“FROM the sun’s rising even to its setting my name will be great among the nations.” (Mal. 1:11) Within Russia today, we see the truthfulness of that stunning prophecy spoken by Jehovah some 2,450 years ago. As the sun sets on Jehovah’s loyal ones in the western city of Kaliningrad, it is already rising 11 time zones to the east on the publishers on the Chukchi Peninsula, just across the Bering Strait from Alaska. Yes, the sun never sets on the Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work in Russia. The tireless work of courageous brothers and sisters during the Soviet era has been richly blessed. As we will see, they withstood fierce persecution and, in so doing, opened the way for the more than 150,000 publishers serving in Russia today.
Russia, officially termed the “Russian Federation,” is not a country of one nation or one people. As the name suggests, it is a federation of nations, a mosaic of tribes, tongues, and peoples, each with its unique culture. Our narrative begins in this vast ethnic, linguistic, and religious mosaic, not the democratic Russia of today, but the Russian Empire of over one hundred years ago, then ruled by a czar.
BOLDLY WITNESSING TO THE CLERGY IN MOSCOW
It was during a time of religious revival that Semyon Kozlitsky, a deeply religious man and graduate of a Russian Orthodox seminary, met Charles Taze Russell, who took the lead in the work of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. Nina Luppo, Semyon’s granddaughter, explained: “My grandfather traveled to the United States in 1891 and met Brother Russell. He kept a picture of the two of them together and always used to talk about his Brother Russell.” In the late 1800’s, Brother Russell and his companions were directing the work of restoring pure worship by teaching the powerful truths contained in the Bible. Part of this work involved exposing the false doctrines of Christendom’s churches and its clergy class. Bible truth, along with the zeal for pure worship demonstrated by Brother Russell and his associates, motivated Semyon to preach boldly to the clergy in Moscow. With what result?
“Without a trial, he was at once exiled in chains to Siberia for allegedly insulting the archbishop of Moscow,” wrote Nina, “and that is how the word of God reached Siberia in 1891.” Eventually, Semyon Kozlitsky was moved to the part of Siberia that is now included in modern-day Kazakhstan. There he kept zealously speaking the word of God right up until his death in 1935.
‘NO READINESS FOR THE TRUTH IN RUSSIA’
In the year that Semyon Kozlitsky was exiled, Brother Russell visited Russia for the first time. Regarding that visit, his words “we saw no opening or readiness for the truth in Russia” are often quoted. Did he mean that the people there did not want to listen to the truth? No. The autocratic regime prevented people from hearing the truth.
Elaborating on this situation, Brother Russell wrote in the March 1, 1892, issue of Zion’s Watch Tower: “In Russia the government holds an intolerably tight grip on every man in the empire, and the stranger within their gates is always to them a suspicious character. His passport must be produced at every hotel and railway station before entering or leaving a city or town. The hotel proprietor receives your passport and hands it over to the Chief of Police, who retains it until you are ready to leave, so that any stranger could be readily traced as to just when he entered or left the country. Officers and authorities are simply civil, indicating that your presence is only tolerated, and any books or papers in your possession are carefully scrutinized to make sure that nothing in them is calculated to interfere with their ideas.”
It might seem that under such conditions the preaching of the good news would make little headway. Nevertheless, the sprouting of seeds of truth could not be prevented in Russia.
A “DAY OF SMALL THINGS” BEGINS
As early as 1887, Zion’s Watch Tower reported that individual issues of that magazine had been mailed to different places, “even Russia.” In 1904 a letter from a small group of Bible Students in Russia reported that they had received Bible literature, though not without difficulty. The letter explained: “The literature was conspicuous and was almost not let through” by government censors. This small group was so grateful to receive the literature that they said, “It is like gold here—it is so difficult to obtain.” Showing that they understood the purpose of the literature, they wrote: “May the Lord now give us his blessing and the opportunity to distribute this literature.”
Yes, the preaching of the good news in Russia had begun in earnest, and true worship had established a tiny but significant foothold. This was a small beginning. However, as the prophet Zechariah wrote, “who has despised the day of small things?”—Zech. 4:10.
In the years that followed, zealous brothers in Germany sent literature into Russia. Much of that literature was in German, and many German-speaking people accepted the truth. In 1907, members of a German Baptist church in Russia received copies of the book-series Millennial Dawn, which had been mailed to them. When 15 of those people took a stand for true worship, the church excommunicated them. Later, the minister who opposed them became convinced of the truths presented in Millennial Dawn.
In 1911 the work received a boost in an unusual way—from a honeymoon trip. After getting married, the Herkendells, a young couple from Germany, made a preaching trip into Russia to help German-speaking people. To the Herkendells’ delight, they found isolated groups of Kingdom publishers and aided them spiritually.
Earlier, a reader in Russia wrote: “The literature from Germany is as valuable to me as the heavenly manna to the children of Israel. . . . How sorry we are that the literature is not in Russian! I use every opportunity to translate various items into Russian.” Translation had thus begun; much more was to follow.
“MANY SOULS LONGING AFTER GOD”
In 1911, R. H. Oleszynski, a Polish brother in Warsaw, Poland, a part of which was then included in the Russian Empire, arranged for the tract Where Are the Dead? to be printed in Russian. In a letter to Brother Russell, he wrote: “I enclose a copy . . . For ten thousand copies they charged seventy-three rubles . . . There are many difficulties, nevertheless there are many souls longing after God.” These tracts, along with other literature, were placed with Russian-speaking people, who took them to Russia. Thus, an important milestone was reached for this fledgling language field. Soon other literature—tracts, brochures, and booklets—began to be produced. As time went on, translation efforts would become even more ambitious.
In 1912, Brother Russell visited Finland, then a part of the Russian Empire. Power of attorney was given to Kaarlo Harteva to act on behalf of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in Finland. On September 25, 1913, the czar’s representative, the Russian Imperial Consul in New York, affixed a government stamp to the power of attorney and signed it.
A TWO-MONTH PREACHING TRIP PROLONGED
Not long before World War I broke out, Joseph F. Rutherford set out from Brooklyn on a tour of several countries as a representative of the organization. During this tour, he met a Bible Student named Dojczman in the Polish city of Lodz. Shortly thereafter, Brother Dojczman along with his family embarked on what was meant to be a two-month preaching trip throughout Russia. The outbreak of the war, however, prolonged their journey.
After many hardships, the Dojczmans found themselves in a small town along the Volga River. By 1918 they decided to return to Poland, but a smallpox epidemic prevented them from doing so. After that, the borders closed because of the outbreak of civil war. Three of the children died during those years—one from smallpox, one from pneumonia, and one from other causes.
Hunger and panic prevailed. People died in the streets from starvation. In the resulting confusion, many, especially foreigners, were accused of participating in “enemy” affairs and without trial were swiftly executed. One day, a man accompanied by an armed soldier burst into the Dojczman’s house.
“He’s the enemy, grab him!” the man shouted.
“Why?” asked the soldier. “What has he done?”
The man wanted to maneuver events so that he would not have to pay Brother Dojczman for some carpentry work he had done. After hearing both sides of the story, the soldier discerned the man’s false motives and flung him out of the house. Then the soldier told Brother Dojczman that he recalled a discussion they had enjoyed together on Bible topics. That discussion probably helped to save the lives of Brother Dojczman and his family. In 1921 the Communist government crushed military opposition, and the civil war ended. The Dojczmans were soon on their way back home to Poland.
BIBLE STUDENTS AND THE BOLSHEVIKS
With World War I raging, the little contact that had existed between the brothers in Russia and those elsewhere was lost. Like Christ’s brothers worldwide, those in Russia were probably unsure of the full significance of Christ’s enthronement. Little did they know that their country was soon to experience some of the most remarkable events of the 20th century, many of which were in fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
In the latter part of 1917, the Russian Revolution brought the 370-year rule of the czars to its end. Unaware of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, Russia’s new rulers, the Bolsheviks, had ambitious plans to establish a new form of human government, one distinct from all previous forms. Thus, within a few years, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, took shape. It would eventually encompass almost one sixth of the earth’s landmass.
It is noteworthy that a few years before the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, the first leader of the Soviet Union, had said: “Everybody must be perfectly free, not only to profess whatever religion he pleases, but also to spread or change his religion. No official should have the right even to ask anyone about his religion: that is a matter for each person’s conscience and no one has any right to interfere.”
In some parts of the country, these official principles held by the Social Democratic Party allowed sincere ones to share Bible truths with others. Generally, though, the new State was atheistic from the beginning and took a hostile stand against religion, labeling it “the opium of the people.” Among the first acts of the Bolsheviks was to issue a decree separating Church from State. Instruction by religious organizations was made illegal, and church property was nationalized.
How would this new government view those scattered groups of Bible Students, whose allegiance was to God’s Kingdom? Writing from Siberia some time after the 1917 revolution, a Bible Student painted this dreary picture: “You are probably aware of the situation here in Russia. We have a Soviet government based on Communist principles. While it is true that one can note the well-known push in the direction of justice, everything to do with God is being jettisoned.”
By 1923 opposition against the Bible Students had intensified. The brothers wrote: “This letter is written for the purpose of informing you of what is happening in Russia. . . . We have the necessary things, food, clothing, . . . but we are in great need of spiritual food. The books that were sent to us were confiscated by the government. So we beg you to send us extracts in letter form of all literature which you have in the Russian language . . . Many are hungering for the Word of Truth. Not long ago five persons showed their consecration by water immersion, and fifteen Baptists have joined us also.”
The December 15, 1923, issue of The Watch Tower commented: “The Society is making an attempt to get the literature into Russia and will continue to do so, by the Lord’s grace.” By 1925, The Watch Tower was available in Russian. Its impact on the witnessing work in Russia was immediate. For instance, one member of an Evangelist group had difficulty reconciling the doctrine of hellfire with a God of love. When he raised this question to fellow believers, they prayed that God would save him from such thoughts. Later, he and his wife were given some issues of The Watch Tower and immediately recognized the truth. He wrote asking for more literature, saying, “We await manna from across the ocean.” Other brothers in Russia also regularly confirmed receipt of such “manna,” thanking the brothers in the United States for the Christian love they showed in producing such faith-strengthening literature.
“SEND ME A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING”
A touching letter from Siberia appeared in The Watch Tower of September 1925. A schoolteacher from a peasant family related that he and his family had moved from the south of Russia to Siberia in 1909. He wrote that he had read the publications with heartfelt joy, and added, “The wish of my heart is to be led ever deeper into the holy truths of God in order that I might fight against darkness with more ability and strength.” He concluded the letter with a request for more literature, writing, “Please, send me a little bit of everything.”
The response from the editor was published in the same issue. “We have tried to send literature into Russia for some time, but all our attempts have been thwarted by opposition from the Russian government. This letter, as well as others like it, is like the call from Macedonia: ‘Step over . . . and help us.’ (Acts 16:9) We will come as soon as the opportunity permits and if it is the Lord’s will.”
Indeed, what a powerful instrument The Watchtower and other publications would prove to be in preaching the good news “for a witness” in the Russian language! (Matt. 24:14) By 2006 the number of copies of publications published by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russian reached 691,243,952, a figure higher than any other language except English, Portuguese, and Spanish. Jehovah has richly blessed the efforts of his Witnesses to proclaim the Kingdom.
WITNESSING TO RUSSIANS ABROAD
With the coming to power of the Bolsheviks and the creation of a Communist State, many Russians immigrated to other countries. The Watch Tower and other publications in Russian were printed outside the Soviet Union. Thus, the Soviet government could not interfere with the flow of spiritual food to other lands. By the late 1920’s, Russian publications were reaching people earth wide, and letters of appreciation came from Russian people in such lands as Australia, Finland, France, Latvia, Paraguay, Poland, the United States, and Uruguay.
Eventually, the brothers organized Christian meetings and the preaching activity in Russian in some of these places. In the United States, Bible lectures in Russian were regularly broadcast from radio stations. Russian-language congregations were formed, such as one in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, and conventions were organized. For instance, in May 1925, the brothers held a three-day Russian convention in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. It was attended by 250, and 29 were baptized.
THE SITUATION CHANGES
After Lenin’s death, the government intensified its attack against all religions. The year 1926 saw the forming of the League of the Militant Godless—a name that aptly defined its goals. The ever-present atheistic propaganda was intended to root faith in God completely out of the minds and hearts of the people. In a short time, the spirit of atheism spread throughout the Soviet Union’s vast realm. In a letter to world headquarters, one Bible Student in Russia noted: “The youth are absorbing this spirit, which undoubtedly is a great hindrance to learning the truth.”
The League of the Militant Godless published atheistic literature, including a magazine called Antireligioznik. In 1928 the magazine declared: “Voronezh Oblast is rife with sects.”* Among others, it mentioned 48 “Students of the Holy Scriptures” whose “leaders were Zinchenko and Mitrofan Bovin.” It is noteworthy that The Watch Tower of September 1926 contained a letter from a Mikhail Zinchenko from Russia. He wrote: “The people are hungering for spiritual food. . . . We have very little literature. Brother Trumpi and others are translating and copying Russian literature, and that is how we are spiritually feeding and supporting one another. We send greetings from all our Russian brothers.”
In September 1926, Brother Trumpi wrote that there was hope that the authorities would allow the brothers to receive literature in Russian. He asked the brothers at Brooklyn Bethel to send tracts, booklets, books, and Watch Tower bound volumes through the office in Magdeburg, Germany. Responding to this request, Brother Rutherford sent George Young to Moscow. He arrived there on August 28, 1928. In one of his letters, Young wrote: “I have had some interesting experiences but do not know how long I will be permitted to remain.” Although he succeeded in meeting with a high-ranking official in Moscow, he was only able to receive a visa that was valid until October 4, 1928.
Meanwhile, the newly formed Soviet State’s attitude toward religion was unclear. Several government documents expressed a hope that religious groups would be assimilated into the Soviet workforce. In the years that followed, this hope became policy. It is important to understand that the Soviet government did not wish to kill Jehovah’s people; it battled to win minds and hearts. It sought to convince God’s people to conform, to coerce them into being exclusively loyal to the State. The last thing it wanted was for people to give their allegiance to Jehovah.
After Brother Young’s departure, the Russian brothers continued to preach God’s Kingdom zealously. Danyil Starukhin was appointed to organize the Kingdom-preaching work in Russia. To further this work and to encourage the brothers, Brother Starukhin visited Moscow, Kursk, Voronezh, and other cities in Russia as well as Ukraine. With other brothers, he preached to Baptists at their prayer houses, expounding the truth about Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom. In January 1929 the brothers in Russia arranged to rent a church building in Kursk for 200 dollars a year so that they could openly hold meetings.
Later that year, the brothers at Brooklyn Bethel requested permission from the People’s Commissariat of Trade of the USSR to import a small shipment of Bible literature into the Soviet Union. The shipment included 800 copies each of the books The Harp of God and Deliverance as well as 2,400 booklets. In less than two months, the shipment came back stamped: “Returned as Forbidden to Enter by the Administration of Printed Matter.” However, the brothers did not give up hope. Some thought that the reason for the return was that the publications were printed in an older Russian alphabet. From then on, the brothers ensured that all Russian literature was translated accurately and printed according to the latest developments in the language.
THE NEED FOR QUALITY TRANSLATION
From 1929 several issues of The Watch Tower contained announcements about the need for qualified translators with knowledge of both English and Russian. For example, the Russian Watch Tower of March 1930 contained this announcement: “A qualified, dedicated brother with knowledge of English and fluency in Russian is needed to translate from English to Russian.”
Jehovah saw the need, and translators were found in various countries. One such translator was Aleksandr Forstman, who in 1931 was already sending to world headquarters, through the Denmark branch office in Copenhagen, articles translated into Russian. Brother Forstman was an enthusiastic translator who lived in Latvia. Well-educated and fluent in both English and Russian, he was capable of translating Bible literature quickly. At first he devoted only a few hours each week to translation, since he did secular work to support his unbelieving wife and child. In December 1932, Brother Forstman became a full-time translator. During his service he translated tracts, booklets, and books. He died in 1942.
The brothers had a keen interest in making high-quality Russian translations of the publications available, believing that the Kingdom work would soon be legalized in Russia. William Dey, overseer of the Northern European Office, wrote in a letter to Brother Rutherford: “When Russia opens up, which surely must soon take place, it would be good to have a worthy translation of our publications to offer to the population of 180 million.”
Radio was another way to spread the good news over Russia’s immense territory. The Watch Tower of February 1929 contained this announcement: “Russian lectures will be given over the radio.” Programs were broadcast from Estonia into the Soviet Union every second and fourth Sunday of the month.
Brother Wallace Baxter, the Estonia branch overseer, later recalled: “After long debate, a contract for a year was signed in 1929. Soon after broadcasts began in Russian, we learned that people in Leningrad were listening. The reaction of the Soviet regime was similar to that of the clergy in Estonia. Both warned people away from the Kingdom message.” In 1931, broadcasts in Russian were aired at a convenient time for listeners, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on medium frequency. After three and a half years on the air, the broadcasts were stopped in June 1934. In a letter from the Estonia branch office, the brothers explained how the broadcast ban came about: “The clergy advised the [Estonian] government that our radio lectures are not in the State’s interests, since they are in the nature of Communistic and anarchistic propaganda.”
A CHANGE TAKES PLACE
In 1935 the brothers at Brooklyn Bethel sent Anton Koerber to the Soviet Union, hoping that he could open a branch office there. They wanted to send a printing press to the USSR from Germany, where Adolf Hitler had recently come to power. Though this plan did not materialize, Brother Koerber did meet with several brothers in Russia.
For a few years, the Kingdom-preaching work in Russia progressed steadily. Bible literature was translated into Russian under the direction of the Latvia branch office. However, it was difficult to import into the country the literature that had been printed. So a large quantity of literature was held in storage.
Up until the beginning of World War II, in 1939, the Witnesses were few in number. Consequently, the Soviet government took little or no note of them. All of that was about to change. Shortly after Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the Soviet Union absorbed the last 4 of its 15 republics—Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldova. Thousands of Witnesses suddenly found themselves within the borders of the Soviet Union—a nation that would soon be immersed in a savage war for its own survival. It would be a time of suffering and hardship for millions. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, it would be a time to demonstrate loyalty to God under the yoke of harsh oppression.
READY TO STAND FIRM
In June 1941, Germany launched a massive attack on the Soviet Union, taking Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader, totally by surprise. By the end of the year, German troops had reached the outskirts of Moscow, and the fall of the Soviet Union appeared imminent.
In desperation, Stalin sought to mobilize the nation for what the Russians called the Great Patriotic War. Stalin recognized that he needed to make concessions to the church to win the support of the people for the war effort, since millions had remained religious. In September 1943 at the Kremlin, Stalin publicly received three representatives of the highest orders of the Russian Orthodox Church. This served to bridge the rift between Church and State and opened hundreds of churches to the public.
Like Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, the brothers in Russia maintained a wholly neutral position during the war. They were ready to accept the consequences, firmly resolved to keep the commandment of their Lord. (Matt. 22:37-39) For maintaining their neutrality, more than a thousand Witnesses from Ukraine, Moldova, and the Baltic republics were transferred to labor camps in the heart of Russia from 1940 to 1945.
Vasily Savchuk remembers: “I was baptized in Ukraine in 1941 at 14 years of age. During the war, almost all the active brothers were sent to prisons and camps in the heart of Russia. But Jehovah’s work did not stop. Faithful sisters and teenagers like me took on responsibilities in the congregation and in the ministry. In our village, one brother, an invalid, was still free. He told me: ‘Vasily, we need your help. We have a very important work to do, and we don’t have enough men.’ I could not hold back my tears when I saw how concerned this sickly brother was about Jehovah’s work. I joyfully agreed to do everything that needed to be done. We had makeshift printeries in basements where we duplicated our valuable spiritual food, passing it along for distribution among the brothers, especially those imprisoned.”
Despite the selfless, loving work of those sisters and teenagers, the amount of spiritual food produced was still not enough. One solution was provided by Polish brothers emigrating from Russia who were able to bring reports to the office in Poland. Ukrainian and Russian brothers traveling in the opposite direction took with them spiritual food, wax stencils, ink, and other tools for use in Russia.
“LET THEM GO EACH ONE TO HIS PLACE”
In 1946 some brothers living in Poland were compelled to relocate to Soviet Ukraine. Ivan Pashkovsky recalls: “The brothers inquired of the branch office in Lodz what they should do in this situation. The reply they received cited Judges 7:7, where it says: ‘Let them go each one to his place.’ Many years later I understood how Jehovah in his wisdom guided the preaching work in these difficult territories. For us, our ‘place’ was wherever Jehovah sent us. We came to understand that it is important to submit to orders from the authorities. Therefore, we began to prepare ourselves for the move to an atheistic country.
“First, we met with and prepared 18 candidates for baptism, who had been brought to a brother’s house. We also stocked up on literature in Russian and Ukrainian and tried to pack it in ways that would make it hard to notice during a search. Soon, at dawn, our village was surrounded by soldiers of the Polish army who commanded us to get ready for the road. We were allowed to take a month’s worth of food and necessary household items. We were escorted to the railway station. In this way, Soviet Ukraine became our ‘place.’
“As soon as we arrived at our destination, we were surrounded by people and the local authorities. As we wished to give a witness immediately, we boldly told them that we were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Unexpectedly, we were visited the next day by the secretary of the local agricultural committee. He said that his father had immigrated to America and was sending him literature published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. How happy we were to hear that! It was especially wonderful that he offered literature to us. When he himself began to attend our meetings with his family, we understood that this country contained many of Jehovah’s ‘desirable things.’ (Hag. 2:7) Soon the whole family became Jehovah’s Witnesses and served faithfully for many years.”
MUCH WORK AHEAD
During and after World War II, the work in Russia was being accomplished under the most difficult conditions. In a letter from the Poland branch office to headquarters, dated April 10, 1947, it was reported: “The representatives of religion intimidate their members that ten years of forced labor and exile await them if they take a Watchtower or a leaflet of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Therefore, fear and trepidation covers the inhabitants of the country, and the people yearn for the light.”
The 1947 Yearbook commented: “The witnesses have no printed literature and no Watchtower in its attractive printed form at their disposal. . . . In many instances it is still being laboriously copied by hand and so passed on to others . . . Our couriers are sometimes held up and thrown into jail if The Watchtower is found on them.”
Regina Krivokulskaya states: “It seemed to me that the entire country was surrounded by barbed wire, and we were prisoners, even though we were not in prison. Our husbands, who were zealously serving God, were spending most of their lives in prisons and camps. We women had to endure much: Every one of us was experiencing sleepless nights, surveillance and psychological pressure from the Soviet State Security Committee (KGB), loss of employment, and other trials. The authorities tried various means to make us deviate from the way of the truth. (Isa. 30:21) We had no doubt that Satan was using the situation to try to stop the Kingdom-preaching work. But Jehovah did not abandon his people—his help was clearly evident.
“Bible literature, smuggled into the country with great difficulty, gave us ‘power beyond what is normal’ and wisdom to deal with the situation. (2 Cor. 4:7) Jehovah led his people, and even while under powerful opposition from the State, new ones continued to join themselves to his organization. It was amazing that from the very beginning, they were ready to endure hardships right along with Jehovah’s people. Only Jehovah’s spirit could have accomplished this.”
LETTERS THROWN OVER THE FENCE
In 1944, Pyotr, Regina’s future husband, was imprisoned in a camp in Gorki Oblast for maintaining Christian neutrality. This in no way checked his zeal for preaching. Pyotr wrote letters, each one containing a brief explanation of a Bible teaching. He then put each letter into an envelope, secured it with string to a stone, and threw it over the high barbed-wire fence. Pyotr hoped that someone would read the letters, and one day someone did—a girl named Lidia Bulatova. Pyotr saw her and quietly called her over. He asked her if she would like to learn more about the Bible. Lidia liked the idea, and they arranged to meet again. After that, she regularly came to pick up more of those precious letters.
Lidia became a zealous sister and preacher of the good news who soon began to conduct Bible studies with Maria Smirnova and Olga Sevryugina. They too began to serve Jehovah. To support the sisters spiritually, the brothers began to supply this small group with spiritual food right from the camp. For this, Pyotr constructed a small suitcase with a double bottom, which he could stuff with magazines. He arranged for the suitcase to be taken in and out of the camp by non-Witnesses who were not prisoners. They took it to the address of one of the sisters.
Soon the sisters organized the preaching work in their area. The police took note of this and sent an agent to spy on them, as was usual in those times. The agent, a schoolteacher, pretended to be interested in the truth and gained the trust of the sisters. Since they had no experience in this regard, they happily shared Bible truths with their new “sister” and later told her how the literature got to them. The next time the suitcase was on its way out, Pyotr was detained and sentenced to 25 years of additional imprisonment. The three sisters also received 25 years each.
‘ENLIGHTENMENT MUST BE GIVEN’
During and after the war years, the Soviet government continued its forceful opposition to the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses. In March 1947 the brothers in Poland reported that a high-ranking official in one of the western regions of the Soviet Union had declared that by the end of that spring, not a single Witness of Jehovah would be found there. Their letter read: “While we were writing this letter, news reached us that 100 brothers and sisters were arrested in a single day.” Another letter said concerning the brothers in the camps: “They are marvelously keeping their integrity to Jehovah. Many have already laid down their lives, and the brethren wait for Jehovah’s deliverance just as those in the concentration camps did.”
Witnesses were also arrested for preaching and for refusing to vote. Responsible brothers wrote in 1947: “We have the impression that the highest authorities in Russia know little of the fate of our brethren but that they have no interest in destroying them. What is lacking is the necessary explanation and enlightenment which must be given [the authorities].”
