Category Archives: History – lessons

Holocaust survivor: I’m giving $1 million to help wounded American veterans, to express my thanks

At 83 years old, I am one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors – thanks to the American troops who rescued me in what seems like a lifetime ago. Since World War II, I’ve felt a deep connection to American troops for saving my life – a feeling that resurfaces every year on Veterans Day and throughout the holiday giving season.

And so this year I’m saying “thank you” to the American soldiers of the 1940s by donating $1 million to organizations serving wounded American veterans today.

My donation to the Wounded Warrior Project and the Services for Armed Forces program of the American Red Cross is my way of giving back, thanking previous generations of warriors for helping me. I hope this inspires others to give back as well.

Even though more than 70 years have passed since my rescue, it’s not too late to give back. That’s a lesson I hope the next generation recognizes, because it’s all too easy to let procrastination give way to inaction. But action is what brings hope to those who need it.

I have met many American people who I am lucky enough to call my friends. First, Americans saved us. Then decades later, they welcomed us.

As a child, I spent most of World War II hiding from Nazi invaders in my native France, where my parents moved after fleeing the pogroms in Poland. Unfortunately, with the German invasion in 1940, we were again at risk. On July 16, 1942, the French police led a big roundup of Jews in Paris. More than 13,000 Jews were detained before being deported to Nazi death camps.

 The police came to our apartment at 6 a.m. My parents managed to take me to my aunt’s home. She was married to a French soldier and was protected.

A few hours later, my mother was arrested as she and my brother were trying to get information about my father, who was hiding in a nearby grocery store. A concierge had pointed them out to the police. They ran, but my mother was not fast enough. She was detained and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. She perished there – probably within three weeks.

I was 7, and for the next two years I lived on borrowed time, shielded by other families on the outskirts of Paris. The same was true for my future wife, who was also a child in hiding. If the war had continued much longer, we would not have survived.

I vividly remember the arrival of the hundreds of thousands of American troops who landed in Normandy to liberate us in June 1944. They were our saviors, doling out packets of sweets to half-starved, war-weary children who had almost given up hope for freedom.

The gratitude I feel to these men is beyond words. They freed our country and they saved our lives. Without American troops, my family and I simply would not have existed. I think of that every time I look at our family photos.

Since the end of the war, life has been good to me. I’ve had a successful career as co-owner of one of Europe’s largest home appliance retailers, working alongside my brothers. I’ve also enjoyed raising my family, celebrating extended family gatherings of 20 people.

My wife and I have a deep sense of gratitude for America. So in the early 1990s, freshly retired, we bought a home in South Florida. I travel with my wife each winter from our home in Paris to the warmth of Miami Beach. We still appreciate our second home there, where we now spend almost a third of our time.

I have met many American people who I am lucky enough to call my friends. First, Americans saved us. Then decades later, they welcomed us.

But as I watched news stories this fall of hurricanes, flooding and wildfires striking America, inflicting suffering among civilians and veterans alike, I realized that I still had an important task left to complete in my life. I had not yet given back to the American soldiers who saved my life nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

That is why I want to help modern American veterans today. They pursue the tradition of the young men who landed on the shores of Normandy in June 1944 and who I will never forget. In giving this donation, I want to thank Americans with all my heart for coming to rescue us in our hour of need.

But I also want to make a public stand in support of America. I hope that my donation can trigger a movement and lead others to take action. My story shows it’s never too late to give back, especially for a cause that’s close to your heart. If it wasn’t too late for this octogenarian, it’s not too late for you.

Bernard Darty is a Paris native and retired co-founder of Darty Group, an electrical retailer operating more than 340 stores in three European countries.

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The Greatest Generation: bitter-sweet

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Sweet because I have had the high honor and privilege of knowing some of these men in recent years who have called me friend and shipmate.  Bitter in knowing the friendships would be short-lived.

The young men above are three of the “greatest”:  Bob Allard, Gene Beckstrom and I don’t know the third young man.  In September we lost Bob Allard, and then in mid-November we lost Gene Beckstrom.

I met Bob Allard briefly at a ship reunion in Denver, and that was a sweet experience. Gene and Bob served together on the Porterfield down in the fire-rooms, but hadn’t seen one another since 1946 and the end of the war. When Bob saw Gene, his countenance lit up and he shouted out “Beckstrom – where the hell have you been? I’ve been looking for you for years.” 

