Communist Leaders Petitioned
“I SHALL put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed.” Thus Jehovah God spoke to the Serpent in the garden of Eden. Down to our day that enmity has continued. Today that enmity is especially noticeable in the hatred that Communist rulers bear toward the witnesses of Jehovah.—Gen. 3:15, NW.
In fact, this enmity has been so bitter that for many years the fate of Jehovah’s witnesses in Russia and Siberia was not known. In recent years, however, the proof has continued to mount that there are thousands of witnesses in those places, as well as in other lands behind the Iron Curtain.
Little if any attention was directed to these witnesses until 1949. In July of that year a district assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses was held in the Woodland Stage of Berlin, Germany. At that time a protest against the Communist oppression of the witnesses in Eastern Germany was adopted by some 18,000 assembled. The following year, at the international assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses at Yankee Stadium, a resolution was adopted by some 85,000 conventioners. It included a protest “against the persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses by Communist powers and by other governmental powers.”
Since then much information has leaked out concerning the activities and sufferings of the witnesses behind the Iron Curtain, of whom there are thousands. This has been published in the secular press as well as in the magazines of the Watch Tower Society.
The witnesses behind the Iron Curtain have longed to get in touch with their brothers on the outside. They have appealed to the rulers but without any relief. So they have expressed their desire that the witnesses in other lands petition the Russian government in their behalf. In view of the accumulating facts concerning the persecution of these witnesses it seemed fitting to petition the key authorities of the Russian government.
Accordingly, from the summer of 1956 to February, 1957, such a petition was adopted by 199 district assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses, held in all parts of the world. At these sessions a total of 462,936 voted enthusiastically in favor of these petitions. The first petition sent to Moscow was adopted in Finland, where the first of the 199 district assemblies was held, and this one is reproduced (translated into English).
THE PETITION ADOPTED
To Premier Nikolai A. Bulganin
Chairman of the Council of Ministers for the Soviet Union
Moscow, U. S. S. R.
We, 1,136 delegates gathered together from many congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in a District Assembly at Kemi, Lapland, Finland, this 30 day of June, 1956, do hereby resolve, by the following statement, to draw your attention to our fellow Christians, of whom there are, as you know, many thousands in your vast country.
In the course of the past two years news has come out of Russia by prominent news dispatches and by repatriated persons, according to which (1) there are or have been some 2,000 of Jehovah’s witnesses in the penal camp of Vorkuta; (2) at the beginning of April of the year 1951 some 7,000 of Jehovah’s witnesses were arrested from the Baltic States down to Bessarabia and were then transported in freight trains to the distant region between Tomsk and Irkutsk and near Lake Baykal in Siberia; (3) there are witnesses of Jehovah kept in more than fifty camps from European Russia into Siberia and northward to the Arctic Ocean, even on the Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya; and (4) a number of these, especially of the 7,000 mentioned above, died of malnutrition the first two years of their sojourn in Siberia.
An objective investigation of Jehovah’s witnesses will reveal that they have never deserved to be imprisoned, deported and sent to penal camps, and we now deem it most timely to PETITION your Government and request that these sincere Christians, who are distinguished for their ardent love of justice, truth and peace, (a) be freed, and (b) be authorized to organize themselves into Christian congregations, also into circuits and districts, embracing all such congregations throughout the nation, with responsible ministers and servants, according to the same pattern that is followed in all the other countries; (c) be authorized to establish regular relations with the Christian governing body of Jehovah’s witnesses in Brooklyn, New York, United States of America; and (d) be authorized to receive and publish the Watchtower magazine in Russian, Ukrainian and such other languages as may be found necessary, as well as other Bible publications that are used by Jehovah’s witnesses world-wide.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Jehovah’s witnesses are a Christian community of now more than 640,000 ministers carrying on their activity in some 160 countries, practically in every country on earth. Their semimonthly magazines The Watchtower and Awake! have a combined printing of over 4,000,000 copies each half month and are published in forty-four languages.
