smershSMERSH: Stalin’s Secret Weapon,
Soviet Military Counterintelligence in WWII

SMERSH, acronym of the Russian phrase ‘Death to Spies’, is primarily known to readers as James Bond’s sinister opponent in Ian Fleming’s novels. Yet SMERSH was a real organization and just as diabolical as its fictional counterpart. No information was available on this organization until the fall of the Soviet Union, and its importance to WWII history is almost completely unknown to scholars and history readers alike. Ostensibly a military counterintelligence organization dedicated to fighting Nazis, SMERSH spent considerable time and effort terrifying its own, including writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was arrested for writing to a fellow officer. Its activities often strayed into the political sphere, exemplified by the arrests of many political leaders and foreign diplomats in Eastern Europe, including the famous rescuer of Hungarian Jews, Raoul Wallenberg, at the end of WWII.

While it was formally part of the Defense Commissariat, SMERSH was not under the control of the military hierarchy. In reality it was a secret service independent of the other Soviet security organizations. Its head, Viktor Abakumov, a shadowy and powerful figure whose biography is revealed here for the first time, reported directly to Joseph Stalin on a daily basis.

Based on a huge number of documents and memoirs available only in Russian, the book details all the known activities of SMERSH— its clever ‘radio games’, which used captured German officers to lure German intelligence into traps, mass vetting of Soviet troops who had been prisoners of the Germans, arrest and persecution of Red Army generals, infiltration of Nazi spy schools, participation in military tribunals and the ‘Special Board’ of the NKVD, and participation in the Nuremberg trials and the ‘Sovietization’ of Eastern Europe. Now, after ten years of research, a critical missing piece of the history of WWII and the Soviet secret services is finally exposed.

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Also available in Polish, Estonian, and Russian

Why is a book about SMERSH relevant today? As Mr. Birstein takes pains to point out, “the present Russian government seems intent on whitewashing Stalin’s atrocities and the history of the Soviet security services.” — The Washington Times, Feb 28, 2012

Vadim Birstein’s SMERSH: Stalin’s Secret Weapon has won the inaugural St Ermin’s Hotel Intelligence Book of the Year Award 2012. Birstein’s title is “a very absorbing, thoroughly readable, extraordinarily detailed account of an organisation that…had a terrible, bloody history ” according to the judges.–The Bookseller, 13 June 2012

perversionThe Perversion of Knowledge:
The True Story of Soviet Science

During the Soviet years, Russian science was touted as one of the greatest successes of the regime. Russian science was considered to be equal, if not superior, to that of the wealthy western nations. The Perversion of Knowledge, a history of Soviet science that focuses on its control by the KGB and the Communist Party, reveals the dark side of this glittering achievement. Based on the author’s firsthand experience as a Soviet scientist, and drawing on extensive Russian language sources not easily available to the Western reader, the book includes shocking new information on biomedical experimentation on humans as well as an examination of the pernicious effects of Trofim Lysenko’s pseudo-biology. Also included are many poignant case histories of those who collaborated and those who managed to resist, focusing on the moral choices and consequences. The text is accompanied by the author’s own translations of key archival materials, making this work an essential resource for all those with a serious interest in Russian history.

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A well-documented and highly disquieting tour through the abominations of Soviet science. — Kirkus Reviews

Birstein…conducts a thorough examination of state control of science in the Soviet Union. — National Journal

Speaking from personal experience and aided greatly by archival materials and reference books made accessible in the 1990s, geneticist Birstein offers a comprehensive account of 80 years of governmental control and censorship of science in the Soviet Union. He describes how academic and research scientists in the nation’s scientific institutions were replaced with political functionaries who often had no knowledge of the sciences they represented. He emphasizes Stalin’s favorite, the fraudulent geneticist Lysenko, and also the biochemist Mairanovsky, who in his poison lab experimented on prisoners, often fatally. Birstein graphically describes some of those experiments, as well as secret-service tortures, referring briefly to experiments on supposed volunteers in the U.S., Canada, and England. Early on he says he wants readers to ask what they would have done in the same circumstances, and later he tells the stories of several scientists who took firm ethical stands and survived. Demonstrating how science, research, and education were frighteningly perverted, he provokes concern about Russia’s current lack of support for science and how dangerous it may be.  — Booklist

Soviet Military Counterintelligence form 1918 to 1939

The history of the early years of Soviet military counterintelligence is poorly known. Dr. Birstein’s long article (70+ pages), Soviet Military Counterintelligence From 1918 to 1939, which appears in the first 2012 issue of the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, goes a long way toward remediating this situation.

This article describes military counterintelligence from its early years embedded within the vCheKa to the days of the purges of Tukhachevsky and other high level military officers, right before the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The article includes extensive charts detailing the structure of the various military counterintelligence organizations which are particularly useful given the constant changes they underwent. To buy a copy please visit the journal website. Scholars may request a complimentary copy in Adobe PDF format from Dr. Birstein.

