Exposing the Red Paradise
Firsthand reports from the Russian slave labor camps disprove communisms claim to be a modern materialistic messiah. What was it like in those camps? This article answers
MORE than one out of every three persons on earth lives under Communist rule. Many were subjugated through military domination, while others were apparently convinced that communism would offer better conditions than those under which they had been living.
It is true that some of the governments that communism overthrew needed to be changed. But the people who accepted communism merely swapped one kind of oppression for another. The promised paradise failed to appear. Instead, secret informers, brutal state police and huge slave labor camps developed.
The entire system of things under Soviet rule has proved to be a failure as far as freedom for the people is concerned, especially in view of the freedom that Marxism had claimed the people would have. Even the religions of Christendom that operated there have been made subservient to the Red empire. But thousands of bearers of the true religion, proclaimers of the real Messianic hope, have been imprisoned and tortured by the brutal masters of the “people’s paradise.”
THE MESSAGE ENTERS RUSSIA
It had long been wondered how the good news of God’s established kingdom would penetrate the Iron Curtain, but the Russians themselves made this possible.
After World War II the Soviet government annexed the territories of Moldavia, Western Ukraine, Carpatho-Ukraine, White Russia and the Baltic States, in which several thousand of Jehovah’s witnesses lived. These Christians immediately began to pour rivers of truth into the mighty Communist desert, aiding in the world-wide preaching that Jesus foretold for our day. (Matt. 24:14) These rivers of truth flowed in all directions within the Red empire—to the north, east and south; to the slave camps of Vorkuta, and to the hundreds of other work camps all over the Soviet Union.
In 1951 alone more than seven thousand of these Christian witnesses were “exiled for life to Siberia,” to try to live or to die in the inhospitable land.
But these seven thousand were not the only ones so treated. One witness, who had been in the slave labor camps longer than most, writes of the torture he underwent simply because of his religion. He says:
“On April 10, 1940, I began my wanderer’s life through the prisons and camps of the Red ‘paradise,’ which lasted fourteen years, during which I was brought into court five times.” In an open railroad car, together with hundreds of others, without any seating, food, drink or wood, he was shipped off in an unknown direction. Often companions he conversed with in the evening he found frozen to death in the morning. No wonder he said: “Not many survived this transport.”
At Wierchaturia in the voivodeship of Sverdlovsk, half frozen to death, weak and on the verge of starvation, he and his companions began a four-day tramp on foot. They were forced to clear the woods, build barracks and then construct a sawmill. He says: “Wooden planks served as beds, our own trousers as a straw sack, our caps as a pillow and our jackets as a blanket. Many died. I have often witnessed some of these half-starved slaves, almost sinking from weakness themselves, carrying one of their companions away on a plank, who had been frozen or died of hunger at his job.”
Later this witness of Jehovah was transferred to Syzran to work at clearing the woods. Here, condemned to starvation, physical weakness prevented him from doing enough work and got him in conflict with Soviet law. This got him another ten-year sentence.
Of this he writes: “I did not have to go far after getting my sentence because there was camp after camp in that territory. A very long valley runs about one kilometer from the Volga and is called the ‘Gawrylov Clearing.’ Here were the camps. Both the prisoners and the free population call this place the ‘death valley.’ It was indeed a camp serving for the mass liquidation of the people by starvation. They died off like flies.”
Did this persecution break his faith? He answers: “The more I suffered, the more I preached. I was sentenced twice to ten years for preaching amongst the prisoners. The moment you get a new sentence the old one is declared invalid. Such sentences frightened hundreds of Pentecostals, Evangelists, Baptists, Revelationists, Sabbatists and others who closed their ears to the good news of the Kingdom. Yet they have also suffered much persecution. One of the Baptists sang one of their hymns and got five years in prison for it.”
These camps were called “educational camps.” One of the “educational” methods used by the officials was to throw anyone they wanted to dispose of into a barrack where the sexual perverts were housed and to let the perverts kill him. The witness said: “My slave masters were astonished when after three and a half months in that barrack I came out alive. There I had felt like Daniel in the lions’ den. With my way of dealing with them, I frustrated all their intentions toward my person. I came out alive and well.”
