To understand Vavilov, first you must understand his life. Before the 1930's the work of Vavilov as well as other Russian geneticists was readily was accepted by the Communist Party and the Russian scientific community. Beginning in the early 1930s, a man named Trofim Denisovich Lysenco made life very difficult for geneticists. Lysenko had had some success with a technique called "vernalisation" that allowed crops to be planted out of season.
Lysenko was an advocate of Lamark's ideas, and took them one step further by adding the theories of Marx and Engles to the mix to create a group of theories called Lysenkoism that diluted Russian science for many years. This dilution went to such an extent that he was only removed from Russian textbooks within the past ten years.
Lysenko got his fame as a scientist through the suffering of others. He convinced the highest powers in Russia that the theories of genetics were useless and in contradiction to those of Marx and Engles. So a campaign of mudslinging and lies was directed a the geneticists of Russia. Seperate campaigns were directed at other branches of science and even at artists and musicians. All of the derogatory names that I used in this report to refer to geneticists were actually used in the Russian media. The only way that the Communists could completely discredit genetics as a science was to hit it from all sides. The work of many renoun sientists like Vavilov was removed from textbooks along with a campaign of name calling that spanned all forms of media.
[note: to understand the next part of the story you must forget all that you know about reason, human rights, and how a nation should be run. While you are busy forgetting, try to remember Orwell's 1984 and the premise that it is fiction based on historical fact.]
In Russia, during the reign of the communists,
a system of Concentration and Labor Camps was in place
across the the nation. The camps were not detention camps, they were set up to take in prisoners, work them till they died, then start the cycle all over again. Most camps were located in Siberia, supplies were rare, as was adequate clothing and food. There were several ways to get into prison camp, the first was not fitting in. This usually meant being smarter or better than the average communist. Over the years hundreds of thousands of intellectuals were slaughtered, shot to death, tortured, and imprisoned for sticking out. The people inside the prison camps were the intellectual cream of the crop. They could not live without their work. Many continued their research inside the camps despite the limited resources and the stain of the forced labor. Some even asked to have their stays lengthened to finish their work.
The other main way to get into prison camp was denouncement. The Russian government had fear as its base, so to make that fear stronger, and for other reasons that have yet to be explained, a system of "reporting" was set up. This meant that if you are unhappy with what someone is doing, tell the KGB and they will be arrested. Once arrested these people were "questioned" (torture is closer to what really happened) until they signed confessions and gave the KGB the names of their "coconspirators". The torture was officially allowed and recomended for questioning. In many cases, after several years, the individuals were "rehabilitated" or cleared of all charges and returned to the general population. Not all were that lucky, many like my great-grandfather were rehabilitated only after death.
Vavilov stuck out like a sore thumb after the scandal with Lysenko and was arrested in 1940 as an enemy of the state. Ironically, for a man that could have fed the world, he died of starvation in prison cell in 1943. Vavilov is buried in an unmarked mass grave.