Three Days in “Auschwitz without Gas Chambers”: Henry A. Wallace’s Visit to Magadan in 1944

In 1944 the Vice-President Henry Wallace made a visit to Soviet Union and China. The purpose of the mission, initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was to visit the Soviet Union’s Far East and Central Asia as goodwill envoys and then to continue to China for a meeting with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek.

The group included John N. Hazard, an expert on Soviet law who was deputy director of the Soviet branch of the Lend-Lease Administration, John Carter Vincent, Counselor to the American Embassy in Chongqing and Owen Lattimore, a well-known China specialist and Mongolian-speaker from the Office of War Information.

Dr. Birstein’s article about this infamous trip, Three Days in “Auschwitz without Gas Chambers”: Henry A. Wallace’s Visit to Magadan in 1944, was published as part of the “e-Dossier” series of the Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The book that Wallace wrote about the trip, Soviet Asian Mission, published in 1946, triggered a storm of criticism, especially when it became clear he had apparently been completely duped by the Soviets. Both Wallace and Lattimore considered the NKVD organization, Dalstroi (an acronym of a Russian phrase meaning ”Far North Construction Trust”), which ran many slave labor camps “a combination TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] and Hudson’s Bay Company.”

Their attitude became especially embarrassing six years later after the memoirs of Swiss citizen Elinor Lipper, a former Kolyma prisoner, which described Wallace’s visit to Magadan from the point of view of a labor camp inmate, were published in English. Since then, numerous additional Gulag survivor memoirs describing the event have appeared, which make Wallace and Lattimore’s enthusiastic descriptions of Dalstroi even harder to understand.

My Father, Yakov (Jacob) A. Birstein (April 7, 1911 – Moscow July 8, 1970)

Мой отец Яков Авадьевич Бирштейн (7 апреля 1911 г. – 8 июля 1970 г.) (in Russian)

First Edition. Moscow: Novyi Khronograf, 2012. 231 pp.

Second Edition. Moscow: August Borg, 2014. 166 pp.

I wrote this biography of my father Dr. Yakov (Jacob) A. Birstein (19111970), a zoologist, oceanographer, evolutionist, and remarkable teacher, Professor at Moscow University in Russian, so that it would be available for his colleagues and former students, and any other Russian interested in the history of Soviet/Russian biology. I also included a short biography and a list of all his works in English for foreign colleagues.

The book is not only a history of the Birstein family and the scientific career of my father, but also a description of the life of Moscow intelligentsia during the hard times of the Soviet Union, from the years of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin to the late 1960s.


“Your book is excellent! It is well published, written very well, and informative. But the main thing, it keeps on the memory about a great scientist and personality.”

—Dr. Alexander Klimchouk, Director, Ukrainian Institute of Speleology and Karstology (Simferopol, Crimea), in an email dated December 18, 2012

“I have just completed reading the section in English and found it very interesting. . . Prof. Birstein was truly a very interesting person and I thank you again for putting all of this information about his life and distinguished career into a permanent book form.”

—John R. Holsinger, Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences, Old Dominion University (Norfolk, VA, USA), in an email dated January 24, 2013

“The book is great. Some way you managed to keep balance in everything. And it is extremely well published.”

—Dr. Nikolai Formozov, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Biology Faculty, Moscow State University (Moscow, Russia), in an email dated February 18, 2013

“I “swallowed” your book in two evenings.”

—Prof. Rudolf Burukovsky, Hydrobiology Department Chair, Kaliningrad State Technical University (Kaliningrad, Russia), in an email dated May 19, 2013


“Teachers should tell their pupils of zoology and general biology about Dr. J. A. Birstein and his work.”

—L. G. Naumova, 2013. «Difficult Years of Soviet Biology and the Life of Zoologist Jacob Birstein». Biologiya v shkole [Biology in School]. No. 3: 24-26 (in Russian).

“The book is written in an easy accessible language, with love. The author immerses the reader in different periods of his father’s life easily, precisely, figuratively.”

—G. A. Prokopov. 2014. «A review of the book by Vadim Yakovlievich Birstein “My father Jacob Avadevich Birshtein”». Speleology and Karstology (Simferopol). No. 13: 69-70 (in Russian).

“The book is written vividly, even artistically, with a lot of everyday details and reads with pleasure. To the credit of the author of the book, he tries not to stick out the meaning of his own figure against the background of the bright personality of his father.

