“Faithful Under Trials”
IN EARLY April 1951, the mighty Soviet government descended upon an innocent group of Christians in the western Soviet Union—Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thousands of families—including little children, pregnant women, and the elderly—were loaded into boxcars for a grueling 20-day-long train trip to Siberia. They faced permanent exile in harsh, primitive conditions.
In April 2001, the 50th anniversary of this historic event was marked in Moscow with the release of a video that documents the decades-long oppression of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the former Soviet Union. In the documentary, historians and eyewitnesses relate how the Witnesses survived and even flourished despite extreme pressure.
This documentary, Faithful Under Trials—Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union, has now been viewed by millions in Russia and elsewhere and has received high acclaim from the public in general and from historians. Following are two comments by Russian scholars who are living in the area to which the majority of Witness families were deported:
“I enjoyed this film very much. I have always liked the representatives of your religion, but after watching the film, my favorable impression of you is even stronger. The film was very professional! I particularly liked the way you presented each person as an individual. Although I am Orthodox and do not intend to change my religion, I am delighted with the Witnesses. I would like our faculty to keep a copy of this film. My colleagues and I have decided to show it to our students and to include it in the curriculum.”—Professor Sergei Nikolayevich Rubtsov, dean of the faculty of history of the State Pedagogical University, Irkutsk, Russia.
“I welcome the arrival of this film. When one is making a film about repression, it is always very difficult to develop the story in a logical way. But you managed to do it. Please feel free to bring me more of your films.”—Professor Sergei Ilyich Kuznetsov, dean of the faculty of history of Irkutsk State University, Russia.
Jehovah’s Witnesses living in Siberia also deeply appreciated the documentary. Following is a sampling of their reactions:
“During the time when the events portrayed in this film were taking place, many in Russia were misinformed about the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But after watching the film, they can see that our organization is not merely some sect, as they previously thought. Others who have recently become Witnesses say: ‘We couldn’t have imagined that we were living and working alongside Christian brothers who had endured so much!’ After watching the film, one Witness expressed his desire to become a full-time pioneer minister.”—Anna Vovchuk, who was exiled to Siberia.
“When the film showed the secret police knocking on the door of a Witness home, I shuddered. It was like the knock on our door, and I remember my mother saying: ‘Perhaps there’s a fire somewhere.’ But the film also reminds me that many Witnesses suffered more than I did. All this information gives us greater strength and enthusiasm to continue serving Jehovah.”—Stepan Vovchuk, who was exiled to Siberia.
“I am the son of exiled Witnesses. I thought, therefore, that I had already heard a lot about those times. But after watching this film, I realized that I knew practically nothing. As I listened to the interviews, my eyes filled with tears. Now the experiences are not just stories for me but real life. The film has strengthened my relationship with God and helped prepare me to endure all future difficulties.”—Vladimir Kovash, Irkutsk.
“For me, this film was more powerful than a written account. When I watched and heard the interviews with the brothers, I felt as if I had lived through all their experiences with them. The example of the brother who drew postcards for his young daughters while he was in prison motivates me to try to reach my own children’s hearts with the Bible’s truths. Thank you! This film has made Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia feel more than ever that they are part of Jehovah’s worldwide organization.”—Tatyana Kalina, Irkutsk.
“The saying, ‘Seeing once is better than hearing a hundred times’ certainly applies to this film. It is so alive, so real, so close to us! After watching it, I needed a lot of time to think. The film allowed me to immerse myself in the lives of those exiled Witnesses. Now when I compare my circumstances with theirs, I am helped to take a different view of our present-day problems.”—Lidia Beda, Irkutsk.
Faithful Under Trials has thus far been released in 25 languages and is finding a warm reception around the world.a The entire documentary has been broadcast by television stations in St. Petersburg, Omsk, and other cities in Russia, as well as in the Ukrainian cities of Vynnytsya, Kerch, Melitopol and in the Lviv region. It has also earned awards from international film review boards.
The power of the message of this documentary lies in the examples of thousands of ordinary people who displayed extraordinary courage and spiritual strength through long years of persecution. Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union truly proved themselves faithful under trials. If you would like to see this documentary, Jehovah’s Witnesses will be glad to provide it for you. Please contact one of them in your community.
a The video is available in Bulgarian, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Lithuanian, Mandarin, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, and Swedish.
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Stalin: U.S. Army photo
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Stalin: U.S. Army photo