Christians and the Communist terror.The following account by Jonathan Luxmoore of recent historical research concerning the persecution of Christians The persecution of Christians is religious persecution that Christians sometimes undergo as a consequence of professing their faith, both historically and in the current era. Christians are by far the most persecuted religious group in human history. in Communist-dominated Europe comes to us from the January 23, 1999, issue of the London Tablet, via the Chesterton Review of Feb/May 1999, pp. 162-167. It supplements the account of the Pope's visit to Ukraine and the beatification beatification: see canonization. of 27 martyrs and three confessors. Luxmoore writes:
The first joint study by Polish and Russian historians of the persecution of the Catholic Church during the Communist era has just been published by Warsaw's Apostolicum press. Sentenced as Vatican spies (in Polish only) includes materials from the Soviet Union's secret police archives, as well as documents from the notorious Solovets Islands prison camp. This White Sea camp opened in 1920 on the site of a Russian Orthodox Adj. 1. Russian Orthodox - of or relating to or characteristic of the Eastern Orthodox Church
Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Orthodox
faith, religion, religious belief - a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny; "he monastery, and received mostly sick and elderly Catholic and Orthodox priests. It served as a prototype for other Soviet labour and extermination extermination
mass killing of animals or other pests. Implies complete destruction of the species or other group. centres, and was the scene of numerous acts of cruelty and barbarism bar·ba·rism
1. An act, trait, or custom characterized by ignorance or crudity.
a. The use of words, forms, or expressions considered incorrect or unacceptable.
b. . The book is the fruit of four decades' work by its editor, Fr. Roman Dzwonkowski, a member of Poland's Pallotine order. In the early 1960s, he started slipping into Soviet territory, using fake family invitations. At the time, most older Russians remembered the great pre-Second World War purges, when Stalin sent millions to their deaths in labour camps and execution chambers.
Dzwonkowski risked arrest by collecting the testimonies of Christian survivors. Gradually, he built up a picture of what had happened to the Catholic Church, which it became possible to cross-check as Soviet rule collapsed. Today, as a professor at the Catholic University of Lublin, he covers Polish church history too. But it is his work on Russia, he says, that represents his life's achievement.
Sentenced as Vatican spies, he thinks, will at least make a small contribution towards correcting a "banal imbalance" in contemporary attitudes to Nazi and Soviet crimes. "Communist crimes have never been brought to justice and are still widely defended today," the Polish priest says. Dzwonkowski is only the latest historian to come up with moving revelations about the fate of Christians under Soviet rule.
In 1968, the historian Robert Conquest Dr. George Robert Ackworth Conquest (born July 15 1917), British historian, became one of the best-known writers on the Soviet Union with the publication, in 1968, of his account of Stalin's purges of the 1930s, The Great Terror. first revealed the dimensions of Stalin's misdeeds in The Great Terror, a massive work drawn mostly from Western archives. It took 15 years for a Russian historian, Dimitri Volkogonov, to follow suit with a biography of the dictator, which also documented the arrest of priests and closure of churches in the 1930s. Volkogonov was able to write critically since Stalin had been officially disowned dis·own
tr.v. dis·owned, dis·own·ing, dis·owns
To refuse to acknowledge or accept as one's own; repudiate. by the Soviet regime. His biography of the still-revered Lenin proved more sensitive, and remains banned even today in some Russian provinces. Among many discoveries, it shows that Lenin, supposedly the world's greatest atheist, was in fact married in church 19 years before founding the Soviet state.
Revelations in 1990s
It has been in the 1990s, however, that historical research has come into its own. In 1995, a Russian State Commission, appointed by President Boris Yeltsin “Yeltsin” redirects here. For other uses, see Yeltsin (disambiguation).
Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (IPA: [bʌˈrʲis nʲikoˈlajevɨtɕ ˈjelʲtsɨn] , confirmed that 200,000 Russian Orthodox priests, monks and nuns Monks and Nuns
See also church; religion.
the practice of retiring to a solitary place for a life of religious seclusion. — anchorite, anchoret, n. — anchoritic, anchoretic, adj. were slaughtered in Communist purges before the Second World War. Although most priests were shot and hanged, the commission reported, many died after being crucified on church doors by Communist death squads in the years following the 1917 revolution. In a top-secret message sent in 1922 to the Soviet Politburo, published only in 1993, Lenin urged Communist officials to kill as many "reactionary clergy representatives" as possible. Now was the time, he added, for "frenzied and ruthless energy"--for teaching Soviet citizens "such a lesson that they will not dare think about any resistance whatsoever for several decades."
Stalin modified the anti-religion campaign in September 1943, after secret Kremlin talks with three surviving Orthodox Metropolitans. The minutes, published in 1994, showed that all three were living in small flats and buying their food at Moscow markets. Fewer than 20 of the Russian Church's 200 bishops were found alive in the camps and brought to Moscow two weeks later for an orchestrated synod meeting.
The Catholic Church's Mohilev archdiocese, based in St. Petersburg, was home in 1917 to 1.5 million Catholics, mostly ethnic Poles List of Ethnic Poles
This page is a list of notable people who are considered, either by others or by themselves, to be ethnically Polish. Names on this list are differentiated from those on List of Poles by including individuals whose Polish status is not entirely clear. , as well as 400 priests from the Latin, Greek and Armenian Catholic rites. All but two of its 1,240 churches and chapels were destroyed or closed over the next two decades. At least 140 priests were shot in 1937-38 alone, leaving only a dozen still at large after the Second World War.
In 1997, the remains of a Catholic bishop and 30 priests were found at Sandormoch, 150 miles north of St. Petersburg. Secret police records showed they had been brought from the Solovets Islands and shot through the head between 27 October and 4 November 1937.
Among several Catholic women buried at Sandormoch, Anna Brilliantova was a first-year biology student at Moscow University when she was arrested in 1931. Sentenced as Vatican spies shows how she broke down under torture and implicated im·pli·cate
tr.v. im·pli·cat·ed, im·pli·cat·ing, im·pli·cates
1. To involve or connect intimately or incriminatingly: evidence that implicates others in the plot.
2. a Catholic nun, Kamilla Krushelnyska, whom she had met at Moscow's St. Ludwik church. But in Brilliantova's testimony, the talks with the nun are turned into a denunciation DENUNCIATION, crim. law. This term is used by the civilians to signify the act by which au individual informs a public officer, whose duty it is to prosecute offenders, that a crime has been committed. It differs from a complaint. (q.v.) Vide 1 Bro. C. L. 447; 2 Id. 389; Ayl. Parer. of Stalin. "Thanks to this, my terrorist mood increased," Brilliantova tells her captors. "Krushelnyska said she would fight Soviet power to the end if she was young like me, and would carry out a terrorist act against Stalin. She also drew my attention to the need to act in the strictest conspiracy."
Both women were shot at Sandormoch by an internal order of the secret police a month after Brilliantova, aged 28, had given birth to a son. An Orthodox chapel and Catholic cross were dedicated in November 1997 at the mass grave A mass grave is a grave containing multiple, usually unidentified human corpses. There is no strict definition of the minimum number of bodies required to constitute a mass grave. , which contains over a thousand other bodies.
The cases of other Sandormoch victims are among 317 painstakingly documented cases in a book published in 1996, In your wounds hide me, by Irma Osipova, a researcher with Russia's Memorial organisation, who was shown arrest and interrogation interrogation
In criminal law, process of formally and systematically questioning a suspect in order to elicit incriminating responses. The process is largely outside the governance of law, though in the U.S. records from as far afield as Krasnoyarsk, Archangel archangel, in religion
archangel (ärk`ānjəl), chief angel. They are four to seven in number. Sometimes specific functions are ascribed to them. The four best known in Christian tradition are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel. and Vorkuta. The leader of the Catholic Church in European Russia, Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, who helped Osipova gain access to the archives, has since set up his own "martyrology mar·tyr·ol·o·gy
n. pl. mar·tyr·ol·o·gies
1. An official list or catalog of religious martyrs, especially of Christian martyrs.
a. An account of the life and manner of death of a martyr.
b. commission." But future research could face problems. Although family members have a legal right in Russia to inspect the arrest and trial notes of executed relatives, independent researchers do not.