I was the mouse in the corner eaves-dropping on this wonderful reunion, and dared not intrude.

Bob gave the picture of the three shipmates to Gene who from that point on treasured it. The next year (2016) at the San Diego, Gene once more proudly brought out that picture. Gene’s son Bruce – also a Navy veteran – has the picture now.

I’ll greatly miss this man!

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What is the legacy these men leave behind?

When these young man (Gene was 16), along with 10’s of thousands of others, entered the service the German war machine had overrun all of Western Europe, much of Northern Africa, were threatening Great Britain and had invaded the Soviet Union to the east. Germany’s ally Italy was part of the axis juggernaut. 

In the far-east, the Japanese military had brutally invaded Korea, China, Southeast Asia, the Philippines and were threatening New Zealand and Australia. 

So the task facing these young men was daunting indeed.

***  *** ***

What sort of world did these young men, and those who followed, leave behind?

A free Western Europe with representative constitutional governments and free market economies.

Communism was stopped with the former slave nations of Eastern Europe now living as part of the free world.  

The Soviet backed North Korean invasion of South Korea was stopped and South Korea is now a strong, free and successful nation.

Japan has been transformed into a modern free industrial nation.

 

October 23, 1956–The Hungarian Revolution. What would you fight for? What would you die for?

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This day, October 23 marks the 61st anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

It’s hard for many of us in the free world to appreciate times such as those. What drove virtually all segments of Hungarian society, including the military and police, to rise up against their government? What drove so many to risk everything, including their life in an attempt to throw off the tyranny and brutality of a Soviet controlled dictatorship?  

The following articles summarize those days quite well:

Excerpts:

“ … In the days that followed, frequent attacks and skirmishes took place across Budapest and the countryside, as village-based freedom fighters strove to hinder Soviet brigades heading toward the capital. Workers nationwide launched strikes in solidarity with the resisters, and more public demonstrations continued demanding radical change in government. In one particularly gruesome incident, ÁVH troops opened fire on a nonviolent crowd of approximately 10,000 demonstrators gathered before the Parliament House on October 25th, a massacre that killed around 100 people and injured hundreds more; bullet holes from that tragedy are preserved to this day on buildings surrounding Kossuth Square. …” (the picture at the top)

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https://welovebudapest.com/en/2015/10/22/the-freedom-fight-a-chronicle-of-hungarys-1956-revolution/

And an eyewitness to the revolution:

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https://welovebudapest.com/en/2014/10/23/hope-and-tragedy-an-eyewitness-recalls-hungarys-1956-revolution/

A dear friend and Navy Shipmate Adam von Dioszeghy was also an eyewitness – indeed a twice wounded freedom fighter in that 1956 Revolution against tyranny. Read his account below:

http://www.blurb.com/b/8243686-budapest-at-war

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Don Johnson – October 2017

Liberty and the Honor of Respecting the Flag

I’ve always stood for the playing of the National Anthem and the presentation of the American flag. Image result for standing for the national anthem
Has it always been a mark of honor and respect? Or had it become somewhat of a rote habit?

The recent dustups in the NFL with professional athletes sitting or kneeling contrary to the custom of standing with an attitude and posture of respect, coupled with an extended stay in Paris have broadened and deepened my appreciation of this long standing flag etiquette. 

Thousands of American, British, Canadian and French soldiers, sailors and airmen died bringing liberty back to captive France in 1944. More than 18,000 French civilians also died in pushing out the evil of Nazism from France and restoring liberty. Many of the civilian deaths were due to the heavy allied bombings of the coastal Norman cities in places like Saint Lo and Caen.

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The reception of the “liberators” was mixed as could be expected – towns and homes were destroyed, and loved ones lost in the carnage.

But what I found some 73 years later were many memorials of much gratitude on the part of the French. And this gratitude seemed to extend from 1944 to the present day. For example, in driving to the village of Sainte-Mère-Église, I looked up at the second floor of an old building and saw three small and tattered flags – French, British and American. These flags, off the beaten tourist path showed me that someone still held a heart of gratitude.

