Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sustained By 'Hope' Even in Soviet Prison Camps

The following experiences (on pgs 98-101 of the 2008 Yearbook) really demonstrates the power of having hope and faith in God's future promises under the worst of circumstances, even if we're faced with death. And reminded me of the scripture mentioned in today's text which shows that our future hope in the resurrection can sustain us so that we "may not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope." (1 Thessalonians 4:13) and how sharing that hope with others strengthened their faith even under such harsh circumstances.

(photo of Ivan Krylov - pg 100)

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.”

This next experience about Pyotr Krivokulsky is so impressive, yet so hard to read, because it shows just how severe prison life was for the brothers, and all the hardships and suffering they were subjected to for so long. Yet the fact that this brother (like so many others) was able to endure such a horrible ordeal with his faith firmly intact, demonstrates how vital maintaining *hope* is, no matter what circumstances we may find ourselves in.
You can see by his actions that this brother always had his mind focused on the future blessings God has promised, (including the hope of a resurrection in case he were to die...which almost happened on several occasions) and he never missed an opportunity to share that hope with others by preaching 'the good news' even while he was imprisoned.

‘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. (Jeremiah 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.”

*previous post about another brother's experience at Vorkuta:
Vorkuta labor camp survivor