Last week I wrote about volume I of The God of the Gulag, Jonathan Luxmoore’s study of the 70-year Communist persecution of Christians in Russia and Eastern Europe. Having now read volume II, “Martyrs in an Age of Secularism”, which roughly covers the period after the death of Stalin in 1953 until the collapse of Communism in 1989-1990, I asked Luxmoore: what had inspired him to undertake such a long and often harrowing labour?
He tells me there are four reasons. He thinks that the full story of the persecutions has never been told before – only accounts within individual countries. Again, he wants readers to understand that recent martyrs of Communism are no different from those in the early Church who had suffered under the Caesars; “these are modern figures like St Perpetua”. He also feels that attempts to conceal or play down Communism’s violent past should be challenged and brought into the open. And he thinks it important to record the changes in Communist methods during these decades, which required different kinds of Christian witness.
Does Luxmoore think the Vatican could have played a more effective role in combating Communism in the early period, during the pontificates of Pius XI and Pius XII? He reminds me that they had regarded Communism as a sudden savage subversion of history which would not last. It was Paul VI, elected in 1963, who realised that “it was here to stay” and that therefore the Church would have to work with it.
How would he describe the role of Cardinal Wyszynski of Poland, compared with that of Cardinal Mindszenty of Hungary? Luxmoore feels the former had a clearer grasp of what was happening when the Communists took over. Mindszenty had been shocked to find himself arrested, whereas Wyszynski played a long hand, refusing to be pushed into “a straitjacket” of opposition.
Finally I ask: who stands out as a particularly heroic individual? Luxmoore replies unhesitatingly, “Janina Jandulska, a 30-year old invalid from Ukraine, who organised a rosary group from her village home. She was arrested in 1936 and accused of running a subversive political organisation. She was shot in her wheelchair. Like the ancient Blandina, she had stood up to her adversary.”
It is stories of unknown martyrs like Janina Jandulska which have inspired Luxmoore to record their history, a history that might otherwise be neglected and forgotten.