The bosses of this “educational camp” beat the prisoners black and blue just for the sadistic pleasure of it. “Only in 1950,” says this Christian minister, “could I strike grass and fish bones off my menu. By 1955 conditions had become almost human. I am no more there, but truly it will be easier for those who still remain than for those who ordered these ‘educational camps’ to be built, for they are reserved by God for punishment.”
The experience of this faithful witness, released June 14, 1955, and now hospitalized, certainly gives the lie to the false claim that communism has built a worker’s paradise.
THE PREACHING CONTINUES
The ranks of God’s people have not grown thinner because of this persecution, but have increased. It is no exaggeration to say that there now is no district in the U.S.S.R. where there are not people who know the truth. Apparently some forty percent of the people who have come to a knowledge of the truth have done so in these prisons and camps. Among those who have done so are officers of the Red army, police and prison officials, lawyers, journalists and others.
Why has the Soviet government so persecuted these good people? Apparently one reason is that these rulers cannot allow anyone but themselves to be viewed as masters, not even God. Radianska Ukraina, published last November 30 in Kiev, U.S.S.R., criticized Jehovah’s witnesses for not being satisfied with “celebrating religious rites and ceremonies,” which it says is permitted, but of insisting on teaching such “reactionary propaganda” as “the world ‘is ruled by its Supreme Sovereign Jehovah’ and that humans are simply ‘his servants on earth who do his will.’”
Actually the Soviet government would not lose a thing if it granted full freedom of worship to Jehovah’s witnesses. No government harms itself by granting such fundamental rights to those who really serve God. If the Russians now believe, as they seem to, that Jehovah’s witnesses have never had anything to do with espionage there is certainly no just reason why they should not be granted full freedom of worship.
But whether the Soviets grant that freedom or not, Jehovah’s witnesses will continue to preach the good news of God’s kingdom despite all opposition.
A witness living in Siberia wrote: “We cannot refrain from preaching God’s kingdom. We have gotten used to this territory and we feel happy, being firmly determined to represent the Lord worthily and to make known his glory everywhere. We feel the urge to convey to our brothers throughout the earth the assurance of our love for them, and we hope to have yet an opportunity of assembling ourselves with our brothers from all over the world.”
Their brothers throughout the world share that hope with them.
THE SITUATION EASES
With the deglorification of Stalin in 1956 some improvement was seen, and many of the witnesses, long imprisoned, were given their freedom with written confirmation that they were “acquitted from all guilt.”
Some of the seven thousand “special settlers” who were carried to the Irkutsk region of Siberia in 1951 are now free, but others must continue reporting every month to the local authorities. Many of those freed do not want to return home, because of the witness work that is now developing.
News has come through that there are also some witnesses in Moscow again, and that there are many people in Russia’s capital who wish to hear God’s Word. Many Baptists are also interested, the reason being the compromising attitude of some of their own leaders.
At the Arctic camp of Vorkuta fruitfulness is evident from month to month. All along the line from Kotlas to Vorkuta, a distance of about 700 miles, hundreds of labor camps have been liquidated and the barracks burned down. In that region there now remain only the camps of Vorkuta and its districts. There are many persons who learned the truth in the camps who now, as free men, preach the message of the Kingdom in these territories. During last year house-to-house work was inaugurated in the far north, even in Vorkuta itself, and meetings are held regularly.
An inmate at Vorkuta wrote: “Here the sowing work is now being done extensively. The field that has not been worked for a long time is now more receptive of the seed and promises fruit. Places that for many years have been like a desert are blossoming. The climate has changed here and the weather is more suitable for field work.”
A letter received from the Tomsk region of Siberia says: “The purpose of our transfer to these faraway places was at first hidden to us and incomprehensible, but unspeakable joy fills our hearts when we hear the natives now saying: ‘Come!’ I was sent to work a long distance from our settlement and in my endeavors to communicate to others the fire burning within me I found a family of six persons who now love the truth. I gave them a Bible, and after I had worked with them for several months they too began to witness and to find interested persons. In the evening we always go out on the street of our little village and sing aloud our songs that re-echo in the Siberian forests.”
