Communist Reign of Terror Killed 200,000 Clergymen

Religion News Service,
Orlando Sentinel,
December 2, 1995

About 200,000 clergy, many crucified, scalped and otherwise tortured, were killed during the approximately 60 years of communist rule in the former Soviet Union, a Russian commission reported this week.

In addition, another 500,000 religious figures were persecuted and 40,000 churches destroyed in the period from 1922 to 1980, the report said. Half the country’s mosques and more than half the synagogues were also destroyed.

“Clergymen were crucified on churches’ holy gates, shot, scalped [and] strangled,” said Alexander Yakovlev, head of the Commission for the Rehabilitation of the Victims of Political Repression. The commission prepared the report for Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

“I was especially shocked by accounts of priests turned into columns of ice in winter,” Yakovlev said. “It was total cruelty.”

He said documents unearthed by the commission showed that as early as 1918, Soviet leader V.I. Lenin, “building on the maxim [that] ‘religion is the opium of the people’ ... gave the order to carry out ‘a campaign of merciless terror against priests and the White Guard [anti-communist revolutionaries].’

“It’s a tragic story which has not provoked repentance and which has not been properly heard,” Yakovlev said.

But Yakovlev said that while the actions should be branded as “criminal acts,” he did not favor prosecution of individuals.

“It’s very complicated and it’s not about accusing individuals but the system which turned people into bands of criminals,” he said.