalin to persecute,
saying that Mendelian genetics didn't fit with Communist principles,
and Vaviloff died in prison in...'43? Russian ag never has recovered
Anyway, if any of you has a lead on a source for this story, I'd
appreciate it. It sounds like something Tolstoy would have written.
I believe I most recently saw it referenced in the /New Yorker/ in
the mid-80s when they serialized (no pun intended) the book by (WHO?
I have it in a file at home) on the world's major grains and the
Michele Gale-Sinex, communications manager
Center for Integrated Ag Systems
UW-Madison College of Ag and Life Sciences
Voice: (608) 262-8018 FAX: (608) 265-3020
In the end, they will lay their freedom at our feet
and say to us, 'Make us your slaves, but feed us.'
--the Grand Inquisitor, Dostoevsky
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