ATTEMPTS TO OBTAIN REGISTRATION
Soon the Poland branch office suggested that two Russian brothers along with an experienced lawyer prepare the necessary documents to register the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union. One letter from Poland to the brothers in Russia stated: “The preaching of the good news of the Kingdom must be heard everywhere, including Russia. (Mark 13:10)” The letter concluded with these words: “Be patient. Jehovah will turn your tears into joyful cries.—Psalm 126:2-6.”
In August 1949, Mykola Pyatokha, Mykhailo Chumak, and Ilya Babijchuk submitted an application for registration. The government agreed to recognize Jehovah’s Witnesses but only under certain conditions. Among other things, the brothers were asked to hand over the names of all of Jehovah’s Witnesses living in the territory of the Soviet Union. That was something the brothers could not agree to. Though the work went on and the number of publishers was increasing constantly, many brothers continued to be deprived of their freedom.
‘YOUR JEHOVAH WON’T FREE YOU FROM HERE’
Pyotr Krivokulsky remembers the summer of 1945 and states: “After the brothers were tried, they were sent to various camps. In the camp where I was, many prisoners showed a sincere interest in the truth. One such prisoner, a clergyman, quickly understood that what he heard was the truth, and he took his stand for Jehovah.
“Nevertheless, conditions were harsh. Once, I was imprisoned in a tiny cell barely large enough to stand up in. It was called the bug house because it was seething with bedbugs—so many that they could probably have sucked all the blood out of a human body. Standing in front of the cell, the inspector told me: ‘Your Jehovah won’t free you from here.’ My daily ration was ten ounces [300 grams] of bread and a cup of water. There was no air, so I leaned against the small door and greedily drank in air through a hairline crack. I felt the bedbugs sucking blood out of me. During my ten days in the bug house, I repeatedly asked Jehovah to give me the strength to endure. (Jer. 15:15) When the doors opened, I fainted and woke up in another cell.
“After that, the labor camp court sentenced me to ten years of maximum-security incarceration in a penal camp for ‘agitation and propaganda against Soviet authority.’ It was impossible to send or receive mail in that camp. The prisoners were generally those convicted of violent crimes, such as murder. I was told that if I didn’t renounce my faith, these people would do anything to me that they were told to do. I weighed only 80 pounds [36 kg] and could barely walk. But even there, I was able to find sincere ones whose hearts were favorably disposed toward the truth.
“Once when I was lying down in some shrubbery and praying, an elderly man approached me. He asked, ‘What did you do to end up in this hell?’ Upon hearing that I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he sat down, embraced me, and kissed me. Then he said: ‘Sonny, I have wanted to learn about the Bible for so long! Will you please teach me?’ My happiness knew no bounds. I had sewed several old scraps from the Gospels into my tattered clothes, so I immediately pulled them out. His eyes filled with tears. We talked for a long time that evening. He told me that he worked in the camp’s mess hall and that he would feed me. Thus we came to be friends. He grew spiritually, and I gained strength. I was sure that Jehovah had made this arrangement. After a few months, he was set free, and I was taken to another camp in Gorki Oblast.
“There, conditions were much better. But above all, I was happy that I was conducting Bible studies with four prisoners. In 1952 the camp foremen found us with literature. During the pretrial interrogation, I was shut in a hermetically sealed box, and when I began to choke, they would open the box to give me a few breaths of air and then close it again. They wanted me to renounce my faith. We were all convicted. When our sentences were read, none of my Bible students panicked. I was so happy about that! All four of them were sentenced to 25 years in the camps. I was given a harsher sentence, but it was changed to 25 additional years in a maximum-security camp and 10 years in exile. Upon leaving the room, we stopped to thank Jehovah for supporting us. The guards were astonished, wondering what we were happy about. We were split up and sent to different camps. I was sent to a maximum-security camp in Vorkuta.”
SAVED BY CHRISTIAN NEUTRALITY
Camp life was harsh. Many non-Witness prisoners committed suicide. Ivan Krylov recalls: “After I was released from maximum security, I visited different coal mines where our brothers and sisters were put to forced labor. We made contact, and whoever had been able to hand-copy some of our magazines passed those copies on to the others. The Witnesses preached in every camp, and many people showed interest. After they were freed, some of them were baptized in the Vorkuta River.
“We were always encountering tests of our faith in Jehovah and his Kingdom. Once in 1948, some prisoners in a camp in Vorkuta staged an uprising. The rebels had told the other prisoners that the uprising would have the greatest success if they organized themselves into groups, such as by nationality or religion. At that time, 15 Witnesses were in the camp. We told the rebels that we Jehovah’s Witnesses were Christians and that we could not participate in such matters. We explained that the early Christians did not participate in uprisings against the Romans. Of course, this was a surprise to many, but we stood firm.”
The uprising had tragic consequences. Armed soldiers crushed the resistance and took those who had rebelled to another barracks. They then doused the barracks with gasoline and set it ablaze. Almost everyone inside perished. The soldiers did no harm to the brothers.
“In December 1948, I met eight brothers in one camp who had been sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment,” continues Ivan. “It was a bitterly cold winter, and the work in the mines was hard. Yet, I could see confidence and strong hope in the eyes of those brothers. Their positive outlook strengthened even the prisoners who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
EXILED TO SIBERIA
Despite cruel opposition from the authorities, the Witnesses zealously continued to preach the good news of Jehovah’s Kingdom. This irritated the central government in Moscow. It especially irritated the KGB. A memo dated February 19, 1951, from the KGB to Stalin read: “To suppress any further anti-Soviet activities of the underground Jehovists, the MGB [Ministry of State Security, later the KGB] of the USSR considers it necessary to exile known Jehovists and their families to Irkutsk and Tomsk oblasts.” The KGB knew those who were Witnesses, and they asked Stalin for permission to exile 8,576 people from six republics of the Soviet Union to Siberia. This permission was granted.
Magdalina Beloshitskaya recalls: “At two in the morning on Sunday, April 8, 1951, we were awakened by a loud banging on the door. Mama sprang up and ran to the door. An officer stood before us. ‘You are being exiled to Siberia for believing in God,’ he declared formally. ‘You have two hours to pack your things. You may take anything in the room. However, grain, flour, and cereal are not permitted. Furniture, wooden items, and sewing machines may not be taken either. You may not take anything from the yard. Bring your bedding, clothes, and bags, and come out.’
“We had earlier read in our publications that there was a lot of work that needed to be done in the east. Now we understood that the time had come to do that work.
“None of us wailed or sobbed. The officer was surprised and said, ‘Not one little tear has fallen from your eyes.’ We told him that we had been expecting this since 1948. We asked permission to take at least one live chicken for the journey, but he denied it. The officers divided up our livestock among themselves. They distributed the chickens before our very eyes—one took five, another six, someone else got three or four. When only two chickens were left in the coop, the officer gave orders to slaughter them and give them to us.
“My eight-month-old daughter was lying in a wooden cradle. We asked if we could take the cradle with us, but the officer ordered that it be taken apart. Then he gave us only the part that could hold the baby.
“Soon our neighbors learned that we were being exiled. Someone brought a small bag of bread crisps, and when we were being driven away in a cart, he threw the bag into the cart. The soldier guarding us noticed and threw the bag back out. There were six of us—me, Mama, my two brothers, my husband, and our eight-month-old daughter. Beyond the village, we were bundled into a car and driven to the regional center, where our documents were filled out. Then we were taken by truck to the railway station.
“It was Sunday, a fine sunny day. The station was full of people—those being exiled and those who came to watch. Our truck pulled right up to a railway car where our brothers already were. When the train was full, the soldiers checked all by their last names. There were 52 people in our railway car. Before the departure, those seeing us off began to cry and even to sob. It was amazing to watch, since we didn’t even know who some of those people were. But they knew that we were Jehovah’s Witnesses and that we were being exiled to Siberia. The steam engine gave a mighty whistle. Then our brothers began to sing a song in Ukrainian: ‘Let the love of Christ be with you. Giving glory to Jesus Christ, we will meet again in his Kingdom.’ Most of us were full of hope and faith that Jehovah would not abandon us. We sang several verses. It was so touching that some of the soldiers began to weep. Then the train went on its way.”
“JUST THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT WAS EXPECTED”
Dr. N. S. Gordienko, a professor at Herzen University in St. Petersburg, described in his book what the persecutors accomplished. He wrote: “The results were just the opposite of what was expected; they wanted to weaken the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the USSR, but in fact they only strengthened it. In new settlements where no one had heard of their religious confession, Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘infected’ the locals by their faith and their loyalty to it.”
Many Witnesses quickly adapted to their new circumstances. Small congregations were organized, and territory was assigned. Nikolai Kalibaba says: “There was a time in Siberia when we did preach from house to house or, more accurately, from one house to another house two or three houses down. But this was risky. How did we do it? After the first visit, we tried to make a return visit in about a month. We started out by asking people, ‘Are you selling any chickens, goats, or cows?’ Then we gradually turned the conversation to the Kingdom. After a while, the KGB learned about this, and soon an article was published in the newspaper warning the local population against talking with Jehovah’s Witnesses. The article said that the Witnesses went from house to house asking people for goats, cows, and chickens—but what we really wanted were sheep!”
Gavriil Livy relates: “The brothers tried to participate in the ministry even though they were closely watched by the KGB. The attitude of the Soviet people was such that if they suspected that someone was attempting to talk to them about a religious topic, they immediately sounded the alarm for the police to come. Despite this, we continued to preach, although without any visible results at first. However, over time the truth began to change some of the local people. One of them was a Russian man who drank heavily. Upon learning the truth, he brought his life into harmony with Bible principles and became an active Witness. Later, a KGB officer called him and said: ‘Whom are you spending your time with? Those Witnesses are all Ukrainians.’
“The brother replied: ‘When I was a drunkard and wallowing in the gutter, you paid me no attention. Now that I’ve become a normal person and a citizen, you decide that you don’t like it. Many Ukrainians are leaving Siberia, but they will leave behind local Siberians whom God is teaching how to live.’”
After a few years, an official from Irkutsk wrote to Moscow: “Several local workers have declared that all of these [Jehovah’s Witnesses] should be sent to one area in the north somewhere so that they would be cut off from all contact with the population and be re-educated.” Neither Siberia nor Moscow knew what could be done to silence Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“WE WOULD HAVE SHOT ALL OF YOU”
Early in 1957, the authorities mobilized for renewed action against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Brothers were followed, and homes were searched. Viktor Gutshmidt recalls: “Once when I came home from the ministry, everything in the apartment had been turned upside down. The KGB were looking for literature. They arrested me and interrogated me for two months. Yulia, our younger daughter, was 11 months old, and our elder daughter was 2 years old.
“During the investigation, the inspector said to me, ‘Aren’t you German?’ For many at that time, the word ‘German’ was synonymous with ‘Fascist.’ Germans were hated.
“‘I’m not a nationalist by nature,’ I said, ‘but if you’re talking about the Germans who were held in the concentration camps by the Nazis, then I am proud of those Germans! They were called Bibelforscher, and now they are called Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am proud that no Witness ever fired a bullet from a machine gun or a shell from a cannon. Of those Germans, I am proud!’
“The inspector was silent, so I continued: ‘I am confident that not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses has participated in any of the rebellions or uprisings. Even when the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses are under ban, they persist in worshipping God. At the same time, the Witnesses recognize and obey the lawful authorities if their laws do not break the higher laws of our Creator.’
“Unexpectedly, the inspector stopped me and said: ‘We have never studied any group as closely as we have studied the Witnesses and their activities. If anything in the records had been found against you, even the shedding of one drop of blood, we would have shot all of you.’
“Then I thought: ‘Our brothers have the courage to serve Jehovah throughout the world, and this example has saved our lives in the Soviet Union. So perhaps our serving God here might somehow help our brothers in other areas.’ This thought gave me added strength to hold fast to Jehovah’s ways.”
WITNESSES IN MORE THAN 50 CAMPS
The neutral stand and zealous ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union continued to vex the government. (Mark 13:10; John 17:16) Often, the position of our brothers in these matters earned them lengthy, unjustified prison sentences.
Throughout the world at 199 conventions held from June 1956 to February 1957, some 462,936 delegates unanimously adopted a petition, copies of which were sent to the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union in Moscow. Among other things, the petition stated: “There are Witnesses of Jehovah kept in more than 50 camps from European Russia into Siberia and northward to the Arctic Ocean, even on the Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya . . . In America and other western lands, Jehovah’s Witnesses have been called Communists, and in countries under Communist rule, imperialists . . . Communist governments have accused and tried them as ‘imperialistic spies’ and have sentenced them to as many as 20 years in prison. But never have they engaged in any subversive activity.” Sadly, the petition did little to improve the situation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union.
It was particularly difficult for families of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia to raise their children. Vladimir Sosnin from Moscow, who raised three sons during that time, says: “Attendance at a Soviet school was mandatory. Teachers and other students pressured our children to join children’s organizations that were oriented toward Communist ideology. We wanted our children to receive the necessary education, and we helped them in their studies. It was not easy for us parents to nurture love for Jehovah in our children’s hearts. The schools were saturated with ideas about building up socialism and Communism. It was up to us parents to show exceptional patience and perseverance.”
CHARGED WITH TEARING OFF THEIR DAUGHTER’S EAR
Semyon and Daria Kostylyev raised three children in Siberia. Semyon recounts: “At that time, Jehovah’s Witnesses were considered to be fanatics. In 1961, Alla, our second daughter, started first grade. One day while she was playing with the other children, one of them accidentally injured Alla’s ear. The next day when the teacher asked her what had happened, Alla kept quiet, since she didn’t want to tell on her classmate. The teacher knew that Alla was being raised by Witness parents and came to the conclusion that we beat her to force her to live by Bible principles. The school reported the matter to a public prosecutor’s office. The business I worked for also became involved. Investigations continued for about a year until we finally received a summons to a court hearing in October 1962.
“For two weeks before the trial, the Palace of Culture building displayed a banner that read, ‘Trial of dangerous Jehovist sect about to begin.’ My wife and I were accused of raising our children according to the Bible. We were also charged with cruelty. The court alleged that we had forced our daughter to pray and that we had torn off her ear with the edge of a pail! The only witness was Alla, but she had been sent away to an orphanage in Kirensk, a city about 700 kilometers [430 miles] to the north of Irkutsk, where we were living.
“The hall was filled with youth league activists. When the court adjourned for deliberation, the crowd caused an uproar. We were pushed around and cursed at, and someone demanded that we take off our ‘Soviet’ clothes. Everyone was shouting that we should be killed, and someone even wanted to finish us off right then and there. The crowd became more and more enraged, and still the judges didn’t appear. The deliberation lasted for an hour. When the crowd surged forward, one Witness sister and her unbelieving husband stood between us and the people, pleading with them not to touch us. Attempting to explain that all the accusations against us were false, they literally snatched us out of the hands of the crowd.
“Finally, a judge appeared with the assessors of the people’s court and read us our sentence: loss of parental rights. I was put under guard and sent to a corrective labor camp for two years. Our eldest daughter was also sent to an orphanage after being told that her parents were members of a dangerous sect and a harmful influence on her upbringing.
“Our son was left with Daria, since he was only three years old. After serving my sentence, I returned home. As before, we could only witness informally.”
“WE WERE PROUD OF OUR CHILDREN”
“Alla left the orphanage when she turned 13, and she came home to live with us. What a joy it was for us when she dedicated herself to Jehovah and was baptized in 1969! About this time, a series of lectures on religion was held at the Palace of Culture in our city. We decided to go to hear what they would say this time. As always, Jehovah’s Witnesses were the group most discussed. One of the lecturers held up an issue of The Watchtower and said, ‘This is a harmful and dangerous magazine that is undermining the unity of our State.’ Then he gave an example: ‘The members of this sect force their children to read such magazines and to pray. In one family, a little girl didn’t want to read the magazine, so her father tore her ear off.’ Alla was surprised, since she was sitting there listening to the lecture with both of her ears intact. She didn’t speak up, however, for she was afraid of losing her parents again.
“When Boris, our son, turned 13, he dedicated himself to Jehovah and was baptized. Once, he was street witnessing with some Witnesses his age, although our activities at that time were still under ban. They had no Bible with them and no Bible publications. Suddenly, a car drove up, and the boys were all taken to the militia station. After interrogating them and searching them, the militiamen found nothing other than a couple of Bible scriptures jotted down on paper. The boys were allowed to go home. When he came home, Boris proudly told us how he and the other brothers had been persecuted for Jehovah’s name. We were proud of our children, since Jehovah had supported them during a time of testing. After this happened, Daria and I were summoned by the KGB several times. One officer said: ‘These children should be sent to a juvenile penal colony. It’s too bad that they haven’t turned 14 yet.’ We were fined for our son’s preaching activities.
“Today, I live with my son and grandchildren who are also walking in the truth. My eldest daughter lives in Uzbekistan, and although she is not yet serving Jehovah, she respects us and the Bible and often comes to visit us. In 2001, Daria died, having faithfully served Jehovah to the end. While I still have the strength, I go with the congregation to preach in remote territories, searching for people ‘rightly disposed for everlasting life.’ (Acts 13:48) I believe that very soon Jehovah will fulfill the desire of each one of us, as written at Isaiah 65:23.”
PARENTS SET A FINE EXAMPLE
Vladislav Apanyuk serves at Russia Bethel. He remembers how his parents instilled love for God in him and his siblings from childhood: “Our parents were exiled from Ukraine to Siberia in 1951. They taught us to make our own decisions while striving to please Jehovah. I really appreciated that our parents could always talk about their own shortcomings before us children without embarrassment. When they made mistakes, they didn’t hide them. It was clear how much they loved Jehovah. My parents were often cheerful, especially when discussing spiritual subjects with us. We saw that they really liked to meditate and to talk about Jehovah. It motivated us to meditate on truths about Jehovah as well. We imagined how people would live in the new world when everything would be wonderful and there would be no more illness or wars.
“When I was in the third grade, my entire class was invited to join a Soviet youth organization called the Pioneers. For most children in the Soviet Union, joining the Pioneers was considered a great honor. My classmates had been eagerly awaiting this day. Each of us was supposed to write up a formal oath that he or she was ready to join the ranks of the Soviet Pioneers, the future builders of Communism. I refused. For this the teacher punished me by shutting me up in the classroom. ‘You can’t come out until you have written the oath,’ she said. A few hours later, some of my classmates knocked at the window and urged me to come out to play. I stayed in the classroom, firmly resolved not to write anything. Toward evening, another teacher came. Seeing me there in the classroom, she finally let me go home. This was my first victory. I was proud that I could do something that would make Jehovah’s heart rejoice. (Prov. 27:11) When I got home, I told my parents everything that had happened. They rejoiced, and Papa said, ‘Good job, son!’”
BIBLE CONSIDERED ANTI-SOVIET
Sometimes the brothers were put on trial just for possessing a Bible. Says Nadezhda Vishnyak: “My husband and I were not yet Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the truth had deeply touched our hearts. Once, the police came to my workplace and took me away in my work clothes. Pyotr, my husband, was also picked up from work. Before this happened, our house was searched, and the police found a Bible and the booklet After Armageddon—God’s New World. Pyotr did not think that they would arrest me, since I was in my seventh month of pregnancy.
“We were accused of acting against the Soviet authorities. We told them that we believed in the Bible, which was a much higher authority than the Soviet powers.
“‘The Bible is God’s Word, and that is why we want to live by its principles,’ I said.
“When the time came for our trial, it was only two weeks before I was due to give birth. Between hearings, the judge allowed for breaks so that I could go for a walk outside accompanied by an armed soldier. During one of those walks, he asked me what I had done. I had a wonderful opportunity to witness to him.
“The judge declared that the Bible and the literature that had been confiscated from us were ‘anti-Soviet.’ I was pleased that not only had my husband and I been accused of being anti-Soviet but also our literature and even the Bible! We were asked where we had become acquainted with Jehovah’s Witnesses. When we said that it was in a labor camp in Vorkuta, the judge angrily shouted, ‘Look at what is going on in our camps!’ We were convicted, and both of us were sentenced to ten years in corrective labor camps.
“Pyotr was sent to a camp in Mordvinia, in central Russia. I was put in solitary confinement. In March 1958, I gave birth to our son. During these difficult times, Jehovah was my best friend and helper. My mother took in our son and cared for him. I was taken to Kemerovo, Siberia, where I was interned in a labor camp.
“After eight years, I was freed before I had served the full term of my sentence. I remember that in the barracks, the forewoman loudly announced that I had never made any ‘anti-Soviet’ remarks and that our literature was exclusively religious. I was baptized in 1966 after I gained freedom.”
Bibles and Bible literature were particularly precious in prisons and camps. In 1958 at a camp in Mordvinia, the brothers were holding meetings regularly. So that the camp foremen could not surprise them, several brothers were appointed to stand guard within calling distance while one group was studying The Watchtower. If a foreman appeared, the nearest brother would say “coming” to the next brother standing guard and so on until it was heard by the group meeting together. Everyone would scatter, and the magazine would be hidden. But often the foremen would appear out of nowhere.
Once when the brothers were caught off guard, Boris Kryltsov decided to distract the foremen and save the magazine. He grabbed a book and ran out of the barracks. The foremen chased after him for a long time, but when they finally caught up with him, they saw that the book in his hand was a volume of Lenin. Although he was given seven days in solitary confinement, he was happy that the magazine had been saved.
SEEDS OF TRUTH SOWN IN MOSCOW
The preaching of the good news of the Kingdom in Moscow began with a small group. Boris Kryltsov was one of the early few who zealously preached in the country’s capital. He recounts: “I worked in construction management. Along with a group of brothers and sisters, I tried to preach informally. On learning what I was doing, the KGB searched my apartment in April 1957 and found Bible literature, whereupon I was immediately arrested. During interrogation, the inspector told me that Jehovah’s Witnesses were the most dangerous people in the State. He said: ‘If we let you go free, many Soviet citizens will join you. That is why we see you as a grave threat to our State.’
“‘The Bible teaches us to be law-abiding citizens,’ I said. ‘Also, it says that we must keep on seeking first the Kingdom and God’s righteousness. True Christians have never attempted to seize power in any country.’
“‘Where did you get the literature that we found during the search?’ asked the investigator.
“‘What is wrong with the literature?’ I asked. ‘It discusses Bible prophecies and doesn’t cover any political issues.’
“‘Yes, but it is published abroad,’ he answered.
“I ended up in a maximum-security prison in the city of Vladimir. I was searched thoroughly, but to my surprise I was able to take into the camp four issues of The Watchtower, hand-copied on thin paper. It was clear that Jehovah had helped me. In my cell, I recopied all four issues. I knew that besides me, other Witnesses were there, and they had been without any spiritual food for seven years. I passed these magazines along through a sister who was in charge of mopping the stairwell.
“As it turned out, associating with the brothers was a tattler, who told the prison wardens that someone was passing along Bible literature. They immediately began to search everyone and take all the literature away. Soon they came to me and found literature in my mattress. I received 85 days in solitary confinement. Nevertheless, Jehovah continued to care for us as before.”
LECTURES HELPED SOME TO LEARN THE TRUTH
Lectures were used to wage ideological warfare against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union. Says Viktor Gutshmidt: “Our camp was regularly visited by speakers who gave lectures promoting atheism. The brothers always asked questions. Sometimes the lecturers were unable to answer the simplest questions. Usually the hall would be full, and everyone listened very attentively. People came voluntarily because they were curious about what Jehovah’s Witnesses would say at the conclusion of the lecture.
“Once, the camp was visited by a lecturer who was formerly a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church. Everyone knew that he had renounced his faith during his time in a camp and had become an atheist.
“‘Were you an atheist before you went to prison, or did you become one afterward?’ asked one of the brothers when the lecture concluded.
“‘Think about it,’ answered the lecturer. ‘A man went into space, but he didn’t see God there.’
“‘When you were a priest, did you really imagine that God would be watching people from a distance of a little more than 200 kilometers [120 miles] above the earth’s surface?’ asked the brother. The lecturer said nothing in reply. These exchanges gave many prisoners food for thought, and afterward, some began to study the Bible with us.
“At one of these lectures, a sister asked permission to say something. ‘Go ahead; you’re probably one of Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ said the lecturer.
“‘What would you call a person who stands in a field and yells, “I’ll kill you!” when there’s no one around?’ said the sister.
“‘Well, you could hardly call him smart,’ answered the lecturer.
“‘If God doesn’t exist, why fight against him? If he doesn’t exist, then there is no one to fight with.’ The audience broke into laughter.”
THE PREACHER WILL ALWAYS COME AGAIN
Of course, lectures on Soviet ideology were not held just in the camps. They were mainly organized for the public in large cities. Experienced lecturers visited towns and cities, especially where there were large concentrations of Witnesses, such as Vorkuta, Inta, Ukhta, and Syktyvkar. Brother Gutshmidt says: “Once in 1957 a lecturer came to the Palace of Culture for the miners of Inta, where 300 people had gathered. He explained the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses and how they preach. After accurately describing our preaching method, which consisted of presentations made over 15 visits, he continued: ‘If you don’t show any sign that you object, the preacher will always come again. If after the second visit you still don’t object, then the third visit will follow.’
“In two hours he covered six of such visits word for word according to our method, and from his notes, he read all the scriptures used. My wife, Polina, wrote me about this while I was serving time in a camp and described how the brothers attending the lecture could hardly believe their ears. After this lecture, the newspaper published negative comments about the Witnesses, but it did contain a complete description of the Kingdom. Furthermore, the entire lecture was aired on radio. Thanks to that, thousands of city residents heard about how Jehovah’s Witnesses preach and what they preach about.