Jehovah’s witnesses therefore come out of all nations, but, as far as they are concerned, they have completely solved the problem of peaceful, universal and lasting coexistence. In their ranks they have overcome all racial, national and religious barriers and prejudices and have become an association of brothers, followers of Christ, all governed by the two greatest commandments, those of love for God and love for one’s neighbor. In view of this they do not and can not kill one another periodically on the battlefields, as do Catholics, Protestants, and members of other religious systems.
To the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, Jesus Christ said: “My kingdom is not of this world,” thereby showing that the Roman Empire, of which Pilate was the representative in Palestine, did not have to be disturbed about his religious activity. He did not fight the political government in power, he had no political interests and ambitions, he was no political party leader, he did not fight for the Jews against the Romans or vice versa. No, but he pointed to the root of all evil and carried on a program of spiritual healing which continues today and reaches into all the nations of the globe by the ministry of his true followers. To Pilate Jesus also said: “For this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” After that, Pilate said to the Jewish clergy who wrongly and hypocritically accused Jesus: “I find in him no fault at all.”—John 18:36-38.
No crime can be found today in Jehovah’s witnesses. They obey God’s commandments: “Ye are my witnesses, saith Jehovah.” (Isaiah 43:10, 12, ASV) They render first to God the things that belong to God and then to the political ruler on earth the things that belong to him. (Matthew 22:21) According to Christ’s teaching, they constitute a universal brotherhood made up of Russians, Chinese, Finnish and members of many other nations, and their brotherhood is rapidly growing throughout the earth. Jehovah’s witnesses do no harm to anyone. They remain neutral toward the controversies of this world. So they do not engage in any subversive activity and espionage. They are not nationalists, selfish capitalists or imperialists. As true Christians they could never be such, nor could they fight for any political doctrine or ideology, be it communist, democratic or capitalist. In America and other Western lands Jehovah’s witnesses have been called “Communists” and in countries under Communist rule “imperialists” because they keep a neutral position toward world affairs. Communist governments have accused and tried them as “imperialistic spies” and have sentenced them to as many as twenty years in prison. But never have they engaged in any subversive activity or any spying.
Therefore it is absolutely wrong and is a violation of the most elementary justice to imprison, intern and deport them, be it for one day or twenty-five years.
In not only Western countries but also Communist-ruled ones, Jehovah’s witnesses are recognized as reliable, trustworthy, conscientious workers. Thus they do their proper duty as citizens of the country in which they live. They are intelligent people who do not believe in all the oppression and misinstruction by false religions. They do not steal, they do not get drunk and thus slow down production, and they will never engage in any sabotage work. They follow the teachings of the Holy Bible, which the Government of the USSR has recently authorized to be printed and distributed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
One notable point on which Jehovah’s witnesses as followers of Christ differ from their fellow men is that they obediently insist on doing what Christ commanded when he said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations, and then the accomplished end will come.” (Matthew 24:14, NW) Consequently Jehovah’s witnesses are doing this today among all the nations, and they will continue doing it at the peril of their lives, under persecution and opposition, as Jesus said: “You will be hated by all the nations on account of my name,” and, “Look! I am sending you forth as sheep amidst wolves.”—Matthew 24:9; 10:16, NW.
Does your Government want to share in the responsibility for fulfilling these words of the Founder of true Christianity?
We shall be very pleased to have representatives of our governing body, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, discuss this matter further with you, either with your foremost representative in the United States of America or directly with your Government in Moscow.
You have allowed many delegations from Western countries to visit your capital and country. So we would like to suggest that you also examine the possibility of allowing a delegation of Jehovah’s witnesses to proceed to Moscow in order to give you any further information you may require and to ask you for permission to visit our Christian brothers in the various camps, who, we trust, will be freed before long, by your orders.