And in researching further,  I found this story:

“ … Franck Maurouard and his family of Normandy, France, have not forgotten the sacrifices made by American soldiers trying to liberate France from German occupation during World War II.

Each Memorial Day for the past 10 years, Franck, his wife, Anne, and their children, Alexandre, 16, and Eloise, 14, have decorated the graves of two American Rangers who died in the D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944.

They volunteered to care for the graves in Colleville sur Mer cemetery by applying to Les Fleurs de la Memoire, an organization that encourages French citizens to remember on Memorial Day the graves of Americans who gave their lives to liberate France and who remain forever in French soil. Les Fleurs de la Memoire (lesfleursdelamemoire.com) represents 132 French Fraternal Associations, 70 French towns and villages, and 3,677 French citizens who have adopted, in perpetuity, 10,451 graves.

Maurouard, who served in the French Navy for 17 years and is now a laboratory technician at the school where his wife teaches, requested to be assigned the grave of one Ranger from the 2nd Battalion and another from the 5th Battalion. But he has done far more than decorate the graves of Pvt. Joseph Trainor of Wisconsin and Pvt. Elmo Banning of Sedan, Kan.

He researched the details of their deaths and shortened lives and searched for their surviving relatives. He and his family developed a close relationship with Pvt. Banning’s family, now residing in California. … “    Read more  here and here.

I’ve walked the grounds of Colleville sur Mer, and yes, there are flowers at the foot of the grave markers – in 2017.

There are similar stories to be found from other places of liberation.

Why do so many in France still honor  their liberators from 1944?

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I believe it is because liberty has value. And because liberty has value, there is a cost for its purchase, and a cost for its restoration when lost. I believe the French, having lost and regained liberty, go to great lengths to honor that cost – a cost measured in the many lives lost in achieving liberty once more.   

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Fortunately we here in the United States have not experienced the traumatic loss of liberty as was experienced in France in the 1940s. Many of our military have witnessed that loss of liberty elsewhere, and have fought to purchase or restore liberty in hostile places far from home.  There is a yearning for liberty among the oppressed of the world – always has been and always will be.

Perhaps those professional athletes irreverently sitting before the flag are in ways they, or we,  may not fully understand – perhaps they are sitting in ways reflecting that yeaning for liberty they perceive as having been lost.

I respect that right of expression. In years past, and even today, many say “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” 

My wish is that our younger generations would be taught the lessons of places like 1944 France. My wish is that they would learn these lessons and honor those many who did “ … fight to the death for your right to say it.” 

Martin Luther King Jr. found another way to achieve huge change for the good in this nation. Would that the NFL athletes seek other avenues of change.

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Don Johnson – October 2017




Has it been

My Racist Past

Racism is very much a topic today, and I found myself in a very contentious conversation just the other day. I don’t need to discuss it in detail here, but it did leave me with a few thoughts on a few episodes from my past that I would like to share.

Background: My home town, a mining town in Montana, was a melting pot of people from all over the world. In the old days there were NO SMOKING signs in the mines written in 14 different languages. The town had its enclaves of folks from various ethnic  backgrounds: Fin Town, German Gulch, Meaderville (Italian), Dublin Gulch — and more.

For the most part it seemed these groups got along with one another. Miners often had to work day-by-day alongside others with the language of mining the only common language. Oh, each group had their own pet and derogatory names for others not like them, but I don’t recall it went much further than that. My grandmother would often sit at our kitchen table cussing out the “Cousin Jacks” and “Cousin Jennies”. The real no kidding fights were between the union miners and the “Company” and between the fans and students of the rival public high and the Catholic high school football and basketball teams. Over time, the ethnic barriers were sometimes worn away, often by marriage.

But there weren’t many blacks in our town. One fellow, a tall lanky guy, was quite a good swimmer and a team mate of mine – we were friends, and he was one of us.

My dad was a soft spoken sort, and well liked around town, and I don’t recall him expressing racist or anti-Semitic sentiments. Not so with some other adults in my life who often broke out in strong racist, ethnic or anti-Semitic tirades. I think I escaped this sort of racism for the most part, and in later years fully bought into King’s “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” philosophy of life.

But there was that one episode.