“In 1962 a speaker from Moscow arrived to give a lecture on Jehovah’s Witnesses. After discussing their modern-day history, he said: ‘Every month millions of dollars come pouring into Brooklyn in the form of voluntary donations to develop the Witnesses’ activities in various lands. But not one of the leaders owns even a wardrobe for his clothes. They all eat at the dining hall together, both the housekeeper and the president, and there is no difference between them. All of them call one another brother and sister, as we call one another comrade.’
“For a while, silence reigned in the hall. Then he added, ‘But we will not adopt their ideology, as fine as it might appear, because we want to create all of this without God, with our own hands and heads.’
“This encouraged us greatly because for the first time, we heard the truth about Jehovah’s Witnesses from the authorities themselves. Such lectures also presented many other people with opportunities to hear the truth about Jehovah’s Witnesses from the authorities. However, people needed to see firsthand how Bible teachings could help improve their lives.”
SURVEILLANCE NOT ALWAYS SUCCESSFUL
For many years, it was a widespread practice for the KGB to wiretap telephones, intercept letters, and engage in other means of surveillance. Sometimes the KGB secretly installed listening devices in the homes of brothers who took the lead in the congregation. Grigory Sivulsky, a district overseer for 25 years during the ban, recalls how in 1958 he discovered one such device in the attic: “We lived in Tulun, Siberia, on the second floor of a two-story apartment building on the outskirts of town. Once when I got home, I heard drilling noises coming from the attic of the building. I realized that the KGB were bugging the attic to listen in on us—a widely known method of theirs. Most of the literature was stored in the attic, as well as in the eaves of the roof.
“In the evening, when our family gathered together, I told them about my suspicions, and we agreed not to talk about congregation matters at home for the time being. We put on the radio, turned up the sound, and left it like that for the entire week. At the end of the week, a brother and I crawled up into the attic and found a cable that was attached to the listening device. The cable went between two rows of planks, around the eaves, and straight out to the city toward the KGB offices. There was no doubt that they were recording everything, but at that time, they got only radio programs.”
THE KGB INFILTRATE THE ORGANIZATION
The KGB saw that open persecution could not dampen the zeal of the Witnesses. Therefore, using cunning and deception, they began sowing seeds of distrust among the brothers toward those appointed to give oversight and the organization as a whole. One of the KGB’s strategies was to plant experienced agents in the congregations.
Several agents succeeded in receiving appointments to positions of oversight in the organization. These false brothers did everything possible to slow down the preaching activities by creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in which suspicion could develop toward the brothers taking the lead. Moreover, they personally withheld Bible literature from the brothers and turned it over to the KGB. One report states that just two agents working from 1957 to 1959 turned over to the KGB more than 500 copies of The Watchtower along with other literature.
In the mid-1950’s, some brothers began to lose faith in the Country Committee. Rumors abounded that some of the members of the Country Committee were actually working with the KGB and were betraying faithful brothers, including those who were duplicating the literature. Ivan Pashkovsky recalls: “In April 1959 a new Country Committee was formed, and I was a member. We were full of determination to defend the truth, regardless of the Devil’s efforts to disrupt the brotherhood. The most difficult period in the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the USSR had begun.”
As suspicions grew, some brothers stopped sending congregation reports to the Country Committee. The publishers in the congregations continued to be active in the ministry and turned in their reports regularly, but most of them did not know that the reports were no longer being sent to the Country Committee. By 1958 several thousand publishers had been cut off from the Country Committee by groups of brothers. In Irkutsk and Tomsk and later in other Russian cities, the groups of brothers who separated from the organization continued to grow. In March 1958 the separated ones had organized their own “country committee” in hopes that it would be recognized by all the congregations.
The Governing Body used all the means at its disposal to help the brothers in the Soviet Union regain their unity in Jehovah’s worship. Alfred Rütimann, who lived in Switzerland, was the branch manager for the Northern European Office, then overseeing the work in the Soviet Union. In 1959 he sent a letter to the brothers in Russia explaining that Jehovah would bless only those who were striving for unity and preaching the good news of the Kingdom. Some of the brothers who had separated themselves accepted this and began to make efforts to rebuild faith in the Country Committee. However, it took years before confidence was fully restored. Throughout this time, the Country Committee supplied Bible literature by means of couriers. Although the separated ones studied the literature, they continued to withhold their field service reports.
The KGB continued to sow seeds of distrust among the brothers. Some were deliberately left free, whereas others were sent to prison. Thus, the brothers in general had the impression that the free Witnesses were cooperating with the KGB. Many became overly suspicious and critical of the responsible brothers.
A PUBLICIZED TRIAL
A report sent by a government official from Irkutsk to Moscow stated: “[Jehovah’s Witnesses in Irkutsk Oblast] had developed large-scale underground activities. During the second half of 1959, KGB agencies discovered five underground printeries.” These printeries were located in the Siberian towns of Zima and Tulun, as well as the villages of Kitoy, Oktyabr’skiy, and Zalari. Following the discoveries came the arrests of those involved in the printing.
Four brothers who were initially arrested gave written statements about the printing operation. Cunningly, investigators coerced these brothers into doing so. Then the KGB distorted and published those testimonies in local newspapers. These four brothers were released, and eight others were arrested. Their trial was to be held in Tulun in April 1960. The KGB made preparations for a highly publicized, showy court process. They planned to use the four brothers who had been freed as witnesses for the prosecution. Many in the congregations developed the impression that these brothers had given themselves over to the KGB.
The KGB also intended to use this show trial to destroy the faith of any Witnesses in attendance and to turn the local population against them. With this in mind, the KGB organized pretrial tours of one basement where the brothers had printed literature for several years. Soon the town was buzzing with rumors about the activities of an underground “sect.” When the day for the trial came, the hall was filled with more than 300 people, including newspaper and TV reporters, some even coming from Moscow. Many of Jehovah’s Witnesses were also present.
THE COURT WAS IN UTTER CONFUSION
Unexpectedly, however, the KGB’s plans suddenly began to unravel. The brothers who had given testimony had realized their mistake. On the day before the trial, all of them made a firm resolve to do everything in their power to give glory to Jehovah. During the trial, they declared that they had been deceived and that their testimony had been distorted. Then they announced: “We are prepared to sit on the prisoners’ bench alongside our brothers.” The court was in utter confusion.
Moreover, under cross-examination the brothers on trial succeeded in giving answers that did not implicate others. For example, when the judge asked Grigory Timchuk who had built the printery in his house, he answered, “I built it.” When asked who printed the literature, he answered, “I printed it.” When asked who distributed the literature, he answered, “I distributed it.” When asked who bought and delivered the paper, he once again answered, “I did that too.” Then the prosecutor asked: “So who are you? Are you your own manager, supplier, and worker?”
“THIS LETTER WARMED OUR HEARTS!”
When it turned out that there were no witnesses for the prosecution, the prosecutor accused the brothers of conspiring with foreigners. As evidence, he presented a letter from Nathan H. Knorr of Brooklyn Bethel. Mikhail Savitsky, one of the brothers who attended the trial, says: “The prosecutor loudly began to read a letter that had been intercepted by the KGB from Brother Knorr to the brothers in the Soviet Union. For all of us Witnesses present in the hall, it was a wonderful gift from Jehovah. This letter warmed our hearts! We heard wise counsel from the Bible and encouragement to serve our fellow believers lovingly and to stay faithful under trials. Furthermore, Jehovah’s Witnesses were called on to trust in God in all things, to request from him wisdom and guidance, and also to work closely with appointed brothers. The prosecutor read the letter from the beginning to the very end. We listened with rapt attention. It seemed to us that we were attending a convention!” Though the court sentenced the brothers to various terms of imprisonment, those in attendance remained firm in their determination to serve Jehovah.
JOYFULLY REUNITED IN WORSHIP
It appeared to the KGB that they had successfully immobilized the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union, so they moved in for the final blow. In 1960, more than 450 brothers unexpectedly found themselves imprisoned together in a camp in Mordvinia. Included were those taking the lead among both groups of brothers—those who had separated from the organization and those who had not. The KGB thought that this would result in a final split within the organization. A derogatory article was published in the labor-camp newspaper explaining who was expected to be fighting with whom. However, the brothers found the way to unity, taking advantage of the fact that they were together.
Iov Andronic recalls: “The responsible brothers appealed to each Witness, including the separated ones, to strive toward unity. They gave special attention to an article in the September 1, 1961, Russian edition of The Watchtower entitled ‘Unity of All Men of Good Will Promised.’ The article gave principles and examples that showed how Jehovah directed his people in ancient times. It also discussed the need for everyone to strive toward peace and unity in the Christian congregation. By carefully studying the article, many realized the value of theocratic unity and responded favorably.”
SPIRITUAL FOOD THAT HEALED
That article in The Watchtower also helped the Witnesses outside of prison to regain their unity. The brothers appointed to take the lead prayed and read it together. The article stated that because of being ill, Brother Rutherford had given his last talk at a convention in August 1941. Encouraging the brothers to hold fast to Jehovah’s organization and not to follow any human leader, he had said: ‘Every time something rises up and starts to grow, they say there is some man, a leader, who has a great following. If you who are here believe that I am just one of the servants of the Lord and we are working shoulder to shoulder in unity, serving God and serving Christ, say Yes.’ The energetic and direct reply was a unanimous “Yes!”
Mikhail Savitsky recalls: “This unity was especially needed at that time by the Witnesses in the Soviet Union. We were so grateful to Jehovah that he had lovingly and patiently provided us with spiritual support. One brother who had separated himself from the organization immediately asked me for the magazine, saying, ‘Give it to me so that we can read this to the brothers in Bratsk and other places.’ I told him that we had only one copy of this magazine. But he assured me that he would return it after a week. He did return the magazine and along with it the service reports of many congregations from over a long period of time. Hundreds of brothers and sisters returned to the united family of Jehovah’s worshippers.”
Ivan Pashkovsky, a member of the Country Committee for over three decades, recalls: “Through one brother who came from abroad, we asked Brother Knorr to make a request to all the brothers in our country to unite and to submit to theocratic order. Brother Knorr agreed, and in 1962 we received 25 copies of his letter in two languages, English and Russian. This letter was really an awakening for many.”
THE SHEEP HEAR THE VOICE OF THEIR SHEPHERD
The Country Committee worked hard to unite the brothers. Under the circumstances, this was no easy task. By the summer of 1962, an entire district had been reunited with the organization. Spiritually mature brothers were appointed to a special committee. Jehovah blessed the efforts of these brothers, giving them “wisdom from above.” (Jas. 3:17) Aleksey Gaburyak, a circuit overseer from 1986 to 1995, recalls: “We met with the Country Committee in Usol’ye-Sibirskoye in 1965. The committee asked us to seek out all the brothers and sisters who had been scattered because of exile, imprisonment, and divisions and to reunite them with the congregations. We were given the addresses of some to start with. My territory included Tomsk and Kemerovo oblasts and also the cities of Novokuznetsk and Novosibirsk. Other brothers were assigned different territories. We were supposed to organize congregations and individual groups as well as appoint and train responsible brothers in the congregations. Moreover, we needed to work out a delivery route for the literature and organize congregation meetings under conditions imposed by the ban. Within a short time, we visited 84 brothers and sisters who had lost contact with the organization. How happy we were that Jehovah’s ‘sheep’ once again heard the voice of the Fine Shepherd and served him together with his people!”—John 10:16.
Soon many of the separated ones were reunited with the Country Committee and began to send in their field service reports. By 1971 more than 4,500 publishers had been reunited with Jehovah’s organization. By the mid-80’s, despite the ongoing ban, the preaching work was continuing, and new ones were coming into the congregations.
PRECIOUS BITS OF FILM
Reproducing spiritual food always involved a tremendous effort by the cautious but courageous brothers living in the Soviet Union. How, though, did the spiritual food get to them in the first place?
One of the basic ways was by means of microfilm. Working in a neighboring country, the brothers photographed our magazines, books, and brochures published mainly in Russian and Ukrainian but also in a number of other languages. This was painstakingly done page by page with the aid of a microfilm camera holding 100-foot [30 m]-long reels of film. Every published item was photographed many times over, producing multiple copies to facilitate distribution. Over the years, this amounted to spiritual food on many miles of microfilm. Cut to about seven inches [20 cm] in length for easy handling, strips of microfilm were then ready to be taken into the Soviet Union by courier.
UNDERGROUND PRINTERIES IN SIBERIA
The duplicating of Bible literature was difficult, but Jehovah blessed the work. Between 1949 and 1950 alone, the brothers duplicated and delivered 47,165 copies of various publications to the congregations. In addition, despite intense opposition, the Country Committee reported that during the same period, 31,488 meetings had been held in the country.
The demand for literature was constantly growing, which created the need for new printeries. Stakh Savitsky says: “In 1955 an underground printery was organized in our home. Since my father was not one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, we had to obtain his permission. For about two months, we dug a room under our porch, measuring about 7 feet by 13 feet [2x4 m]. During this time, we excavated about 40 cubic yards [30 cu m] of soil. We had to carry this soil out and hide it somehow so that no one would notice. When we dug to a depth of four and a half feet [1.5 m] below the ground, we hit permafrost. So while we were at our secular jobs, Mama would thaw the frozen soil by kindling a small fire on it with dry wood, trying not to attract the attention of the neighbors. Later, we lined the excavated space with boards to create a floor and a ceiling. As soon as the place was ready, a couple moved in. They were to work and live in this basement room. Mama cooked for them, did their laundry, and took care of them. This printery was in operation until 1959.
“In 1957 the brother overseeing the duplication of literature asked me: ‘Can you work in the printery? We need to produce at least 200 magazines a month.’ At first I made 200, then 500 magazines. However, the demand for literature was always growing. The work had to be done at night because we exiles worked under a supervisor in production jobs during the day and had only one day a week off.
“Coming home from work, I would descend to the printery. I almost never slept because a printing job, once started, had to be seen through to the very end. The ink would dry out, so it was impossible to interrupt the work to continue at another time. Sometimes I had to print 500 pages and then go over them making small corrections with a needle so that the text would clearly show up. There was hardly any ventilation, so it was hard to dry the pages once they came off the press.
“I delivered the printed magazines by night to the town of Tulun, 12 miles [20 km] from home. I did not know exactly where they went from there, but I knew that this literature was used by Witnesses in Krasnoyarsk, Bratsk, Usol’ye-Sibirskoye, and other cities and towns.
“In 1959 the brothers in oversight asked me to help build a new printery in Tulun, next to the railroad station. Once again I worked at the familiar tasks, such as excavating soil and setting up lighting, that I had done for the first printery. Jehovah gave us wisdom. Then a family moved in and worked there for about a year. Eventually, the KGB discovered the printery. It was reported in the local newspaper that ‘the lighting was set up in such a way that even experienced electricians had trouble figuring it out.’
“Outside of our family, only a few brothers knew about my work with the printery. Since no one ever saw me in the evenings, the brothers and sisters in the congregation worried about my spirituality. They would come to my home to visit me and encourage me, but I was always gone. Yes, in those times of total surveillance, the printery could be operated only under the strictest confidentiality.”
DUPLICATING LITERATURE IN MOSCOW
The authorities were well-aware that the Witnesses urgently needed Bibles and Bible literature. Repeated requests from the Governing Body for permission to print or import Bible literature were either rejected or ignored. Since there was such a deficit in literature, the brothers constantly looked for ways to duplicate literature in various parts of the country, including Moscow, in order to supply the congregations and groups with spiritual food.
In 1957, Stepan Levitsky was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment for possessing a single issue of The Watchtower, which was discovered under a tablecloth on the dining room table. Stepan relates: “After three and a half years, the Supreme Court annulled my sentence. Before I was freed, the brothers recommended that I move to some place close to Moscow to preach and engage in other spiritual activities. I found a place to live in an area two hours’ distance from Moscow and started to preach in the various regions of the capital. Jehovah blessed these efforts, and after a few years, a group of brothers and sisters was organized in Moscow. In 1970, I was assigned to a circuit that included Moscow, Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Gorki (now Nizhniy Novgorod), Orel, and Tula. I was to be in charge of providing the congregations with literature.
“I was sure that it was Jehovah’s will that Moscow and other parts of Russia receive adequate amounts of Bible literature. I expressed to Jehovah in prayer my willingness to do more in this regard. Soon I became acquainted with a professional printing expert who had connections with several Moscow printeries. Offhandedly, I asked him if it was possible to print a small edition of a book through some printery in Moscow.
“‘What book?’ he asked.
“From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained,” I replied nervously.
“A close friend of his worked in one printery. The friend was a Communist and a leader of a party organization. For cash, he agreed to print a small batch of the books. How wonderful it was for the brothers to be able to hold this Bible study aid in their hands!
“Printing our literature this way involved great risk, both for me and for the printer. After each batch came off the press, usually at night, it had to be taken out of the printery quickly without anyone noticing. Jehovah blessed the arrangement, and much Bible literature was printed at this printery, including the books “The Truth Shall Make You Free,” The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, and even the songbook! It truly was food for us at the proper time. (Matt. 24:45) We were able to use this printery for nine years.
“But one day, the printery supervisor unexpectedly came into the printery while one of our publications was being printed. Quickly adjusting the press, the printer began to run off copies of a health magazine. But since he was in a hurry, he accidentally put six pages of our publication into the magazine, and the supervisor took a newly printed copy to her office. Upon reading the magazine, she was very surprised to find material that was obviously completely out of place in that magazine. Calling the printer in, she asked how this material could have ended up in the magazine. After this, the KGB took up the case. The printer, under threat of a long sentence, told them everything he knew. Consequently, the KGB quickly found me out, as I was well-known to them as the only Witness of Jehovah in Moscow. I was sentenced to five and a half years of imprisonment.” The printer received three years.
“LET ARMAGEDDON COME!”
Many brothers and sisters spent long periods of time in prison cells. Grigory Gatilov spent 15 years in prison. He recalls: “My last prison had a romantic name: It was called The White Swan. It was located in a picturesque area in the Caucasus at the top of one of five mountains with the resort town of Pyatigorsk spread out between them. In this prison, I had the opportunity to share the truth with various people for an entire year. My cell was a wonderful preaching ‘territory,’ and I didn’t even have to go anywhere. The prison wardens brought new people into the cell and after a few days took them away, but I always remained. Only seldom would they take me to another cell. I tried to give everyone a thorough witness about Jehovah’s Kingdom. Many people had questions about Armageddon. Some prisoners were surprised that someone could spend so much time in prison for his faith. ‘Why don’t you deny your faith and go home?’ asked fellow prisoners and sometimes even the wardens. I was happy whenever one of them would show a sincere interest in the truth. One time I saw that someone had scrawled on the walls of a cell, ‘Let Armageddon come!’ Although in itself, life in prison had little joy, I was happy that I could speak about the truth.”
“ARE THERE ANY JONADABS HERE?”
Many Christian sisters zealous in Jehovah’s service also spent time in the camps. (Ps. 68:11) Zinaida Kozyreva recalls how the sisters displayed love toward one another and toward imprisoned non-Witnesses: “In 1959, less than a year after my baptism, Vera Mikhailova, Lyudmila Yevstafyeva, and I were taken to a camp in Kemerovo, Siberia. The camp held 550 prisoners. Several women were standing at the entrance when we arrived.
“‘Are there any Jonadabs here?’ they asked.
“We realized that these were our dear sisters. They quickly fed us and began to ask us questions. They radiated warmth and heartfelt love, which I had never experienced in my own family. Knowing that we were new to the camp, these sisters became our support. (Matt. 28:20) Soon it was clear to us that the spiritual feeding program here was very well organized.
“We became a true family. It was especially nice during the summer when we would harvest hay. The camp administration had no fears that we would run away or break the camp rules. A single soldier would stand guard over 20 or 25 sisters, although, in fact, we guarded him! Whenever someone would approach, we would wake him up so that he wouldn’t be punished for sleeping on the job. While he slept, we discussed spiritual topics during our breaks. It was a good arrangement both for him and for us.
“Late in 1959 some of the sisters and I were sent to a high-security camp. We were put into a cold cell that had a window without any glass. We slept on boards during the night and worked during the day. The authorities assigned us the task of sorting vegetables, and they watched our behavior. Soon, upon becoming convinced that we did not steal like the other inmates, they brought us some hay to sleep on and put glass in the window. We spent a year there, after which all the sisters were sent to a minimum-security camp in Irkutsk.
“This camp contained about 120 sisters. We spent one year and three months there. The first winter was intensely cold and had much snow. We did hard physical labor at the timber plant. The foremen searched us often, looking for literature. It seemed that this was their only way of passing the time. We had already learned the art of hiding our literature, sometimes too well. Once, Vera and I hid pieces of paper with the day’s text so well that we could not find them in our own work jackets. But a foreman found them, and Vera and I were sent to a solitary-confinement cell for five days. It was colder than 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit outside, and frost covered the walls of the unheated cell.
“There were small concrete shelves in the cell that were only big enough to sit on. When we got very cold, we tucked our legs against the wall, sat with our backs together, and fell asleep that way. Waking up suddenly, we would jump up for fear of freezing to death in our sleep. We were given a glass of hot water and 10 ounces [300 g] of black bread per day. Despite this, we were happy since Jehovah gave us ‘power beyond what is normal.’ (2 Cor. 4:7) The sisters were especially kind to us when it was time to return to the barracks. They prepared hot food beforehand and heated water so that we could wash ourselves.”
“ABLE TO GET ALONG WITH OTHERS”
Zinaida continues: “It was difficult to preach in this camp because there were few prisoners and everyone knew the Witnesses. The principle behind 1 Peter 3:1 was pertinent to this situation. Preaching without words is what we called it. We kept our barracks clean and orderly and were friendly and close in our relations with one another. (John 13:34, 35) Moreover, we were on good terms with non-Witnesses. We tried to behave in the way taught by God’s Word and were attentive to the needs of others. Sometimes we would help a non-Witness in various ways. One sister, for example, willingly helped other prisoners who needed to do any mathematical calculations. Many people realized that Jehovah’s Witnesses were different from people of other faiths.
“In 1962 we were transferred out of the camp in Irkutsk and taken to one in Mordvinia. Here too we tried to present a neat appearance and practice good personal hygiene. Our beds were always clean and neatly made. About 50 prisoners lived in our barracks, mostly our sisters. Only the sisters cleaned the barracks, since the other prisoners did not like to do such work. The floors of the barracks were always washed and sanded, and the camp administration gave us the necessary supplies. The nuns who were in the barracks with us refused to clean and the intellectuals were unwilling, so our living conditions depended mostly on our own labors. Whenever one of the sisters was freed, it was noted in her character report that she was ‘adaptable and able to get along with others.’”
TALL FLOWERS PROVIDE A RELIABLE COVER
“Once,” says Zinaida, “several sisters wrote home asking for seeds for flowers with big blooms. We told the administration that we wanted to plant some pretty flowers and asked if some rich, black soil could be brought into the camp for this purpose. To our surprise, they enthusiastically agreed. We planted flower beds along the barracks and made long pathways lined with flowers. Soon the camp had thick clusters of long-stemmed roses, sweet Williams, and other beautiful and, more important, tall flowers. Gorgeous dahlias and thick clusters of tall daisies in different colors bloomed in the central flower bed. We walked there, studied the Bible behind the flowers, and hid literature in the luxuriant rosebushes.
“Meetings were held while we walked. We organized ourselves into groups of five. Each of us sisters memorized one of five paragraphs from a Bible publication in advance. Then, after an opening prayer, we would recite our paragraphs in turn and discuss them. After the concluding prayer, we continued our walk. Our Watchtower magazines were made in the form of tiny booklets [like the one shown in the photo on page 161]. Every day we studied something, especially the daily text, and recited paragraphs for our meetings, which we held three times a week. Not only that, we tried to learn whole chapters of the Bible by heart and repeated them to one another to strengthen ourselves. In that way, we were not unduly concerned if during a search the authorities happened to confiscate our literature.
“Though the camp administration tried to find out through the other prisoners how our activities were organized in the camp, many prisoners were favorable to us. Living with us in the same barracks was Olga Ivinskaya, companion of the famous poet and writer Boris Pasternak, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was a writer, and since she was favorably disposed toward us, she was delighted at how well the Witnesses were organized. Jehovah gave us wisdom, especially so that we could have spiritual food among ourselves.”—Jas. 3:17.
“ENOUGH OF YOU ALREADY!”
“The literature came to us in various ways,” continues Zinaida. “It was often evident that Jehovah himself was overseeing the process, as he had promised us: ‘I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.’ (Heb. 13:5) Sometimes he simply blinded the eyes of the guards. One time in winter when our work brigade entered the camp through the gates, the guards searched us as usual by having us remove all our clothes. I came in last, carrying fresh literature under two pairs of trousers.
“Because it was cold, I was wearing as many layers as an onion! First, the forewoman searched my winter coat, then a sleeveless quilted jacket underneath it. I decided to drag out the process in hopes that she would get tired of it. I slowly took off one sweater and then another one. While she searched them carefully, I slowly took off several scarves, then a vest, then one shirt, and another. There remained two pairs of trousers and my felt boots. I slowly took off one boot and then the other and then just as slowly, started taking off the top pair of trousers. I then thought: ‘What should I do now? If she tells me to take off the bottom pair, I will have to dash away and throw the literature to the sisters.’ As soon as I took off the first pair of trousers, the forewoman screamed irritably: ‘Enough of you already! Get out of here!’ I quickly dressed and ran into the camp.
“Where did we get the literature? The brothers would leave it at a place agreed on beforehand, and we would take turns getting it and bringing it into the camp. Once the literature was in the camp, we hid it in a secure place, which we changed now and then. We were also constantly duplicating literature by hand and hiding the copies away. We worked under blankets by the light of a streetlight coming through the window; we let the light in through a small opening in the blankets. We always kept ourselves busy so as not to waste a single minute. Even when we went to the mess hall, each of us carried a piece of paper with a scripture on it.”
