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The Commissar Vanishes offers a chilling look at how Joseph Stalin manipulated the science of photography to advance his own political career and to erase the memory of his victims. On Stalin's orders, purged rivals were airbrushed from group portraits, and crowd scenes were altered to depict even greater legions of the faithful. For example, a 1919 photograph showing a large crowd of Bolsheviks clustered around Lenin, became, with the aid of the retoucher, an intimate portrait of Lenin and Stalin sitting alone, and then, in a later version, of Stalin by himself. In each case, the juxtaposition of the original and the doctored images yields a fascinating - and often terrifying and tragic - insight into one of the darkest chapters of modern history.