It was in my first year of college at the local school, and three or four of us were cruising around town, mid-day one Saturday,  drinking a few too many beers. We came across one of the few blacks in town, on old man as I recall, slowly crossing the street with a bit of a physical walking effort. The four of us decided this old man would be a good target for some fun. So we started harassing this guy for no other reason than that he was black. The names and insults came out and it was great fun. Then it was over and I went on about living the rest of my life without giving this vile episode further thought.

Years later – about 20 – Jesus Christ came into my life. Shortly thereafter, thoughts of that episode, that had been dead and buried in the back of my mind and soul, came very suddenly and vividly to the front of my remembrance and I could see it replayed right before me.

But what was I to do? I had no idea who he was — he was old at the time and by now, some twenty years later, he undoubtedly had passed on. I was trapped — there was no way I could replay that tape and seek out that old man and beg his forgiveness.

What was I to do?

Psalm 32:5
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Colossians 2:13
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins. …

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Through verses such as these, I discovered in a very real and personal way, why Jesus Christ came into this world. He came to become sin in my stead and provide a forgiveness of sin — even one as vile as the one I recalled from that Saturday many years past.

I have this thought about that old man. One day I will meet him in Heaven, and will go to him seeking his forgiveness. He then reaches out with a big smile on his face and gives me a big hug saying “I have no idea what you are talking about — lets go sit awhile and talk.” 

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The next episode is not one of an act, but one rather of thought and reflection.

It was years after the episode above, perhaps 10 years ago or so.

I was sitting on an airplane, in the very last row. In the seats right in front of me was a Jewish family, and right in front of them a black family.

In a mood of reflection I was grateful for who I was, where I was, and when I was — let me explain.

The “who I was … ” — a white man living in a free United States of America early in the 21st century.

In years past, in my own nation, I could have “owned” that black family and could have done whatever I pleased with them as a family and as individuals. That’s no longer possible, because of great sacrifice by many who preceded me.

In years past in a different nation, I could have rounded up that Jewish family, locked them in a cattle car and sent them off to gruesome slavery and death in a Nazi death camp. That’s no longer possible. Again,  because of great sacrifice by many who preceded me. 

So on that airplane — and now, I am grateful.

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Continuing in this reflective mood, I am reminded that all of us — all of us, me included and especially me — of whatever the color of our skin, are susceptible to the vilest of thoughts and actions.

But as I discovered of my sin in Butte Montana, there is a better way —

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
             (Christ Jesus being the creator spoken of in Genesis 1)

Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
(He created one race, the Human Race. Not white, black, brown or yellow)

Don Johnson — October 2017

Our Broken Obama Military Can’t Even Manage to Toss Out Traitors

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Please read this commentary —

https://townhall.com/columnists/kurtschlichter/2017/10/02/draft-n2389301

Edit —

And please read Senator Rubio’s remarks —

https://pjmedia.com/trending/2017/10/04/sen-rubio-wants-commie-west-point-officer-drummed-army/

End Edit —

An excerpt from the commentary —

“ …

I don’t enjoy saying that – it gives me no pleasure to have to wonder whether the Army I served in both in active and reserve status for close to 28 years is broken. And it’s not just the Army. The Marines and the Special Ops community, well, they seem to be holding on to the standards the rest have forgotten, but the Navy and the Air Force – they’re broken too. Our military – in terms of strategy, equipment, and leadership, is in crisis. American troops will die if we don’t fix it.

Hell, they already have. … “

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And now my comments:

A tough and very sad commentary by an Army veteran.

I had occasion a few years back to attend an author event at West Point – dinner and the author talk to cadets. To my left at the dinner table was a West Point professor, a major. In conversation I offered a comment that West Point must place much emphasis on history, in particular American history. The major told me, as I recall – and I hope I remember wrong, that there was minimal emphasis on history at the Academy. I was …shocked to hear this.

Over the roughly 70 years of the Communist run in the 20th century, over 100,000,000 people died at the hands of this government sponsored reign of terror in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Cuba and elsewhere. How is it possible that future leaders of our military could not be taught this huge lesson of history?