“YOUR TIME HAS COME”
In 1965 the Soviet government unexpectedly issued a special order releasing all Witnesses who had been exiled to Siberia from 1949 to 1951. However, most of the brothers and sisters were not allowed to return to their former place of residence. Those who did not want to remain in Siberia decided to move to an area where there was a greater need in the ministry.
Magdalina Beloshitskaya says: “We lived in exile in Siberia for almost 15 years. In winter the temperatures could reach -75 degrees Fahrenheit [-60 Celsius], and summer would bring clouds of gadflies and mosquitoes that would attack even our eyeballs. We survived everything with Jehovah’s help. But how wonderful it was that we could sow the seeds of truth in those cold Siberian territories! Every month for 15 years, we signed a declaration at the supervisor’s office, stating that we would not attempt to run away from our place of exile. The supervisor would sometimes come and spend the night at our house. At those times, he would be especially kind to us, asking many questions about the Bible and what was needed to live by its teachings. He would ask what motivated us to choose this way of life when we knew we would be persecuted for it. Once, we asked him if we had any hope of being released from the camp. He opened the palm of his hand and asked, ‘Is there any hope that hair will grow here?’
“‘No,’ I replied.
“‘That is how much hope there is for you,’ he continued. Then, after some thought, he added, ‘That is, if your God doesn’t act somehow or create a miracle for you.’
“One summer day in 1965, I went to the train station to mail a letter. Seeing me from afar, the supervisor shouted: ‘Magdalina, where are you going without permission?’
“‘I’m not going anywhere yet,’ I said, ‘I’m mailing a letter.’ Then, he came up to me and said: ‘You will be freed today. Your time has come.’ He then gave me a meaningful glance, as if to say, ‘God has freed you!’ I could not believe it!
“We were allowed to go anywhere in the Soviet Union except our former place of residence. It was as if we heard Jehovah’s voice saying: ‘Scatter yourselves, and preach. The times demand it, and it will not wait, so scatter yourselves.’ If we had been given permission to return home, many of us would have wanted to settle back in the hometowns where we had come from. But since no such permission was given, everyone moved to a new place. Our family decided to settle in the Caucasus.”
Thousands of Witnesses were scattered all over the Soviet Union. That same year at one state conference, an official asked in bewilderment: “Who can tell me how this Jehovist sect ended up in our new city, which was just built by young volunteers? A new, clean city and suddenly this Jehovist sect appears!” The authorities simply did not know what to do with the Witnesses. No one can stand in the way of God’s promise to fill the earth with “the knowledge of Jehovah.”—Isa. 11:9.
“YOU HAVE ‘HOLY WATER’”
The Witnesses were sent to penal camps for their preaching activities. Nikolai Kalibaba, who spent many years in such camps, recalls: “Four of us were sent to a penal camp in the village of Vikhorevka, Irkutsk Oblast, where there were about 70 brothers being held. There was no supply of drinking water; the only water pipe was connected to the sewage system, so it was dangerous to drink the water. The food was also unfit to be eaten, but Jehovah helped us. At this camp, no one but the Witnesses ever wanted to work. We were good workers. Soon the administration realized this, and we were sent to work assignments in other camp zones. We could bring back drinking water in buckets. Many prisoners came to us and said: ‘We heard that you have “holy water.” Give us half a glass, at least.’ Of course, we shared the water.
“Among the prisoners were people of good heart. Some of them were former thieves and other criminals. They learned the truth and became Jehovah’s Witnesses. Others seemed to be against the truth and openly opposed us. But once when a speaker came to our camp to give a lecture against Jehovah’s Witnesses, those people came to our defense and said that the lecture contained slander against the Witnesses.”
“WE WILL COME TO YOU IN GROUPS”
Asking Jehovah for wisdom, the brothers were always thinking of how they could use their circumstances to advance Kingdom interests. Nikolai continues: “We heard that we would soon be transferred to another camp, not far from Moscow, in Mordvinia. Before our departure, something interesting happened. To our surprise, certain officers and foremen who had guarded Jehovah’s Witnesses for several years came up to us and said: ‘We would like to ask you to sing your songs and tell us more about your beliefs. We will come to you in groups of 10 to 20 people, maybe more.’
“Afraid of what might happen to us and to them, they said that they would organize watchmen to stand guard over the place where we would meet. We said that since we had more experience with such matters, we would appoint our own watchmen as well. Their watchmen worked just like ours: Soldiers stood at intervals between the guardhouse and our meeting place. Can you picture this? A group of Witnesses sang songs to a group of officers and foremen, after which a brother gave a short talk on a Bible topic. It was just as if we were at a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses! That is how we conducted several meetings with groups of interested ones. We saw how Jehovah cared not only for us but also for these sincere people.
“We carried many magazines out of this camp into the camp in Mordvinia,” says Nikolai. “Many Witnesses were held there. The brothers gave me a suitcase with double sides where literature could be put. Everything was done so that during a search, the suitcase would not attract undue attention from the foremen. At the Mordvinian camp, we were searched very carefully. One foreman took my suitcase and exclaimed: ‘How heavy this is! There must be treasure here!’ Unexpectedly, he put my suitcase and other things to the side and began to search through the belongings of others. After the search, another foreman said, ‘Take your things and go!’ My suitcase was not searched, so I took into the barracks a supply of fresh spiritual food, which was very much needed.
“Not only that, but more than once I carried handwritten tracts in my boots. Since I have big feet, there was always room in my boots for many sheets of paper. I packed them under the insole and liberally coated the boots with grease. This grease was very slippery and smelled terrible, so the foremen kept far away from my boots.”
“THE FOREMEN WATCHED US, AND I WATCHED THEM”
Nikolai continues: “In the Mordvinian camp, the brothers appointed me to oversee the duplication of Bible literature. One of my responsibilities was to observe the foremen so that those hand copying the literature could have time to hide everything. The foremen watched us, and I watched them. Some foremen, determined to catch us in the act, would enter the barracks suddenly and often. It was hardest of all to keep a watch on them. Others would come into the barracks once a day. These were more tolerant and did not give us trouble.
“During these times, we copied from the originals, which were kept hidden in secure places. Several originals were stored in the stove, even in the stove in the camp administrator’s office. The brothers who cleaned for him had constructed a special chamber in the stove, and we kept the precious originals of many Watchtower magazines there. No matter how carefully the foremen searched us, the originals were always safe in the administrator’s office.”
The brothers became skilled at hiding literature. A favorite place was a windowsill. The brothers even learned to hide literature in tubes of toothpaste. Only two or three brothers knew where the originals were kept. When the need arose, one of them retrieved the original and after making a handwritten duplicate put it back in its place. In this way, the originals always remained in a secure place. Most of the brothers considered it a privilege to work at duplication, despite the risk of being sent to solitary confinement for 15 days. Viktor Gutshmidt recalls: “Out of ten years in the camps, I spent about three of them in solitary confinement.”
It seemed to the brothers that the camp administration had developed a special system for searching and confiscating Bible literature from the Witnesses. Some officers were especially diligent about this. Ivan Klimko relates: “One time in Mordvinian Camp 19, soldiers with dogs led the brothers away from the camp territory and conducted a careful search. Each Witness was stripped, even down to the rags he was wearing on his feet. But the brothers had glued a few handwritten pages to the soles of their feet, which escaped detection. They had also made tiny booklets that they could fit between their fingers. When the guards ordered everyone to raise his hands, the booklets stayed between the fingers, and again, some of them were saved.”
There were other ways of protecting the spiritual food. Aleksey Nepochatov says: “Some brothers were able to produce what was called spiderweb handwriting. A pen point was sharpened very fine, and each ruled row in a grid-lined notebook could contain three or four lines. A matchbox could hold five or six copies of The Watchtower hand produced in this fine writing. To write with such a fine hand, one needed to have excellent eyesight and be capable of great exertion. After all the lights were out and everyone else went to sleep, these brothers would do their writing beneath a blanket. The only light available was from a barely functioning lightbulb at the entrance of the barracks. When continued over a few months, this work ruined one’s vision. Sometimes a guard noticed, and if he was favorably disposed toward us, he would say, ‘Still writing, writing—when are you going to sleep?’”
Brother Klimko recalls: “On one occasion, we suffered the loss of a great deal of literature and even the Bible. All of it had been hidden in a brother’s artificial leg. After forcing the brother to remove the leg, the guards smashed it. They took photos of the scattered pages and published them in the camp newspaper. Still, this was useful in that it showed many once again that Jehovah’s Witnesses were engaged exclusively in religious activities. After this discovery, the gloating camp administrator said to the brothers, ‘There’s Armageddon for you!’ By the next day, however, someone reported to him that Jehovah’s Witnesses were meeting together, singing songs, and reading as usual.”
A CONVERSATION WITH THE PROSECUTOR GENERAL
In late 1961 the prosecutor general of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic came to the camp in Mordvinia for an inspection. Walking through the camp, he entered the barracks where the Witnesses lived. The prosecutor general allowed the brothers to ask a few questions. Viktor Gutshmidt recalls, “I asked, ‘Do you think that the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses is dangerous to Soviet society?’
“‘No, I don’t think that,’ said the prosecutor general. But later in the conversation, he unwittingly said, ‘In 1959 alone, Irkutsk Oblast was allotted a five-million-ruble budget to deal with the Witnesses.’
“By this he meant that the authorities well understood who we were, since five million rubles of State penal funds had been spent to clarify who Jehovah’s Witnesses were. This was an enormous sum of money. At that time, five thousand rubles could buy a nice car or a comfortable house. The authorities in Moscow must certainly have known that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not dangerous people.
“The prosecutor general continued, saying, ‘If we tell the Soviet people to do what they want with the Witnesses, they will wipe out all traces of you.’ He meant that Soviet society was negatively disposed toward the Witnesses. It could be seen from these words that millions of people had been influenced by atheistic and ideological propaganda.
“We then replied, ‘You will see the real state of things when the Witnesses are holding conventions from Moscow to Vladivostok.’
“‘Perhaps half a million people might come to be on your side, but the others will still be on ours,’ he said.
“Our conversation with the prosecutor general ended on that note. He was almost right. Today, more than 700,000 people attend the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses all over the territories of the countries of the former Soviet Union. There, people listen to the pure words of Bible truth instead of propaganda.”
“YOU’VE CREATED A RESORT FOR THE WITNESSES”
Viktor continues: “The camp administration showed the prosecutor general all the flowers and trees planted by the Witnesses as well as the packages they had received and kept in their barracks without anyone stealing them. He looked at everything with unconcealed amazement. However, we later learned that this man ordered the camp administration to destroy all the flowers and trees. He had told the camp administrator, ‘You’ve created a resort for the Witnesses instead of a labor camp.’ He also forbade the Witnesses to receive packages and closed the food kiosk where the Witnesses were allowed to buy additional food.
“To the joy of the brothers, though, the administrator did not carry out all the orders. For example, the sisters were still allowed to cultivate flowers as before. In the fall, they cut the flowers and made large bouquets that they presented to camp employees and their children. It was especially pleasant to see how the children would meet their parents at the gatehouse, pick up their flowers, and run off to school with happy faces. They loved the Witnesses.”
Viktor recalls: “One day at the beginning of 1964, a foreman whose brother worked for the KGB told us that a large State campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses was being organized. But in the latter part of that year, Nikita Khrushchev was suddenly stripped of his duties as the head of State, and the wave of persecution abated.”
KINGDOM SONGS AT A MAXIMUM-SECURITY CAMP
In the 1960’s, one maximum-security camp in Mordvinia allowed its inmates to receive packages only once a year, and then it was only as a ‘special reward.’ Searches were constantly conducted. If anyone was caught with a Bible scripture on a piece of paper, he or she was sent to solitary confinement for ten days. Moreover, at this camp the inmates received less food than at other kinds of camps. The labor was also more demanding at maximum-security camps; the Witnesses had to dig up the stumps of enormous trees. Aleksey Nepochatov says: “Often, we were on the brink of complete physical exhaustion. But we maintained alertness and didn’t give up. One way the brothers kept their spirits up was by singing Kingdom songs. We made up a male chorus with multitoned voices that, even without female voices, was indescribably beautiful. These songs cheered not only the Witnesses but even the officers, who would ask the brothers to sing during working hours. Once while we were felling trees, the convoy overseer came up to us and said: ‘Sing a few songs. This request is from the divisional officer himself!’
“That officer had heard the brothers singing Kingdom songs many times. This was a very timely request, since we were on the verge of complete exhaustion. We joyfully began to glorify Jehovah with our voices. Usually when we sang in the camp, the officers’ wives came out of the neighboring houses, stood on the porches, and listened for a long time. They especially liked the words of song number 6, ‘Let the Earth Give Glory,’ from an old songbook. The song contained many fine words and had a wonderful melody.”
HE ARRIVED AT “ANOTHER COUNTRY”
Even in the most unexpected situations, it was evident what Jehovah’s Witnesses were really like. Viktor Gutshmidt recalls: “At the end of one workweek when we were sitting around in the garden, some expensive electrical appliances were brought into the camp where we were being held. The driver making the delivery was, not our spiritual brother, but a prisoner from our camp, and the purchasing manager accompanying him was from another camp. Since the storeroom was closed and the man in charge was on vacation, the Witnesses were asked to accept the delivery of the merchandise and unload it.
“We unloaded the appliances and stacked them next to the storeroom not far from the barracks where our brothers lived. The purchasing manager was very nervous about making this unofficial delivery without a signed confirmation of receipt from the storeroom manager. But the driver assured him: ‘Don’t be afraid. No one here will touch anything. You’ve arrived at “another country.” Forget what happens outside the territory of the camp. Here you can take your wristwatch off and leave it anywhere, and tomorrow you will find it in the same place.’ The purchasing manager insisted that because the merchandise was valued at half a million rubles, he could not just leave it unsigned for.
“Soon men from the camp administration arrived, demanding that the truck leave the camp. One of them told the purchasing manager to leave the delivery invoice and pick it up the next day. Reluctantly, he left. The next morning he returned and asked to enter the camp to get the invoice signed, but the guard handed it to him already signed.
“Later the guard told us that the purchasing manager could not bring himself to leave the camp. For half an hour, he stood and stared at the gate and at the documents, turned to leave, and then turned again and stared some more. It was probably the first time in his life that he had seen anything quite like it. The delivery of valuable merchandise had been completed and the invoice had been signed without him, and everything had been done honestly. But most interesting of all, this had occurred at a maximum-security labor camp where prisoners labeled ‘especially dangerous offenders’ were serving their time. Yes, no matter how propaganda was directed against the Witnesses, when similar incidents occurred, all observers could clearly understand what Jehovah’s Witnesses were really like.”
“NOW THEY ARE PREACHING AGAIN”
In 1960, a few days after the brothers in the Mordvinian camp found themselves together, more than a hundred Witnesses were chosen to be transferred to Camp 10, a special prison in the nearby village of Udarnyy. This was an “experimental” prison for reeducating Witnesses. The inmates there wore striped uniforms just like those of the inmates of Nazi concentration camps. In addition to other kinds of work, the Witnesses had to dig up enormous stumps in the forest. They had a daily minimum requirement of 11-12 stumps per person. But sometimes, even working together for the whole day, an entire work brigade of brothers would be unable to dig up a single, gigantic oak tree stump. Often they sang Kingdom songs to encourage one another. Upon hearing their songs, the camp administrator sometimes shouted: “You Witnesses will have no dinner today to make you stop singing. I’ll teach you to work!” One brother at this camp recalls: “But Jehovah supported us. Despite the difficult conditions, we were spiritually awake. We always cheered ourselves up with the positive thought that we had taken Jehovah’s side in the issue of universal sovereignty.”—Prov. 27:11.
Along with several prison “educators,” each cell had its own educator, a military officer not lower in rank than a captain. The aim of these officers was to make the Witnesses renounce their faith. Anyone who would succumb, that is, renounce his faith, would be freed. Every month the educators would write up a character report on each Witness, signed by several prison employees. For each Witness, though, they always had to write, “Does not respond to reeducation measures; stays firm in his convictions.” Ivan Klimko said: “I spent six years out of a total of ten in this prison and was classified along with other brothers as ‘an especially dangerous repeat offender.’ As the officers told us, the authorities deliberately created exceptionally difficult conditions for the Witnesses in order to observe our behavior.”
Iov Andronic, who spent five years in this prison, once asked the camp commander, “How long will we be in this prison?” Pointing to the forest, the commander answered, “Until all of you are carried out there.” Iov relates: “We were kept isolated from others to prevent us from preaching. They watched us carefully. If even one of us needed to go to another area in the camp, we were always accompanied by a foreman. Several years later, when we were transferred to a minimum-security camp, some non-Witness prisoners told the camp administration: ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses won out. You kept them isolated, but now they are preaching again.’”
AN OFFICER RECOGNIZES HIS BIBLE
It was extremely difficult to bring literature into Camp 10, let alone a Bible. It appeared to the brothers that bringing God’s Word into the prison was almost impossible. One brother who was in this prison for a few years says: “For Jehovah, nothing is impossible. God heard our prayers. We asked for at least one Bible for a hundred Witnesses in this prison, and we ended up with two!” (Matt. 19:26) How did this happen?
A colonel was recruited to work as a prison educator. But how did a person without any Bible knowledge “educate” the Witnesses? He somehow managed to obtain a tattered Bible, and before he left on vacation, he asked an elderly Baptist prisoner to rebind it, after telling the foremen not to confiscate it from him. The Baptist boasted to the Witnesses that he had received a Bible, and he agreed to let them borrow it to take a look. When the brothers got their hands on this precious treasure, they quickly took it apart at the seams and distributed the pages to all the Witness prisoners for copying. Over the next few days, all of the Witnesses’ prison cells turned into a hand-copying workshop of sorts. Two handwritten copies were made of each page. One of the brothers recalls: “When all the pages were gathered together, there were now three Bibles! The colonel received his newly bound copy, and we got our two copies. One copy we used for reading, and the other was put into the ‘safe,’ a few ducts containing high-voltage cables. We made special places in these ducts. Since the foremen were afraid even to go near these, no one ever searched there. The high voltage was a reliable watchman for our library.”
However, during one search, the colonel found himself looking at a page of the hand-copied Bible. When he realized what had happened, he was bitterly disappointed and exclaimed, “This is part of the Bible that I myself brought into the camp!”
OBSERVING THE MEMORIAL
Each year, the brothers tried to observe the Memorial in the camps. In all the years that they spent in one camp in Mordvinia, none of the brothers missed this event. The camp administration, of course, tried to prevent the observance. They knew the date of the Memorial, and usually on that day, they would mobilize all the camp units to be on high alert. Toward evening, however, most guards got tired of watching the brothers closely, since no one knew the place or the exact time when the Memorial was going to be held.
The brothers always made efforts to obtain wine and unleavened bread. One time a surveillance guard unit discovered the emblems in a drawer on the day of the Memorial and confiscated them. Later, that unit was replaced by another guard unit, and a brother who cleaned the unit commander’s office was able to retrieve the emblems and pass them to the brothers without being seen. That evening the brothers observed the Memorial with the emblems during the third surveillance shift. The emblems were especially needed since one of the brothers was a partaker.
OBSERVING THE MEMORIAL AT A WOMEN’S CAMP
Other camps had similar problems. Valentina Garnovskaya remembers how extremely difficult it was to observe the Memorial at a women’s camp in Kemerovo. She says: “This camp held about 180 sisters. We were forbidden to meet together. In ten years we were only able to observe the Memorial twice. One time we decided to hold the Memorial in one of the offices that I was in charge of cleaning. The sisters secretly began to gather there, coming in gradually over a period of several hours before the Memorial was to begin. About 80 sisters made it. We placed unleavened bread and dry red wine on the desk.
“We decided to start without the song, so a sister gave the opening prayer, and everything began in a worthy and joyful manner. But then we heard unexpected noises and shouts and realized that the foremen were looking for us. Suddenly, we saw the unit commander himself looking through the window, although the window was high off the ground. Simultaneously, there was a loud banging at the door, and someone demanded that we open it. Bursting in, the foremen grabbed the sister giving the talk and led her away to solitary confinement. Another sister courageously took her place to continue the talk, but they grabbed her too. Right after her, a third sister tried to keep the talk going, so they herded all of us into another room, threatening us with solitary confinement. There we finished observing the Memorial by singing a song and closing with prayer.
“When we returned to the barracks, the other prisoners greeted us with these words, ‘When you all suddenly disappeared, we decided that Armageddon had come and that God had taken you up to heaven and left us here to be destroyed!’ These prisoners had already been with us for a few years without accepting the truth. But after this, some of them began to listen.”
“WE HUDDLED CLOSELY TOGETHER”
One camp in Vorkuta housed many Witnesses from Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltics, and other republics of the Soviet Union. Ivan Klimko recalls: “It was the winter of 1948. Although we did not have Bible literature, we wrote down on small pieces of paper what we could remember from old magazines and hid them from the foremen. But they knew that we had such pieces of paper. Long, arduous searches were in store for us. During cold winter days, we were herded outside and made to stand in rows of five. Often we were counted over and over again. It seems that they expected us to hand over those papers rather than stand there in the freezing cold. While we were being counted again and again, we huddled closely together and discussed a Bible topic. Our minds were always occupied with spiritual matters. Jehovah helped us keep our integrity to him. Some time later, the brothers were even able to bring a Bible into the camp. We divided it up into several parts so that the whole Bible would not be confiscated during a search.
“Among the guards were those who understood that a prison camp was no place for Jehovah’s Witnesses. These kind people helped us in whatever way they could. Some of them simply ‘closed their eyes’ whenever one of us received a package. Usually, each package contained a hidden page or two of The Watchtower. These sheets, which weighed no more than a few ounces, were more valuable than pounds of food. Physically the Witnesses were always deprived in every camp, but spiritually we were very rich.”—Isa. 65:13, 14.
“HE’LL DIVIDE IT INTO 50 PIECES!”
The brothers conducted Bible studies every week with those who displayed interest in the truth. Several prisoners—even those not interested in the Bible—learned that after 7:00 p.m., Bible studies were being held in the barracks, and they would try to be especially quiet. Iov Andronic recalls: “It was clear that Jehovah was caring for us and furthering his work. Furthermore, we tried to display Christian love to one another by applying Bible principles. For example, we shared with one another the food that we received in packages sent to us, which was an unusual practice in the camps.
“In one camp, Mykola Pyatokha was responsible for the distribution of food among the brothers. A KGB officer once said, ‘Give Mykola a piece of candy, and he’ll divide it into 50 pieces!’ That is how the brothers were. We shared everything that came into the camp, regardless of whether it was physical or spiritual food. It helped us and was a fine witness to sincere ones who could respond.”—Matt. 28:19, 20; John 13:34, 35.
BONUSES FOR GOOD CONDUCT
Camp employees who worked directly with Jehovah’s Witnesses in one camp received a bonus of up to 30 percent of their salary. Why? Viktor Gutshmidt explains: “A former cashier in the camp told me about this. She said that in camps where many of our brothers were held, the camp employees were told not to lose their temper or swear and always to be tactful and polite. For this good conduct, they would receive an increased salary. It was done purposely to show everyone that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not the only ones who lived exemplary lives and that nothing differentiated them from others. So the employees were paid for their good conduct. There were many working in the camp—medical personnel, workmen, accountants, foremen—a total of about a hundred people. No one wanted to lose the chance to make extra money.
“One day a brother working outside the camp overheard a brigade overseer cursing loudly. The next day the brother met him inside the camp and said: ‘Someone in the guardhouse must have made you really angry. You were swearing so loudly!’ The man admitted: ‘No, it’s just that everything was building up inside of me during the course of the day. So I went outside the camp to let off steam.’ Really, it was a burden for people to conduct themselves in the same way that Jehovah’s Witnesses did.”
PREACHING BEHIND GLASS
The brothers took advantage of opportunities to witness to others, and at times their efforts were richly rewarded. Nikolai Gutsulyak recalls: “We often obtained food products from the camp food kiosk. Every time it was my turn to get food, I tried to say a few words on some Bible topic. The woman who handed out the food always listened carefully and once asked me to read something to her. Three days later, an officer called me to the gate. He told me and another Witness to install glass in a window of the camp commander’s home.
“Accompanied by soldiers, the brother and I went into the city. When we got to the house, the door was opened by the woman who worked at the food kiosk. She was the camp commander’s wife! One soldier stood inside, and two stood outside on the street next to the window. Treating us to some tea, the woman asked us to tell her more about the Bible. That day we put glass in her window and gave her a thorough witness. When our conversation ended, she said: ‘Don’t be afraid of me. My parents were God-fearing people, just like you.’ She read our literature in secret, without the knowledge of her husband, who hated the Witnesses.”
“GO BACK TO YOUR JOBS”
There were some in authority who had a favorable view of the Witnesses and spoke out in their behalf. In the 1970’s in Bratsk, Irkutsk Oblast, the Communist party bureau of the local timber processing plant made a decision to fire all its employees who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. The brothers were told: “Since you don’t like Soviet authority, it won’t take care of you. Since you do like Jehovah, let him take care of you.” The brothers who had been fired decided that the best thing to do would be to preach openly, so they began to go from door to door. At one door opened by a woman, the brothers introduced themselves and briefly explained the purpose of their visit. From the kitchen came a male voice: “Whom are you talking to? Let them come into the house.” When the brothers entered the house, the man asked: “Why aren’t you at work? It is a workday.” The brothers explained how they came to be out of work.
