I Found God in Soviet Russia
Chapter 9: Witnessing for Christ
By John Noble
For background information see Introduction
Muehlberg opened a wide field for Christian witnessing, for my father and I found a great interest in religion on the part of our fellow prisoners. Many a missionary would have traveled thousands of into far and unknown lands to find so hungry a flock of lost sheep.
But no missionary could have come to this area, the center of a communist concentration camp. There we were by the grace of God and we endeavored to make our witness for Christ as effective as was possible under the circumstances. During the latter part of 1946 and the part of 1947 we had only one thing in abundance--time.
My father, by virtue of his theological training, knew many verses of the Bible by heart. As we sat on the bench along the barracks wall, a small group would gather around him and discuss their past and present experiences in the fields of payer and faith. They would ask him to explain various parts of the Bible and then they would discuss the significance of Christ’s teachings with reference to their present situation.
We always testified to our personal experiences with prayer in Dresden Prison and many [were led] to open their hearts to the Lord in prayer. My father probably made more Christian converts there in the concentration camp barracks than he did in his early years as a full-time minister of the Gospel.
Naturally, there were unbelievers in the camp who had fallen away from God. It was hard to show them that the Lord was with us every hour of the day, because they felt that if He was, He should relieve us of our suffering. Not all of them could be led to see that some good might come of our persecution, that ultimately such injustice as this might be the only way to show the world the evils of godless Marxism. They took the position that they should not believe in God unless God performed some miracle for them. These poor souls without faith in God had no higher ideal than the Communists whom they opposed, for they too denied God and scorned His teachings. They were bitter and defenseless, without the armor of faith.
There were many, however, who wanted to put their trust in the Lord that He might guide them through their travail. They shared their own experiences in prayer and faith with us and we found this a wonderful inspiration. My father’s eyes took on new sparkle and even though, as the winter wore on, the food situation became so bad at Muehlberg that the cumulative effects of malnutrition again threatened our lives, he seemed to be nurtured on spiritual strength and literally to grow stronger....
We had a Bible study group which prospered, although it had to be conducted secretly, and brought us all great benefit. Informers were always to be feared, men who, in the hope of some benefit from the camp rulers, would betray any fellow inmate. Our prayers for protection from informers were heard, however, and not once were we accused of violating the camp regulations.
We soon needed all our faith for by Christmas, 1946, starvation stalked the camp. A cook from one of the kitchens had promised my father an extra ration of bread for Christmas Eve. When he did not come with it, I went in search of him. It was against the rules to go from one section of the camp to another, but I was worried about Father’s health; he was in desperate need of food and I had to get him something. I searched the kitchen area but... all I was able to glean were some potato peelings and husks from oats that had been given the horses in the stables. But even this, I knew, would be better than nothing.
As I turned back toward our barracks, a tragic sight greeted my eyes.... As I came around a corner of the kitchen building in the dark I saw ... a funeral procession. A group of prisoners were carrying out the bodies of those who had died that day of starvation and illness. The burial detail formed a continuous chain, each man carrying the rear end of the stretcher ahead of him and the front handles of the stretcher behind. I counted as they trudged slowly past [a] tree. There were seventy-two bodies being carried, without benefit of clergy or funeral rites, to a mass grave in the frozen earth of the nearby hillside.
Here I saw for the first time in true perspective the vast human toll being taken by Communism, not only there in Germany where Nazism had already taken its brutal toll, but in every country where it had ever come to power. Thousands of human beings had been killed, as had those whose bodies were going on Christmas Eve to a nameless mass grave....
That night throughout the free world chimes were ringing their joyful message from church steeples.... Here behind the Iron Curtain the forces of darkness were having their own feast. Did the free world know what was going on inside the communist world? Did it care?
Often, as we heard reports over the communist radio of voices raised in the outside world calling for peace and “friendly understanding” with the U.S.S.R., [see The Original Introduction to Animal Farm] we wondered bitterly if those who were suffering and dying in their resistance to Communism were doing so in vain. We could only pray that the Lord would let the world know the truth....
Death at Muehlberg was soon to strike my own family. My father’s brother, the only member of his family who had not emigrated from Germany, was brought into our camp one day as a prisoner. He had become a member of the Nazi Party in its early days but, in 1937, revolted by its policies, he broke with it; during the war, he was arrested by the Gestapo (Hitler’s secret police) and imprisoned.
In spite of this record, he was arrested soon after the war by the Russians, and charged with having been a former Nazi Party member. He was very ill when he was brought to Muehlberg and his condition grew steadily worse. My father was with him on March 10 1947, when he died. His body was taken out to a long trench where he was interred with the other dead of the day. Next morning the burial detail would come along and throw a little dirt over the bodies and then new layers of bodies would be laid in the trench until it was filled. In this way the Russians kept the burial ground very small. In case it should ever be discovered, no one would be able to tell exactly how many dead had been buried there.
Subsequently, when the concentration camp system was abandoned in favor of sending prisoners to forced labor in the mines, the entire hill on which Muehlberg was situated was leveled off with bulldozers in order to bury the mass graves under tons of dirt. ... The more than 9,000 prisoners who died of starvation and diseases there in less than three years of the camp’s operation by the Russians were such a high proportion of all prisoners held that the authorities feared for the public standing of their East German puppet regime if the truth were to become known.... Recognizing no moral law, the Communists are nonetheless ashamed of their murders.
In February, 1947, all men at Muehlberg were ordered to take a physical examination. Only 1,200 were adjudged healthy and capable of performing hard labor. I was among this group, representing less than one out of ten in the camp....
We had received no trial and no formal charges of any kind had been placed against us, although we had now been imprisoned for more than three years....
As the Communists were preparing for their big push to take over Berlin—a strategy which, thanks largely to the Berlin air lift, backfired and failed—all but about 3,000 prisoners at Muehlberg were released. We were not among those given freedom in this amnesty. Instead, we found ourselves headed toward another concentration camp whose very name strikes terror to the heart of civilized men, Buchenwald, the notorious Nazi extermination camp which had now been taken over by the Russians. Another stage in our journey was beginning.
"...we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed... perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed — always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body." 2 Corinthians 4:7-10
See also Brainwashing and Education "Reform"