A repatriated Polish prisoner reports: “When the day finally came to return to Poland, the commander came and said with deep emotion: ‘I recognize that the hand of the great Jehovah is over you, for otherwise you would never have been able to leave Siberia in your capacity as unshakable witnesses of Jehovah. May your God bless you.’”
Many witnesses were freed during 1956, but others remain. For thousands who were sent to Siberia in 1951 there still is no possibility of their getting Bibles or Bible literature. These witnesses, innocent, peace-loving people, are forbidden to maintain contact among themselves, or to form congregations. Why is it, then, that the Russian Orthodox Church, the Baptists and other religions enjoy relative freedom? Only because they have stated their willingness to obey Caesar rather than God. Jehovah’s witnesses refuse to do this because it would be unfaithfulness to God.
IN POLAND AND ELSEWHERE
This oppression of innocent Christians has been evident not just in Soviet Russia, but also in all the satellite countries—in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and elsewhere.
In Poland the people had suffered under a church-supported feudalistic system that comforted the poor and needy only with the distant promise of a reward beyond the grave. The peasants paid with suffering and misery for the lives of pleasure of the privileged, and had ceased to be serfs in name only. But under communism, which overthrew the hated old system, the Poles suffered under the same terroristic machinery that had been set up in Russia.
Economic conditions were extremely severe. Morals worsened. The Communists spoke of freeing women from “the slavery of the kitchen” to work in industry, but the Polish press now blames the collapse of morals, of the family and the increasing banditism among adolescents on the fact that the women left their homes for the factories.
But, despite these difficulties, religious persecution is again one of the outstanding marks of a totalitarian state. The total state butted squarely against the activity of Jehovah’s witnesses. For the first time the Polish Communists met a whole people who stood firm. So determined was their worship that the officials were bewildered.
Thousands of modest, honest men, women and children (workers, peasants and housewives), who were all nonsensically suspected or accused of spying, witnessed of their Kingdom hope to their brutal arresters. All spoke the same thing. They provided a tremendous witness to the name of Jehovah, to his King Christ Jesus and for God’s new world of righteousness. Even the most fanatical Communist official, hearing again and again the same things, had to see that his charges were crumbling to nothing. The majority of those arrested were released after some hours of questioning or a couple of days, but hundreds of such innocent people were kept in prison in that brutal “paradise” of oppression, violence and bloodshed.
Many persons learned the truth, both inside and outside the prison walls. Hundreds and thousands welcomed the witnesses and were willing to be taught by Jehovah. They had seen that it was a defamation to say that Jehovah’s witnesses were in league with the Communists, as the Catholic clergy had done, and that it was also a lie to say that the witnesses were spies, as the Communists had done.
Violence and torture failed to shake them. The Beria-type examination of the Watch Tower Society’s branch servant and other responsible ministers lasted for months, but they came out unbroken in spirit, though often violently hurt in the flesh. A number of the witnesses died, preferring martyrdom to confessing to lies against these men who were doing God’s work in Poland.
But the number of witnesses increased for months without interruption. During all this persecution they suffered no spiritual hunger. They met in small groups, thus not forsaking the gathering of themselves together. Their “public lectures” were the funerals they conducted. Every funeral procession of hundreds of persons moving through towns and cities without priests was always a sensation, and provided a clear evidence that Jehovah’s witnesses were far from being “liquidated.”
Some witnesses had even done house-to-house work in certain villages, and since the de-Stalinization has set in, several tens of thousands of them have gone from house to house with the only message really worthwhile to be preached today.
They recognize, and hope that you will too, the vital difference between man’s failing solutions to the world’s problems and the only true solution now near at hand. That true solution is not a political one but is God’s kingdom. Now is the time to accept and conform to it to survive the end of Satan’s wicked system and to live through into the righteous new conditions that the Creator himself soon will bring to earth.