It turned out that the man was a public prosecutor who had come home for lunch. Indignant, he went to the phone and inquired of the plant whether it was true that the bureau had fired all of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After receiving an affirmative answer, the prosecutor continued: “On what basis? Don’t you understand that you have broken the law? You had no right to do this! I order you to give all the Witnesses back their jobs and to pay them compensation for the three months during which they could not work because of your decision.” The prosecutor put down the receiver and turned to the brothers, saying, “Tomorrow, go back to your jobs, and continue working there.”
“I’VE BEEN HIDING LITERATURE SINCE 1947”
By the 1970’s, the brothers had become skilled at producing, distributing, and concealing literature. Sometimes, though, situations arose that called for quick thinking. Grigory Sivulsky recalls: “Once in 1976 our house was searched. The evening before, I carelessly put some reports and addresses of the brothers under a chest of drawers. During the search, the KGB looked very sure of themselves, as if they knew exactly where to look and what to look for. One of the KGB agents said to me: ‘Bring some pliers and a screwdriver over here—we’re going to take apart the couch.’ I prayed and answered in a confident voice:
“‘If you had sprung the search on us in the way you searched the homes of other Witnesses, you would have found something at my place. But it’s too late today. You won’t find anything.’
“‘And what would we have found?’ asked the agent.
“‘The Watchtower and Awake! magazines. But you won’t find anything today.’
“Offering them the tools, I said, ‘After the search, you’ll have to put the couch back together so it looks the same way it does now.’
“For a minute, they stood undecided. Sensing their uncertainty, I turned to one of them, a young man, and said: ‘I’m guessing that you have been searching for the literature of Jehovah’s Witnesses for no longer than three years. But I’ve been hiding literature since 1947. You don’t need to waste your time here; the literature is in a secure place.’
“To my surprise, they left. The reports and addresses of the brothers had been so accessible that any hand could have easily reached them.”
PERESTROIKA—A TIME OF CHANGE
The perestroika announced in 1985 did not immediately bring about the results anticipated. In some regions, the Witnesses were still convicted and sent to prisons as before. Nevertheless, in 1988 the Germany branch office wrote to world headquarters: “At the beginning of the service year, there were indications on the part of the authorities that they were willing to grant some more freedom to the [brothers in the USSR], as far as meetings and maybe literature is concerned, if they would register locally. They were able to celebrate the Memorial in most places without any disturbance. They feel that the attitude of the authorities toward them has drastically changed.”
In time, appointed brothers supplied the Germany branch with the mailing addresses of brothers who were willing to receive parcels of spiritual food. They, in turn, would make it available to the elders who would make sure that everyone received the spiritual benefits. By February 1990, there were about 1,600 of such personal addresses that were used for private mailings of spiritual food once a month.
In 1989 several thousand Witnesses from the Soviet Union were able to attend the special convention in Poland. Yevdokia, a Witness from the city of Naberezhnye Chelny, recalls: “We fervently prayed to Jehovah that we would be able to attend our first real convention. The director of the business I worked for, having heard that I wanted to leave the country, exclaimed: ‘What! Don’t you watch television? The border is closed, and they are not letting anyone through!’
“With full confidence, I replied, ‘The border will open.’ That is just how things turned out. At the customs checkpoint at Brest, only Jehovah’s Witnesses were allowed through. We were not even searched, and all of us were treated courteously. One non-Witness tried to pass himself off as a convention delegate and slip through with us. However, the customs officials quickly discovered and detained him. How did they know? The convention delegates all had bright smiles on their faces and held only small bags in their hands.”
A WARM RECEPTION IN MOSCOW
Forty years had passed since Jehovah’s Witnesses had applied to Moscow for registration of their activities in 1949. At that time, the brothers could not conscientiously meet the demands of Stalin’s government. But on February 26, 1990, the chairman of the Committee of Religious Affairs in Moscow received a delegation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The meeting was also attended by two vice-chairmen and three other colleagues. The delegation of Jehovah’s Witnesses included 15 people: 11 brothers from Russia and other republics of the Soviet Union, Milton Henschel and Theodore Jaracz from Brooklyn, as well as Willi Pohl and Nikita Karlstroem from the Germany branch.
The meeting was opened by the chairman with these words: “We are very happy to meet with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had heard much about you before, but this is the first time to meet you. We are open to discussion in the spirit of glasnost (openness).” The brothers told of their desire to apply for the registration of the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union. The chairman continued: “It is pleasant to hear this, and the time is appropriate. Soon it will be spring, a time for sowing crops. So we can expect good results and good fruits.”
When the chairman asked the brothers to introduce themselves, it was obvious that Jehovah’s Witnesses could be found in every corner of the country from Kaliningrad to the Far East. One circuit overseer said: “I represent four congregations in the Irkutsk Oblast. But I also care for the Far East, the Khabarovsk and Krasnoyarsk krays,* and the Novosibirsk and Omsk oblasts.” The chairman exclaimed, “You have an enormous territory; it exceeds that of many nations!”
A vice-chairman said: “We need to become better acquainted with your beliefs, since we do not understand some of them. For example, in one of your books, it says that God will cleanse the earth and remove all present-day governments. We cannot understand this.” Brother Pohl replied: “Jehovah’s Witnesses do not participate in any kind of violence. If a book states this, it is referring to specific Bible prophecies. Jehovah’s Witnesses preach about God’s Kingdom and everlasting life in a paradise on earth.”
“There is nothing wrong with that,” said the vice-chairman.
At the end of the discussion, the chairman said: “We are very glad to have met with you. You should be registered as soon as possible.”
In March 1991, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia received official recognition. At that time, Russia had a population of over 150 million and reported 15,987 Kingdom proclaimers. Now, more instruction from Jehovah was needed for the brothers and sisters in Russia.—Matt. 24:45; 28:19, 20.
“WHAT HAPPINESS, WHAT FREEDOM!”
Because Finland is close to Russia, the Governing Body asked the Finland branch to assist in organizing the international convention in St. Petersburg, Russia, held June 26-28, 1992. How did the brothers feel about having a convention in freedom after living under ban for more than five decades? One brother recalls: “There were thousands of us at the stadium. The tears flowed without stopping. What happiness, what freedom! We never even dreamed we would see such freedom in this system of things. But Jehovah made it possible. We recalled how five of us would be lying in an isolation cell in a camp surrounded by a high fence, and four of us at a time would take turns keeping the fifth one warm. The stadium was surrounded by a high wall. But we wanted to stay here as long as possible. The feeling could not be described.
“Our eyes were moist with tears for the whole convention. We cried for joy at seeing such a miracle. Although we were already over 70 years old, we flitted around the stadium as though we had wings. For 50 years we had waited for this freedom. First Jehovah allowed us to be exiled to Siberia, then we ended up in prisons and camps. But now we were at the stadium! Jehovah is more powerful than anyone. We stood looking at one another and sobbed. None of us could believe that this was really happening. Some young brothers surrounded us and asked: ‘Are you all right? Did someone hurt you?’ But we could not answer because of the sobbing. But then, through all the tears, one of us said, ‘We’re crying out of joy!’ We related to them how we had served Jehovah for many years under ban. And now we just could not believe that Jehovah had changed everything so quickly.”
Following that memorable convention, the Finland branch was asked to send 15 special pioneers to Russia. On July 1, 1992, Hannu and Eija Tanninen, a zealous couple from Finland, arrived at their assignment in St. Petersburg. At first, their biggest challenge was learning the language. After their first language lesson, they went out in service and offered people home Bible studies. Hannu recalls: “In the early 1990’s, almost everyone in the city wanted to study the Bible. During street work, people willingly gave us their addresses. All the people wanted literature. On the streets, if you gave a magazine or a tract to one person, ten others who saw it would also come up and ask for literature. People not only accepted the literature but often immediately began to read it on the street or in the subway.”
From October 1992 many special pioneers also came from Poland. The first group included some single sisters. Soon a second group from Poland arrived and was sent to St. Petersburg. After a year, a group of Polish pioneers was sent to Moscow. In later years, more than 170 volunteers from Poland, mainly Ministerial Training School (MTS) graduates, were appointed to serve in Russia.
A LARGE DOOR THAT LEADS TO ACTIVITY
After that international convention in St. Petersburg, the Governing Body gave the brothers permission to purchase a suitable plot of land (17 acres) [7 ha] with some old buildings in the village of Solnechnoye, close to the city. The time had arrived to build a Bethel for Russia. The Finland branch was asked to help with the construction project. In September 1992 the first group of volunteers from Finland came to Solnechnoye. Aulis Bergdahl, one of the brothers from the group who later became a member of the Branch Committee, recalls: “My wife, Eva Lisa, and I joyfully accepted the invitation to help build a Bethel in Russia. It was obvious to us that Jehovah was directing the work. Our brothers from around the world were supporting the project.”
Alf Cederlöf, the construction overseer from Finland, and his wife, Marja-Leena, were a source of inspiration to all the brothers at the construction site. The members of the Finland Branch Committee were also very encouraging. Brothers from Brooklyn headquarters visited Solnechnoye during the construction. Aulis recalls: “In 1993, Milton Henschel visited us after the international convention in Moscow. He was very encouraging both in his talks to the volunteers on the site and in his private conversations with them.”
There were about 700 volunteers—from Scandinavia, Europe, America, Australia, Russia, and the other former Soviet republics—working on the Bethel construction. They came from various cultures and backgrounds and had different work methods. But the work was accomplished, as Zechariah 4:6 says, “‘not by a military force, nor by power, but by my spirit,’ Jehovah of armies has said.” Jehovah was indeed building this “house.” (Ps. 127:1) Russian brothers willingly offered themselves for the Kingdom work. Most were young and new in the truth, but many of them had already started pioneer service. They were eager to learn how to do quick, high-quality construction and how to handle matters regarding the theocratic organization.
ORGANIZING THE WORK
Near the end of 1993, the members of the Russia Country Committee arrived at Solnechnoye. Invited were Ivan Pashkovsky, Dmitry Livy, Vasily Kalin, Aleksey Verzhbitsky, Anatoly Pribitkov and Dmitry Fedunishin. About a year later, they were joined by Mikhail Savitsky. The Governing Body assigned Horst Henschel from the Germany branch to assist the brothers in organizing the work.
One of the first things to be organized was the traveling work. In the beginning, five circuits were established in the country, two in St. Petersburg and three in Moscow and surrounding areas. The first five full-time circuit overseers were Artur Bauer, Pavel Bugaisky, and Roy Öster in Moscow and Kzyztov Poplawski and Hannu Tanninen in St. Petersburg. Later, Roman Skiba was also appointed as a circuit overseer. Matthew Kelly, an MTS graduate of 1992 from the United States, was assigned as a part-time district overseer.
Hannu Tanninen recalls how the first circuit visits were held in the early 1990’s: “I sent a letter about the upcoming visit to one congregation in Petrozavodsk, Karelia. The letter outlined how the meetings should be conducted during that week. When my wife and I arrived for the visit, an elder met us at the railway station, and we went to his home. He showed me the letter and said, ‘We received this letter from you, but since we did not understand what it meant, we decided to do nothing and wait until you came and explained everything.’
“At the time of the first circuit visit to Murmansk, there were 385 publishers conducting over 1,000 Bible studies. However, the number of those who were studying the Bible was actually much higher because many studies were conducted with groups of interested people. For example, one pioneer sister had 13 Bible studies, but over 50 people were studying with her!
“Our second assignment was to the Volgograd and Rostov oblasts. In Volgograd, there were only four congregations for over one million people. Brothers were eager to learn how to conduct meetings and Bible studies and how to preach from house to house. During every visit, we had to form new congregations. For the circuit overseer’s report, we counted how many had been baptized since the last visit. Every congregation had 50, 60, or 80 people baptized between visits, and one even had over 100! As a result, 16 new congregations were formed in the city in just three years.”
In January 1996, a Branch Committee was appointed in Russia. At the same time, the first full-time district overseers were appointed. Among them were Roman Skiba (Siberia and the Far East), Roy Öster (Belarus, Moscow, and St. Petersburg up to the Ural Mountains), Hannu Tanninen (Caucasia up to the Volga), and Artur Bauer (Kazakhstan and Central Asia). In those days, all the district overseers also served a small circuit in addition to their district.
VAST DISTANCES TO TRAVEL
Roman Skiba was one of the first special pioneers to arrive in Russia from Poland early in 1993. He recalls: “In October 1993, I received an appointment to serve in the circuit work. My first circuit included congregations in southern St. Petersburg, Pskov Oblast, and all of Belarus. Even so, it was not the largest circuit in Russia. However, I soon had to get used to traveling vast distances. In November 1995, I was assigned to a circuit in the Urals and appointed as a substitute district overseer. The territory I was serving covered the Urals, all of Siberia, and the Far East. One brother calculated that this district could contain 38 countries the size of Poland! There were eight time zones! About two years later, the branch asked me to visit a group in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.”
Brother Skiba continues: “One time in order to make it to Yekaterinburg from Noril’sk, north of the Arctic Circle, I had to take two flights, first from Noril’sk to Novosibirsk, then to Yekaterinburg. This trip was memorable in that it seemed to go on and on. The flight from Noril’sk took off after a delay of 12 hours, so it turned out that my wife, Lyudmila, and I had spent a day at the airport. Happily, we learned to do our personal study during our travels.
“Sometimes despite all our efforts, we were late for the congregation visit. Once to get to a congregation in the mountain village of Ust’-Kan in Altai, we had to drive a car on unpaved mountain roads. Unfortunately, the car broke down on the way, and we were not only too late for me to check the congregation records but also two hours late for the meeting. We were disappointed and thought that most likely everyone had left. How amazed we were to find 175 people waiting in the rented hall, although there were fewer than 40 publishers! It seems that while we were delayed, many interested ones from other mountain villages were able to make it to the meeting.”*
District conventions were being held for the first time in some large cities, where the brothers had no previous experience in preparing for a convention. In Yekaterinburg in 1996, the brothers selected a suitable stadium to hold the district convention. Roman Skiba recalls: “Grass was growing on the bleachers, and inside the stadium, birch trees stood seven feet [2 m] high. Just three weeks remained before the convention, and there were only three congregations in the city and its suburbs. Fortunately, the stadium director was willing to cooperate with us even though he didn’t understand how it would be possible to hold the convention in that stadium. The brothers took up the work, and by the appointed date, the stadium sparkled. The director could not believe his eyes!” Out of gratitude, the director allowed the brothers to hold the Pioneer Service School in one of the stadium’s buildings. A brother recalls, “After the convention, the stadium began to host sports events once again, which were a source of revenue for the city.”
Sometimes flexibility and endurance were needed to hold assemblies and conventions. In Vladikavkaz in 1999, the brothers were unable to rent a stadium to hold a circuit assembly that 5,000 people were expected to attend. So the brothers immediately began to plan an alternate assembly program. A shortened one-day program was held five times in Vladikavkaz in a rented movie theater. After that, over the weekend, the entire two-day circuit assembly program was held in two locations about a mile and a half [2 km] from each other in the city of Nal’chik. The assembly at one hall began two hours later than at the other in order to give the speakers from the first assembly time to be transported to the second assembly. It seemed to some of the traveling overseers that their voices would give out before the assemblies were finished. One brother later estimated that he had given 35 talks that week! Everything went well until late Saturday morning when the program in one hall was interrupted. Uniformed men with a dog entered the hall and announced that everyone had to vacate the building immediately for technical reasons. The brothers and sisters remained calm as usual and left the hall, eating their lunches and associating with one another outside the building. It turned out that a religious fanatic had made a phone call to the authorities and told them that a bomb was in the building. The hall was inspected and nothing was found, so the brothers were allowed to continue the assembly. After some minor changes were made to the program, the assembly successfully concluded and everyone had opportunity to benefit from the program.
STONES, SHIELDS, AND SWORDS
The seeds of truth were quickly dispersed throughout the country. Eija Tanninen recalls: “In 1998 we were preparing for the 15-hour trip by train from one district convention to another. The brothers asked if we could take with us a large quantity of props for the convention drama. It was rather risky because we knew that train attendants were usually not favorably disposed toward people with a lot of luggage. But with the brothers’ help, we boldly carried stones, shields, swords, and bags full of costumes to our four-person compartment. There we sat with all our things and two other passengers who were sharing the compartment.
“When the train attendant came to check our tickets, she asked why we were carrying so much luggage. We explained that these were props for a drama that would be presented at the district convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was very kind and told us that some time before, she had attended a public talk that my husband had given when we were visiting a congregation in her hometown. We felt Jehovah’s helping hand.”
Sisters could learn many things from one another. Eija recalls: “I can only imagine how much patience and humility were needed on the part of our sisters when we began our ministry in Russia because I couldn’t speak the language properly. I was touched to see how eager the sisters were to learn how to conduct Bible studies. Many of them were new in the truth, and some of them had been serving under ban when it was not always possible for instruction from Jehovah’s organization to reach them.
“We served in the town of Volzhskiy from 1995 to 1996. Often, when a sister invited me to go with her to a Bible study, several other sisters would ask if they could go along. At first I wondered why, but then they explained that they wished to see and learn how to conduct Bible studies. I told them that if the Bible student had no objections and would not feel shy in their presence, it would be all right for them to come. Usually, six to ten sisters would come, being of the opinion that it would not disturb the Bible student, and it really didn’t. After some months, I saw many Bible students who, in turn, began their own Bible studies with interested ones. At that time, Volzhskiy had two congregations. Ten years later, 11 congregations had been formed.”
HER PRAYER WAS ANSWERED
It was clear that theocratic instruction greatly benefited not only the brothers and sisters who were new in the truth but also those who had served Jehovah for many years under ban. Hannu Tanninen recalls: “In different situations we often felt the guidance of the angels and witnessed events that deeply impressed us. In 1994 we arrived at a new congregation in Novgorod, now also called Veliky Novgorod, and the brothers took us to the apartment where we would be staying for the week. In the apartment was a visitor named Maria, an elderly sister who had traveled about 30 miles [50 km] especially for the occasion. She had been in the truth for 50 years and wished to meet one of the first circuit overseers to serve after the ban. We asked her to tell us how she had learned the truth. She told us that when she was 17 years old, she ended up in a concentration camp in Germany and met Jehovah’s Witnesses there. She accepted the truth and was baptized in the camp by an anointed sister. Eventually Maria was released, and she returned to Russia to preach the good news of the Kingdom. After some time, she was arrested and imprisoned because of her preaching activities. She spent many years in Soviet labor camps.
“At the end of her story, we were moved to hear this humble sister say that over the last few weeks, she had been praying to Jehovah to show her if there was something wrong with her worship to him. Later that evening, I mentioned to her that a long time before, the article “Questions From Readers” in The Watchtower discussed a certain matter. It stated that for a baptism to be valid, it was important that it was performed by a Christian brother. Maria was very thankful. She felt that she had received an answer to her prayers. So she was happy to be baptized in the bathtub. Fifty years had passed since she had made her dedication in 1944.”
SPIRITUAL FOOD DELIVERED ACROSS 11 TIME ZONES
From the beginning of 1991, literature was mailed in small packages to Russia from Germany or Finland. In July 1993, the first truck from Germany arrived at Solnechnoye, carrying 20 tons of literature. Trucks from the Russia branch began to run delivery routes to Moscow, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. There were challenges. To deliver literature to Kazakhstan, for example, the brothers had to travel a distance of 3,000 miles [5,000 km] one way. They would get delayed at the borders, and during winter the trucks got stuck in snowdrifts.
Presently, Solnechnoye receives about 200 tons of literature every month. Bethel drivers use every opportunity to give a witness to border guards or customs officials. Among them are some who enjoy reading Bible literature. During an inspection, upon realizing that the Bethel truck belonged to a religious organization, one policeman loudly began to denounce religion in general. He related how he had been cursed by a priest whom he had stopped for a gross violation of traffic rules. The brothers explained to him how God treats people and what kind of purpose he has for the earth and for mankind. The policeman changed his tone of voice and became more friendly. He even began to ask questions, so the brothers got out their Bibles and enjoyed an upbuilding discussion with him. This so touched the policeman that he said, “I will find the Witnesses so that I can continue this conversation.”
From 1995 to 2001, the Japan branch cared for the delivery of literature to congregations in Vladivostok, in the Far East. From there, brothers sent literature by sea to congregations in Kamchatka. The brothers in Vladivostok became acquainted with the captains of some of the ships that went to Kamchatka. One captain agreed to transport our literature in his cabin free of charge and even helped to load the literature onto his ship. “Although I am not a believer,” he explained to the brothers, “I want to do a good deed. I like you people, and I like the way you are organized. When I arrive at the delivery point, I don’t have to wait a long time for the literature to be unloaded. Your people are like birds; they swoop down on the literature boxes and quickly take them away.”
GROWTH PRECIPITATES A NEED
For many years, the Russian edition of The Watchtower was a monthly magazine of 16 pages, printed on slightly larger-sized paper than that used currently. All of the study articles were translated into Russian and made available to the brothers in the Soviet Union, but they appeared long after the English ones. For study articles, the delay was anywhere from six months to two years, and the secondary articles came out even later. Beginning in 1981, the Russian edition of The Watchtower was published as a 24-page monthly magazine, and since 1985, a semimonthly one. The first four-color 32-page magazine printed simultaneously with the English was the June 1, 1990, issue.
Tanja, one of the translators, recalls: “Looking back, we know that much of what we translated and printed at that time did not meet the requirements for a natural and easy-to-understand translation. But it was the best we could do under the circumstances. And it was the food needed by people who had been starving spiritually.”
With the opening of the work in the lands of the former Soviet Union, our literature could be distributed widely. Russian translators working in Germany were eager to receive help. Two new developments contributed to improvements in the quality of translation. First, to their great joy, several brothers and sisters from Russia and Ukraine were able to go to the Germany branch for training as translators. Five of them arrived on September 27, 1991, to be joined later by others. So the Russian translation team began to experience a restructuring. It was not without difficulties. Their ‘wood and stone’ did not immediately turn into “gold” but went through all the stages mentioned at Isaiah 60:17.
Second, the Russian translators began to benefit from the work done by the then recently formed Translation Services Department. A seminar for translators was held at the Germany branch around the time that the first brothers and sisters from Russia came to Selters, Germany.
Ideally, translation should be done in the country where the language being translated is spoken. So it was exciting when in January 1994 the Russian translation team left the Germany branch to take up residence in the Bethel then under construction in Solnechnoye.
Of course, it was difficult for them to part with those who for decades had been quietly translating for their brothers behind the Iron Curtain but whose circumstances did not allow them to join the exodus of Russian translators. The group of 17 brothers and sisters, along with 2 other brothers who were to serve as special pioneers, left Selters with a lot of tears and hugs on Sunday, January 23, 1994.
“I AM GOD TO THE PATIENT”
For decades in Russia, doctors and medical personnel based their view of the religious beliefs of their patients on their atheistic education and the widespread use of blood in Soviet medicine. Therefore, whenever Witnesses who needed medical care requested that it be done without blood, their doctors responded with puzzlement or even rudeness.
The doctors would frequently even say, “Here, I am God to the patient!” If he did not agree with what the doctor said, the patient could be discharged from the hospital at once. Furthermore, the Witnesses’ Bible-based position on blood transfusions was often used by opposers in attempts to ban our activities in Russia.
At the Russia branch in 1995, the Hospital Information Desk began to function to provide medical professionals with accurate information on the position of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Several seminars were held in which elders from over 60 Hospital Liaison Committees learned how to provide doctors and medical professionals with necessary information as well as how to find doctors who would give Witness patients treatment without blood.
In Moscow in 1998, Russian physicians and their foreign colleagues held an international conference entitled “Transfusion Alternatives in Surgery,” the first of its kind in Russia. More than 500 doctors from many regions in Russia attended the conference. Between 1998 and 2002, Russian doctors gained enough experience to hold dozens of such conferences in several major cities in Russia. These conferences produced fine results.
Dr. A. I. Vorobyov, former minister of health and chief hematologist of the Russian Federation, in an official letter to lawyers who were defending the rights of Witness patients, noted that as a result of doctors’ reexamining their approach to blood transfusions, “the death rate among mothers giving birth in our country has been reduced by 34 percent.” Dr. Vorobyov then noted: “Before this, our medical system reported a death rate eight times greater than that among mothers giving birth in Europe because here midwives gave the mothers unnecessary blood transfusions.”
In 2001 the ministry of health of the Russian Federation sent a set of instructions to medical institutions throughout the country. The instructions stated that a patient’s refusal of blood transfusions on religious grounds should be respected by the doctor. In 2002 the Russian ministry of health released Instructions on the Use of Blood Components. These regulations specify that blood may be transfused only after the patient gives written consent. They also indicate that if patients refuse a transfusion of blood components for religious reasons, alternative methods of treatment should be pursued.
Many doctors changed their attitude toward the use of blood after working with the Hospital Information Desk representatives. One surgeon told them: “From [Witness] patients and from you, I heard that your refusal of blood transfusions is not just based on a whim but on a commandment from the Bible. I decided to verify this. I read all the Bible references cited in the material that you gave me. After reflection, I came to the conclusion that your position really is based on the Bible. But why are our priests silent on this point? Now, when the subject comes up, I tell other doctors that the Witnesses are the people who follow the Bible.” Today, more than 2,000 doctors in Russia offer bloodless medical treatment to Witness patients.
JOYFULLY SERVING IN THEIR ASSIGNMENT
Arno and Sonja Tüngler, graduates of the Gilead Extension School in Germany, have been serving in various Russian cities since October 1993. How has Jehovah’s work been progressing in the territories where they have served? Listen as they recount their experiences.
Arno: “We arrived in our assignment in Moscow. After a few weeks, we gave our first talks in the Theocratic Ministry School. After six weeks in Russia, I gave my first talk at an assembly. We were assigned to a congregation with about 140 baptized publishers, and the congregation territory was the size of a circuit in Germany! Our first territory was near our pioneer home. How exciting it was to be the very first Witnesses to preach there from door to door!”