In the meantime we can do nothing else but inform the world about Jehovah’s witnesses in Russian prisons, penal camps and deportation centers, as we owe it to them as our friends and brothers in the faith to inform the world about their situation. However, we would prefer to be able to tell the world that you, the Government of Russia, have ordered Jehovah’s witnesses to be freed from all such places, in order to be in position to work as free citizens of your country and live a calm and quiet life, which they believe to be in harmony with the example given by Jesus Christ.—1 Timothy 2:1-6.
Trusting that you will study this petition and consider the merits of this case and that we may receive a favorable answer thereto, we remain, Sir,
Motion to adopt this
Resolution proposed by
Matti K. Tiainen, Assembly Administrator.
Erkki Kankaanpää, Assembly Chairman.
Approved unanimously by the Kemi District Assembly,
as certified by
Väinö Pallari, Public Relations Official,
this 30 day of June, 1956, at Kemi, Lapland, Finland.
At each assembly four witnesses of Jehovah signed three copies of the petition in behalf of those present. One copy was sent directly to Premier Bulganin at Moscow, one was mailed to the Russian ambassador of the country in which the assembly was held, one was forwarded to the headquarters of the Watchtower Society, and additional copies were supplied to the press, which generally gave it good coverage.
How did the Russian government react to this petition? To date it has ignored it. Not a word has been heard. That copies were received at Moscow is proved by national post office receipts indicating that the petition had been delivered to the Russian government and accepted.
Efforts were also made to present the petition personally to the various local Russian ambassadors. However, in almost every instance it was impossible to meet the ambassador himself. In Uruguay the ambassador’s secretary declared the petition to be full of lies and absolutely refused to have anything to do with it. He kept insisting that freedom of worship was guaranteed in Russia. The results of like efforts in other lands such as Austria, the Netherlands and Switzerland were similar.
In France the ambassador’s secretary accepted the petition. However, he could not understand why ‘Frenchmen living in France would concern themselves about Russians living in Russia’! Apparently it was incomprehensible to his Communist-trained mind that loyalties could surmount national barriers and differences.
In the United States, since the ambassador was away an appointment was arranged for with the next-ranking official, a Mr. Striganov. In the course of the conversation the witnesses recommended the course taken by the government in Poland, which investigated the witnesses and, finding the charges made against them to be unfounded, released them from prison.
Mr. Striganov, however, claimed that a great many lies had been circulated regarding Russia and that if anyone was imprisoned there it was not because of his religion but because he had violated the law. He found fault with the position the witnesses took regarding war and insisted that the law of Russia was higher than the law of Jehovah and that it had to be obeyed in Russia. He refused to accept the petition, acting as if it were dynamite, not even wanting to touch it.
However, Jehovah’s witnesses are not easily discouraged. They do not easily give up the fight. As an evidence of their sincere and unrelenting efforts to help their oppressed brothers behind the Iron Curtain, on March 1, 1957, they sent the following combined petition to the Communist leaders.
Premier Nikolai A. Bulganin
Chairman of the Council of Ministers for the Soviet Union Moscow, U.S.S.R.
The governing body for the world-wide group of Christians called Jehovah’s Witnesses addresses you.
Today, under the direction of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, an ever-expanding organization of Christian ministers, Jehovah’s witnesses are teaching the Word of the Almighty God and Creator of the universe, Jehovah, in 162 countries, republics and colonies throughout the earth. They are true Christians, guided in genuine worship of Jehovah God by the righteous standards and principles set forth in the Holy Bible.
Within the borders of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics are to be found thousands of these witnesses of Jehovah who are faithfully endeavoring to serve the Supreme God, Jehovah, amid very trying conditions. Many of them have been arrested and are restrained in imprisonment. Others have been sent far from their homes into exile in Siberia. This has not been because of committing any crimes or on account of any type of political activity whatsoever. Jehovah’s witnesses are the most peaceful and law-abiding group of people on earth. They have come under punishment solely because of the fact that they are dedicated Christians who sincerely obey the orders of Jesus Christ. It is true that they seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, for that is what Christ told all Christians to do at Matthew 6:33. But while doing so they also obey all the laws of the land in which they live, except where a law may be made that is contrary to the supreme law of the Creator. They are conscientious and are careful to “pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.”—Matthew 22:21, NW.
