[RICHARD WURMBRAND – FOUNDER OF THE VOICE OF THE MARTYRS – CHAPTER 2]
I worked in both an official and underground manner until February 29, 1948. On that beautiful Sunday, on my way to church, I was kidnapped from the street by the secret police.
I had often wondered what was meant by “man-stealing,” which is mentioned several times in the Bible. Communism has taught us.
Many at that time were kidnapped like this. A van of the secret police stopped in front of me, four men jumped out and pushed me into the vehicle. I was taken to a prison where I was kept secretly for over eight years. During that time, no one knew whether I was alive or dead. My wife was visited by the secret police who posed as released fellow-prisoners. They told her that they had attended my burial. She was heartbroken.
Thousands of believers from churches of all denominations were sent to prison at that time. Not only were clergymen put in jail, but also simple peasants, young boys and girls who witnessed for their faith. The prisons were full, and in Romania,as in all Communist countries, to be in prison means to be tortured.
The tortures were sometimes horrible. I prefer not to speak too much about those through which I have passed; it is too painful. When I do, I cannot sleep at night. In the book In God’s Underground, I recount many details of our experiences with God in jail.
A pastor by the name of Florescu was tortured with red-hot iron pokers and with knives. He was beaten very badly. Then starving rats were driven into his cell through a large pipe. He could not sleep because he had to defend himself all the time. If he rested a moment, the rats would attack him. He was forced to stand for two weeks, day and night. The Communists wished to compel him to betray his brethren, but he resisted steadfastly. Eventually, they brought his fourteen-year-old son to the prison and began to whip the boy in front of his father, saying that they would continue to beat him until the pastor said what they wished him to say. The poor man was half mad. He bore it as long as he could, then he cried to his son, “Alexander, I must say what they want! I can’t bear your beating anymore!” The son answered, “Father, don’t do me the injustice of having a traitor as a parent. Withstand! If they kill me, I will die with the words, “Jesus and my fatherland.” The Communists, enraged, fell upon the child and beat him to death, with blood spattered over the walls of the cell. He died praising God. Our dear brother Florescu was never the same after seeing this.
Handcuffs with sharp nails on the insides were placed on our wrists. If we were totally still, they didn’t cut us. But in the bitterly cold cells, when we shook with cold, our wrists would be tom by the nails.
Christians were hung upside-down on ropes and beaten so severely that their bodies swung back and forth under the blows. Christians were also placed in ice-box “refrigerator cells,” which were so cold that frost and ice covered the inside. I was thrown into one while I had very little clothing on. Prison doctors would watch through an opening until they saw symptoms of freezing to death, then they would give a signal and guards would rush in to take us out and make us warm. When we were finally warmed, we would immediately be put back into the ice-box cells to freeze. Thawing out, then freezing to within minutes of death, then being thawed out-over and over again! Even today there are times when I can’t bear to open a refrigerator.
We Christians were sometimes forced to stand in wooden boxes only slightly larger than we were. This left no room to move. Dozens of sharp nails were driven into every side of the box, with their razor-sharp points sticking through the wood.
While we stood perfectly still, it was all right. But we were forced to stand in these boxes for endless hours; when we became fatigued and swayed with tiredness, the nails would pierce our bodies. If we moved or twitched a muscle-there were the horrible nails.
What the Communists have done to Christians surpasses any possibility of human understanding. I have seen Communists whose faces while torturing believers shone with rapturous joy. They cried out while torturing the Christians, “We are the devil!”
We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers of evil. We saw that communism is not from men but from the devil. It is a spiritual force – a force of evil — and can only be countered by a greater spiritual force, the Spirit of God.