Sonja: “Although we hardly knew any Russian, we sometimes did street witnessing by ourselves, talking to people and giving them tracts and literature. The local brothers and sisters supported us a lot, and it was easy to make arrangements with them to go out in the field ministry. They were very kind and patient, and they let us talk in our broken Russian. The householders were also very patient. The Soviet Union had collapsed, and people were deeply interested in religion.”
Arno: “A big help in learning the Russian language was participating in the door-to-door ministry and conducting Bible studies. By our fourth month in Russia, January 1994, we were already conducting 22 Bible studies, so we had many opportunities to hear and speak the everyday Russian of the people.
“Back then, there were remarkable numbers baptized at assemblies and conventions; it could be 10 percent or more of those attending. Not all congregations had enough responsible brothers to meet the need for elders and ministerial servants. One elder was even serving as the presiding overseer of five congregations! He asked me to give the Memorial talk for one of these congregations. In attendance were 804 people, and they had to leave the hall right after the talk because another congregation needed to meet there. As it turned out, the speaker for the second talk had a car accident on his way to the hall and could not arrive on time, so I had to give the talk again. That time 796 were in attendance! So for just two congregations, we had a Memorial attendance of 1,600, which shows the tremendous interest that people had in the truth at that time.”
JEHOVAH ‘SPEEDS UP’ THE HARVEST
In his Word, Jehovah promised to ‘speed up’ the gathering of his “desirable things.” (Isa. 60:22; Hag. 2:7) In 1980 there were 65 publishers in St. Petersburg who despite close surveillance by the KGB tried to hold conversations on Bible topics with the residents of the city. By 1990, more than 170 Witnesses were street witnessing informally in various parts of the city. In March 1991, the activities of the Witnesses in Russia were registered, and soon five congregations were active in the city. The international convention in St. Petersburg in 1992, as well as other theocratic events, resulted in rapid growth. In 2006, more than 70 congregations were active in St. Petersburg.
In 1995 there was only one congregation in Astrakhan, not far from the Kazakhstan border. The congregation had no elders or ministerial servants. Nevertheless, the brothers held both a circuit assembly and a special assembly day. The talks on the program were given by elders who traveled more than 430 miles [700 km] from Kabardino-Balkaria. These brothers did not know beforehand how many were going to be baptized at these assemblies. Roman Skiba recalls: “Another elder and I arrived two weeks before an assembly was scheduled in order to go out in field service with the congregation and to go over the questions with those desiring to be baptized. However, it turned out that we had absolutely no time to go out in the ministry. All of our time went to the discussions with 20 possible baptismal candidates!”
In Yekaterinburg in 1999, the brothers invited several merchants from a market to the Memorial. The merchants asked if they could invite their friends as well. How surprised the Witnesses were when about 100 people showed up at the hall! Although the rented hall was large, some had to stand.
FIFTY-PERSON BIBLE STUDIES
The preaching activity in Ivanovo Oblast, not far from Moscow, began toward the end of 1991 when Pavel and Anastasia Dimov moved to this region. A difficult task lay ahead—preaching in a territory of more than a million inhabitants. How would they begin? They decided on a simple and effective method: a literature stand. They set up a stand in the main square of the city and laid out brochures, magazines, and books. Passersby would stop, and many of them showed sincere interest. All of those interested in the truth were invited to a Bible study meeting. These meetings could hardly be called home Bible studies, since they were conducted in rented halls and up to 50 people were in attendance. The studies were similar to meetings and were held in two parts. First, the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth was considered, and then an article out of The Watchtower was studied. Studies were held three times a week and lasted three hours each. Three of such study meetings were held in various parts of the city. Pavel always wrote in his report that he conducted three Bible studies. When he was asked why he conducted so few studies during a time when most publishers were conducting 10 to 20, it came out that about 50 interested ones were attending each study! It was clear that Jehovah blessed that arrangement because soon many of those attending the studies expressed the desire to share the good news with others. After one study, Pavel announced that those wanting to become publishers could stay. No one left, and everyone became a publisher. The number of literature stands in the city grew, and soon many kiosks in the city squares and parks were filled with literature.
It was now time to move on to another form of service, the door-to-door ministry. But how was it possible to begin when almost none of the publishers had ever engaged in this form of service? Those who wished to learn how to preach from house to house accompanied the Dimovs in the ministry. Often, the publishers who wanted to learn were many. At times, Pavel was accompanied at the door by ten publishers at once! Amazingly, this did not intimidate the householders, and they were happy to talk to the group. Some even invited the entire delegation into their apartment.
New publishers were soon eager to preach beyond the city of Ivanovo, so trips to other cities in Ivanovo Oblast were organized. Groups of 50 would board the train, and the publishers would start preaching on their way to the city of destination and then split up into pairs. Working through apartment buildings, they invited people to a meeting that would be held that night. At the meeting, the brothers showed videos produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. They also gave a talk. After the meeting, all in attendance were offered a home Bible study, and those wishing to study gave their addresses to the brothers. Thanks to these activities, up to five congregations were formed in each of several cities in Ivanovo Oblast.
In 1994, just in Ivanovo alone, there were 125 publishers, and 1,008 people attended the Memorial. During the same year, 62 from Ivanovo were baptized at the district convention. A new congregation had formed in one day! Now in Ivanovo Oblast, 1,800 Kingdom proclaimers are busy in the Lord’s work.
MEETING TOGETHER DESPITE OPPOSITION
In several cities, it was not easy to get approval to use the stadiums for conventions. For example, in Novosibirsk, clergy-supported opposers organized a picket line right in front of the entrance to the stadium where the convention was being held. One sign made by such opposers read: “Beware of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” The picketers, however, did not notice that the last two letters of the first word of the sign were smeared, so that the sign actually read: “Take Care of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
In 1998, attempts to hold a circuit assembly in Omsk met with problems. Under pressure from opposers, local authorities at the last minute forced the director of the hall to cancel the rental agreement made with the Witnesses. Several hundred people who were arriving for the assembly gathered next to the hall. The frightened director, fearing for himself and for the hall, began to beg the brothers to tell the people not to resort to any violence. The brothers calmed him down, telling him that no one there would raise a hand against anyone. The delegates quietly took pictures of one another in honor of the occasion and dispersed. The director was convinced that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a peaceable people. Two weeks later, the assembly was held in another hall. The opposers learned of the assembly too late to stop it and arrived only toward the end of the program.
A CONVENTION “UNDER THE STARS”
From August 22 to 24, 2003, one of several sign-language district conventions was to be held in the city of Stavropol’ in Caucasia. Delegates arrived from 70 cities in Russia. However, the convention was in danger of being canceled because of fierce opposition from the city administration. The day before the convention, the director of the hall canceled the rental agreement. But on Friday, August 22, the brothers made an agreement with the administration of a circus to use their arena for the convention.
The program began at 3:00 p.m., but soon after the intermission, the electricity to the building was unexpectedly cut off. The delegates patiently sat in their seats, and the program continued an hour later when the electricity was restored, finishing up at 9:30 p.m.
The second day of the convention began with a power outage at 9:30 a.m. Soon the water was cut off. How could the brothers keep the convention going without any water or lights? At 10:50 a.m., the Convention Committee decided to open all the doors of the arena, since it was a bright sunny day outside. Using ingenuity, the brothers took large mirrors out to the street to reflect the sunlight into the hall and onto the speaker. Although the audience could now see the speaker, it soon became evident that the bright light made it hard for the speaker to see his notes! So using other mirrors, the brothers directed the sunlight onto a large ball of mirrors hanging from the circus dome. The circus arena was filled with many flickering lights, and now the speaker and all in attendance could concentrate on the program. It turned into a unique convention “under the stars.” That is how the delegates described the many points of light flickering across the dark circus arena.
Soon the mayor and several officials drove up to the arena. They were amazed that the Witnesses were continuing to hold their convention. Most of all, they were impressed by the conduct of the convention delegates. None of them protested or complained, and all their attention was directed toward the stage. The chief of police, who had earlier been aggressive toward the Witnesses, was so touched by what he saw that he said, “In my heart and soul, I am with you people, but we live in a world that does not like you.”
The officials left, and the power was soon restored to the arena. Despite the fact that the first two days of the convention ended late, the delegates remained in their seats until the final prayer. Regardless of opposition, the number of delegates increased daily, from 494 on Friday to 535 on Saturday and 611 on Sunday! In the concluding prayer, special gratitude for allowing them to hold this amazing convention was expressed to Jehovah. The delegates dispersed joyfully, more firmly resolved to serve their heavenly Father, praising his name.
DEAF ONES PRAISE JEHOVAH
Among the thousands of delegates from the Soviet Union who attended the special convention in Poland in 1990 were several deaf ones. Having received spiritual encouragement at the convention, these first “sowers” put forth intensive efforts to preach. As early as 1992, it could be said that this part of the field had also become ripe for reaping and that ‘the harvest would be great.’ (Matt. 9:37) In 1997 the first sign-language congregation was formed, and countless sign-language groups could be found throughout the country. In 2002 a sign-language circuit was formed—the largest circuit in the world in terms of area. In 2006 the publisher-to-population ratio among the country’s deaf was 1 to 300, whereas among the hearing population, it was 1 to 1000.
Quality translations of our publications into sign language were needed. In 1997 the Russia branch began sign-language translation. Yevdokia, one of the deaf sisters on the sign-language translation team, says: “For me, serving at Bethel and translating our publications into sign language is a special privilege. In the world, people do not trust deaf people and view them as inferior. But everything is different in God’s organization. First, I see that Jehovah himself trusts us, deaf people, to convey the truth in our language. Second, we feel confident among Jehovah’s people and are sincerely happy to be part of such a big family.”
THE GOOD NEWS IN EVERY TONGUE
Although Russian was the dominant language of commerce and education in the Soviet Union, about 150 other languages were spoken. In 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union into 15 countries, interest in the truth among many speaking those languages was stimulated, particularly in the newly independent lands. In harmony with Revelation 14:6, a concentrated effort was made to reach people of “every nation and tribe and tongue and people” within this vast territory. This has made it necessary to produce The Watchtower in 14 new languages in the Russia branch territory to provide spiritual food for tens of thousands of new disciples. To facilitate the spread of the good news, the Russia branch office supervises the translation of literature into over 40 languages, enabling Bible truth to touch hearts more quickly and more deeply than ever before.
The majority of these languages are spoken within the Russian Federation. For example, one can hear Ossetian spoken on the streets of Beslan and Vladikavkaz; Buryat, related to Mongolian, in the area around Lake Baikal; Yakut, an Altaic-Turkic language, spoken by reindeer herders and other inhabitants of the Far East; and about 30 other languages in Caucasia. After Russian, Tatar is the largest language group in Russia, with more than five million speaking it, particularly in the area known as Tatarstan.
Tatar speakers are often willing to read Tatar literature, though few accept literature in Russian. During the Kingdom News No. 35 campaign, a woman living in a rural area received a copy of the Kingdom News and wrote a letter requesting a copy of the Require brochure in Tatar. A sister sent her a brochure and a letter, and the woman responded with an enthusiastic eight-page reply. Soon she began to study the Bible, using the publications in Tatar. A man who received the Does God Care brochure in Tatar said that it helped him to see the world situation differently. These results would not have been possible without Tatar literature.
A woman who speaks the Mari language received Kingdom News No. 35. After reading it, she wanted to know more, but there were no Witnesses in the rural area where she lived. She contacted one of Jehovah’s Witnesses during a visit to the city and received the Knowledge book and other literature in Russian. After studying these on her own, she began preaching in her area, and soon she was studying with a group of interested ones. She then learned about a special assembly day in Izhevsk and traveled there in the hope of getting baptized. However, at the assembly she found out that those wanting to be baptized must make a thorough study of the Bible, and the brothers made arrangements to assist her spiritually. All of this resulted from reading the Kingdom News in her own language.
In Vladikavkaz, there was only one Ossetian-speaking congregation, and at circuit assemblies and district conventions, none of the talks were translated into Ossetian. In 2002, however, talks were translated for the first time. The Ossetian-speaking brothers were overjoyed! Even those who knew Russian well said that hearing the Bible message in their native language touched their heart. This contributed to the spiritual growth of the congregation and attracted many Ossetians to the truth. In 2006 a circuit was organized in Ossetia, and Ossetian-language circuit assemblies were held for the first time.
During one visit of traveling overseers to a group in the remote village of Aktash, Altai, about 30 people gathered in one apartment, although the group consisted of only a few publishers. Everyone listened to the public talk, but during the district overseer’s service talk, about half of those in attendance left. After the meeting, the district overseer asked the local brothers why so many had left. One elderly Altaic woman answered in broken Russian, “You are doing an important work, but I understood almost nothing!” For the next circuit overseer’s visit, the talks were interpreted, and all stayed to enjoy the entire program.
There is a large population of foreign students in the city of Voronezh. In 2000 a Chinese-speaking ministerial servant organized some informal Chinese-language courses. Many Witnesses responded to the need and began to preach to Chinese students. Chinese is an extremely difficult language, but the brothers did not give up. In February 2004 the first Chinese book study was organized in the city. That April, the first Chinese Bible student was baptized, and two months later, another was baptized. Now the book study is attended regularly by groups of interested ones, and about 15 Bible studies are conducted in Chinese. As the good news reaches all parts of this vast field, the Russia branch continues to respond to requests for more literature in more languages.
PIONEERS RECEIVE TRAINING
The Pioneer Service School has been held in Russia for several years. Each class is made up of 20 to 30 mostly local pioneers who do not have to travel a great distance to attend the school. However, this was not the case when the school was first held in Russia. Roman Skiba recalls: “I remember best the Pioneer Service School that was held in Yekaterinburg in 1996. It was attended by more than 40 brothers and sisters. To attend the school, many had to travel hundreds of miles and some over 600 miles [almost 1,000 km].”
Svetlana has been serving as a regular pioneer in the sign-language field since 1997. In January 2000, she attended the pioneer school in sign language. After the school, Svetlana related how the school helped her to improve the quality of her ministry and understand what it means to be a Christian in the family and in the congregation. She says: “I began to have greater love for others. I also realized the value of cooperation with the brothers and sisters, and now I accept counsel willingly. The quality of my Bible studies has also improved significantly, since I began to use illustrations in my teaching.”
Alyona serves as a pioneer in Khabarovsk, a city in the Far East, helping deaf ones learn the truth. To do this more effectively, Alyona wanted to attend the Pioneer Service School in sign language. What kind of difficulties did she have to overcome? Alyona says: “The closest sign-language pioneer school was held in Moscow, which is 5,600 miles [9,000 km] from Khabarovsk. To attend the school, I had to travel by train for eight days one way and the same number of days to return home.” But she did not regret that one bit!
Apart from schools to assist those in the sign-language field, hundreds of Pioneer Service Schools were held in Russia from 1996 to 2006. Pioneer training has directly contributed to the overall growth in the preaching work as well as in the congregations. Marcin, currently serving as a circuit overseer, recalls: “In 1995, I was appointed as a special pioneer in the Kuntsëvo Congregation in Moscow. I went to the public talk and Watchtower Study, and it looked like an assembly was being held! About 400 people were present in the hall. At that time, the congregation had 300 publishers. Less than ten years later, ten new congregations had been formed from that original congregation!
“While serving as a circuit overseer during 1996 and 1997, I witnessed amazing growth in the circuit. I visited a congregation in the town of Volzhskiy, Volgograd Oblast, and returned there six months later. During that time, there were 75 new publishers in this congregation. It was like an entirely new congregation! The spirit shown by these new, zealous publishers is difficult to describe. The meetings for field service, held in an apartment in a multistory building, were regularly attended by up to 80 people. Many stood in the stairwell and on the stair landings because there was no room for them in the apartment.”
YOUNG ONES GLORIFY JEHOVAH
Many young people display an interest in the Kingdom message despite their parents’ opposition. Relates one 20-year-old sister: “In 1995 when I was nine years old, Jehovah’s Witnesses preached to my parents, but they did not accept the truth. I was interested in knowing more about God. Happily, a friend who was also a classmate began to study the Bible, and I joined in on her studies. When my parents learned of it, they forbade me to associate with the Witnesses. Sometimes they locked me up alone in the apartment to stop me from going to the study. This continued until I came of age. I left home to attend school in another city and found the Witnesses there. How happy I was to renew my Bible studies! I began to love Jehovah with all my heart and was baptized at a district convention in 2005. After baptism I immediately began auxiliary pioneering. Now my parents are favorable to what has been so precious to me from childhood.”
Another sister recalls: “In 1997 when I was 15 years old, the Witnesses offered me a copy of Awake! I really liked the name of the magazine and its contents, and I wanted to receive it regularly. When my father learned that I was reading this magazine, he forbade the Witnesses to come to our home. Some time later, my cousin began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and early in 2002, I began to attend the meetings at the Kingdom Hall with her. There I heard that Jehovah’s Witnesses serve as missionaries, and I cultivated a burning desire to help others learn about God. But my cousin explained to me that first I had to stop smoking, bring my life into harmony with God’s will, and become one of God’s servants. I took this advice, and six months later I got baptized and immediately began auxiliary pioneering. I am happy that I have gained a real purpose in life.”
SEARCHING FOR “DESIRABLE THINGS” IN SAKHA
One circuit includes Amur Oblast and the entire territory of Sakha. During the 2005 service year, for the first time Yakutsk, the capital of Sakha, hosted a circuit assembly and a special assembly day. It was especially pleasant to see those of the indigenous population attending these assemblies.
For the convenience of the brothers, the circuit was divided into five parts, each of which held its own assembly. For traveling overseers, going from one assembly to another required 24 hours by train, then 15 hours by car, and 3 hours by plane.
Winter in this territory is very cold, with temperatures of minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit [-50°C] or lower. Despite this, the local publishers preach not only in multistory apartment buildings but also from house to house.
Two groups of publishers were formed early in 2005. One group is in the village of Khayyr, 50 miles [80 km] inland from the shores of the Laptev Sea above the Arctic Circle. The village has a population of 500, among them 4 Witnesses. In 2004 the Memorial held in this village had 76 in attendance. To visit the group in this village, the circuit overseer must first travel about 560 miles [900 km] by plane, then more than 280 miles [450 km] by car over snow-covered roads.
Another group was established in the remote village of Ust’-Nera, 60 miles [100 km] from the village of Oymyakon. Winter temperatures in this region sometimes reach minus 75 degrees Fahrenheit [-60°C]. To attend the circuit assembly last year, publishers from this group set out in two cars. They had to travel about 1,200 miles [2,000 km] each way, mostly through remote, uninhabited terrain in temperatures of minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit [-50°C].
One circuit overseer reported an interesting experience that occurred at an altitude of 13,000 feet [4,000 m]. “During the campaign with the Keep on the Watch! brochure, a series of assemblies were held in our circuit. The district overseer and I were flying to the next assembly. Unfortunately, we had run out of the featured brochure, so we offered the flight attendant the brochure What Does God Require of Us? She said that she had already received some Bible literature and to our surprise showed us a copy of the Keep on the Watch! brochure. How happy we were that our brothers had been busy! During our conversation, the copilot walked by. Taking an interest, he joined the conversation, and we talked almost throughout the entire flight. Pleased with the conversation, he took several magazines to share with the flight crew in the cockpit.”
THE GOOD NEWS ON SAKHALIN
On Sakhalin, an island located above Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, the Witnesses first appeared in the late 1970’s. Brothers from Vladivostok who were overseeing the preaching work in the region encouraged Sergey Sagin to expand his ministry and move to the island to preach to its inhabitants. While working at the port, Sergey tried to start conversations on Bible topics with the other workers. Soon he was conducting several Bible studies. Although Sergey was later obliged to leave the island, the seeds of truth eventually bore fruit.
The 1989 and 1990 conventions in Poland motivated many Witnesses in Russia to expand their ministry and move to where the need was greater. In 1990, Sergey and Galina Averin moved from Khabarovsk, in the Far East, to Korsakov, on Sakhalin. A few months later, two pioneers and several publishers moved to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, where there was only one Witness.
Pavel Sivulsky, the son of Pavel Sivulsky mentioned earlier and one of the two pioneers, now serves at Bethel. He recalls: “Upon our arrival at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, a brother and I stayed at a hotel, since we could not immediately find a place to live. We started in the door-to-door work next to the hotel and during our conversations asked people whether anyone had some accommodations for rent. We met people who asked us where they could continue their Bible discussions, but we had to tell them that we lived at a hotel and that as soon as we had a place to live, we would invite them. We fervently prayed to Jehovah to help us find jobs and a place to live. Jehovah answered our prayers. Soon we had jobs and an apartment. A householder invited us to stay at her apartment. She did not take any rent from us and even cooked our meals, which helped us spend more time in the ministry. Jehovah showed us that he was with us. Soon we were conducting many Bible studies and organizing book study groups. Two months later, we rented a house and conducted the meetings there.”
As the congregation grew, many new publishers took up the pioneer service. They displayed the pioneer spirit and moved to other parts of the island to spread the truth among the inhabitants. Jehovah abundantly blessed the zealous ministry of this fast-growing congregation, and three years later, in 1993, eight new congregations had been formed from the original one!
In time, many publishers left the island because of economic difficulties and also to expand their ministry. As earlier, such efforts were accompanied by growth. Now an attractive Kingdom Hall stands in the center of the town of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and the island has nine congregations and four groups, making up one circuit.
DESPITE MANY OPPOSERS, THE DOOR OPENS
In the first century, the apostle Paul said: “A large door that leads to activity has been opened to me, but there are many opposers.” (1 Cor. 16:9) Two thousand years later, the number of opposers has not declined. From 1995 to 1998, the Moscow prosecutor’s office instigated criminal proceedings against the Witnesses four times. Jehovah’s Witnesses were accused of inciting people to religious intolerance, destroying families, engaging in activities against the State, and infringing on the rights of other citizens. When these accusations could not be confirmed, a civil lawsuit was brought against the Witnesses in 1998, based on the same groundless accusations.
Approximately a year later, the ministry of justice reregistered the Administrative Center of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, recognizing that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not promote anything to incite people to religious hatred, to destroy families, or to infringe on human rights, and neither does their literature. Nevertheless, the prosecutor’s office brought forth the same charges again!
Some professors of religious studies realize that Jehovah’s Witnesses base their beliefs exclusively on the Bible. Says Dr. N. S. Gordienko, professor of religious studies at the Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University in St. Petersburg: “When the experts accuse Jehovah’s Witnesses for their teachings, they do not realize that they are actually making accusations against the Bible.”
Nevertheless, the Moscow City Court ruled to strip the Moscow community of Jehovah’s Witnesses of its legal status. However, this does not prevent our brothers from fulfilling the Bible command to share the good news with others. Jehovah’s Witnesses are convinced that the people of Moscow must make their own decision regarding their religious beliefs. Restricting this right would be an infringement on the freedoms of every resident of Moscow. Therefore, Witnesses in Moscow will continue to fulfill Jesus Christ’s commandment to preach and to make disciples. (Matt. 28:19, 20) At present the European Court of Human Rights is reviewing the decision of the Moscow City Court.
In September 1998, when hearings about the attempted liquidation of the Moscow community of Jehovah’s Witnesses first began, there were 43 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Moscow. Eight years later, there were 93! Jehovah has promised his people: “Any weapon whatever that will be formed against you will have no success.” (Isa. 54:17) In 2007, Jehovah’s Witnesses held their district convention at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, which once hosted the Olympics. This convention was attended by 29,040, and 655 were baptized.
GOD’S NAME IS GREAT IN RUSSIA
As recorded at Malachi 1:11, Jehovah God said: “From the sun’s rising even to its setting my name will be great among the nations.” Each new sunrise brings with it the possibility of finding yet another sheeplike person in this vast country. During the last service year alone, more than seven thousand were baptized in Russia. This is undeniable evidence that the “Czar of Czars,” as Jesus Christ is designated in the Russian Bible, is with his subjects as they go about this work.—Matt. 24:14; Rev. 19:16.
“Jehovah’s day will come as a thief,” stated the apostle Peter. (2 Pet. 3:10) Therefore, Jehovah’s people in Russia are determined to use the remaining time to seek out rightly disposed individuals from every nation, tribe, tongue, and people.
An oblast is a territorial subdivision.
A kray is a territory, province, or region.
See the article “The Altaics—A People We Came to Love” in the Awake! of June 22, 1999.
[Blurb on page 110]
“If anything in the records had been found against you, even the shedding of one drop of blood, we would have shot all of you”
[Blurb on page 128]
“If we let you go free, many Soviet citizens will join you. That is why we see you as a grave threat to our State”
[Blurb on page 219]
“Your people are like birds; they swoop down on the literature boxes and quickly take them away”
[Box/Picture on page 69]
What Is Siberia Like?
What comes to your mind when you think of Siberia? Do you envision a harsh, untamed wilderness with winters that are bitterly cold? Do you imagine a bleak land, a place of exile for those who ran afoul of the Soviet government? You would be correct, but that is only part of the picture.
Siberia is a huge region, larger than Canada, which is the world’s second-largest country. Today Siberia covers an expanse of more than five million square miles [13,000,000 sq km], extending from the Ural Mountains eastward to the Pacific Ocean and from Mongolia and China northward to the Arctic Ocean. It is a land rich in natural resources—timber, oil, and gas. In Siberia you will find mountain ranges, plains, swamplands, lakes, and great rivers.
For about a century and a half, Siberia was a place of imprisonment, forced labor, and exile. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, Joseph Stalin sent millions to work in camps there. In 1949 and 1951, about 9,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Moldova, the Baltic republics, and Ukraine were exiled to Siberia.