Only a beginning
Fr. Dzwonkowski admits that what has been done so far is "only the beginning." "We do not even know how many victims of the purges there were-even reputable historians are still citing figures far removed from reality," the Polish professor says. "We know that countless other people were arrested and killed, but we cannot include them unless there is proof." Researching anti-Church measures poses fewer difficulties in the rest of Eastern Europe Eastern Europe
The countries of eastern Europe, especially those that were allied with the USSR in the Warsaw Pact, which was established in 1955 and dissolved in 1991. .
In Romania, where Securitate police files have not been opened, Witness behind bars, published in 1996 by the Orthodox archdiocese of Cluj, contains biographies of 1,700 church personnel jailed for "political crimes" after the 1948 Communist takeover. Its author, Stefan Iloaje, told me that he had made an "ecumenical gesture" by including some of the 400 priests from Romania's Eastern-rite Greek Catholic Church Greek Catholic Church is a term which refers to the Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine (Constantinopolitan) liturgical tradition. It can also refer to the Roman Catholic Church in Greece. who were executed after their community was outlawed. "At a time when our Orthodox Church is widely accused of having collaborated with the Communists, it is worth remembering that at least half of Romania's 10,000 Orthodox priests were also imprisoned im·pris·on
tr.v. im·pris·oned, im·pris·on·ing, im·pris·ons
To put in or as if in prison; confine.
[Middle English emprisonen, from Old French emprisoner : en- for their faith," Iloaie said.
In neighbouring Hungary, a 443-page collection, published by Gyula Havasy in 1990, detailed 10 church showtrials and the detention of 2,800 monks and nuns. The book, Martyrs of the Faith, contains damning evidence of how the Hungarian Church was demoralised Adj. 1. demoralised - made less hopeful or enthusiastic; "desperate demoralized people looking for work"; "felt discouraged by the magnitude of the problem"; "the disheartened instructor tried vainly to arouse their interest" by its subservience to the Communist state This article is about a form of government in which the state operates under the control of a Communist Party. For information regarding communism as a form of society, as an ideology advocating that form of society, or as a popular movement, see the communism article. , especially under Cardinal Laszlo Lekai (1910-86). "Please don't report to us every detail of your life--where you go, whom you meet--like your predecessor did," a local party boss told the priest at a Lake Balaton parish when he replaced Lekai as rector in the late 1950s.
Prison records in Slovenia, published in 1995, proved that five times as many Catholic priests This is an annotated list of men primarily known for their work as Catholic priests. Catholic priests who are mostly known for their non-priestly work should be placed on other lists. were killed under Communist rule as under Nazi occupation. In the former East Germany East Germany: see Germany. , Stasi secret police archives are now in the hands of an institute with a staff of 3,000 headed by a Protestant pastor, Joachim Gauck. These too have produced a string of revelations. Some are purely personal--for example, that the dissident Evangelical pastor Wera Wollenberg was spied on by her own husband, who regularly handed the Stasi information which could have brought his wife a 10-year jail sentence jail sentence jail n → peine f de prison . Others have international significance-such as that an exchange of messages between the Pope and Leonid Brezhnev in March 1981 helped to prevent a Soviet invasion of Poland Soviet invasion of Poland can refer to:
East German archives suggest the Stasi and KGB KGB: see secret police.
Russian Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti
(“Committee for State Security”) Soviet agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. were kept "exactly informed" about John Paul II's election to the papacy in 1978. That much at least seems undeniable. Police and party archives from other countries confirm that all Communist regimes were alarmed by the Polish pope's activities, and made urgent attempts to recruit agents among the clergy and to intimidate church leaders.
