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He was born Yeshua Zalman Sverdlov (Russified name: Zinovy Mikhailovich Sverdlov, Зиновий Михайлович Свердлов) to a Jewish engraver in Nizhny Novgorod. His younger brother Yakov Sverdlov was a Bolshevik party leader. 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 Russian restrictions on Jewish residence, Zinovy Sverdlov was baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church and officially changed his name. Gorky (real name Alexey Peshkov) became his godfather and adoptive father.
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. He became a naturalized French citizen. In 1916, as a successful officer, he was sent to the United States to agitate for that 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 worked against the influence of Nazi Germany in Morocco and in Syria. In 1940, he joined Free France, the government-in-exile of Charles de Gaulle, and soon was appointed French ambassador to South Africa. After his 1943 promotion to the rank of Brigadier General, Peshkov served as French ambassador to the Republic of China and, after 1946, as ambassador to Japan. In 1964 he participated in negotiations with Chiang Kai-shek regarding Taiwan.
- Vaksberg, Arkady. The Murder of Maxim Gorky. A Secret Execution. (Enigma Books: New York, 2007. ISBN 978-1-929631-62-9.)