[Box/Pictures on page 72, 73]
The world’s largest country, Russia spans 4,800 miles [7,700 km] from east to west and 1,850 miles [3,000 km] from north to south with a total area of 6,592,800 square miles [17,075,400 sq km]. Encompassing a staggering 11 time zones, Russia wraps herself almost halfway around the Northern Hemisphere. Within Russia are the highest mountain and the longest river in Europe and the world’s deepest lake.
Russians make up 80 percent of the population. However, over 70 other ethnic groups live in Russia. Some of these number a few thousand people, and others, over a million.
Russian is the official language and is spoken by virtually all citizens. In addition, over 100 other languages are spoken, some of which are the mother tongue of close to a million people.
Russia is one of the world’s top oil and natural gas producers. Other major industries include forestry, mining, and manufacturing of all kinds.
Hearty dishes made with meat, fish, cabbage, or curd are eaten with dark rye bread, potatoes, and buckwheat. Russian cuisine is rich in fats and carbohydrates to provide the energy needed to endure long, cold winters. A typical meal could feature pelmeni (meat dumplings) in soup or topped with sour cream or piroshki (small pastries) with cabbage, meat, cheese, or potato filling. Popular soups are borscht, or beet soup, and shchi, or cabbage soup.
Summers are hot, and winters are dark and cold. Spring and autumn pass quickly, allowing the other two seasons to dominate.
(Maps of Russia are on pages 116 and 167)
Mount El’brus, Kabardino-Balkaria
Brown bear, Kamchatka Peninsula
[Box on page 92, 93]
A Battle for Hearts and Minds
The Soviet government did not seek to exterminate the Witnesses. Its aim was to convert them, either by persuasion or by force, to Soviet ideology. To accomplish this, the government employed the KGB—an intelligence and internal security organization. Here are some of the methods that the KGB used.
Searches: These were carried out in the homes of Witnesses, even at night. Some families were forced to change their place of residence because of frequent searches.
Surveillance: This included wiretaps, the interception of mail, and the planting of listening devices in the homes of the brothers.
Fines and the disrupting of meetings: Throughout the country, the local authorities tracked places where the brothers held meetings. All in attendance were fined. Often the fine was half or more of the average monthly salary.
Bribery and blackmail: To some Witnesses, the KGB promised apartments in the center of Moscow and also cars in exchange for their cooperation. In many cases, the brothers were told that they would be sentenced to many years in labor camps if they refused to cooperate.
Propaganda: Films, television, and newspapers depicted the Witnesses as people who were a danger to society. Lectures were held in prisons and work camps denouncing the brothers for supposedly using the Bible as a cover for political canvassing. Propaganda resulted in discrimination; teachers gave Witness schoolchildren lower grades, and employers denied our brothers benefits or vacations that they had rightfully earned.
Infiltration: KGB agents pretending to show interest in the Kingdom message studied and were baptized. Some worked their way into positions of responsibility within the organization. Their goal was to stop the preaching work by creating suspicion and divisions among the Witnesses.
Exile: Witnesses were sent to remote areas of the country. There the brothers had to eke out a living doing hard physical labor for 12 hours a day. During the winter, they faced the bitter cold; during the summer, mosquitoes and gadflies.
Confiscation and separation: Property, homes, and possessions were confiscated. Children were sometimes taken away from their Witness parents.
Ridicule and beatings: Many Witnesses, including women, were subjected to insults and ridicule. Some were beaten with excessive cruelty.
Imprisonment: The objective was to force the Witnesses to renounce their faith or to isolate them from their brothers.
Labor camps: The Witnesses were at the brink of complete physical exhaustion in such camps. Often they had to dig up the stumps of enormous trees. The brothers also worked in coal mines, built roads, and constructed railway lines. Separated from their families, camp workers lived in barracks.
[Box/Picture on page 96, 97]
Twice I Was Sentenced to Death
PROFILE He studied at a seminary before learning the truth. He spent 22 years in prisons and camps and died in 1998.
IN 1940, Polish Witnesses began to preach where I lived in Ukraine. I was visited by Korney, an anointed brother. We talked all night, and I became convinced that what he told me was the truth about God.
In 1942 the German army advanced, and the Soviet forces withdrew from the area where I lived. It was a time of anarchy. Ukrainian nationalists insisted that I join their fight against both the Germans and the Soviets. When I refused, they beat me until I lost consciousness, and then they threw me into the street. That same night, they came for me and took me to a place of mass execution. There they again asked me whether I would serve the Ukrainian people. I told them firmly and loudly, “I will serve only Jehovah God!” They then sentenced me to death. When one of the soldiers gave the order to shoot me, another grabbed the gun and shouted: “Don’t shoot! He can still be useful.” Enraged, another man started to beat me. He promised that he would personally shoot me in a week, but in a few days, he himself was killed.
In March of 1944, the Soviet army returned to our area, and the soldiers took all the men away, including me. This time, it was the Soviet army that needed fighters. At their assembly place, I met Korney, the brother who had introduced the truth to me. There were 70 other Witnesses there. We stood apart from the rest and encouraged one another. An officer came up to us and asked why we were standing apart from everyone else. Korney explained that we were Christians and could not take up weapons. Immediately, they took him away and told us that he would be shot. We never saw him again. They began to threaten us, saying that like him, we would all be shot, and one by one we were asked if we would join their army. When I refused, three soldiers and an officer took me to the forest. The commander read the sentence from the military tribunal: “For refusing to wear a uniform and take up weapons, execution by firing squad.” I earnestly prayed to Jehovah and then wondered whether he would accept my service to him, since I had not had the opportunity to get baptized. Suddenly, I heard the command, “Fire at the enemy!” But the soldiers fired into the air. Then the officer began to beat me. I was sentenced to ten years in prison and ended up in one of the labor camps in Gorki Oblast, the heartland of Russia.
I was freed in 1956 and later married Regina, a faithful Witness. We had been together for six months when I was unexpectedly arrested and sentenced to ten years of imprisonment.
After I was finally released, one official said to me, “There is no place for you on Soviet land.” He was wrong. How wonderful it is to know that the land belongs to Jehovah and that he is the one who determines who will live forever upon it!—Ps. 37:18.
[Box/Picture on page 104, 105]
“Girls, Are There Any Jehovah’s Witnesses Among You?”
PROFILE Born in Ukraine, she was forcibly taken to Germany, where she learned the truth. She continues to serve Jehovah faithfully in Russia.
ONE Sunday through my window, I heard melodious singing. The singing was by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Soon I was attending their meetings. I could not understand why Germans were persecuting other Germans for their faith. My Ukrainian friends with whom I had been taken to Germany began to hate me for associating with Germans. Once one of them yelled at me and then hit me across the face. My former girlfriends began to laugh.
After being freed in 1945, I returned to Ukraine. My grandfather said: “Your mama has lost her mind. She has thrown away her icons, and now she has some other God.” When we were left to ourselves, Mama took out a Bible and read from it that God hates idolatry. She then told me that she was attending the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I threw my arms around her neck and with tears in my eyes, quietly said, “Dear Mama, I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses too!” We both cried for joy.
Mama was very zealous in the ministry. Since almost all the brothers were imprisoned in camps, she was appointed as the group servant. Her zeal infected me as well.
In 1950, I was arrested for religious activities, and the court sentenced me to ten years of camp imprisonment. Five of us sisters were taken to the town of Usol’ye-Sibirskoye, in Siberia. From April 1951, we worked in railroad construction. We carried heavy railroad ties on our shoulders, two of us to a tie. With our own hands, we also moved and laid 11-yard [10 m]-long metal tracks that weighed 700 pounds [320 kg] each. We would get very tired. Once when we were going home exhausted from work, a train full of prisoners pulled up and stopped next to us. A man looking through the window asked, “Girls, are there any Jehovah’s Witnesses among you?” Our fatigue vanished. “Here are five sisters!” we yelled. The prisoners were our dear brothers and sisters who had been exiled from Ukraine. While the train stood still, they excitedly told us what had happened and how they had been exiled. Then the children recited to us poems that the brothers themselves had written. Not even the soldiers disturbed us, and we were able to associate with and encourage one another.
From Usol’ye-Sibirskoye, we were transferred to a large camp near Angarsk. There were 22 sisters there. They had organized everything, including territories for preaching. This helped us to survive spiritually.
[Box/Picture on page 108, 109]
I Was Sent to the “Fifth Corner” Several Times
PROFILE In 1949 he was exiled to Kurgan Oblast, Siberia.
IT SEEMED to us that every Witness in the Soviet Union was being tracked. Life was not easy, but Jehovah gave us wisdom. In April 1959, I was arrested for religious activities. Not wanting to give any of the brothers away, I decided to deny everything. The investigator pointed to pictures of brothers and asked me to name them. I said that I could identify no one. Then he showed me a picture of my fleshly brother and asked, “Is this your brother?” I answered: “I don’t know whether it is him or not. I can’t say.” After that, the investigator showed me a picture of myself and asked, “Is this you?” I said, “This person looks like me, but whether it is me or not, I can’t say.”
I was locked in a cell for over two months. Every morning, I got up and thanked Jehovah for his loving-kindness. Then I recalled a scripture from the Bible, after which I discussed the scripture with myself. Then I sang a Kingdom song but silently, since singing in the cell was forbidden. After this, I went over a Bible topic.
The camp I was sent to already held many Witnesses. The conditions of imprisonment were very harsh, and we were not permitted to talk. Very often the brothers were sent to the isolation ward or, as they called it, the fifth corner. I was sent to the fifth corner several times. There, prisoners were given only seven ounces [200 grams] of bread a day. I slept on a wooden plank that was covered with a thick layer of iron. The window had broken panes, and there were many mosquitoes. My boots were my pillow.
Generally, each brother worked out his own hiding place for literature. I decided to hide literature in the broom I used to sweep the floor. During searches, the foreman did not even think to look inside the broom, although he carefully checked every little thing. We also hid literature in the walls. I learned to trust Jehovah’s organization. Jehovah sees and knows everything and helps each of his faithful servants. Jehovah always helped me.
Even before the exile of my family in 1949, my father said that Jehovah could arrange matters so that people in far-off Siberia would hear the truth. We thought, ‘How could that be?’ As it turned out, the authorities themselves enabled thousands of sincere people in Siberia to come to know the truth.
When the country was swept by change, the brothers eagerly embraced the opportunity to travel to Poland for the international convention in 1989. Those were unforgettable days. After the final prayer, we continued to stand, and we applauded for a long time. What feelings we experienced! For many years I had become used to various hardships and problems, but we seldom had tears in our eyes. When we parted from our dear brothers in Poland, the tears flowed freely, and no one could—or even wanted to—stop them.
[Box/Picture on page 112, 113]
Doing Everything for the Sake of the Good News
PROFILE Pyotr met Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1943 and spent time in two Nazi concentration camps and a work camp in Russia. Later he served as a circuit overseer during the ban.
AFTER learning the Bible’s basic teachings in Nazi Germany, I immediately began to share them with my acquaintances, and many joined me in pure worship. In 1943 a priest denounced me to the Gestapo, who arrested me and accused me of seditious activities among the youth. Soon I ended up in the Maidanek extermination camp in Poland. Association among the brothers and sisters was especially precious. In the camp, our resolve to preach became even firmer. Many there showed an interest in the truth, and we looked for ways to give a witness about Jehovah’s Kingdom. Once I was given 25 strokes with a double-lashed whip. I stood up and said loudly in German, “Danke schön!” (“Thank you!”) One German exclaimed: “See how tough the lad is! We beat him, and he thanks us!” My back was black and blue from the lashes.
The work was hard, and we were completely spent. Those who died were burned in the crematorium, which operated night and day. I thought that I would soon be the one burning on the metal grid. It seemed that I would never leave the camp alive. I was saved when I was injured. All the relatively healthy ones were forced to work, and the rest were sent to other camps. Two weeks later, I was sent to the concentration camp at Ravensbrück.
Toward the end of the war, I heard rumors that the Germans would soon shoot us all. Then we learned that the guards had run away. When the prisoners understood that they were now free, everyone scattered. I ended up in Austria, where I was asked to enlist in the army. I immediately refused, declaring that I had spent time in concentration camps for my religious beliefs. I was allowed to return home to Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union. In 1949, I married Yekaterina, who became my faithful life companion. In 1958, I was arrested and sent to a Mordvinian work camp.
After my release, I shared in printing Bible literature. Once, in 1986, we had worked all night to print 1,200 pages. We stacked them on the floor, the beds, wherever we could. Unexpectedly, a KGB agent appeared, “just to talk,” as he put it. Yekaterina asked where he would like to talk, without thinking that he might want to come into the house. But happily, he wanted to talk to us in our outdoor kitchen. If he had entered the house, we would have been arrested.
To this day, we try to live up to our dedication and do everything for the sake of the good news. Our 6 children, 23 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren are faithfully serving Jehovah, and we are grateful to Jehovah that our children go on walking in the truth.
[Box on page 122]
Within the Soviet penal system, solitary confinement was a common form of punishment for such offenses as refusing to relinquish religious literature voluntarily. Prisoners were given worn cotton clothing and confined to cells.
Picture a typical cell. It was small—about ten feet [3 m] square. Dark, damp, and dirty, it was terribly cold, especially in winter. The surface of the concrete walls was rough. A small window was set deep into the yard-thick wall. Some of the glass panes were broken. An electric lamp provided some light; it was set into a niche in the wall and covered by an iron plate with small holes. Apart from the concrete floor, the only thing to sit on was a narrow, benchlike extension of the wall. You could not sit on this very long. Leg and back muscles soon tired and ached, and the jagged wall cut into your back.
At night the guards would push in a shallow wooden box for you to sleep on. It was reinforced with metal strips. You could lie down on top of the boards and metal, but the cold kept you awake. There were no blankets. Typically, prisoners in solitary confinement received ten ounces [300 g] of bread once a day and watery soup once every three days.
The latrine, little more than a pipe in the floor, gave out a strong, horrible smell. Some cells were equipped with fans that blew the stench from the sewage pipes into the cell. The foremen sometimes turned this fan on to demoralize the prisoner and punish him further.
[Box/Picture on page 124, 125]
Mordvinian Camp #1
Between 1959 and 1966, more than 450 brothers spent some time in this camp, which held a total of 600 inmates. One of 19 forced-labor camps in the Mordvinian area, this camp was ringed by a barbed-wire electric fence almost ten feet [3 m] high. This fence was encircled by 13 more barbed-wire fences. The soil around the camp territory was always freshly tilled so that anyone running away would leave tracks.
By completely isolating the Witnesses from the outside world, the authorities tried to subjugate them physically and psychologically. Nevertheless, the brothers were successful in organizing theocratic activities within the camp.
The camp itself became a circuit with its own circuit overseer. The circuit consisted of four congregations formed out of 28 book study groups. To help all stay spiritually strong, the brothers decided to hold seven meetings a week. At first there was only one Bible among them, so they made a schedule to read the Bible by congregation. At the first available opportunity, the brothers began to duplicate the Bible. Separate notebooks held individual books of the Bible copied by hand, and the original was carefully hidden in a secure place. In this way, the brothers could follow the scheduled Bible reading. The Watchtower Study was also organized. Sisters coming to visit their husbands brought miniature copies of the magazines into the camp, putting them in their mouths or in the heels of their shoes or braiding thin sheets of paper into their hair. Many brothers ended up in solitary confinement from one to 15 days for copying literature by hand.
This was a remote place isolated from other prisoners. Those in charge were careful to see that the Witnesses did not read anything while they were in there. Even so, other brothers thought of ways to provide them with spiritual food. A brother would climb to the roof of a building overlooking the yard where those in solitary confinement were taken for walks. He had small papers that were prepared beforehand with texts from the Bible and that were crumpled into little balls half an inch [1 cm] in diameter. Putting a ball into the end of a long pipe, he blew the ball in the direction of the Witness walking in the yard below. The Witness would bend down, ostensibly to tie his shoelaces, and pick up the spiritual food unnoticed.
For breakfast and dinner, the prisoners received gruel mixed with a small amount of cottonseed oil. Lunch consisted of watery borscht or other soup and a simple main dish. The bread that the prisoners ate looked like the felt used to make boots! Ivan Mikitkov recalls, “I spent seven years in this camp, and we almost always suffered sharp stomach pains.”
The brothers remained firm in the faith. Isolation could not upset the spiritual balance among God’s loyal servants, who continued to demonstrate faith and love toward God and their neighbor.—Matt. 22:37-39.
[Box/Picture on page 131, 132]
She Asked, “Why Are You Crying?”
PROFILE She became the wife of Viktor Gutshmidt. While in prison, Polina noticed how kind Jehovah’s Witnesses were.
I LOYALLY believed in the Communist ideal and upheld it. However, I was arrested by the Communists in May 1944 and sent to a labor camp in Vorkuta. For three years I was not told the reason for my arrest. At first, I believed that there was some mistake, and I waited to be freed. Instead, I was sentenced to ten years of camp imprisonment for making supposed anti-Soviet remarks.
Since I had a medical background, I worked in the camp hospital during my first few years of imprisonment. In 1949, I was transferred to Inta, to a camp for political prisoners. The camp regime was much stricter. An atmosphere of resentment, rudeness, immorality, apathy, and despair reigned among the prisoners. Rumors that everyone in the camp would soon be shot or sentenced to life imprisonment made the already tense situation even worse. Under the stress, several prisoners lost their sanity. The prisoners mistrusted and hated one another, since there were so many informers in the camp. People kept to themselves and adjusted as well as they could. Selfishness and greed were everywhere.
One group of about 40 female prisoners was markedly different from the rest. They always stayed together and were surprisingly pretty, neat, kind, and friendly. They were mostly younger women and even some little girls. I learned that they were religious believers, Jehovah’s Witnesses. The prisoners treated them in different ways. Some were mean and hostile. Others admired their behavior, especially their love for one another. For example, when one of the Witnesses would fall ill, the others would take turns keeping vigil at her bedside. In the camp, this was especially unusual.
I was amazed that this group of people was made up of so many nationalities, yet they were friendly to one another. By that time, I had lost all interest in life. Once when I was feeling particularly low, I sat down and cried. One of the girls came up to me and asked, “Polina, why are you crying?”
“I don’t want to live,” I answered.
The girl, Lidia Nikulina, began to comfort me. She told me about the purpose of life, how God would solve all mankind’s problems, and many other things. In July 1954, I was released. By then I had learned much from Jehovah’s Witnesses and was delighted to become one of them.
[Box/Picture on page 140, 141]
From Military Engineer to Preacher of the Good News
PROFILE He was transferred 256 times to various camps and prisons. He died in 1999.
I GRADUATED from the Moscow Institute of Engineering Communication in 1932. Until 1941, I worked as an engineer and a chief architect in a Moscow institute. I personally designed special devices for warships. I was taken into custody during the war and was eventually sent to a camp in central Kazakhstan, in the village of Kengir.
A group of Jehovah’s Witnesses there caught my attention. They were different from the other prisoners. There were about 80 of them among some 14,000 prisoners in three camp wards. The contrast between the Witnesses and the rest was especially evident during the Kengir uprising of 1954. Jehovah’s Witnesses did not participate in the rebellion and even refused to prepare for it. They showed amazing calmness and tried to explain their stand to the other prisoners. I was so taken with their behavior that I asked them about their beliefs. Some time later, I dedicated my life to Jehovah. In the camp, the faith of the Witnesses was tested, especially when the uprising was crushed by armed forces with tanks.
One time I was told that two generals had arrived from Moscow especially for the purpose of meeting with me. One of them said to me: “Vladimir, enough of this. You are a military engineer and an architect. Your country needs you. We want you to return to the work you were doing. How could you possibly enjoy being around uneducated people?”
“There is nothing for me to brag about,” I answered. “All of man’s talents are from God. Those who are obedient to him will enjoy the Thousand Year Reign of Christ’s Kingdom, where mankind will become perfect and educated in the real sense of the word.”
I was very happy that I had a chance to talk with those generals about the truth. Several times they implored me to take up my former work. However, I asked them not to trouble me anymore but to leave me in the camp with my spiritual brothers, whom I loved very much.
In 1955 my sentence was annulled. I began to work in an architectural agency not connected with the military. Through my efforts to sow seeds of truth abundantly, I began a Bible study with the family of one engineer. Soon he and all his family became Jehovah’s Witnesses and zealous preachers. But the KGB was watching, and during a search they found Bible literature in my apartment. The court sentenced me to 25 years of imprisonment, and I was sent to a Siberian labor camp in the city of Krasnoyarsk. I was transferred many times, to various camps and prisons. Once, I calculated that I had made 256 of such transfers over the course of my life.
[Box/Picture on page 147, 148]
We Needed Large Suitcases
PROFILE She learned the truth in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Upon returning to the Soviet Union, she worked for many years as a literature courier. She now lives in Caucasia.
WHEN I entered the concentration camp in 1943, I lost all interest in life. I remained in this state until I met Jehovah’s Witnesses. What happiness it was to return home to Ukraine with the firm hope of living forever on a paradise earth! I began to correspond with Witness sisters to support myself spiritually. However, the KGB intercepted my letters, and before long, I was sentenced to 15 years of camp imprisonment.
In November 1947, I was sent to a camp in Kolyma, where I served my sentence without seeing another Witness. Jehovah helped me to preach. Yevdokia, one of the prisoners, showed an interest in the Bible. We became friends and supported each other, both spiritually and emotionally. I had very little Bible knowledge, but what I had learned was enough for me to maintain my integrity to Jehovah.
Early in 1957, a year after I was freed, I moved to Suyetikha, Irkutsk Oblast. The brothers received me warmly and showed hospitality. They helped me to find work and an apartment. But what made me happiest was that I was asked to participate in theocratic activities. Since I had not yet been baptized, I was baptized in a large tub of water. Then I was ready to carry out responsibilities in Jehovah’s organization. My responsibilities included delivering Bible literature and correspondence.
The literature had to be delivered all over Siberia, central Russia, and western Ukraine. Everything had to be carefully planned beforehand. To deliver literature to western Ukraine, we needed large suitcases. One time, at Yaroslavl’ Station in Moscow, the lock on one of the suitcases broke, and all the literature fell out. Keeping calm, I prayed while I gathered up the literature unhurriedly. Somehow I bundled everything together and quickly left the station. Fortunately, no one paid any attention to me.
Another time, I took two suitcases full of literature from Ukraine through Moscow to Siberia. I put one suitcase under the lowest bunk of the train compartment. Soon two male passengers—KGB agents—came into the compartment. Among other things, they talked about the Witnesses, whom they said “spread literature and engage in anti-Soviet agitation.” I tried to keep calm so as not to arouse suspicion. After all, they were practically sitting on the literature!
Whether delivering literature or fulfilling other assignments, I was prepared for arrest at any time. There were many situations that taught me to trust in Jehovah in all matters.
[Box/Picture on page 158, 159]
“Your People Are Completely Different”
PROFILE She spent many years in different camps and died in 2002.
FROM my childhood on, I yearned to serve God. In 1942 my girlfriend, who was sincere, led me to her Russian Orthodox church so that, as she put it, I would “not end up in hell.” The priest, however, after hearing that I was Ossetian, refused to baptize me. Then he changed his mind and performed the ceremony after my friend gave him some money. In my search for the truth, I associated with Adventists, Pentecostals, and Baptists. Because of that, the authorities sentenced me to forced labor. In the labor camp, I met the Witnesses and quickly recognized the truth. After my release in 1952, I returned home and began to preach the good news.
Early one morning in December 1958, I heard a loud knocking at the door. Bursting in, soldiers began to search our home while two of them guarded me in a corner. My father woke up and became very frightened for his family, especially for his sons. My parents had five sons, and I was the only daughter. When my father saw how the soldiers were rummaging through all the rooms and the attic, he guessed that it had something to do with my faith. Grabbing a rifle, he yelled, “American spy!” He tried to shoot me, but the soldiers grabbed the rifle away from him. It was unbelievable that my own father could have shot me. When the search ended, I was taken away in a covered truck, but I was happy to be alive. For my religious activities, I was sentenced to ten years in prison.
In December 1965, I was freed before my sentence was up. My parents were glad to see me, but my father did not want me to stay in the house. Strangely enough, however, KGB workers forced my father to register me at his home and even helped me to find a job. My father was as hostile to me as before, but some time later, his attitude began to change. He met the brothers and sisters when they came to visit me. My fleshly brothers did not work, drank, and acted aggressively. Once, my father said: “I see that your people are completely different from what I thought. I want to give you a room to yourself so that you can hold your meetings there.” I could not believe it! My father set aside a large room for me and said: “Don’t be afraid. While you are all gathered together, I will stand guard, and no one will get in.” That is exactly how things turned out because everyone knew about my father’s rigid personality.
So under my own roof and under the protection of Jehovah and my father, we held our Christian meetings. They were attended by up to 30 people, for that was how many Witnesses were in Ossetia at that time. It was so pleasant for me to look out the window to where my parents were sitting on the street, guarding us. Today in Ossetia, about 2,600 zealous publishers are proclaiming Jehovah’s Kingdom.—Isa. 60:22.
[Box/Picture on page 162, 163]
I Was the Only Witness Left in the Camp
PROFILE He learned the truth in 1953 in a labor camp and was baptized there in 1956. He spent 25 continuous years imprisoned as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He died in 2003.
I MET a brother named Vasily early in 1953 in a prison cell. He said that he had ended up there for his faith in God. I could not understand how someone could be put in prison for his beliefs. This disturbed me so much that I couldn’t sleep. The next day he explained the matter. Gradually, I became convinced that the Bible is a book from God.
In 1956, I was baptized. At the end of that year, the foremen made a search and found that we had a large amount of Bible literature. The investigations went on for almost a year, and in 1958 the court sentenced me to 23 years for religious activity. By that time, I had already spent five and a half years in the camps. The entire time, 28 years and 6 months, I served without once tasting freedom.
