Canon Jeskow's Evidence
We have received from the Polish Sword of the Spirit a long statement by Canon Jeskow, a Polish Orthodox priest, who came across some Russian religious propaganda in Teheran. This priest has contrasted the claims made in that propaganda with his own experience at Soviet hands and what he himself saw in Russia after the invasion of Poland and before his release under the Sikorski treaty. The following are some brief factual excerpts from the statement (it should, of course, be noted that they refer to the earlier years of war):
By CANON JESKOW When the Soviet forces occupied the Eastern provinces of Poland in 1939 I was vicar of an Orthodox parish in the Wilno province. During the first few days after their arrival I approached the official in charge of district administration and asked whether I was permitted to hold services and whether I was to continue the execution of my office. The reply was most reassuring : " Of course, the services are not only allowed but must be held, and everything must continue just as before. The U.S.S.R. gives full religious freedom as laid down in Clause 153 of the Constitution and does not interfere in Church affairs."
The same evening a detachment of Soviet soldiers was billeted in my house. The Commanding Officer said quite openly as soon as he was alone with me: " Father, I should be sorry to see anything happen to you Take off your cassock while there is yet time."
When I went to the church to say Mass on the first Sunday after the Soviet's arrival, I noticed a Russian official standing at the door, stopping all who entered and talking to them. I greeted him and received the brutal answer: " Well, you won't be able to play the fool here much longer. We are cultured and enlightened people and everyone of as can explain and
prove to the people that there is no God, that He was only invented by the priests."
The following Sunday, when there was no guard at the door, some Soviet soldiers came to the church, prayed and behaved perfectly well. After the service I invited them to my house. They did not come until the evening when it was dark. It was they who first made the religious position in Soviet Russia clear to me. There were no churches in the U.S.S.R., except perhaps in the larger towns where a few cemetery or private chapels might have survived, and it was extremely dangerous for anyone to attend services there. The soldiers were certain that I would not remain in my parish for long.
On the night of March 15-16, 1940, I was arrested and thrown into the Molodeczno prison because I educated people in " darkness " and " submission " to the Polish Government.
In July, 1940, I was transferred to a prison at Polock. As I passed through the town under escort I noticed that not one church was open. I saw several, but some were being used as stores. one housed a museum and the St. Eufrezyny Monastery had been turned into a prison, into which I was thrown, After the Polish-Soviet agreement I was set at liberty on August 26, 1941, and travelled to Kazakhstan. I took special note of the churches on the way and asked other travellers about the state of religion. Everywhere the reply was the same : " There is no church in Russia nowadays; we have been ordered to forget God."
When 1 was at Czelabinsk I saw one church where services were held and even in fairly good condition, but I learnt that although it was open it was regarded by the local people as a trap to catch candidates for the labour camps. Obviously it was never frequented.