Will the military academies revamp their programs and their testing to assure that each cadet learns the lessons needed to understand why they are sending young warriors to battle in places like Normandy, Vietnam and Korea. General Eisenhower insisted that soldiers and local German citizens tour the Nazi death camps and take as many pictures as possible. He did this so that history would remember what happened, and why so many liberating soldiers, sailors and airmen died in snuffing out this Satanic evil that had captured most of Europe. Will future cadets be required to view, read and study these atrocities in depth — including the Communist atrocities?

Unfortunately, there aren’t the vivid pictures and testimonies of the record of Communism.

This man, now a commissioned officer and leader of men must be drummed out of the corp. quickly. And he needs to be drummed out with much humiliation and publicity lest we see repeats of the Ft. Hood massacre.

 

Don Johnson – October 2017

Solzhenitsyn ::: Godlessness, The First Step to the Gulag

 

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It has been many years since I have heard the name ‘Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.’ A Russian man imprisoned in the Soviet Gulags who subsequently was able to speak out against the evils of Godless Communism in attempts to warn free peoples in the West of the dangers of “forgetting God.”

What Solzhenitsyn describes of Russia under Communism applies equally when trying to explain the evils of the Nazi Holocaust.  Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened – and a literal, very real, Satanic evil fills in the gap.

Nations, cultures and civilizations often forget God, and Solzhenitsyn here documents  the dire consequences of such forgetfulness.  As individuals we have very limited power against this forgetfulness, but as individuals we have the power to remember God – this is my plea. Discover God — Remember God in your own life. As much as it is in your power, live your own life such that your influence may engender a remembrance of God in your family, your culture and  your nation.   

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Solzhenitsyn ::: Godlessness, The First Step to the Gulag

  “Men Have Forgotten God”
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn — 1983

