Communism and religious persecution

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The above photograph shows the Russian Nikolai Khmara, a new Baptist convert in the Soviet Union, after his arrest by the KGB. He was tortured to death and his tongue cut out.[1][2] See also: Atheistic communism and torture

The atheism in communist regimes has been and continues to be militant atheism and various acts of repression including the razing of thousands of religious buildings and the killing, imprisoning, and oppression of religious leaders and believers.[3]

The persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union was the result of the violently atheist Soviet government. In the first five years after the October Revolution, 28 bishops and 1,200 priests were murdered, many on the orders of Leon Trotsky. When Joseph Stalin came to power in 1927, he ordered his secret police, under Genrikh Yagoda to intensify persecution of Christians. In the next few years, 50,000 clergy were murdered, many were tortured, including crucifixion. "Russia turned red with the blood of martyrs", said Father Gleb Yakunin of the Russian Orthodox Church.[4] According to Orthodox Church sources, as many as fifty million Orthodox believers may have died in the twentieth century, mainly from persecution by Communists.[5]

In addition, in the atheistic and communist Soviet Union, 44 anti-religious museums were opened and the largest was the 'The Museum of the History of Religion and Atheism' in Leningrad’s Kazan cathedral.[6] Despite intense effort by the atheistic leaders of the Soviet Union, their efforts were not effective in converting the masses to atheism.[7]

China is a communist country. In 1999, the publication Christian Century reported that "China has persecuted religious believers by means of harassment, prolonged detention, and incarceration in prison or 'reform-through-labor' camps and police closure of places of worship." In 2003, owners of Bibles in China were sent to prison camps and 125 Chinese churches were closed.[8] China continues to practice religious oppression today.[9]

The efforts of China's atheist leaders in promoting atheism, however, is increasingly losing its effectiveness and the number of Christians in China is rapidly growing (see: Growth of Christianity in China). China's state sponsored atheism and atheistic indoctrination has been a failure and a 2007 religious survey in China indicated that only 15% of Chinese identified themselves as atheists.[10]

North Korea is a repressive communist state and is officially atheistic.[11] The North Korean government practices brutal repression and atrocities against North Korean Christians.[12]

Atheistic communism and the torture of religious adherents

See also: Atheistic communism and torture

The website declares concerning atheistic communism and the use of torture:

Significantly, communists did not merely try to block or halt religious faith but to reverse it. This was particularly true for Romania, even before the Nicolai Ceausescu era. This meant not just forbidding religious practice and jailing ministers and believers but employing torture to force them to renounce their faith. It was not enough to contain, silence, even punish believers in prison; it was decided they must be tortured in truly unimaginably degrading ways to attempt to undo religious faith.[13]

Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor of the Underground Church, wrote in his book Tortured for Christ:

I worked in both an official and underground manner until February 29, 1948....On that Sunday, on my way to church, I was kidnapped from the street by the secret police....A van of the secret police stopped in front of me, four men jumped out and pushed me into the van. I was taken away for many years.

For over eight years, no one knew if I was alive or dead. My wife was visited by the secret police who posed as released fellow-prisoners. They told her they had attended my burial. She was heart-broken.

Thousands from churches of all denominations went to prison at that time. Not only were clergymen put in jail, but also simple peasants, young boys and girls who witnessed for their faith. The prisons were full and in Rumania, as in all communist countries, to be in prison means to be tortured....

A pastor by the name of Florescu was tortured with red-hot iron pokers and with knives. He was beaten very badly. Then starving rats were driven into his cell through a large pipe. He could not sleep.... If he rested a moment, the rats would attack him....

The communists wished to compel him to betray his brethren, but he resisted steadfastly. In the end, they brought his fourteen year-old son and began to whip the boy in front of his father, saying that they would continue to beat him until the pastor said what they wished him to say....When he could not stand it any more, he cried to his son; 'Alexander, I must say what they want! I can’t bear your beating any more.

The son answered, 'Father, don’t do me the injustice to have a traitor as a parent. Withstand!...'

The communists, enraged, fell upon the child and beat him to death, with blood spattered over the walls of the cell. He died praising God....

Handcuffs which had sharp nails on the insides were put on our wrists. If we were totally still, they didn’t cut us. But in bitterly cold cells, when we shook with cold, our wrists would be torn by the nails.