—K. G. Mikhailov. 2014. «Workers of Science. A review of the book by Vadim Yakovlievich Birstein “My father Jacob Avadevich Birshtein”». Istoriko-Biologichrskie Issledovaniya [Studies in the History of Biology]. Vol. 6. No. 2: 100-103 (in Russian)


  1. M. Ghilarov, Introduction
  2. J. Birstein, My Father


Animal Genera and Species Named After J. A. Birstein

List of Publications by J. A. Birstein


Short Biographies of Main Persons Mentioned in the Text

Vadim Birstein. My Father Jacob Avadii Birstein (in English)

Main Publications by Professor Jacob A. Birstein (in English)

Bibliography (in English)

Index of Names 

From the Introduction

By Prof. Alexei Ghilarov (19432013), Ecology Department, Biology Faculty, Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia:

Yakov Avadievich Birstein (19111970) was a remarkable scientist-zoologist. Surprisingly, he combined three different types of researchers: first, he was a naturalist who liked to work in the field, investigate caves, and participate in marine expeditions on scientific vessels; second, he was a taxonomist who was looking in a microscope for hours, while making drawings and descriptions of new species of crustaceans; and third, he was a biologist-theoretician who knew the world of scientific literature very well and could make large general conclusions in zoogeography and evolutionary biology.

As a zoologist, Ya. A. Birstein spent a lot of time and effort studying crustaceans of the order Isopoda. […] The authority of Yakov Avadievich as a zoologist among his colleagues was extremely high. Not without reason 60 new species and six genera of invertebrate animals were named after him. As a theoretician, he is famous for his works in biospeleology (study of life in caves) and zoogeography, in particular in the analysis of the problems of relict species (ancient species that were abundant in the past but currently are rare), and, of course, of the deep-sea fauna origin.

But besides how great were the achievements of Ya. A. Birstein as a research scientist, first of all he was a prominent Professor, the Teacher in the best sense, and a person of the highest culture—a real Russian intellectual, a representative of that special kind of people that, unfortunately, has completely disappeared at the end of the 20th century. Physically Yakov Avadievich was also unusually attractive. Slender, wiry, with chiseled face features, always with a pipe (if not in the mouth, then in the hands), he attracted everybody’s attention. […] All of us, his pupils, admired his wide erudition and fluent ability to discuss various questions, — not only scientific, but of the general culture […]

The time when Yakov Avadievich lived was very complicated and hard, sometimes tragic: the [Bolshevik] Revolution, Civil War, Stalin’s and later purges, state anti-Semitism, the rule of [Trofim] Lysernko which was a terrible blow to Soviet biology […]

The book of Yakov Avadievich’s son, Vadim Yakovlevich Birstein, — is not only memoir about his father and a scientific biography, but in some sense, it is also a portrait of the epoch, an attempt to recreate to some extent the environment of his life. […] I’d like as many people as possible read this book.


This book presents the personal memoirs by Dr. Vadim Birstein, molecular geneticist and historian, about his father, Professor Jacob A. Birstein (April 7, 1911July 8, 1970), a prominent invertebrate zoologist (carcinologist) and evolutionist. The following is a personal biography and a review of the major publications of Dr. Jacob A. Birstein.

April 7, 1911. Born in the city of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, into the family of a surgeon, Dr. Avadii Birstein.

My grandfather, Dr. Avadii Birstein was born in 1868 in the city of Smolensk, and in 1890, he graduated from the Medical Department of Moscow Imperial University (according to the Russian Empire laws, the universities accepted only 6% of students of Jewish origin, and A. Birstein was among this 6%). His brother Meer also graduated from Moscow University in 1902 and later became a prominent surgeon. After the graduation, my grandfather was additionally trained in Germany and Switzerland, and then worked in several local government (zemskie) hospitals, and in 1906, Dr. Birstein started working as a surgeon at Kiev Jewish Hospital.

In 1907, Dr. A. Birstein married Dr. Sofia (Sarah) Bruck (18791979), who had graduated from the medical department of Bern University (Switzerland). Since the Russian government did not accept diplomas of foreign universities, in 1906 she additionally passed exams at the Imperial Novorossiisk University in the city of Odessa and became an ophthalmologist. Sofia Bruck was from a prominent Jewish family living in the city of Chernigov (currently, in Ukraine) and her brother, Dr. Grigory (Hirsch) Bruck (1869–1922), was one of the Zionist leaders in Russia. As a representative of the city of Vitebsk,  he was a member of the first Russian Duma (Parliament) in 1906; on Tsar Nikolaus II’s order, the Duma was disbanded after only 72-days work. In 1908, along with 165 other Duma deputies, he was put for three months in the infamous Petersburg’s prison “Kresty”. He served his term with Vladimir Nabokov, a prominent politician and the father of the later famous Russian émigré writer, also Vladimir Nabokov. In 1919, during the Russian Civil War, Dr. Bruck reached Palestine. There is a street in Tel Aviv (Israel) called after him, Tsvi Brock Street. Another street, the Kassel Street in Haifa, was named after my grandmother’s brother in law. One of his sons, Benjamin Kassel, during WWII served in the British Navy and then was among founder of the Israeli Navy. One more grandmother’s brother, Dr. Abram Bruck (18661942), graduated in 1891 from Vienna University after he was dismissed from Kiev University during student unrests. He became a prominent ophthalmologist and from 1908 on, headed the Eye Hospital in the city of Gomel (currently, Belarus) which was established and financially supported by the charitable Princess Irina Paskevich (later the Eye Hospital became the Belorussian Scientific-Research Trachoma Institute). Before the Russian Revolution in 1917, Dr. Bruck participated in the Jewish emigration movement. On the request of her brothers, in August-September 1907 my grandmother accompanied a group of Jewish emigrants to New York. Both of my grands, Avadii and Sofia, were not religious, but secular Jews.