More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.
What is more, the events of the Russian Revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God.
The failings of human consciousness, deprived of its divine dimension, have been a determining factor in all the major crimes of this century. The first of these was World War I, and much of our present predicament can be traced back to it. It was a war (the memory of which seems to be fading) when Europe, bursting with health and abundance, fell into a rage of self-mutilation which could not but sap its strength for a century or more, and perhaps forever. The only possible explanation for this war is a mental eclipse among the leaders of Europe due to their lost awareness of a Supreme Power above them. Only a godless embitterment could have moved ostensibly Christian states to employ poison gas, a weapon so obviously beyond the limits of humanity.
The same kind of defect, the flaw of a consciousness lacking all divine dimension, was manifested after World War II when the West yielded to the satanic temptation of the “nuclear umbrella.” It was equivalent to saying: Let’s cast off worries, let’s free the younger generation from their duties and obligations, let’s make no effort to defend ourselves, to say nothing of defending others-let’s stop our ears to the groans emanating from the East, and let us live instead in the pursuit of happiness. If danger should threaten us, we shall be protected by the nuclear bomb; if not, then let the world burn in Hell for all we care. The pitifully helpless state to which the contemporary West has sunk is in large measure due to this fatal error: the belief that the defense of peace depends not on stout hearts and steadfast men, but solely on the nuclear bomb…
Today’ s world has reached a stage which, if it had been described to preceding centuries, would have called forth the cry: “This is the Apocalypse!”
Yet we have grown used to this kind of world; we even feel at home in it.
Dostoevsky warned that “great events could come upon us and catch us intellectually unprepared.” This is precisely what has happened. And he predicted that “the world will be saved only after it has been possessed by the demon of evil.” Whether it really will be saved we shall have to wait and see: this will depend on our conscience, on our spiritual lucidity, on our individual and combined efforts in the face of catastrophic circumstances. But it has already come to pass that the demon of evil, like a whirlwind, triumphantly circles all five continents of the earth…
In its past, Russia did know a time when the social ideal was not fame, or riches, or material success, but a pious way of life. Russia was then steeped in an Orthodox Christianity which remained true to the Church of the first centuries. The Orthodoxy of that time knew how tosafeguard its people under the yoke of a foreign occupation that lasted more than two centuries, while at the same time fending off iniquitous blows from the swords of Western crusaders. During those centuries the Orthodox faith in our country became part of the very pattern of thought and the personality of our people, the forms of daily life, the work calendar, the priorities in every undertaking, the organization of the week and of the year. Faith was the shaping and unifying force of the nation.
But in the 17th century Russian Orthodoxy was gravely weakened by an internal schism. In the 18th, the country was shaken by Peter’s forcibly imposed transformations, which favored the economy, the state, and the military at the expense of the religious spirit and national life. And along with this lopsided Petrine enlightenment, Russia felt the first whiff of secularism; its subtle poisons permeated the educated classes in the course of the 19th century and opened the path to Marxism. By the time of the Revolution, faith had virtually disappeared in Russian educated circles; and amongst the uneducated, its health was threatened.
It was Dostoevsky, once again, who drew from the French Revolution and its seeming hatred of the Church the lesson that “revolution must necessarily begin with atheism.” That is absolutely true. But the world had never before known a godlessness as organized, militarized, and tenaciously malevolent as that practiced by Marxism. Within the philosophical system of Marx and Lenin, and at the heart of their psychology, hatred of God is the principal driving force, more fundamental than all their political and economic pretensions. Militant atheism is not merely incidental or marginal to Communist policy; it is not a side effect, but the central pivot.
The 1920’s in the USSR witnessed an uninterrupted procession of victims and martyrs amongst the Orthodox clergy. Two metropolitans were shot, one of whom, Veniamin of Petrograd, had been elected by the popular vote of his diocese. Patriarch Tikhon himself passed through the hands of the Cheka-GPU and then died under suspicious circumstances. Scores of archbishops and bishops perished. Tens of thousands of priests, monks, and nuns, pressured by the Chekists to renounce the Word of God, were tortured, shot in cellars, sent to camps, exiled to the desolate tundra of the far North, or turned out into the streets in their old age without food or shelter. All these Christian martyrs went unswervingly to their deaths for the faith; instances of apostasy were few and far between. For tens of millions of laymen access to the Church was blocked, and they were forbidden to bring up their children in the Faith: religious parents were wrenched from their children and thrown into prison, while the children were turned from the faith by threats and lies…
For a short period of time, when he needed to gather strength for the struggle against Hitler, Stalin cynically adopted a friendly posture toward the Church. This deceptive game, continued in later years by Brezhnev with the help of showcase publications and other window dressing, has unfortunately tended to be taken at its face value in the West. Yet the tenacity with which hatred of religion is rooted in Communism may be judged by the example of their most liberal leader, Krushchev: for though he undertook a number of significant steps to extend freedom, Krushchev simultaneously rekindled the frenzied Leninist obsession with destroying religion.
But there is something they did not expect: that in a land where churches have been leveled, where a triumphant atheism has rampaged uncontrolled for two-thirds of a century, where the clergy is utterly humiliated and deprived of all independence, where what remains of the Church as an institution is tolerated only for the sake of propaganda directed at the West, where even today people are sent to the labor camps for their faith, and where, within the camps themselves, those who gather to pray at Easter are clapped in punishment cells–they could not suppose that beneath this Communist steamroller the Christian tradition would survive in Russia. It is true that millions of our countrymen have been corrupted and spiritually devastated by an officially imposed atheism, yet there remain many millions of believers: it is only external pressures that keep them from speaking out, but, as is always the ca se in times of persecution and suffering, the awareness of God in my country has attained great acuteness and profundity.