Christians were hung upside down on ropes and beaten so severely that their bodies swung back and forth under the blows. Christians were put in ice-box 'refrigerator cells' which were so cold, frost and ice covered the inside...

We Christians were put in wooden boxes only slightly larger than we were. ... Dozens of sharp nails were driven into every side of the box, with their razor-sharp points sticking into the box....

I have seen communists torturing Christians and the faces of the torturers shone with rapturous joy. They cried out while torturing the Christians, 'We are the devil.'

'We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of evil.' We saw that communism is not from men but from the devil. It is a spiritual force...of evil—and can only be countered by a greater spiritual force, the Spirit of God.

I often asked the torturers, “Don’t you have pity in your hearts?” They usually answered with a quotation from Lenin that “you cannot make omelets without breaking the shells of eggs”...

I have testified before the Internal Security Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate. There I described awful things, such as Christians tied to crosses for four days and nights. The crosses were put on the floor and hundreds of prisoners had to fulfill their bodily necessities over the faces and bodies of the crucified ones. Then the crosses were erected again and the communists jeered and mocked...[14]

Torture in the Soviet Union

Joseph Stalin, the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953, patronised the League of Militant Atheists, whose chief aim, under the leadership of Yemelyan Yaroslavsky, was to propagate militant atheism and eradicate religion.[15][16]

In the atheistic communist regime of the Soviet Union, torture was frequently employed to extract false confessions which were subsequently used to establish that individuals were "enemies of the people" - particularly under the militant atheist Joseph Stalin's regime.[17]

In the Soviet Union, many Orthodox priests and laymen experienced religious persecution in the form of torture and being sent to prison camps, labor camps or mental hospitals.[18][19][20][21]

Atheistic, Chinese communism and torture

See also: Atheism and China and Persecution of Christians in the People's Republic of China

The Chinese communist regime has used beatings, harassment and torture to suppress religion in China and continues to use these practices.[22][23]

Historically persecution has often been an ineffective means to stop the growth of Christianity in a region.[24] Persecution and exponential Christian growth have frequently coincided. On the other hand, persecution often coincides with diminishing Christianity.[25] In China, Christianity is seeing rapid growth (see: Growth of Christianity in China).

Atheistic communist North Vietnam and torture

From 1961 to 1973, the North Vietnamese government and Vietcong held hundreds of Americans soldiers captive. Hanoi's Ministry of Public Security's Medical Office (MPSMO) was responsible for "preparing studies and performing research on the most effective Soviet, French, Communist Chinese and other ...techniques..." of extracting information from POWs. The MPSMO "...supervised the use of torture and the use of drugs to induce [American] prisoners to cooperate." Its role also "...included working with Soviet and Communist Chinese intelligence advisors who were qualified in the use of medical techniques for intelligence purposes."[26]

North Korean communism and torture

See also: Atheism and cannibalism

North Korea practices state atheism and belief in God is actively discouraged.[27] Open Doors, an organization based in the United States, has put North Korea at the very top of its list of countries where Christians face significant persecution - for 12 years in a row.[28]

The Christian Post published an article entitled North Korean Defector Who Spent 28 Years in Prison Camp Details Hunger, Torture, and Cannibalism in the DPRK which stated:

More than 200,000 North Koreans, including children, are imprisoned in camps where many perish from forced labor, inadequate food, and abuse by guards, according to Human Rights Watch. The isolated, secretive nation has no media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom, and pervasive problems include arbitrary arrest, lack of due process, and torture.[29]

Atheistic communist regimes and forced labor

See also: Atheism and forced labor and Atheism and slavery

In atheistic communist regimes forced labor has often played a significant role in their economies and this practice continues to this day (see: Atheism and forced labor).[30]

Atheism, communist China and involuntary organ harvesting

See: China and involuntary organ harvesting

In 1955, Chinese communist leader Zhou Enlai declared, "We Communists are atheists".[31] In 2015, the Communist Party of China reaffirmed that members of their party must be atheists.[32]

Several researchers — for example, Canadian human rights lawyer David Matas, former Canadian parliamentarian David Kilgour, and the investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann estimate that tens of thousands of Falun Gong prisoners in communist China have been killed to supply a financially lucrative trade in human organs and cadavers, and that these human rights abuses may be ongoing concern.[33]