By the time the family settled in Kiev, Dr. Avadii Birstein had already been an accomplished surgeon with publications in various medical journals. He was among the first surgeons to attempt stomach surgery in Russia in 19001901. In Kiev, the Birstein family lived in now historical unusually decorated apartment building in the central part of the city known as the “Baron Shteingel’s Castle.” In 1914, just before the family left Kiev, a second son, Max, was born into the family. Later, in Moscow, Max Birstein became a prominent painter.

From 1914 to 1917. The Birstein family lived in the city of Vitebsk (currently, Belarus).

Dr. A. Birstein headed the Surgical Department at the Jewish Hospital at Vitebsk. During WWI, the hospital was turned into a military hospital.

  1. The family moved to Moscow.

Dr. A. Birstein was invited as Chief Doctor to the Traumatology Institute in Moscow, a huge hospital that specialized in operations and rehabilitation of the wounded Russian soldiers. The family lived in an enormous hospital building located on Smolensky Boulevard in the central part of Moscow.

From 1919 to 1927, J. Birstein attended the L. N. Tolstoy School in Moscow, which before the October 1917 Revolution was the famous Alfyorov Gymnasium.

Students at this school were children of Moscow intelligentsia. Later some of J. Birstein’s schoolmates became prominent scientists (for instance, Pyotr Kropotkin, a geologist, elected a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1992), artists and actors.

August 31, 1922. Dr. Avadii Birstein died in Moscow.

  1. My grandmother’s brother Grigory Bruck, a Zionist, died in Berlin after an operation.

From 1928 to 1932, J. Birstein attended the Zoological Department of the Physics and Mathematics Faculty (in 1930, the Zoological Department became the Biological Faculty) of Moscow State University.

From 1928 to 1938, my father held research positions at the All-Union Scientific-Research Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography (VNIRO).

In 1935, J. Birstein received a Candidate of Science degree without defending dissertation, on the basis of the totality of published scientific papers.

From 1936 to 1937, he was an assistant at the Department of Hydrobiology, Moscow State University.

From 1938 on, J. Birstein held various positions at the Department of Invertebrate Zoology chaired by Professor Lev Zenkevich, Moscow State University.

In the 1930s, almost every year J. Birstein participated in expeditions to the Caspian Sea, many of which he headed. In 1934, L. Zenkevich and J. Birstein suggested the introduction of the polychaete common clam worm, Nereis succinea, from the Sea of Azov to the Caspian Sea, to restore the bottom fauna of the Caspian Sea. By the 1930s, the depletion of that fauna in the Caspian Sea became catastrophic, peaking in 1937–38. The bottom fauna was a primary feeding source of Caspian Sea sturgeons, and the depletion  had already affected populations of sturgeons. The introduction of Nereis from the Sea of Azov was carried out from 1939 to 1941. On the whole, approximately 64,000 worms were introduced.

During the same 1930 years, J. Birstein organized and participated in several expeditions to caves in the Caucasus Mountains, located mainly in Abkhazia. He became the founder of biospeleology in the Soviet Union.

In 1940, J. Birstein gave first lectures on invertebrate zoology at the K. D. Ushinsky State Pedagogical Institute (currently, Ushinsky Yaroslavl State Pedagogical University) in the city of Yaroslavl (160 miles from Moscow).

June 22, 1941, the Germans attacked the Soviet Union and the Great Patriotic War, as War World II is known in Russia, began.

In June 1941, J. Birstein marries Nonna Luppo (1910–1986), a pediatrician.

My grandfather, Georgii Luppo, graduated from Moscow Agricultural Institute (later Timiryazev Agricultural Academy) and was appointed director of a small museum at the Moscow Agricultural Society (est. 1820). In 1930, the society and museum were closed due to a falsified political case against the so-called Peasant Labor Party which was invented by the OGPU (United State Political Directorate, as the secret political police was called from 1922 to 1934). The same year my grandfather, along with many agricultural scientists, was arrested. After spending three years in labor camps, he was not allowed to live in big cities. He died at the beginning of the war with Germany in the town of Maloyaroslavets (65 miles from Moscow) of a heart attack after having been interrogated at the local NKGB office (State Security Commissariat, the successor of the OGPU).

August 1941 – early 1943. Along with the other professors and teachers, as well as students of Moscow State University, J. Birstein and his family were evacuated to the city of Ashgabat (Turkmenistan, Central Asia), and later, to the city of Sverdlovsk (currently, Yekaterinburg). During the evacuation from Moscow, one more grandmother’s brother, Naum, a journalist, tragically died. The family of the third brother of my grandmother, Pavel, a graduate from the Law Department of Kiev University, who during the Russian Civil War emigrated to Paris with his family, apparently, perished even earlier, since there was information about them after the Nazis occupied France in 1940.