I often asked the torturers, “Don’t you have pity in your hearts?” They usually answered with quotations from Lenin: “You cannot make omelettes without breaking the shells of eggs,” and “You cannot cut wood without making chips fly.” I said again, “I know these quotations from Lenin. But there is a difference. When you cut a piece of wood it feels nothing. But here you are dealing with human beings. Every beating produces pain and there are mothers who weep.” It was in vain. They are materialists. For them nothing besides matter exists and to them a man is like wood, like an eggshell. With this belief they sink to unthinkable depths of cruelty
The cruelty of atheism is hard to believe. When a man has no faith in the reward of good or the punishment of evil, there is no reason to be human. There is no restraint from the depths of evil that is in man. The Communist torturers often said, “There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I heard one torturer say, “I thank God, in whom I don’t believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.” He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflicted on prisoners.
I am very sorry if a crocodile eats a man, but I can’t reproach the crocodile. He is not a moral being. So no reproaches can be made to the Communists. Communism has destroyed any moral sense in them. They boasted that they had no pity in their hearts.
I learned from them. As they allowed no place for Jesus in their hearts, I decided I would leave not the smallest place for Satan in mine.
I have testified before the Internal Security Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate. There I described awful things, such as Christians tied to crosses for four days and nights. The crosses were placed on the floor and hundreds of prisoners had to fulfil their bodily necessities over the faces and bodies of the crucified ones. Then the crosses were erected again and the Communists jeered and mocked: “Look at your Christ! How beautiful he is! What fragrance he brings from heaven!” I described how, after being driven nearly insane with tortures, a priest was forced to consecrate human excrement and urine and give Holy Communion to Christians in this form. This happened in the Romanian prison of Pitesti. I asked the priest afterward why he did not prefer to die rather than participate in this mockery. He answered, “Don’t judge me, please! I have suffered more than Christ!” All the biblical descriptions of hell and the pains of Dante’s Inferno are nothing in comparison with the tortures in Communist prisons.
This is only a very small part of what happened on one Sunday and on many other Sundays in the prison of Pitesti. Other things simply cannot be told. My heart would fail if I should tell them again and again. They are too terrible and obscene to put in writing. That is what your brothers in Christ went through and go through now!
If I were to continue to tell all the horrors of Communist tortures and all the self-sacrifices of Christians, I would never finish. Not only were the tortures known, but the heroic deeds were known also. The heroic examples of those in prison greatly inspired the brethren who were still free.
One of the really great heroes of the faith was Pastor Milan Haimovici.
The prisons were overcrowded and the guards did not know us by name. They called out for those who had been sentenced to get twenty-five lashes with a whip for having broken some prison rule. Innumerable times, Pastor Haimovici went to get the beating in the place of someone else. By this he won the respect of other prisoners not only for himself, but also for Christ whom he represented.
One of our workers in the Underground Church was a young girl. The Communist police discovered that she secretly spread Gospels and taught children about Christ. They decided to arrest her. But to make the arrest as agonizing and painful as they could, they decided to delay her arrest a few weeks, until the day she was to be married. On her wedding day, the girl was dressed as a bride-the most wonderful, joyous day in a girl’s life! Suddenly, the door burst open and the secret police rushed in.
When the bride saw the secret police, she held out her arms toward them to be handcuffed. They roughly put the manacles on her wrists. She looked toward her beloved, then kissed the chains and said, “I thank my heavenly Bridegroom for this jewel He has presented to me on my marriage day. I thank Him that I am worthy to suffer for Him.” She was dragged off with weeping Christians and a weeping bridegroom left behind. They knew what happens to young Christian girls in the hands of Communist guards. Her bridegroom faithfully waited for her. After five years she was released-a destroyed, broken woman, looking thirty years older. She said it was the least she could do for her Christ. Such beautiful Christians are in the Underground Church.
Westerners have probably heard about brainwashing in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. I have passed through brainwashing myself. It is the most horrible torture.
We had to sit for seventeen hours a day-for weeks, months, and years-hearing:
Communism is good!
Communism is good!
Communism is good!
Christianity is stupid!
