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Conscience on Trial

Conscience on Trial: The Fate of Fourteen Pacifists in Stalin's Ukraine, 1952-1953

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 224
  • Book Info
    Conscience on Trial
    Book Description:

    Kuromiya convincingly elucidates the mechanism of the Soviet secret police and explores the minds of non-conformist believers -precursors to the revival of dissidence after Stalin's death in 1953.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6107-3
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Maps and Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Prologue
    (pp. 3-14)

    What the Soviet people thought under Stalin is a difficult question to answer. They could not speak freely. Nor were there free elections, free opinion polls, or a free press. To make matters worse, dissidence was artificially created by the police as a justification for terror. Innocent people were thus portrayed as ‘enemies of the people,’ and silence and dissimulation were a way of life.

    Some years ago when I was thinking hard about ways to fathom the minds of the Soviet citizens living under Stalin’s rule, I chanced upon a criminal case of what then appeared to be a...

  6. 1 Arrests
    (pp. 15-33)

    On the night of 17 to 18 November 1952 more than a dozen people, seven men and six women, were arrested in and near the city of Bila Tserkva on charges that they belonged to the illegal religious sect of ‘Reformed Adventists.’ They were held in Prison no. 4 in the city. All were ethnic Ukrainians and did not belong to the Communist Party. The youngest was 24 years of age and the oldest 68. All had been born into peasant families. They were neither revolutionaries nor ‘workers,’ the heroes of Soviet society. They were all poor. While some of...

  7. 2 Stalin, Religion, and the Adventists of Bila Tserkva
    (pp. 34-57)

    These arrests were merely a tiny part of the terror that the Soviet government had inflicted since the October 1917 revolution upon religious believers. Yet the arrests had historical significance in three respects: the timing (1952), the targets (Reformed Adventists), and the locus (Bila Tserkva, Ukraine).

    Soviet Marxism competed with religion. Marxism in fact emerged as an alternative world view to religion, promising a paradise in this world. Considering the dismal state of the Soviet world, this situation clearly put religion at an advantage.

    However, in one area of critical importance, religion was at a disadvantage in relation to Soviet...

  8. 3 Interrogations (1)
    (pp. 58-83)

    The interrogation of the arrested was central to all Soviet investigations into political crime, not, however, in order to verify the evidence. In the vast majority of cases there was in fact no evidence. Interrogations were used (and needed) to extract confessions of guilt.² Torture was routine. In the 1930s the arrested were sentenced (often to death), without a formal trial, by the secret police’s extrajudiciary boards. After the war, however, those suspected of political crimes enjoyed formal trials by judiciary bodies, although with no assurance of justice.

    Unfortunately, there are almost no data on the secret police interrogators and...

  9. 4 Interrogations (2)
    (pp. 84-106)

    The interrogations of the accused continued at a rapid pace as if the police were racing to meet some deadline. Sometimes one interrogator would claim to have questioned more than one person at the same time. For instance, Sin’ko interrogated Ksenia Belik on 18 November from 22:00 to 1:30. Yet Sin’ko and Rusetskii signed the record of the interrogation of Fedora Il’chenko that took place on the same day from 22:00 to 1:00 (1:234). Sin’ko probably alternated between the two sessions, taking turns with Rusetskii.

    The interrogators demanded the same confessions as before: that the arrested secretly held prayer meetings...

  10. 5 Testimonies and Confrontations
    (pp. 107-132)

    Self-incriminating confessions were enough to indict people even in the Soviet Union of 1952. After all, it was still under Stalin. Yet the police made further efforts to strengthen their case by questioning witnesses and conducting confrontations (ochnye stavki, a practice used to verify testimonies or resolve conflicting testimonies by confronting the accused with their witnesses as well as one defendant with another). Like the records of interrogation, the testimonies and records of confrontations give an apparent coherence to the case. But the coherence is only apparent, the result of an elaborate orchestration of events by the police. A perusal...

  11. 6 The Trial
    (pp. 133-159)

    Unlike Jospeh K.’s case in Kafka’sThe Trial, the process of prosecuting the arrested Adventists in Bila Tserkva progressed very rapidly. Confessions were taken from all but Belokon’ about their ‘anti-Soviet’ faith and activity. To what extent the police and the prosecutors were concerned about loose ends in their investigations is unclear. The police may have rationalized that in any case all the loose ends could not be tied up and that these clandestine believers, ‘enemies’ of the Soviet government, would never confess entirely: such submission to an atheist regime would have gone against their souls. Once important confessions were...

  12. 7 Appeals and Exonerations
    (pp. 160-184)

    In 1952 in the Soviet Union a large number of people were still being executed. The year recorded 1612 death sentences for ‘political criminals.’² The present case of the fourteen Reformed Adventists also constituted political crimes of anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation. Yet 1952 was a far cry from the time of the Great Terror, when people were executed in the hundreds and thousands. Moreover, in 1952, even those accused of political crimes were tried not extrajudicially but judicially (formally by the court) and they were allowed to appeal the verdicts to a higher court, which was not the case at...

  13. Conclusion and Epilogue
    (pp. 185-208)

    Stalin died on 5 March 1953, shortly after the defendants were convicted and despatched to the Gulag. A year later, in 1954, as discussed in the previous chapter, Moscow intervened to have their sentences commuted. This move by Moscow disquieted the Ukrainian authorities in Kiev. In August 1954, G.E. Grishko, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Kiev Oblast’, wrote a memorandum to N.V. Podgornyi, the second secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, to express his dismay at Moscow’s action. To Grishko, the confessions of the defendants made their crimes indisputable. He read an excerpt from the case...

  14. Index
    (pp. 209-212)