February 1942. My mother, N. Luppo, was drafted into the Red Army as a doctor and sent to a front-line military hospital.

February 1942. My grandfather’s brother, Dr. Meer Birstein, was executed by the Nazis. He refused to be evacuated before the German occupation and stayed with his patients. My grandmother’s brother Dr. Abram Bruck died in the city of Saratov, where his Trachoma Institute was evacuated.

In 1943 – 1944, J. Birstein headed a unit within the Caucasus Expedition of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

This expedition was formed on the order of the State Defense Committee (Joseph Stalin, head). The goal of the expedition was to investigate the caves in the Caucasus Mountains for possible military use. Since this was a military expedition, its reports were classified.

  1. Both of my parents returned to Moscow.

October 10, 1944. The son Vadim (me) was born.

  1. J. Birstein published the text book “Geography of Animals” together with Nikolai Bobrinsky, a prominent ornithologist and zoogeographer, and Lev Zenkevich.

This was the first text book on biogeography in Russian. The book remains an important source on biogeography.

  1. J. Birstein defends his Doctor of Science dissertation entitled “Relicts in the Fresh and Brackish Waters of the USSR.”

Each chapter had an epigraph taken from verses of Russian poets. Academician Ivan Schmalhausen, the famous evolutionist, was one of three official opponents. The dissertation included studies of the faunas of the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus caves and other basins, including Lake Baikal.

In the article “The concept of a ‘relict’ in biology” (Zoological Journal [Russian], vol.26, No. 4: 313–330) based on the text of the dissertation my father wrote:

Relicts are members of ancient faunas (and floras) that have remained almost unchanged from previous geological epochs and that are characterized by a slow evolutionary rate. They belong to previously more numerous systematic groups, inhabit a restricted area (or areas) which is part of a previously larger area, and are adapted to the particular, mostly specific environmental conditions that have changed little since their systematic units were formed.

My father also introduced a classification of the relicts:

  1. Local relicts are organisms that survived in their original locations, in areas which have experience little environmental change. […] For instance, ice-age relicts [including reindeer moss] are examples of the local relicts. […]
  2. Refuginal relicts are organisms that survived due to adaptation to specific environmental conditions. For instance, the numerous ancient subterranean inhabitants and inhabitants of the deep-sea parts of the oceans belong to this category. Apparently, the monotomous and constant conditions of their environment make possible their conservativeness. . .
  3. Defensive relicts are organisms that have passive resources of defense which allow them to survive for a long time in their environment. […] Many oceanic forms are examples of defensive relicts, in particular, Trigonia [five Neotrigonia bivalve species living off the coast of Australia] mentioned by [Charles] Darwin, brachiopods [bivalve-like invertebrates] that for unknown reasons are not consumed by fishes, moss invertebrates, echinoderms, etc.

Later my father published two other important papers based on his dissertation, “New points of view on the phylogeny of Arthropoda” (1948) and “Some problems of the origin and evolution of the freshwater fauna” (1949).

February 1948. J. Birstein participated in the Сonference on the Problems of Darwinism.

This conference was organized at the Biological Faculty of Moscow University as the last attempt of biologists to withstand the rise of the ignorant pseudo-agronomist Trofim Lysenko, a protégé of the dictator Joseph Stalin.

On July 31–August 7, 1948, a conference (session) of the All-Union Agricultural Academy took place in Moscow.

At this session, Lysenko announced that only his own understanding of genetics and the adjusted by him  “creative Darwinism” should have dominated in Soviet biology, the classic genetics and Darwinism were banned. Stalin personally edited Lysenko’s speech at the session. Isai Present, a Marxist philosopher and Lysenko’s ideologist, became a dean of the biological faculties in both Moscow and Leningrad universities, as well as Chairman of the genetics and evolution departments at these universities.

1948–1949. Additional expeditions to the Caspian Sea.

At the time, it had been proven that the introduction of Neries in the Caspian Sea was successful, and sturgeons had started feeding on these worms. The participants in this project, including J. Birstein and the head of the project, L. Zenkevich, were nominated for the Stalin Prize—the most prestigious annual government award; Stalin personally used to choose the recipients among the nominees.

However, in 1949 Nikolai Lebedev, professor at the Lysenkoist department of the “creative Darwinism” and an active member of the Communist Party at the Biological Faculty sent a negative review of the Nereis project to the Science Department of the Party Central Committee. This was the beginning of a long war of the participants in the project with the Lysenkoist Lebedev. In 1953, the project participants published the book Acclimatization of Nereis in the Caspian Sea, and the next year they were nominated for the Stalin Prize for the second time. However, the war with Lebedev continued. An important point in the eyes of the Party officials was that no member of the project was a Party member, while Lebedev was.