Atheism is an integral part of Marxist–Leninist/Maoist communist ideology (see: Atheism and communism). In 1955, Chinese communist leader Zhou Enlai declared, "We Communists are atheists".[34] In 2015, the Communist Party of China reaffirmed that members of their party must be atheists.[35]

The atheistic communist regime of China has a long-standing track record of persecuting religious believers. In 1999, the publication Christian Century reported that "China has persecuted religious believers by means of harassment, prolonged detention, and incarceration in prison or 'reform-through-labor' camps and police closure of places of worship." In 2003, owners of Bibles in China were sent to prison camps and 125 Chinese churches were closed.[36] China continues to practice religious oppression today.[37]

However, despite Chinese communists efforts to suppress religion, Christianity is experiencing rapid growth in China (see: Growth of Christianity in China).

Soviet Union and persecution of the Jews

See also: Atheism vs. Judaism

According to the Jewish Virtual Library:

The protest movement on behalf of Soviet Jewry, which spread throughout the United States and other Jewish communities during the 1960s and 1970s, was in large measure a response to the Holocaust. The revelations of what the Nazis had done to the Jews, coupled with the revelations of the general inactivity and indifference of much of the Western world's leadership to their fate, left world Jewry (particularly that of America) with a deep sense of anger and guilt (the latter because of their own relative passivity during the years of the Holocaust). Thus, when news started to spread of the Soviet Union's attempts to destroy the Russian-Jewish community, American Jews were outraged and determined to do something.

Of course, the Russian government was not seeking to annihilate the Jewish community (though in the early 1960s, well over one hundred Jews were executed on trumped-up charges of economic crimes). However, the government systematically closed down synagogues and published a large number of anti-Semitic books, some of which accused Judaism of being a Nazilike religion. Cartoons of Israeli General Moshe Dayan routinely appeared in Soviet newspapers showing him wearing an armband with the Nazi swastika.

In 1964, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) was founded in New York by Jacob Birnbaum, who has headed it ever since along with Glenn Richter. Since its inception, SSSJ has been assertive in demanding the Jews' right to live as Jews within Russia, and to leave the country if they so wish. Other Soviet Jewry support groups were quickly founded around the country: Many of them eventually joined together to create the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry. In 1971, the leading Jewish organizations in the United States founded the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. And in its early years, the Jewish Defense League, headed by Meir Kahane, used to follow and harass Soviet diplomats stationed in the United States.

The combined reach of the various Soviet Jewry protest organizations was extensive...

The Russian government, however, wanting to discourage large-scale Soviet-Jewish migration, often imprisoned leaders of the Jewish movement. These prisoners of conscience became the new focus of the international Soviet-Jewish protest movement...

By the late 1980s, the Soviet-Jewish protest movement had achieved far more than its founders had expected. On December 6, 1987, the eve of a summit between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan, 250,000 people marched on Washington in solidarity with Soviet Jewry. The march included activists from across the U.S., and was organized by the National Conference for Soviet Jewry (NCSJ), the Council for Jewish Federations (CJF), and other smaller groups. It was expected that 150,000 or less people would attend, and the overwhelming participation sent a clear message to the Russian Premier: end the forced assimilation of Russian Jews, and allow them to emigrate from the U.S.S.R.

By the end of the 1980's the large majority of Soviet Jews applying to emigrate were being permitted to do so, and inside the Soviet Union, for the first time since the Communist revolution of 1917, a yeshiva was established.[38]