It is here that we see the dawn of hope: for no matter how formidably Communism bristles with tanks and rockets, no matter what successes it attains in seizing the planet, it is doomed never to vanquish Christianity.
The West has yet to experience a Communist invasion; religion here remains free. But the West’s own historical evolution has been such that today it too is experiencing a drying up of religious consciousness. It too has witnessed racking schisms, bloody religious wars, and rancor, to say nothing of the tide of secularism that, from the late Middle Ages onward, has progressively inundated the West. This gradual sapping of strength from within is a threat to faith that is perhaps even more dangerous than any attempt to assault religion violently from without.
Imperceptibly, through decades of gradual erosion, the meaning of life in the West has ceased to be seen as anything more lofty than the “pursuit of happiness, “a goal that has even been solemnly guaranteed by constitutions. The concepts of good and evil have been ridiculed for several centuries; banished from common use, they have been replaced by political or class considerations of short lived value. It has become embarrassing to state that evil makes its home in the individual human heart before it enters a political system. Yet it is not considered shameful to make dally concessions to an integral evil. Judging by the continuing landslide of concessions made before the eyes of our very own generation, the West is ineluctably slipping toward the abyss. Western societies are losing more and more of their religious essence as they thoughtlessly yield up their younger generation to atheism. If a blasphemous film about Jesus is shown throughout the United States, reputedly one of the most religious countries in the world, or a major newspaper publishes a shameless caricature of the Virgin Mary, what further evidence of godlessness does one need? When external rights are completely unrestricted, why should one make an inner effort to restrain oneself from ignoble acts?
Or why should one refrain from burning hatred, whatever its basis–race, class, or ideology? Such hatred is in fact corroding many hearts today. Atheist teachers in the West are bringing up a younger generation in a spirit of hatred of their own society. Amid all the vituperation we forget that the defects of capitalism represent the basic flaws of human nature, allowed unlimited freedom together with the various human rights; we forget that under Communism (and Communism is breathing down the neck of all moderate forms of socialism, which are unstable) the identical flaws run riot in any person with the least degree of authority; while everyone else under that system does indeed attain “equality”–the equality of destitute slaves. This eager fanning of the flames of hatred is becoming the mark of today’s free world. Indeed, the broader the personal freedoms are, the higher the level of prosperity or even of abundance–the more vehement, paradoxically, does this blind hatred become. The contemporary developed West thus demonstrates by its own example that human salvation can be found neither in the profusion of material goods nor in merely making money.
This deliberately nurtured hatred then spreads to all that is alive, to life itself, to the world with its colors, sounds, and shapes, to the human body. The embittered art of the twentieth century is perishing as a result of this ugly hate, for art is fruitless without love. In the East art has collapsed because it has been knocked down and trampled upon, but in the West the fall has been voluntary, a decline into a contrived and pretentious quest where the artist, instead of attempting to reveal the divine plan, tries to put himsef in the place of God.
Here again we witness the single outcome of a worldwide process, with East and West yielding the same results, and once again for the same reason: Men have forgotten God.
With such global events looming over us like mountains, nay, like entire mountain ranges, it may seem incongruous and inappropriate to recall that the primary key to our being or non-being resides in each individual human heart, in the heart’s preference for specific good or evil. Yet this remains true even today, and it is, in fact, the most reliable key we have. The social theories that promised so much have demonstrated their bankruptcy, leaving us at a dead end. The free people of the West could reasonably have been expected to realize that they are beset · by numerous freely nurtured falsehoods, and not to allow lies to be foisted upon them so easily. All attempts to find a way out of the plight of today’s world are fruitless unless we redirect our consciousness, in repentance, to the Creator of all: without this, no exit will be illumined, and we shall seek it in vain. The resources we have set aside for ourselves are too impoverished for the task. We must first recognize the horror perpetrated not by some outside force, not by class or national enemies, but within each of us individually, and within every society. This is especially true of a free and highly developed society, for here in particular we have surely brought everything upon ourselves, of our own free will. We ourselves, in our daily unthinking selfishness, are pulling tight that noose…
Our life consists not in the pursuit of material success but in the quest for worthy spiritual growth. Our entire earthly existence is but a transitional stage in the movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble and fall, nor must we linger fruitlessly on one rung of the ladder. Material laws alone do not explain our life or give it direction. The laws of physics and physiology will never reveal the indisputable manner in which the Creator constantly, day in and day out, participates in the life of each of us, unfailingly granting us the energy of existence; when this assistance leaves us, we die. And in the life of our entire planet, the Divine Spirit surely moves with no less force: this we must grasp in our dark and terrible hour.
To the ill-considered hopes of the last two centuries, which have reduced us to insignificance and brought us to the brink of nuclear and non-nuclear death, we can propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned. Only in this way can our eyes be opened to the errors of this unfortunate twentieth century and our bands be directed to setting them right. There is nothing else to cling to in the landslide: the combined vision of all the thinkers of the Enlightenment amounts to nothing.
Our five continents are caught in a whirlwind. But it is during trials such as these that the highest gifts of the human spirit are manifested. If we perish and lose this world, the fault will be ours alone.
(World copyright ©1983 by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn; translator: A. Klimoff; reprinted by kind permission of the author.)