Finally, in 1956 it was proven that Lebedev falsified his analysis of the field research to demonstrate that the introduction of Nereis was supposedly harmful for sturgeons. It was also found out that Lebedev’s real motivation was revenge because in 1948, L. Zenkevich and J. Birstein denied his request to be included in the group of nominees for the Stalin Prize since Lebedev had never participated in the project.

September 1949. The new Lysenkoist administration of the Biological Faculty decided to fire J. Birstein due to his anti-Lysenko stand.

After L. Zenkevich wrote a letter to the rector of the University, Academician Aleksandr Nesmeyanov, defending J. Birstein, my father was not fired, but transferred to the position of a part-time senior lecturer at the department of education by mail.

October 1949. J. Birstein becomes Professor at the State Pedagogical Institute in Yaroslavl.

For the next five years this institute was the main place of work of my father. He travelled to Yaroslavl by train approximately once in every two weeks and stayed there for a few days during which he lectured and taught post graduate students. His lectures were so popular that not only biologists, but also students from other departments and many teachers attended them. He continued to lecture at the Yaroslavl institute until 1959.

  1. Despite all problems, J. Birstein and L. Zenkevich participated in the first expedition of the research vessel “Vityaz’” to the Kuril Trench area in the Pacific Ocean (the trench is located along the Kuril Islands arc).

This was the beginning of long-term studies of the deep-sea fauna of trenches that J. Birstein and L. Zenkevich continued until they both died in 1970.

  1. J. Birstein published the monograph “Freshwater Isopods (Asellota). Fauna of the USSR” (translated into English in 1964).

Late 1952. During the peak of the official anti-Semitic campaign and arrests of medical doctors in connection with the hysteria of the “Doctors’ Plot,” my grandmother, Sofia Birstein-Bruck, was fired as a potential “doctor-poisoner”, as doctors of Jewish origin were called at the time, from her job of a deputy chief doctor of the Eye Hospital in Moscow.

  1. J. Birstein and L. Zenkevich were awarded the Lomonosov Prize of Moscow State University for their work on the study of the Kuril Trench fauna.
  2. Birstein, L. Zenkevich and their colleague Georgii Belyaev suggested the term “ultra-abyssal fauna” for deep-sea animals living in oceanic trenches at a depth below 6 km. Unfortunately, in English this term was introduced only later, in 1956, in the paper by J. Birstein and Zenkevich “Studies of the deep-water fauna and related problems” (Deep-Sea Research, Vol. 4: 54-64), after, in 1955, the Danish researcher Torben Wolff had already called this fauna “hadal.”

September 1954. J. Birstein was restored as Senior Lecturer at the Invertebrate Zoology Department of Moscow State University.

November 1954. J. Birstein was promoted to Professor at the Invertebrate Zoology Department of Moscow University.

1950s–1960s. Expeditions on the vessels “Vityaz’” and “Ob’”. Numerous publications on the deep-sea and subterranean faunas and fossil crustaceans.

These were the years of formulation by my father of principles of zonal faunas in the oceanic trenches (together with Zenkevich, Belyaev, and other colleagues), of the antiquity of the deep-sea fauna (together with Zenkevich), of the general trends in the deep-sea fauna evolution, and of the zoogeographic distribution of the subterranean fauna (together with Stanislav Ljovuschkin). Father was in correspondence with the American researcher Robert J. Menzies (Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, La Jolla, California), exchanging opinions on the problem of the ancient origin of the deep-sea fauna, with Dr. Thomas E. Bowman (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.) discussing questions of carcinology, and with French colleagues, on the problems of subterranean fauna.

  1. Invitation to the 15th International Zoological Congress.

Although he was already on the plane that was scheduled to go to London from Moscow, J. Birstein was replaced at the last minute by an unknown young zoologist Vladimir Sokolov, who had high Party connections. Due to this, later Sokolov became Secretary Academician of the Biological Section of the USSR Academy of Sciences.

Summer of 1959. Expedition to the caves in Abkhazia (Caucasus Mountains).

Summer 1960. Expedition to the Crimean caves.

  1. My father named a newly discovered crustacean after me: Niphargus vadimi. I caught this crustacean in the Skelskaya Cave, Crimea.
  2. Father was appointed deputy chairman of the Invertebrate Zoology Department, i.e. deputy of Lev Zenkevich.
  3. Publication of the monograph “Deep Water Isopods (Crustacea, Isopoda) in the North-Western Part of the Pacific Ocean” (translated into English in 1973).

Spring of 1965. Three-weeks trip to India, lecturing at universities.

September 1965. Father participated in the IV International Congress of Speleology (Yugoslavia).

  1. Participated in the Second International Oceanographic Congress (May-June, Moscow). Also, the last expedition on the vessel “Vityaz’”.

At the same time, in 1950s – 1960s, J. Birstein spent a lot of time teaching students and graduate students at Moscow University.