In April 1962 the court pronounced me “an especially dangerous offender,” and I was transferred to a maximum-security camp, where I spent 11 years. There were many things that made this kind of camp “special.” For example, the food allowance per person was 11 kopecks a day, less than the amount needed to buy a loaf of bread at that time. At a height of 6 feet 3 inches [192 cm], I weighed only 130 pounds [59 kg]. My skin shriveled up and fell off in scales.
Since I was a good construction worker, I was often sent to do repairs at the officials’ apartments. No one feared me, and the residents didn’t bother to hide their belongings in the apartments. When the wife of one official learned that I would work on their apartment, she didn’t take her six-year-old son to kindergarten. It was an interesting scene: an “especially dangerous offender” spending the entire day alone in an apartment with a six-year-old child! It was clear that no one believed that I was a criminal, let alone an “especially dangerous” one.
Gradually, all the brothers in our camp were freed. In 1974, I was the only Witness left in the camp. I stayed there for seven more years until I was freed in August 1981. Jehovah continued to support me spiritually. How? For those seven years, I received The Watchtower in letters. One brother regularly sent me these letters, containing neatly handwritten articles from a new issue. Each time, the camp censor handed me the letter already opened. We both knew the exact contents of the letter. To this day, I am not sure what motivated him to take such a risk, but I am glad that he worked there for the entire seven years. Most of all, I am grateful to Jehovah. During all those years, I learned to trust in Jehovah and received strength from him.—1 Pet. 5:7.
[Box/Picture on page 168, 169]
After the War, I Returned to Russia
PROFILE He learned the truth in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1943 and spent 19 years imprisoned in Russia. He served as a regular pioneer for over 30 years, most of that time under ban.
AT THE age of 20, Aleksey was sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Later, he was transferred to the Buchenwald camp, where he learned the truth. Shortly before his release, two anointed Witnesses said to him: “Aleksey, it would be good if after the war, you return to Russia. It is an enormous country where reapers are especially needed. The situation there is difficult, so be prepared to meet every kind of trial. We will be praying for you and for those who will listen.”
The British freed Aleksey in 1945. He returned to Russia, where he was promptly sentenced to ten years of imprisonment for refusing to vote. He writes: “At first, I was the only Witness in the prison. I asked Jehovah for direction in seeking out sheep, and soon there were 13 of us! During all this time, we had no Bible literature. We would copy scriptures from novels that we checked out from the prison library.”
Aleksey served out his ten-year sentence. Upon being released, he went to an area where he knew that many people believed in Jesus. He says: “The people were spiritually hungry. They came to me day and night; they came with children. Everything they heard, they checked in the Bible.”
Over the next few years, Aleksey helped more than 70 people to baptism. One of them was Maria, who became his wife. He recalls: “The KGB came after me. I was arrested and sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment. Then they arrested Maria. Before the trial, Maria spent seven months in solitary confinement. The investigator said that he would free her immediately if she would renounce Jehovah. Maria refused. The court sentenced her to seven years of imprisonment in labor camps. A spiritual sister took in our baby daughter and cared for her.”
Aleksey and Maria were freed before finishing their terms. They moved to Tver’ Oblast. There the authorities and local people were strongly opposed to them, and one neighbor set fire to their house. In the years that followed, they were forced to move many times; yet in each new place, they made new disciples.
Aleksey says: “During our years of imprisonment, we could not read God’s Word. Since then, we have set for ourselves the goal of reading the Bible every day. Maria and I have now read the Bible through more than 40 times. It is God’s Word that has given us strength and zeal in the ministry.”
In all, Aleksey spent 4 years in Nazi concentration camps and 19 years in Russian prisons and camps. During his 30 years in the pioneer service, he and his wife helped dozens to come to know and love Jehovah.
[Box/Picture on page 177, 178]
The Soldier Was Right
PROFILE Although she had to spend many years out of contact with the congregation, she faithfully continued to preach the good news.
IN 1947 a Witness spoke with me at the market. That evening I visited her at her home, and we talked for several hours. I immediately decided that like her, I would zealously serve Jehovah! I told her, “You are preaching, and I will too.”
In 1949, I was arrested in L’viv, Ukraine, for preaching and was taken from my husband and two small daughters. The so-called troika, a closed court hearing consisting of three judges, sentenced me to death by firing squad. Reading the sentence, a woman, one of the three judges, added, “Since you have two children, we have decided to mitigate the death penalty to 25 years of imprisonment.”
I was taken to a prison cell where there were only men. They already knew that I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Upon hearing that I had received 25 years, they were amazed that I was so calm. When I was led out of the prison, a young soldier handed me a parcel of food and kindly said, “Don’t be afraid; everything will be just fine.”
Until 1953, I served my sentence in a camp in northern Russia. The camp contained many sisters from various republics of the Soviet Union. We loved one another like family.
Through our conduct, we sisters tried to give a good witness to others in hopes that it would motivate them to serve God. We had to work long and hard. I was freed from the camp before the end of my term, but I ended up in another kind of isolation. For over five years, I had no contact with the congregation. This was much more difficult than imprisonment. Despite these circumstances, I always felt Jehovah’s support and unchanging love. I read the Bible a lot and meditated on what I read, and this strengthened me spiritually.
In an unusual way, Jehovah helped me get in contact with the Witnesses. In the newspaper Soviet Russia, I read a negative article about our brothers in Ossetia, in southwestern Russia. The article said that the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses were directed against Soviet society. The article gave the specific last names of brothers and sisters and published their addresses. I was so happy! In letters, I told them that I wanted to meet them. When we did meet, the brothers supported me greatly and said that Jehovah had allowed this article to be published so that I could get in touch with his people.
Now I am 92 years old. Yes, that kind soldier was right. All my life, despite hardships, everything has been just fine.
[Box/Picture on page 188, 189]
Making Our “Tent Pins” As Firm As We Could
PROFILE He served on the Russia Country Committee for over 20 years and now serves as an elder in a congregation in Siberia.
IT WAS 1944, six months before the end of World War II. I stood in a courtroom before a military judge because of my Christian neutrality. I was sentenced to death by firing squad, but the sentence was commuted to ten years of imprisonment in corrective labor camps.
In January 1945, I was taken to a camp in northern Russia in the town of Pechora, Komi Republic. Among hundreds of other prisoners in the camp were ten of our brothers. Unfortunately, my only issue of The Watchtower was confiscated, and we were left with no spiritual food. I was so physically worn out that I could do no work at all. When we washed in the bathhouse, a brother told me that I looked like a skeleton. Indeed, I looked so pitiful that I was taken to a medical colony in Vorkuta.
After a while, I began to improve a little, and I was sent to work in the sand quarry. Before a month went by, I again resembled a skeleton. The doctor thought that I was trading my food for tobacco, but I told him that I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and did not smoke. I spent more than two years in that camp. Though I was the only Witness, there were always those who liked to hear about the truth, and some of them responded to the good news.
One time my relatives sent me a handwritten copy of The Watchtower. How was I able to receive it when each package was so carefully checked by the foreman? The pages had been folded twice and placed in the bottom of a double-bottomed can and covered with a thick layer of fat. The prison foreman pierced the can through and not discovering anything suspicious, gave it to me. This source of “living water” served me well for a time.—John 4:10.
In October 1949, I was freed before the end of my sentence, and in November, I returned home to Ukraine. We heard that several brothers had gone to Moscow to register our activities, but it seemed that the authorities were not prepared to recognize Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Soviet Union.
On the night of April 8, 1951, we were loaded into railway cars together with other families of Jehovah’s Witnesses and sent to Siberia. Two weeks later we were deep in the heart of Siberia, in the village of Khazan in Irkutsk Oblast.
The text from Isaiah 54:2, “Lengthen out your tent cords, and make those tent pins of yours strong,” reached our heart. It seemed that we were fulfilling this prophecy. Who of us would voluntarily have moved to Siberia? I thought that we must make our tent pins as firm as we could. So, I lived in Siberia for over 55 years.
[Box/Picture on page 191, 192]
I Never Had My Own Place to Live
PROFILE She spent 21 years in prisons and camps, 18 of which were before her baptism. Before she died in 2001, Valentina helped 44 people to learn the truth.
MY MOTHER and I lived in western Belarus. I met Jehovah’s Witnesses in February 1945. A brother came to our house just three times and showed us things from the Bible. Though I never saw him again, I began to preach to neighbors and acquaintances. The authorities arrested me, and I was sentenced to eight years in the camps. They sent me to Ulyanovsk Oblast.
In the camp, I observed other prisoners and listened to their conversations, hoping that I would meet one of Jehovah’s Witnesses there. In 1948, I overheard one female prisoner talking about God’s Kingdom. Her name was Asya. I was so happy to talk to her about spiritual topics. Soon three more sisters were brought to the camp. We had little literature, so we tried to associate together as much as we could.
In 1953, I was freed, but three and a half years later, I was convicted for preaching and given a ten-year sentence. I was transferred in 1957 to the camp in Kemerovo, where there were about 180 sisters. We were never without Bible literature. In the winter, we hid literature in the snow, and in the summer, in the grass and in the ground. During searches, I hid manuscripts in both hands, covered my shoulders with a big shawl, and held on to the ends of the shawl with my hands. When I moved from camp to camp, I wore a cap that I had sewed myself, putting several issues of The Watchtower in it.
Eventually, I was sent to a camp in Mordvinia. There was a Bible there, hidden away in a secure place. We could look at it only in the presence of the sister who was in charge of keeping it safe. The only other time I had seen a Bible was in the hands of the brother who first acquainted me with the truth back in 1945.
When I was freed in 1967, I moved to Angren, Uzbekistan. Here I was able to symbolize my dedication to Jehovah by water baptism. I met brothers for the first time since that initial call. After all, I had only spent time in women’s labor camps. All the brothers and sisters in the congregation were zealous in the ministry, and I quickly came to love them. In January 1969, eight brothers and five sisters from our congregation were arrested for preaching, and I was among them. I was sentenced to three years as an “especially dangerous offender.” I was sent to solitary confinement many times for preaching.
I conducted Bible studies with interested ones under the cover of a blanket. We were forbidden to talk to one another during walks. If we got caught speaking, we were punished with solitary confinement. We used only hand-copied literature, which we constantly recopied.
I never had my own place to live. All my possessions were in a single suitcase, but I was happy and content in serving Jehovah.
[Box/Picture on page 200, 201]
Spiritually Strengthened by an Investigator
PROFILE Repeatedly subjected to ideological reeducation, he now serves as an elder in a congregation in Russia.
IN 1958, I was arrested for religious activities. Accompanying me to the train, the officer said, “Look at your wife for the last time because you will never see her again.”
In Irkutsk, I was placed in a special cell only large enough to stand in. After this I spent six months in solitary confinement before my trial. During interrogations held at night, the investigators did everything to undermine my faith in the Bible and my trust in God’s organization. I was accused of participating in the illegal activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Sometimes violence was used, although the main method was usually ideological conditioning. I begged Jehovah to give me the strength to stay firm. He was always with me.
During a routine interrogation, the investigator called me into his study and said: “Now we will show you what your organization is doing. Then you can see if it is God’s work or not!”
Looking at me intently, he continued: “This year your convention in New York was attended by 253,000 people in two stadiums. If you consider the scale of this event, you know that it was impossible to pull this off without the support of the CIA. The convention lasted eight days. Delegates attended from various countries, traveling by plane, train, ship, and other means of transportation. Could all of this have been possible without help from the authorities? Who could pay for a convention held in these enormous stadiums for eight days?”
The investigator strewed the table with photographs. In one of them, I saw happy delegates in colorful native dress embracing one another. Another photo showed Brother Knorr giving a talk, and yet others showed the baptism and Brother Knorr giving baptized ones the book “Your Will Be Done on Earth.” We had not received this book, but we learned about it later in The Watchtower. Looking me in the eye, the investigator said: “What does this book discuss? The king of the north and what awaits him. How could Jehovah’s Witnesses have organized this independently? We know that these events are attended by the American military to learn from your example how to organize army movements. We also know that one millionaire donated a large sum to hold this convention. Millionaires don’t just fling money around!”
The investigator could not even imagine what I was feeling at that moment. I felt that I was attending the convention without ever having left the prison. I felt new strength flooding into me. I had needed something like this so much! And Jehovah generously blessed me in a special way. I was ready to endure further.
[Box/Picture on page 214, 215]
The Theater Was Full of Jehovah’s Witnesses
PROFILE She enjoyed an acting career in the 1960’s and played a role in a Soviet propaganda film. Since 1995 she has served as a regular pioneer in St. Petersburg.
IN 1960, at the beginning of my acting career, I was given the leading role in the documentary film God’s Witnesses, which was released in Soviet movie theaters. The film depicted “the frightening sect of Jehovah’s Witnesses,” which was responsible for the death of the heroine, Tanya, whom I played. According to the script, Tanya runs away from the “sect” at night into a blizzard without a coat on. She disappears into the snow, and a voice-over sadly announces, “This was the end of Tanya Veselova.” I liked the script and felt honored to join in the fight against Jehovah’s Witnesses, although the only thing I knew about them was from the script itself.
The film was shown in the movie theaters and clubs of many cities in the Soviet Union. I went to each premiere and appeared onstage after the movie was shown. At that time, Soviet people implicitly believed everything they saw on the screen. So after I would come out, everyone would heave a sigh of relief and say, “She’s alive!” Then I described how the film was shot and how the director and special-effects people staged the blizzard, which appeared to sweep me into a ravine and cover me with snow.
Once in Vyshniy Volochek, Kalinin (now Tver’) Oblast, one theater was packed full, but the evening went a little differently than usual. After the film an elderly man asked me questions that were only about religion, and I upheld the atheistic view of the origin of life on earth. No one mentioned anything about the film. Slipping backstage, I went to the event organizer and asked, “Whom did I speak to just now?”
“That’s the chief of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect. The theater is full of Witnesses and no one else,” he said. That is how, without realizing it, I met Jehovah’s Witnesses. After that I wanted to read the Bible but could not find one. I married a Polish man and moved to Poland with him. In 1977 two sisters knocked at our door, and soon I began to study the Bible with them. I came to love this book, and we became friends with the Witnesses. In 1985 my father became ill, and my husband and I went to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) to be with him. I prayed to Jehovah to help me contact Jehovah’s Witnesses there.
Finally, I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have been serving as a regular pioneer for 12 years now, and Zdzisław, my husband, is a ministerial servant in a congregation in St. Petersburg.
I know from personal experience that “by means of cunning in contriving error,” the film industry can mislead many people. (Eph. 4:14) When I performed in that Soviet propaganda film, I never guessed that 30 years later I would be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Box on page 237]
The New World Translation in Russian
For over a century, Jehovah’s Witnesses have made good use of various Russian Bible translations. One is the synodal translation. Despite that translation’s archaic language and rare use of the divine name, it has helped many thousands of Russian readers to understand God’s purpose. The Makarios translation, which uses God’s name some 3,000 times, has also been helpful. But as the number of Russian Witnesses grew, so did the demand for an accurate, clear, modern Bible translation.
The Governing Body arranged for the New World Translation to be translated into Russian. For more than a decade, the Russia branch worked on this major translation project.
In 2001 the New World Translation of the Christian Greek Scriptures was released in Russian. In 2007, to the delight of Russian readers around the world, the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures in Russian was released. The new release was first announced by members of the Governing Body Theodore Jaracz in St. Petersburg and Stephen Lett in Moscow. Thunderous applause followed. The enthusiasm was immediate. “What clear, understandable, vivid language!” wrote one sister. “Reading the Holy Scriptures is an even greater pleasure now.” Many expressed their appreciation to the organization with such comments as: “What a precious gift from Jehovah!” and “Please accept our heartfelt thanks.” Without a doubt, the release of the Russian New World Translation is a milestone for Russian-speaking lovers of truth everywhere.
[Box/Picture on page 244, 245]
In One Day, Our Problems Were Solved
IVAN AND NATALIA SLAVA
BORN 1966 and 1969 respectively
PROFILE As pioneers, they moved to where the need was greater. Ivan now serves on the Russia Branch Committee.
NATALIA and I moved from Ukraine to Russia in the early 1990’s. In Belgorod Oblast, which had a population of almost a million and a half, there were fewer than ten publishers. There was no doubt about it—this was a place where “the harvest [was] great, but the workers [were] few.”—Matt. 9:37.
We had just got married and had to find work to support ourselves. However, the economic situation in the country worsened, and many people lost their jobs. In order for people to obtain basic food products, the government issued coupons, or tickets, which were distributed at the workplace. Since we had no work, we had no coupons. Hence, we had to pay a high price for food at the market. We also had housing problems and had to live at a hotel. After we had paid for a room for 20 days, almost nothing was left in our wallets. We prayed to Jehovah every day to help us find work and an inexpensive place to live. All this time, we diligently preached, searching for sincere people. The last day of our hotel stay arrived. With the money we had left, we bought a roll and a container of milk. When we went to bed that evening, we again supplicated Jehovah to help us find work and a place to live because the next morning we had to vacate the room.
In the morning we were awakened by a phone call. To our surprise, the hotel administrator said that my cousin was waiting for me in the lobby. My cousin offered me some money, saying that he had recently received a good bonus and wanted to share it with me. But this was not all. A few minutes later, a brother phoned us and said that he had found an inexpensive apartment for us. Furthermore, that same day we were accepted to work as groundskeepers at a kindergarten. So in one day, our problems were solved. We had some money, a place to live, and a job. There was no doubt at all that Jehovah had heard our prayers.
In 1991 the Memorial attendance in Belgorod was 55; a year later the number of people attending was 150. The next year 354 attended. As of 2006, the city had six congregations, and there were more than 2,200 publishers in Belgorod Oblast.
[Box on page 250]
Recent Legal Developments
Our right to worship without government interference was confirmed in January 2007 when the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a unanimous judgment in our favor stating that the “collective study and discussion of religious texts by members of the religious group of Jehovah’s Witnesses was a recognized form of manifestation of their religion in worship and teaching.”
Though their activity in the city of Moscow was officially restricted in 2004, our brothers continue to meet together openly for worship and to engage in the preaching work to the fullest extent possible. In 2007 the brothers were overjoyed to commemorate the Memorial and held district conventions in Moscow without interference, as was largely the case throughout Russia.
Although legal challenges remain, our brothers courageously continue to counteract incidents of opposition. For instance, a new application was filed with the ECHR concerning the Lyublino Police Department’s disruption of the Memorial observance in Moscow on April 12, 2006. The police detained 14 brothers and threatened their lawyer at knifepoint. Although a local court ruled partially in favor of our brothers, the decision was overturned and the case was lost on appeal. Additionally, a complaint was filed in July 2007 against various government officials who have been conducting a protracted and unwarranted investigation into our religious activities in St. Petersburg.
[Chart/Graph on page 228-230]
1891 For preaching boldly, Semyon Kozlitsky is exiled to the eastern part of the Russian Empire.
1904 The Germany branch receives letters from Russia expressing appreciation for Bible publications.
1913 The Russian government acknowledges the office of the Bible Students in Finland, then a part of the Russian Empire.
1923 The Watch Tower Society begins to receive many letters requesting that Bible literature be sent to Russia.
1928 In Moscow, George Young presents a request to allow the activities of the Bible Students in Russia. The authorities refuse to extend his visa.
1929 A contract is signed with a radio station in Tallinn, Estonia. Bible lectures are aired and heard in Leningrad and other cities.
1939-40 The USSR annexes western Ukraine, Moldova, and the Baltic republics. Thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses are thereby brought within the country’s borders.
1944 Hundreds of Witnesses are sent to prisons and labor camps all over Russia.
1949 Jehovah’s Witnesses are exiled from Moldova to Siberia and the Far East.
1951 Over 8,500 Witnesses from western Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are exiled to Siberia.
1956/57 Delegates of 199 district conventions worldwide petition the Soviet government for religious freedom.
Late 1950’s More than 600 Witnesses are placed in strict isolation in a special labor camp in Mordvinia.
1965 The Soviet government issues a special order on the removal of settlement restrictions. Witnesses exiled to Siberia disperse and settle all over the country.
1989-90 Members of the Governing Body meet with brothers in Russia for the first time. Witnesses from the USSR travel to Poland for special conventions.
1991 On March 27, Jehovah’s Witnesses receive legal recognition in Russia.
1992/93 International conventions are held in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
1997 The Russia branch in the village of Solnechnoye, near St. Petersburg, is dedicated.
1999 The first Assembly Hall in Russia, in St. Petersburg, is dedicated.
2003 The branch expansion is completed.
2007 More than 2,100 congregations and isolated groups of publishers are active in Russia.
Total publishers in the 15 countries of the former U.S.S.R.
1890 1910 1930 1950 1970 1990 1990 2000
[Diagram/Map on page 218]
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Other branches have helped transport literature throughout the country
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BELARUS KAZAKHSTAN MOSCOW RUSSIA
[Maps on page 116, 117]
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East Siberian Sea
Sea of Japan
Sea of Okhotsk
[Map on page 167]
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East Siberian Sea
Sea of Okhotsk
Sea of Japan
[Picture on page 66]
Sunrise over Chukchi Peninsula
[Pictures on page 68]
This sign, in the Kazakh and Russian languages, points to the Siberian village of Bukhtarma, where Semyon Kozlitsky was exiled
[Pictures on page 71]
The Herkendells spent their honeymoon helping German-speaking people in Russia
[Pictures on page 74]
The power of attorney given to Kaarlo Harteva (right) to which the Russian Imperial Consul in New York had affixed a government stamp
[Picture on page 80]
In May 1925, this Russian convention in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, was attended by 250, and 29 were baptized
[Picture on page 81]
This magazine declared: “Voronezh Oblast is rife with sects”
[Picture on page 82]
[Pictures on page 84]
For nearly ten years, Aleksandr Forstman translated tracts, booklets, and books into Russian
[Picture on page 90]
Regina and Pyotr Krivokulsky, 1997
[Pictures on page 95]
Olga Sevryugina became a servant of Jehovah as a result of Pyotr’s ‘rock letters’
[Picture on page 100]
[Pictures on page 101]
Exiled Witnesses constructed homes for themselves in Siberia
[Picture on page 102]
Magdalina Beloshitskaya and her family were exiled to Siberia
[Picture on page 110]
[Picture on page 115]
Alla in 1964
[Picture on page 118]
Semyon Kostylyev today
[Picture on page 120]
Vladislav Apanyuk’s Bible training helped him overcome tests of faith
[Pictures on page 121]
The police found this booklet, “After Armageddon—God’s New World,” in the home of Nadezhda Vishnyak
[Picture on page 126]
[Picture on page 129]
Viktor Gutshmidt with his sister (top), daughters, and wife, Polina, about a month before he was arrested in 1957
[Picture on page 134]
[Picture on page 136]
In 1959, “Crocodile” magazine printed a picture of this literature discovered in a haystack
[Picture on page 139]
Beneath this house was one of the printeries discovered by the KGB in 1959
[Picture on page 142]
Aleksey Gaburyak helped reunite those who had been scattered
[Pictures on page 150]
Homemade Printing Equipment
[Picture on page 151]
Stepan Levitsky, a tram driver, courageously approached a printer
[Picture on page 153]
Grigory Gatilov preached to others in his prison cell
[Pictures on page 157]
Tall flowers provided a suitable cover for Bible study and discussions
[Picture on page 161]
Actual size of a “Watchtower” magazine made in the form of a tiny booklet
[Picture on page 164]
“Order of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR”
[Picture on page 170]
Brothers would hide “treasures” in double-sided suitcases or in the soles of their boots
[Picture on page 173]
[Picture on page 175]
A matchbox could hold five or six copies of “The Watchtower” produced in spiderweb handwriting
[Picture on page 184, 185]
In all the years they spent in one camp in Mordvinia, none of the brothers missed the Memorial
[Picture on page 194]
Nikolai Gutsulyak witnessed informally to the wife of a camp commander
[Pictures on page 199]
In 1989, Russian delegates attended the three international conventions in Poland
[Picture on page 202]
After receiving the official registration, from left to right: Theodore Jaracz, Michael Dasevich, Dmitry Livy, Milton Henschel, a ministry of justice worker, Anany Grogul, Aleksey Verzhbitsky, and Willi Pohl
[Pictures on page 205]
Milton Henschel delivers a talk at the 1992 “Light Bearers” International Convention in Kirov Stadium, St. Petersburg
[Picture on page 206]
Property was purchased in Solnechnoye, Russia
[Picture on page 207]
Aulis and Eva Lisa Bergdahl were among the first group of volunteers to arrive in Solnechnoye
[Picture on page 208]
Hannu and Eija Tanninen were assigned to St. Petersburg
[Picture on page 210]
Accompanied by his wife, Lyudmila, Roman Skiba traveled great distances in the district work
[Picture on page 220]
Brothers handling literature on the docks in Vladivostok
[Picture on page 224]
Arno and Sonja Tüngler have enjoyed many privileges in their assignment in Russia
[Picture on page 226, 227]
A congregation meeting in the forest near St. Petersburg, 1989
[Picture on page 238]
The Russia branch office supervises the translation of literature into over 40 languages
[Picture on page 243]
The first Pioneer Service School held in St. Petersburg, June 1996
[Pictures on page 246]
Preaching in Russia
In the fields of Perm’ Oblast and Nartkala
On the streets of St. Petersburg
House-to-house in Yakutsk
In the markets of Saratov
[Pictures on page 252, 253]
Aerial view of residential buildings and surrounding landscape
[Picture on page 254]
The 2006 district convention in Moscow was attended by 23,537 delegates
[Picture on page 254]