Excerpts from                                                                          

I Found God in Soviet Russia: Chapter 21:

Land of Disenchantment

              By John Noble, 1959

For background information go to the Introduction

and read about the arctic Soviet slave-labor camp, Vorkuta

Table of Contents


"...we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope." Romans 5:3-4

....I had waited prayerfully for nearly nine years to get a message through to the outside world.... [Finally some of the prisoners] had been given permission to write home, one of the small concessions that had emerged after the bloody East German strikes of the previous year.

I sent out an odd postcard indeed: it was signed with another man’s name, addressed to someone I had called “uncle” as a child, and referred to myself as “the noble nephew.” But it served its purpose, eventually reaching my father who identified my handwriting and at last had proof to show to the State Department authorities at home....

Father had had previous word about me from an in direct source. Homer Cox, an American GI who had been arrested by the Russians in East Berlin and had wound up in Vorkuta serving a long term as a “spy,” had been released unexpectedly in December, 1953. ... He had told newspaper reporters on his release that there was an “English prisoner” named Noble at Vorkuta. A writer for a major British daily looked into the matter and came to the conclusion that it was I. A friend sent my father a clipping of the British story. And now, nearly a year later, came my card which permitted my family to bring the powerful machinery of the U.S. State Department into play on my behalf.

...on the tenth of June, 1954, the supervisor came around and told me that I was leaving camp. My first reaction was that he must be making a clumsy joke, but he wasn’t the joking type, so I went to see the chief of the camp who had sent the message. Sure enough, in it was true: first thing next morning I was to be ready and waiting at the camp gate to be picked up....

Next morning, as instructed, I stood at the camp gate with my remaining possessions in a small bundle, and watched the other prisoners start off for their day’s labor. A Russian guard came by and picked me up in a jeep. To my surprise, we stopped a mile down the road at the entrance to another compound and took on two more American prisoners. They were William Marchuk and William Verdine, young American GI’s who had been arrested after allegedly crossing the demarcation line into the Russian Zone of Germany. They had received long sentences at hard labor as “spies” but, like me, were being released from Vorkuta unexpectedly.

Down the long rail line to Moscow, some 1600  miles away, we now went with two MVD officers accompanying us. On this journey, I again had an opportunity to observe Russian life at first hand. I was astonished by the number of beggars we encountered at every station. Several ragged, starving men said that they were crippled veterans of the war and loudly complained that the government was not helping them, something they would not have dared say if it was not patently true. Poor as I was and undernourished, yet some of these men were in far worse condition than I, and I gave them a few of the rubles I had earned at slave labor. When I did so, they crossed themselves and said fervently, “God bless you!”

As I watched them move down the car to other compartments, I noticed that they made this religious sign every time they received aims. Thus, in the midst of an atheistic society, charity is still recognized as related to the Christian religion.

Another vivid symbol of the survival of Christian tradition came into view as we neared Moscow and we began passing through some of the older towns and villages. In every one I could see the domed spire of a Russian Orthodox church. Whether these buildings were still being used for worship or not, I do not know, but I consider it signficant that they were still standing and that the Communists, despite their hostility to organized religion, have never dared tear them down or alter their distinctive architecture....

In Moscow we found quite a reception committee awaiting us, about twenty MVD agents! The door to freedom was not yet open for me. Instead, we three Americans were taken to Butirskaya Prison and, after a few days, were escorted under heavy guard to a train which conveyed us to the repatriation camp at Potma, located 2oo miles southeast of Moscow.

Potma is the center through which pass prisoners who have completed long sentences of ten, fifteen or even twenty years at hard labor. And here once again I had to learn the patience of unanswered prayer as the days lengthened into weeks, the weeks into months, while somewhere in the mysterious recesses of the Kremlin the question was debated as to whether we should be’ released, sent back to labor camp, or perhaps executed.

In our case, I believe that the Kremlin had decided to put us “on ice” for awhile, hoping that the hue and cry from America would die down. I am sure that the Soviet security chiefs would have preferred to keep me in custody the rest of my life because I had seen too much. On the other hand, the foreign policy of the Soviet Union was official “smiles” at the United States as they prepared the groundwork for the famous Summit Conference at Geneva in 1955. My fate would be determined... not by considerations of justice for the individual, but by those of expediency for Moscow.

There was an unusually large number of Yugoslavs in the Potma camp. Their sentences had long since run out but they were being held as human pawns in an international chess game while the Kremlin wooed the dissident Marshal Tito. Week after week they waited, not knowing what fate held in store for them.

I was disappointed but not bitter to find my hopes for freedom once more dashed. I could see the hand of God moving slowly. I had been released from Vorkuta and its inhuman toil and had been preserved from all dangers there, just as previously I had been saved in the Communist prisons in East Germany. I was confident that God would preserve me now at Potma and I remained quietly in prison, performing whatever further mission I could...

The tuberculosis victims received little attention. The other prisoners were afraid to help them for fear they would contract the dread disease themselves. I was confident that God would somehow protect me and began to do what I could to ease their suffering. I got a supply of empty tin cans from the kitchen for them to spit into. It was messy work to try to clean up their bunks and empty these cans each day, but they were so pathetically grateful that I did not mind. ... We often used to talk about the Bible and faith in God...

While in Russia, I had met Russian officials, Russian soldiers, Russian fellow prisoners but not until I reached the camp at Potma did I meet someone who had moved in Kremlin circles: Madame N. K., former wife of the man who has now achieved his ambition of becoming Premier and First Party Secretary. [Nikita Khrushchev was premier from Sep. 1953 to Oct 1964]

Mme. Corskaya (for she had resumed her maiden name) has now been released. ... but at that time she had served an eight-year sentence at hard labor in Siberia which had long since run out, yet she was still being held. The reason for this, she believed, was that K. who, in late 1954, ranked about fourth in the Kremlin hierarchy, was making a last desperate effort to reach the top and for some time had not wanted her around to witness his rise. ... Her husband, she said, was driven by ambition and cared little for his family or for anything except his own advancement. They had been married for a number of years and had a son and a daughter when suddenly one day she was arrested, denounced, and sentenced to hard labor in the mines. That same week N. K. divorced her.

In his own power-hungry, boastful, and often bibulous way K., I believe, stands for Soviet man, the sinner in process of disillusion who would abolish God because he can no longer stand the sight of his own defiance....

When I left Russia, as a foreigner who had seen and learned more about the Soviet people than most visitors are ever privileged to do, I knew that I was leaving the land of disenchantment. It was still a long way, and an age of time, to West Berlin.

"Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."  1 Corinthians 15:56-58

Next week -- the last chapter: "Return to Freedom"