I Found God in Soviet Russia
Chapter 10: A Stunning Blow
By John Noble
For background information go to the Introduction
ON SEPTEMBER 22, 1948, my father and I found ourselves behind the barbed-wire fences of Buchenwald, near the city of Weimar. Quite a number of prisoners who had been there under the Nazis were back again under the Communists. They told us that their Nazi captors had been more cruel and vindictive but had not, as had the Russians, deliberately let people starve, so the proportionate death rate under Stalin was greater than under Hitler.
At one time in Nazi days, Buchenwald had housed 40,000 prisoners, of whom some 7,000 are said to have been killed; the largest number the Russians held while I was there was about 14,000, more than 8,000 of whom died....
The only job assignment I could get at Buchenwald was transporting building materials whenever there was construction work to be done around the camp. This job I shared with my father; it got us around the camp a little and gave us some exercise.
The diet was on a bare subsistence level, as it was in all Russian concentration camps. Prisoners already weakened by starvation had, for the most part, died off. My father and I, like all survivors, had now become toughened by hardship. Even so, the months at Buchenwald were ones of bitter privation and we learned again as we had in the past that only with the help of God was it possible to keep going. Only faith could supplement that diet....
"To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in You;
Let me not be ashamed; Let not my enemies triumph over me."
On Easter Sunday, 1949, came a glorious experience—the first service of “religious worship” we had been permitted to attend in the nearly four years we had been prisoners. Services were conducted by clergymen who were themselves prisoners. ... This was our first experience of the brand of “religious freedom” the Communists occasionally like to exhibit before the world for propaganda purposes....
My father was able to borrow a Bible once in a great while from one of the Lutheran pastors in our barracks, and this was like a refreshing drink of water to someone who had been wandering a long time in the desert. Whenever he had the Bible, he would call me.... Others would come, too, until a virtual Bible study group had gathered spontaneously about us....
...months passed at Buchenwald, as they had at Muehlberg. And despite the fact that I still had not had a trial or had any formal charges brought against me, I was not impatient.... I was twenty-six now but, instead of sinking into hopelessness as did some of the prisoners, I grew more and more confident that when God wanted me to be released, I would be....
It was inevitable that the Russians should at last bring me to trial, even if that trial was only a farce. Their judicial system does not seem to find it embarrassing if the prisoner must wait four and a half years for the “investigation” to be completed and for the MVD to come up with something to justify giving him a sentence: they have no habeas corpus proceedings to trouble police or judges.
Nor do the Communists worry about the deprivation of individual rights inherent in such a process, despite the loud outcries they make about human rights everywhere outside the Iron Curtain.
Between February i and 7, 1950, orders came to Buchenwald for the transfer of approximately 300 prisoners. I was among them and thus came the day I dreaded when I must be separated from my father. The Lord had permitted us to be together for nearly five years ...
I was taken with the others to the headquarters of the NKVD (Russian political police) in the city of Erfurt. There we were locked in basement cells, eight or nine men to a cell. Vermin were everywhere and conditions became unspeakable. At night, the rats walked over our faces as we slept on the floor. I was kept there thirty-eight days (from February 3 until March ‘3) before being called up for interrogation.
On April 20, I was suddenly transported to another prison at Weimar, twenty-five miles away. There I was placed in a cell with ten men, all Germans. Again I waited, as did the other prisoners there, while the days stretched into weeks and then months. To ease the atmosphere of apprehension, we engaged in intellectual pastimes. Each man would tell of books he had read or of experiences he had undergone.
One man was a locomotive engineer who had been on the burial detail at Buchenwald. He had witnessed terrible suffering and the deaths of thousands but had retained a deep, abiding religious faith. Each night he would recall from memory the words of a hymn and recite them for us. He must have known hundreds of hymns, for he selected a different one each evening....
I was suddenly summoned one night and taken down the hallway to an old courtroom. There I found a Russian in civilian attire sitting on the end of a bench at a table.... There was also a Russian girl sitting at the side of the table to act as interpreter.... She pushed a piece of paper across the desk, handed me a pen, and told me to sign.
I asked what the paper contained and replied in an offhand manner that a trial had taken place in Moscow and I had been sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment at hard labor!
I was stunned. Until that moment I had never expected that the Russians would dare to convict me and deport me to the Soviet Union. I had been held for five years East Germany and had not been accused of doing a thing against the law. In a daze, I asked what charges had been brought against me in the Moscow court and of what crime I had been convicted.
She told me impatiently that any questions I had would have to be answered in labor camp to which I was being sent. She said the paper was merely an acknowledgment that I had been formed of my sentence and asked again that I sign it.
The sentence was not retroactive but was to take effect as of the moment I signed the acknowledgment, with no time credited for the five years and one month spent while being “investigated.” I had not been permitted to appear at my own “trial” or even been advised of the charges.
Angered by the rank injustice, I cried out, “My Lord!” The interpreter smiled, cynically.
Then my prayer on the night of my conversion rang in my ears. “Lend me Thine hand to guide me . . . Let Thy will, not mine, be done.” Now I knew the full meaning of these words, the sacrifice required of me. The Lord had saved me from starvation and had preserved me through many dangers. Nothing could happen to me that was not His will. This was no time, in the face of my enemies, to lose my faith. So, with trembling hand, I signed the required acknowledgment that sealed my fifteen-year sentence.
After I had done so, I was taken to another cell in which were about forty men. Some of them smiled wryly when I entered because I looked so puzzled. They asked me how many years I had been given and I said slowly, unbelievingly, “Fifteen!” One of them laughed aloud and said, “We’ve all got twenty-five!”
I sank to an empty place at the side of the cell and said, “0 Lord, why did this happen to me?”
Another prisoner put a sympathetic arm around my shoulder and said that he had asked that same question in the shock of receiving his sentence upstairs, and that the Russian on the bench had laughed and asked him, through the interpreter, if he believed in a God. The German said he certainly did, and the Russian then pointed to a picture of Stalin hanging on the wall and said, “That is our God, and the only God we have.”
Three years later their god was dead—dishonored in death as soon as body was cold.
Desperately I prayed that night in Weimar Prison. My life was in God’s hands, but this was a stunning blow! It was 1950. My sentence would run to 1965. I was almost twenty-seven years old. Must I remain a prisoner until I was forty-two? Even then, would I ever be released?’ Was it my fate to be only a nameless, unknown prisoner of Soviet state until death should release me in some Siberian slave camp?
I found it hard to pray that night... but I did pray, and peace came upon that strange unique confidence that I was doing Lord’s will and that I would be preserved from all harm. I had been given a difficult mission, and I would be enabled to carry it through.Two days later I left Weimar in a prison van headed the long and dreadful journey eastward to the Soviet Union.
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment [as seen from God's eternity], is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Index to all posted chapters:
4. Trial by Hunger
5. The Miracle of Bread
8. More than a Coincidence
9. Witnessing for Christ
See also Brainwashing and Education "Reform"