Excerpts from

I Found God in Soviet Russia

Chapter 8: More than Coincidence

By John Noble, 1959

For background information go to the Introduction

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"... we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life. Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God ...." 2 Corinthians 1:8-10

Muehlberg concentration camp, built by the Nazis in 1940 to house prisoners of war, was one of those which the Russians took over intact with scarcely any interruption to make the change of management. As time went on (and I was there for eighteen months), this place came to have a double meaning for me: I was to witness evermore cruelty and injusticeówhich was Godís plan for meóand I was to undergo a further test of my faith through being exposed to an ever deepening depravity.

At first the transfer seemed to my father and me almost like receiving our freedom when we compared our new conditions with the exceedingly close confinement we had known for fourteen months within a single wing of Dresden Prison, most of that time caged like beast behind bars. Here we were soon freed to walk around the barracks and talk with people. Although the Muehlberg buildings were of temporary wartime construction and we slept with head to wall on crowded wooden shelves which ran around the earthen-floored room, the new freedom of movement seemed for awhile to be all we needed.

At the time we arrived, in September, 1946, there were about 6,000 prisoners in the camp. All but one hundred were German civilians who had been arrested in the East Zone, about 1,000 of them women. Conditions were bad for the women, but not nearly so bad as at Dresden Prison.

Some of the women had been so broken morally that they would voluntarily enter into liaisons with the Russian guards in the hope of gaining special favors. The Russians would go to the womenís barracks in the daytime and did not mind the lack of privacy.

There were enough women prisoners at Muehlberg so that women who wanted to maintain their decency had some chance to do so, despite the debauchery they were often forced to witness. Attacks on women were rare at Muehberg, as there were enough poor creatures who willingly submitted to their Russian guards. Moral virtue was something women prisoners had to pay a high price to retain, but many had the strength of character to do so....

I need not elaborate on the extent to which the mental and moral condition of the women who gave up the fight deteriorated. The same was true, although to a less obvious extent, with the men. Unless some standards of decent behavior are observed in a concentration camp, men and women tend to revert to a bestial level....

I had firmly resolved that my life was dedicated to Christ and that I would not again forget my obligation to Him. The task was far from easy in the harsh environment of the camp, but I found that it was of great help to have a Christian goal, to try to serve Christ wherever I was, during the aimless, interminable days of imprisonment. That objective, I soon found, made life just as meaningful in prison as it would have been in the free world outside.

My father and I had an opportunity now to pray together again.... Now he could tell me about his own experiences in faith at the Dresden prison. One of the most amazing of these had occurred just after the starvation period, while he was still in solitary confinement. The door to his cell suddenly opened and a badly frightened man... was thrust in. My father told him there must be some mistake (Dad had been told several times that he was to be kept in solitary confinement pending trial).

A little later, when the Russian guards came along to make a check, they too were surprised to see two men in the cell and went away to investigate the matter. That evening at roll call they returned and said that the other man was to be removed from the cell at once. But, somehow, no one came for him.

My father and his unexpected cellmate then knelt together to pray. The man told my father that he had prayed that he might be placed in a cell with a Christian man.... He prayed now that he might be permitted to stay with my father. The communist guards said again next day that he would be removed but, through some incredible mixup in the prison records, he did stay on in my fatherís cell not just for a few days but for many weeks.

During this time he suffered greatly from the poor food. Finally, stricken with dysentery, he became so weak that he could not raise himself on his cot. It became a most difficult, disagreeable job to care for him but one my father gladly performed -- drawing on experience be had gained in World War I Red Cross work.

The manís weight dropped to about eighty pounds and finally he could no longer take food. He realized be was dying and his mind dwelt constantly on his wife and fifteen-year-old daughter whom he had not seen since the end of hostilities. My father and be prayed earnestly together that he might receive some word about them.

The very next day, as the watery soup was being ladled out at noon, he heard a familiar name called out. It was the name of a prisoner who bad just been assigned to the next cell. Fatherís cellmate listened carefully and, when the new prisoner replied, there could be no doubt that this was a neighbor from his own small village who, having just been arrested by the Communists and, out of hundreds of possible cells, had been placed in the one next door!

Through one of the prison workers, my father soon sent a message asking if the man had seen his friendís wife or daughter. The reply was, yes! They had returned to the village only the day previous to his own arrest; he bad seen them and talked to them, and they were both in good health.

Upon receiving this wonderful news, my fatherís friend got out of bed, sick as he was, and knelt down to give thanks to the Lord. He said he was now ready to die if it should be Godís will but, with hope restored, he began to get better until eventually he was quite well again. Meanwhile, the neighbor who had been able to pass along this joyous news was taken to another prison the very next day.

A few weeks later, my fatherís cellmate was sent to serve a two-year sentence in another prison from which he was eventually released to rejoin his beloved wife and daughter. There again was a chain of circumstantial happenings that seems more than can be attributed to mere coincidence....

In April, 1946, my father had undergone another terrible physical ordeal, one which I had been spared. He was taken to MVD headquarters for questioning and there subjected to the sadistic Communist version of the ďthird degree.Ē

Although the agents made no accusation against him, they questioned him closely about the activities of members of the 76th U.S. Army Division who had come to our house to assist with the repatriation of United States prisoners of war. They wanted him to confess that these American officers and men had used our home as an espionage center to gather information against the Red Army.

When my father refused to bear false witness against the men, the agents confined him to a special torture cell which was three feet wide and six feet long, a veritable living coffin of damp stone.... Water dripped from the ceiling and the cell was bitter cold. Here my father contracted such severe and painful rheumatism that he could not move his legs and feet or endure having anyone touch his red and swollen hands.

The MVD agents apparently became worried that he would die on their hands. Breaking off their interrogation, they had Father carried to the prison doctor. When the doctor examined him, he shook his head and told the guards to take him back to prison, explaining, ďThere is nothing I can do for him. He will last no more than three or four days.Ē

But when they took him back to Dresden Prison to his old cell to die, I was able to leave him extra food... and soon my father found his health nearly restored....

"[God] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'" 2 Corinthians 12:9

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