Professor Aleksei Ghilarov (1943 2013) of Moscow University recalled in 2011 in his memoirs:

Yakov Avadievich Birstein gave a course of lectures on zoogeography. He wore a snow-white robe (during that time, lecturers wore robes), was well-proportioned, with finely-molded face features. […] At the end of lectures, he used to pull out from somewhere a pipe and a small round box with tobacco. […] One could not find in any text book the facts that Yakov Avadievich told us. They existed only in his head and, apparently, in the numerous articles and books he had read in various languages. We, students of the fifth year, understood this well and tried not to miss even one of his words. Some students tried to write down everything he said, the others simply listened attentively. But there was no indifferent listener in the audience because everything that Birstein said was extremely interesting. Such original or “author’s” courses were very rare during my student years (from 1960 to 1965) at the Biological Faculty.

In 1970, J. Birstein summarized his biogeographic analysis of the subterranean fauna in the caves on the USSR territory.

In the article “Caractéristique zoogéographique de la faune souterraine de l’Union Soviétique” (En: Livre du centenaire Emile G. Racovitz, Bucarest (1970), pp. 211–221) my father wrote:

The subterranean fauna of the Transcaucasus is much richer than that of the Crimea and is more tightly connected with the Balkanian fauna to the extent that it includes a few species identical to the Balkan ones. […] The level of endemism [i.e, of the presence of a species in only one place – V. B.] of the Crimean fauna is much higher. […] In other words, connections of the Caucasus and Crimea with the Balkan Peninsular were independent and, probably, occurred during different [geological] epochs. […]

The fauna of marine origin, characteristic for the subterranean Central Asian waters is a bigger problem. […] One cannot consider species inhabiting the Kaptar-Khan cave [in Turkmenistan] to be relicts of the Tertiary Sea. Possibly, they were distributed through the subterranean waters or they are relicts of much older seas.

About the endemic troglobiont [cave] species on the USSR territory one can conclude that most of these genera inhabit the Transcaucasus, and far less inhabit the Crimea. They are absent in the other regions of the country with two exceptions, Baicalobathynella in Lake Baikal and Epactophanoides in the [Soviet] Far East.

  1. J. Birstein published a long article as an addition to the “Deep-Water Isopods”. The second addition to this book was published in 1971, after the death of J. Birstein.

July 8, 1970. J. Birstein died of cancer in Moscow City Hospital.

  1. Speleological Committee of the Georgian Academy of Sciences (Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia) organized a three-days conference in the memory of Professor J. Birstein
  2. Biological Faculty of Moscow State University and Moscow Society of Naturalists (est. 1805) held a conference in the memory of Professor J. Birstein
  3. Biological Faculty of Moscow State University, Oceanology Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences, and Moscow Society of Naturalists organized a conference devoted to the 70-year anniversary of Professor J. Birstein
  4. The library of the Biological Faculty of Moscow State University organized an exhibition, and the Invertebrate Zoology Department of the Biological Faculty hold a conference devoted to the 100-year anniversary of Professor J. Birstein

1940 –2015. Six genera (Birsteinia, Birsteiniamysis, Birsteiniolla, Birsteiniotrechus, Birsteinius, and Jacobia), as well as 62 fresh-water, marine and subterranean animal species (birsteini) were named after my father.

Animal Genera and Species Named After Professor Jacob A. Birstein

Latin Name Animal group
I. Genera
1. Birsteinia Ivanov, 1952

[B. vitjasi Ivanov, 1952]

Pogonophora (marine animals)
2. Birsteiniamysis Chindonova, 1981

[B. inermis ochotsckii Chindonova, 1981;

B. scyphops]

3. Subfamily BIRSTEINIOLLINAE Mikhalevich & Kaminski, 2008

Birsteiniolla Mayer 1974

[B. macrostoma Yankovskaya & Mikhalevich, 1972]

4. Birsteiniotrechus Ljovuschkin, 1972

[B. ciscaucasiens Ljovuschkin, 1972]

Insects (beetles)
5. Birsteinius Krivolutsky, 1965

[B. clavatus Krivolutsky, 1965]