Christianity is stupid’
Christianity is stupid’
Several Christians have asked me how we could resist brainwashing. There is only one method of resistance to brainwashing: it is “heart washing.” If the heart is cleansed by the love of Jesus Christ, and if the heart loves Him, one can resist all tortures. What would a loving bride not do for a loving bridegroom? What would a loving mother not do for her child? If you love Christ as Mary did, who had Christ as a baby in her arms, if you love Jesus Several Christians have asked me how we could resist brainwashing. There is only one as a bride loves her bridegroom, then you can resist such tortures.
God will judge us not according to how much we endured, but how much we could love. The Christians who suffered for their faith in prisons could love. I am a witness that they could love God and men.
The tortures and brutality continued without interruption.
When I lost consciousness or became too dazed to give the torturers any further hopes of confession, I would be returned to my cell. There I would lie, untended and half dead, to regain a little strength so they could work on me again. Many died at this stage, but somehow my strength always managed to return. In the ensuing years, in several different prisons, they broke four vertebrae in my back, and many other bones. They carved me in a dozen places. They burned and cut eighteen holes in my body.
When my family and I were ransomed out of Romania and brought to Norway, doctors in Oslo, seeing all this and the scars in my lungs from tuberculosis, declared that my being alive today is a pure miracle! According to their medical books, I should have been dead for years. I know myself that it is a miracle. God is a God of miracles.
I believe God performed this wonder so that you could hear my voice crying out on behalf of the Underground Church in persecuted countries. He allowed one to come out alive and cry aloud the message of your suffering, faithful brethren.
Brief Freedom–Then Re-Arrest
The year 1956 arrived. I had been in prison eight-and-a-half years. I had lost much weight, gained ugly scars, been brutally beaten and kicked, derided, starved, pressured, questioned ad nauseum, threatened, and neglected. None of this had produced the results my captors were seeking. So, in discouragement -and amid protests over my imprisonment-they turned me loose.
I was allowed to return to my old position as pastor for just one week. I preached two sermons. Then they called me in and told me that I could not preach anymore, nor engage in any further religious activity What had I said? I had counselled my parishioners to have “patience, patience, and more patience.” “This means you are telling them to be patient and the Americans will come and deliver them,” the police shouted at me. I had also said that the wheel turns and times change. “You are telling them the Communists will not continue to rule! These are counterrevolutionary lies!” they screamed. So that was the end of my public ministry.
Probably the authorities believed that I would be afraid to defy them and continue with underground witnessing. That was where they were wrong. Secretly, and with my family’s support, I returned to the work I had been doing before.
Again I witnessed to hidden groups of the faithful, coming and going like a ghost under the protection of those who could be trusted. This time I had scars to corroborate my message about the evil of the atheist viewpoint and to encourage faltering souls to trust God and be brave. I directed a secret network of evangelists who helped each other spread the gospel under providentially blinded Communist eyes. After all, if a man can be so blind as to not see the hand of God at work, perhaps he will not see that of an evangelist either.
Eventually, the ceaseless interest of the police in my activities and whereabouts paid off for them. Again I was discovered and imprisoned. For some reason they did not imprison my family this time, perhaps because of all the publicity I had received. I had had eight-and-a-half years of prison and then a couple years of relative freedom. Now I was to be imprisoned for five-and-a-half years more.
My second imprisonment was in many ways worse than the first. I knew well what to expect. My physical condition became very bad almost immediately. But we continued the work of the Underground Church where we could-in Communist prisons.
We Made a Deal: We Preached and They Beat
It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners, as it is in captive nations today. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal: we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching; they were happy beating us-so everyone was happy.
The following scene happened more times than I can remember. A brother was preaching to the other prisoners when the guards suddenly burst in, surprising him halfway through a phrase. They hauled him down the corridor to their “beating room.” After what seemed an endless beating, they brought him back and threw him -bloody and bruised– on the prison floor. Slowly, he picked up his battered body, painfully straightened his clothing and said, “Now, brethren, where did I leave off when I was interrupted.?” He continued his gospel message!
I have seen beautiful things!