For many years now Jehovah’s witnesses within the Soviet Union have endured great difficulties and heavy persecution. They have constituted committees and delegations from among their own ministers for the purpose of registering their religious organization according to the statutes in force, but on each occasion they have been rebuffed and instead of being allowed to register their Christian organization they have had ministers in the delegations arrested. It has become well known around the world that Jehovah’s witnesses by the thousands are imprisoned throughout the Soviet Union and in exile in Siberia on account of their Christian worship.
All of Jehovah’s witnesses make a solemn dedication to serve as ministers of Jehovah God and from this they may not deviate. They are under strict command to preach the good news of God’s kingdom. They must be as faithful to God and guided by the same theocratic laws as the exemplary apostles of Jesus Christ, who faced much opposition and physical suffering on account of their worship. In the Holy Bible at Acts 5:17-40 we find one of the many examples of the trials of early Christians. And on this occasion the noted non-Christian lawyer Gamaliel set out a principle for the ruling council that is true to this day, to which we respectfully draw your attention in connection with the present-day arrests of Jehovah’s witnesses in the Soviet Union: “If this scheme and this work is from men, it will be overthrown; but if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them.”
Jehovah’s witnesses are the servants of God. Their work is of God. So in all lands, including the Soviet Union, Jehovah’s witnesses must—and will, with the help of Jehovah God—continue to live Christian lives and worship the Most High.
True Christians love one another and have great concern for their fellow Christians. They come to the aid of one another in any time of need for material or spiritual help. Jehovah’s witnesses are such Christians and that is why in all parts of the earth within the past nine months Jehovah’s witnesses have petitioned you in your honored position in the Soviet Union to investigate the abuses against their fellow witnesses of Jehovah in your country and to grant freedom of worship to our brothers in Christ.
The petition was sent to you in scores of languages from 199 assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses. Every copy was sent by registered airmail. And further to ensure having this important matter reach your attention copies of the petition were also transmitted through Soviet diplomatic representatives in each country.
A total of 462,936 of Jehovah’s witnesses world-wide have endorsed this petition and are awaiting news of the action that will be taken by the government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the relief of the suffering Christian witnesses of Jehovah there.
As the governing body for Jehovah’s witnesses world-wide we are authorized to transmit herewith a composite petition covering the problems of Jehovah’s witnesses within the Soviet Union. And as ministers of the Supreme God, Jehovah, we are obligated before Him to ask your consideration of this serious problem. We still stand ready to send our delegation to Moscow for the proposed discussions.
We, representing the 462,936 petitioning witnesses of Jehovah, respectfully request your early reply. The responsibility now rests upon you before the Most High God Jehovah: “Otherwise, you may perhaps be found fighters actually against God.”—Acts 5:39, NW.
Submitted by the Directors,
WATCH TOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF PENNSYLVANIA
N. H. Knorr, President
F. W. Franz, Vice-President
Grant Suiter, Secretary-Treasurer
H. H. Riemer, Assistant Secretary-Treasurer
T. J. Sullivan, Director
L. A. Swingle, Director
M. G. Henschel, Director
By pressing this issue Jehovah’s witnesses have discharged a threefold duty. They have witnessed to Jehovah’s supremacy; they have pointed out to Jehovah’s enemies the wrongness of their course and they have endeavored to aid their brothers behind the Iron Curtain.
They rest assured in Jesus’ promise: “Shall not God cause justice to be done to his chosen ones who cry aloud to him day and night, even though he is long-suffering toward them? I tell you, He will cause justice to be done to them speedily.”—Luke 18:7, 8, NW.