6. Jacobia Zenkevich, 1958

[J. birsteini Zenkevitch, 1958

J. edmondsi Murina, 2008]

Echiurans (marine spoon worms)
II. Marine and Freshwater Species
1. Acanthoscina birsteini Vinogradov, 1976 Crustacean
2. Anatanais birsteini Kudinova-Pasternak, 1970 Crustacean
3. Armatognathia birsteini Kudinova-Pasternak, 1987 Crustacean
4. Asellus birsteini Levanidov, 1976 Crustacean
5. Azygocyprinidina birsteini Rudjakov, 1961 Crustacean
6. Bacescomysis birsteini Bacescu, 1971 Crustacean
7. Caecianiropsis birsteini Kussakin, 1971 Crustacean
8. Carinocuma birsteini Mordukhai-Boltovskoi & Romanova, 1973 Crustacean
9. Crybelocephalus birsteini Thurston, 1976 Crustacean
10. Cylisticus birsteini Borutzkii, 1961 Crustacean
11. Desertoniscus birsteini Borutzkii, 1945 Crustacean
12. Desmosoma birsteini Menzis, 1962 Crustacean
13. Dorogostaiskia (Spinacanthus) birsteini Bazikalova, 1948 Crustacean
14. Enhydrosoma birsteini Borutsky, 1971 Crustacean
15. Gammarus birstein Karaman & Pinkster, 1977 Crustacean
16. Herpotanais birsteini Kudinova-Pasternak, 1973 Crustacean
17. Ischnomesus birsteini Wolff, 1962 Crustacean
18. Kollerua birsteini Borutzki, 1971 Crustacean
19. Leptognathia birsteini Kudinova-Pasternak, 1965 Crustacean
20. Mackinia birsteini Henry & Magniez, 1991 Crustacean
21. Macrostylis birsteini Mezhov, 1993 Crustacean
22. Meroscalpellum birsteini Zevina, 1973 Crustacean
23. Mirabilicoxa birsteini Menzies, 1962 Crustacean
24. Nephropides birsteini Zarenkov & Semenov, 1972 Crustacean
25. Oratosquillina birsteini Makarov, 1971 Crustacean
26. Paralomis birsteini Macpherson, 1988 Antarctic king crab
27. Proscina birsteini Vinogradov, 1956 Crustacean
28. Protanais birstein Kudinova-Pasternak, 1970 Crustacean
29. Pseudocrangonyx birsteini Labay, 1999 Crustacean
30. Synidotea birsteini Kussakin, 1971 Crustacean
31. Tanais birsteini Kudinova-Pasternak, 1970 Crustacean
32. Taracus birsteini Ljovuschkin, 1971 Crustacean
33. Thymops birsteini Zarenkov & Semenov, 1972 Patagonian lobsterette
34. Vanhoeffenura (Storthyngura) birsteini Menzies, 1962 Crustacean
35. Ascorhynchus birsteini Turpaeva, 1971 Pantopoda (see spider)
36. Heteronymphon birsteini Turpaeva, 1956 Pantopoda (see spider)
37. Eisenia birsteini Malevics, 1947 Annelid (earthworm)
38. Paranais birsteini Sokolskaya, 1971 Annelid (earthworm)
39. Jacobia birsteini Zenkevitch, 1958 Echiuran (marine spoon worm)
40. Golfingia birsteini Murina, 1971 Sipunculida (marine peanut worm)
41. Elpidia birsteini Belyaev, 1975 Holothurian
42. Lycenchelys birsteini Andriashev, 1958 Fish
III. Fossil Species  
43. Coeloma birsteini Ilyin, 2005 Crab
IV. Troglobionts1  
44. Anopogammarus birsteini Derzhavin, 1945 Crustacean
45. Bryocamptus (Rheocamptus) birsteini Borutzky, 1940 Crustacean
46. Elaphoidella birsteini Borutzky 1948 Crustacean
47. Ligidium birsteini Borutzkii, 1950 Crustacean
48. Niphargus birsteini Dedyu, 1963 Crustacean
49. Pseudocrangonyx birsteini Labay, 1999, 2001 Crustacean
50. Speodiaptomus birsteini Borutzky, 1962 Crustacean
51. Zenkevitchia yakovi Sidorov et al., 20152 Crustacean
52. Harpolithobius birsteini Zalesskaya, 1972 Centipede
53. Jeannelius birsteini Ljovuschkin, 1965 Insect (beetle)
54. Plutomurus birsteini Djanashvili & Barjadze, 2011 Insect (springtail)
55. Pseudacherontides birsteini Djanaschvili, 1971 Insect (springtail)
56. Carpathonesticus (Nesticus) birsteini Charitonov, 1947 Spider
57. Troglohyphantes birsteini Charitonov, 1947 Spider
58. Nemaspela birsteini Ljovuschkin, 1972 Harvestmen
59. Neobisium (Blothrus) birsteini Lapschoff, 1940 Pseudoscorpion
60. Roncus birsteini Krumpal, 1986 Pseudoscorpion
61. Horatia birsteini Starobogatov, 1961 Mollusk
62. Oxychilus birsteini Tzvetkov, 1940 Mollusk
  1. 1. One more crustacean, Troglacaris birsteini Muge, Zueva & Ershov, 2001 from the Otapa’s Head Cave in Western Georgia (Caucasus) is currently considered invalid, see D. Franjević, M Kalafatić, M. Kerovec, and S. Gottstein. 2010. Phylogeny of cave-dwelling atyid shrimp Troglocaris in the Dinaric Karst based on sequences of three mitochondrial genes. Periodicum Biologor Vol. 112. No. 2: 159-166.
  2. The cryptic species Zenkevitchia yakovi sp. n. was discovered via molecular study, see Dmitry Sidorov et al. 2015. Shedding light on a cryptic cavernicole: A second species of ZenkevitchiaBirstein (Crustacea, Amphipoda, Typhlogammaridae) discovered via molecular techniques. Subterranean Study. Vol. 15: 37-55.