  1. Martyred in the USSR
  2. The Russians' Secret by Peter Hoover with Serguei V. Petrov, Speaking Without a Tongue, Chapter 1 (Pages 1-3)
  3. Multiple references:
  4. Ostling, Richard N. (December 4, 1989). "Cross meets Kremlin: Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II". Time. Time magazine website.
  5. Moore, Rev. Fr. Raphael (October 1999). "In memory of the 50 million victims of the Orthodox Christian Holocaust", Spiritual Nourishment for the Soul, Serfes, Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios, compiler.
  6. Humphrey (December 16, 2008). "Merry Anti-Christmas!" Quodlibeta.
  7. Multiple references:
  8. "China sends Bible owners to labor camp" (November 26, 2003). WorldNetDaily.
  9. Chinese Police Proudly Record Their Torture of Christians, By Voice of the Martyrs|June 12, 2003
  10. Briggs, David (January 23, 2011). "Huffington Post: China’s state-sponsored atheism a failure" [excerpt]. National Post website.
  11. Lee, Sunny (May 12, 2007). "God forbid, religion in North Korea?" Asia Times Online. Archived at Internet Archive on May 21, 2013.
  12. Multiple references:
  13. The War on religion
  14. Tortured for Christ - excerpt from Chapter 2, by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, founder of Voice of the Martyrs
  15. Michael Hesemann, Whitley Strieber (2000). The Fatima Secret. Random House Digital, Inc.. Retrieved on 9 October 2011. “Lenin's death in 1924 was followed by the rise of Joseph Stalin, "the man of steel," who founded the "Union of Militant Atheists," whose chief aim was to spread atheism and eradicate religion. In the following years it devastated hundreds of churches, destroyed old icons and relics, and persecuted the clergy with unimaginable brutality.” 
  16. Paul D. Steeves (1989). Keeping the faiths: religion and ideology in the Soviet Union. Holmes & Meier. Retrieved on 4 July 2013. “The League of Militant Atheists was formed in 1926 and by 1930 had recruited three million members. Five years later there were 50,000 local groups affiliated to the League and the nominal membership had risen to five million. Children from 8-14 years of age were enrolled in Groups of Godless Youth, and the League of Communist Youth (Komsomol) took a vigorous anti- religious line. Several antireligious museums were opened in former churches and a number of Chairs of Atheism were established in Soviet universities. Prizes were offered for the best 'Godless hymns' and for alternative versions of the Bible from which ... the leader of the League of Militant Atheists, Yemelian Yaroslavsky, said: "When a priest is deprived of his congregation, that does not mean that he stops being a priest. He changes into an itinerant priest. He travels around with his primitive tools in the villages, performs religious rites, reads prayers, baptizes children. Such wandering priests are at times more dangerous than those who carry on their work at a designated place of residence." The intensified persecution, which was a part of the general terror inflicted upon Soviet society by Stalin's policy, ...” 
  17. Alexander Solzhenitsyn. "The Gulag Archipelago"
  18. Father Arseny 1893-1973 Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father. Introduction pg. vi - 1. St Vladimir's Seminary Press ISBN 0-88141-180-9
  19. L.Alexeeva, History of dissident movement in the USSR, Memorial society, in Russian
  20. A.Ginzbourg, "Only one year", "Index" Magazine, in Russian
  21. The Washington Post Anti-Communist Priest Gheorghe Calciu-Dumitreasa By Patricia Sullivan Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, November 26, 2006; Page C09
  22. China: The crackdown on Falun Gong and other so-called "heretical organizations". Amnesty International (23 March 2000). Retrieved on 17 March 2010.
  23. Militant Atheist extremist regime persecuting and torturing Christians in China
  24. Persecution: Does It Help or Hurt Church Growth?
  25. Persecution: Does It Help or Hurt Church Growth?
  26. "War Crimes: The Cuban-Vietnam Connection", National Alliance of Families.
  27. Elizabeth Raum. North Korea. Series: Countries Around the World. Heinemann, 2012. ISBN 1432961330. p. 28: «North Korea is an atheist state. This means that people do not pray in public or attend places of worship. Buddhist temples exist from earlier times. They are now preserved as historic buildings, but they are not used for worship. A few Christian churches exist, but few people attend services. North Koreans do not celebrate religious holidays.»
  28. Repressive, atheist North Korea has a surprising relationship with Christian missionaries
  29. North Korean Defector Who Spent 28 Years in Prison Camp Details Hunger, Torture, and Cannibalism in the DPRK
  30. Multiple references:
  31. Noebel, David, The Battle for Truth, Harvest House, 2001.
  32. China's Communist Party Bans Believers, Doubles Down On Atheism
  33. Review of: Ethan Gutmann, “The Slaughter: Mass Killings, Organ Harvesting and China’s Secret Solution to Its Dissident Problem”, (Prometheus Books, 2014).
  34. Noebel, David, The Battle for Truth, Harvest House, 2001.
  35. China's Communist Party Bans Believers, Doubles Down On Atheism
  36. "China sends Bible owners to labor camp" (November 26, 2003). WorldNetDaily.
  37. "China: Christians tortured while under arrest" (September 27, 2006). The World Now.
  38. Jews in America: Soviet Jewry Movement

Further reading