In Poland, where the largest documentation is now available, the minutes of a Church-State commission, revived during the strikes organised by Solidarity in 1980, show how the negotiators for Church and regime shared their worries about the Pope's destabilising influence. The talks occasionally became agitated ag·i·tate
v. ag·i·tat·ed, ag·i·tat·ing, ag·i·tates
1. To cause to move with violence or sudden force.
2. . But the Church side rarely said anything about Communist injustices. The atmosphere conveyed by the minutes is embarrassingly affable. Church representatives criticised Solidarity's leaders and discussed how this free trade union might be reined in. On at least one occasion when Poland was under martial law martial law, temporary government and control by military authorities of a territory or state, when war or overwhelming public disturbance makes the civil authorities of the region unable to enforce its law. in 1982, a senior Church negotiator, Archbishop Jerzy Stroba, confided to his Communist partners that a decision by the Pope had been "very unpleasant."
Even in Poland, the opening of the archives is still far from complete. Although the W. Drodze publishers, owned by the Dominican order, released three volumes of documents between 1994 and 1996, these are from church collections only. Where state and party collections are concerned, the record is still fragmentary. Yet what is publicly available makes clear that the Polish Church's record of resistance was by no means spotless. When Communism collapsed in 1989, Catholic priests were screened to weed out former agents. In September 1998, however, the minister in charge of Poland's security services, Janusz Palubicki, said there was still a danger that priests could be blackmailed by former police agents, who were suspected of copying secret police files before shredding them in 1989.
In the former Soviet Union too, much information has been dispersed or destroyed. In the early 1990s, American researchers descended on Moscow, buying up Soviet archives by the metre, paying up to $5 for a single photocopy. Today, much depends on the whim of individual archivists, in a country where arbitrariness is endemic and even church documents from the fourteenth century are still classified as state secrets. The generations which witnessed Stalinist atrocities are dying out too. Few now remember episodes such as the Ukrainian "terror famine" of 1930-32, when children starved to death in their tens of thousands while grain mountains rotted in the state warehouses; or the village purges in southern republics, where "enemies of the people" could be denounced, tried, shot and buried in the space of a single afternoon.
Besides other new material, Sentenced as Vatican spies contains archive data from the Polish Red Cross Polish Red Cross (Polish: Polski Czerwony Krzyż, abbr. PCK) is the Polish member of International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. , whose Moscow office was directed from 1920 to 1937 by Jekaterina Pieshkova, the first wife of writer Maxim Gorky. Pieshkova relayed requests for information to the Soviet regime. She also arranged exchanges of prisoners involving Polish priests and Russian Communists jailed in Poland. But her efforts were often unsuccessful.
Russian schoolbooks say that 20 million Soviet and East European citizens died in Communist labour camps, while 15 million more were killed in mass executions, deportations and officially orchestrated famines. Most died in anonymity, knowing that all evidence of their lives and deaths would be systematically erased. Fr. Dzwonkowski, whose chapter recounts petitions sent to the Soviet regime from Catholic and Russian Orthodox inmates on Solovets, believes recollections of shared sufferings could bring Christian Churches closer together, in the run-up to an ecumenical proclamation of twentieth-century "martyrs to the faith of Christ" planned for 2000.
He doubts whether the full immensity im·men·si·ty
n. pl. im·men·si·ties
1. The quality or state of being immense.
2. Something immense: "the empty immensity of earth, sky, and water" of Communist persecutions will ever be taken to heart. "Although thousands of victims have been rehabilitated, their persecutors have not been legally punished or even morally reprimanded. This kind of silence plays havoc with the truth and tramples on our dignity." Perhaps the very silence is an expression of true martyrdom--the martyrdom of those condemned not only to die but to have their fates known only to God.
Editor's Note: Since all the above-mentioned publications are in the local language, English-only readers are reminded of the useful book by Robert Royal, The Catholic martyrs of the twentieth century, reviewed in Catholic Insight, April 2001.