Oral History

The Post-War Awakening

At the end of the Second World War, Soviet society was devastated: a figure of over 26 million dead is often cited; many cities lay in ruins, particularly areas which had been occupied or heavily bombarded. Historians have identified several features of this immediate post-war period: widespread sickness; famine; homelessness; and fears of crime. 1 In many spheres of Soviet life, the state quickly sought to re-establish control over this post-war turmoil. One such area was religion which had, as many government reports would later note, been significantly revitalised during the war. In May 1944 the Council for the Affairs of Religious Cults (CARC) was formed. Registration was approved for significant numbers of congregations so that they now had the right to meet in their designated place of worship. Government policy in these years was about increasing state regulation over religious life, but it also created new possibilities for worship which had been suppressed during the 1930s. By late 1947, however, the tide was turning and the state increasingly relied on more repressive measures.

The document included in this section is a report from the CARC chairman, I. V. Polianskii, on the religious situation in the country in the summer of 1947. He begins by trying to explain the recent religious resurgence. Later in the document he pays particular attention to the phenomenon of travelling preachers and prophetesses, which he identified as a significant problem in the immediate post-war period. Whilst the document is concerned with all the ‘sects’, it is noteworthy that attention was played to the Evangelical Christians-Baptist (ECB) communities. One dimension of ECB life that Polianskii especially objected to was the notion that there was no contradiction between religion and communism: the assertion that ‘Christ was the first communist’ is denounced here as 'demagoguery’. Polianskii criticised the practices of mutual self-help found within ECB congregations, deriding acts of charity as simply a means by which religious leaders recruited new members. The state’s attack on ‘charity’ within religious communities is supported by the second of the two oral history extracts included here.

The two interview extracts give rather different pictures of the post-war era. In the first, V. (Moscow) describes the religious awakening [пробуждение] he witnessed in Novosibirsk in 1945: the intensity of women’s grief is palpable, but there is also a sense that the state’s pre-war control had been lifted, providing ‘complete freedom’ [полная свобода], particularly for young people. In the second, V. (Chernivtsi) gives a rather bleaker account of the post-war years. His testimony suggests that there was significant regional variation in Soviet anti-religious policy, but also stresses the severity of measures taken against believers by the late 1940s.