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Price, David

1998  “Obituary for Mark Zborowski” Anthropology Newsletter 39(6):31.


Mark Zborowski        1908 - 1990


Medical anthropologist Mark Zborowski died of heart failure at San Francisco’s Mt. Zion Hospital on April 30, 1990.  He was born in Uman Russia on January 27, 1908 and came to the United States in 1941.  Zborowski was educated at the Sorbonne and is best known for his ground breaking research on the cultural mitigation of pain (People In Pain, 1969), and his ethnohistorical account of Jewish life  in the Shtetls of Eastern Europe (Life is With People, 1952, co-authored with Elizabeth Herzog).


Outside of his anthropological work, Mark Zborowski had a long and complex involvement in Soviet espionage, which began in 1932 when he infiltrated Leon Trotsky’s inner circle of family, friends and advisors while living in France.  By his own account he was involved in the 1936 destruction of Trotsky’s archives at the International Institute for Social History in Paris, and some historians believe that he may have been the individual responsible for introducing Leon Trotsky’s assassin Ramón Mercader into Trotsky’s household.  Recently, a number of previously classified KGB communiqués intercepted as part of the CIA and NSA VENONA program have been released reveling a number of intercepts mentioning Zborowski under his KGB cryptonyms of tienne and Tulip.  In testimony before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, Alexander Orlov identified Zborowski as a NKVD agent.  Subsequently, in 1958 Zborowski was found guilty of perjury charges stemming from misleading statements he had made to the Senate subcommittee about his earlier espionage work.  This conviction was later overturned, though he was retried in 1962 and served a 47 months sentence.


After coming to the United States, Mark Zborowski found employment, with the assistance of Margaret Mead, as a research assistant at Harvard.  He worked as a consultant for the U.S. Army from 1941-1945, and as a consultant for the Studies in Contemporary Cultures project at Columbia from 1945-1951.   He became an American citizen in 1947.  He conducted research at Cornell from 1951-54, and under the auspices of the Institute for Intercultural Studies from 1951-1955.  In the 1960s Zborowski moved to San Francisco and continued his research on the cultural components of the experience of human pain and he helped establish Mt. Zion Hospital’s Pain Center.  After observing that patients from different ethnic backgrounds seemed to react differently to similar exposures to pain Zborowski undertook an extensive cross-cultural study of the effects of culture on  the human experience of pain.  Mark Zborowski is survived by his wife Regina and his son George.