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Born Yeshua Zalman Sverdlov (Russified name: Zinovy Mikhailovich Sverdlov, Зиновий Михайлович Свердлов) to a Jewish engraver in Nizhny Novgorod, he was an older brother of Yakov Sverdlov (subsequently a Bolshevik party leader and a high Soviet official). In 1896, Maxim Gorky met the Sverdlov family at an exhibition and soon became a close friend. During Gorky's exile to Arzamas in 1902, Zinovy worked as his secretary. To evade Tsarist Russian restrictions for Jews to live in big cities, Zinovy Sverdlov was baptized Eastern Orthodox and officially changed his name. Gorky (real name Alexey Peshkov) became his godfather.
World War I and post-war
After the outbreak of World War I in 1914, he volunteered for the French Army. In May 1915, he was wounded and his right arm was amputated. In 1916, as a successful officer, he was sent to the United States to agitate for the country's entry into the War. After being decorated with the Légion d'honneur in 1917, Peshkov worked in French diplomatic missions in Russia, Romania, China, Japan, and Georgia.
In the periods 1921-1926 and 1937-1940 he served in the French Foreign Legion in French Morocco, and wrote a book about his experiences there. In 1926-1937, he served in the Foreign Ministry in France and in the French Mandate of Lebanon.
World War II and post-war
During World War II, Zinovy Peshkov fought the Nazi German forces in Morocco and in Syria. In 1940, he joined Charles de Gaulle's Free French Forces government in London exile, and soon was sent as a French ambassador to South Africa, where he organized arms shipments for the Allies. After his 1943 promotion to the rank of Brigadier General, Peshkov served as French ambassador to the Republic of China and, after 1946, to Japan. In 1964 he participated in negotiations with Chiang Kai-shek regarding Taiwan.
- The Murder of Maxim Gorky. A Secret Execution by Arkady Vaksberg. (Enigma Books: New York, 2007. ISBN 978-1-929631-62-9.)