Sometimes the preachers were laymen, simple men inspired by the Holy Spirit who often preached beautifully. All of their heart was in their words, for to preach under such punitive circumstances was no trifling matter. Then the guards would come and take the preacher out and beat him half to death.
In the prison of Gherla, a Christian named Grecu was sentenced to be beaten to death. The process lasted a few weeks, during which he was beaten very slowly. He would be hit once at the bottom of the feet with a rubber club, and then left. After some minutes he would again be hit, after another few minutes again. He was beaten on the testicles. Then a doctor gave him an injection. He recovered and was given very good food to restore his strength, and then he was beaten again, until he eventually died under this slow, repeated beating. One who led this torture was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, whose name was Reek.
During the beatings, Reck said something to Grecu that the Communists often said to Christians, “You know, I am God. I have power of life and death over you. The one who is in heaven cannot decide to keep you in life. Everything depends upon me. If I wish, you live. If I wish, you are killed. I am God!” So he mocked the Christian.
Brother Grecu, in this horrible situation, gave Reck a very interesting answer, which I heard afterward from Reck himself. He said, “You don’t know what a deep thing you have said. Every caterpillar is in reality a butterfly, if it develops rightly. You have not been created to be a torturer, a man who kills. You have been created to become like God, with the life of the Godhead in your heart. Many who have been persecutors like you, have come to realize -like the apostle Paul- that it is shameful for a man to commit atrocities, that they can do much better things. So they have become partakers of the divine nature. Jesus said to the Jews of His time, `Ye are gods.’ Believe me, Mr. Reck, your real calling is to be Godlike -to have the character of God, not a torturer.”
At that moment Reck did not pay much attention to the words of his victim, as Saul of Tarsus did not pay attention to the beautiful witness of Stephen being killed in his presence. But those words worked in his heart. And Reck later understood that this was his real calling.
One great lesson arose from all the beatings, tortures, and butchery of the Communists: that the spirit is master of the body. We felt the torture, but it often seemed as something distant and fat removed from the spirit which was lost in the glory of Christ and His presence with us.
When we were given one slice of bread a week and dirty soup every day, we decided we would faithfully “tithe” even then. Every tenth week week we took the slice of bread and gave it to weaker brethren as our “tithe” to the Master.
When one Christian was sentenced to death, he was allowed to see his wife before being executed. His last words to his wife were, “You must know that I die loving those who kill me. They don’t know what they do and my last request of you is to love them, too. Don’t have bitterness in your heart because they killed your beloved one. We will meet in heaven.”
These words impressed the officer of the secret police who attended the discussion between the two. He lacer told me the story in prison where he had been sent for becoming a Christian.
In the Tirgu-Ocna prison was a very young prisoner named Matchevici. He had been put in prison at the age of eighteen. Because of the tortures, he was very sick with tuberculosis. His family found out somehow chat he was in this grave state of health and sent him one hundred bottles of streptomycin, which could make the difference between life and death. The political officer of the prison called Matchevici and showed him the parcel and said, “Here is the medicine that can save your life. But you are not allowed to receive parcels from your family. Personally, I would like to help you. You are young. I would not like you to die in prison. Help me to be able co help you! Give me information against your fellow prisoners and this will enable me co justify before my superiors why I gave you the parcel.”
Matchevici answered, “I don’t wish to remain alive and be ashamed to look in a mirror, because I will see the face of a traitor. I cannot accept such a condition. I prefer to die.” The officer of the secret police shook Matchevici’s hand and said, “I congratulate you. I didn’t expect any other answer from you. But I would like to make another proposal. Some of the prisoners have become our informers. They claim to be Communist and they are denouncing you. They play a double role. We have no confidence in them. We would like to know in what measure they are sincere. Toward you they are traitors who are doing you much harm, informing us about your words and deeds. I understand that you don’t want to betray your comrades. But give us information about those who oppose you so you will save your life!” Matchevici answered, as promptly as the first time, “I am a disciple of Christ and He has taught us to love even our enemies. The men who betray us do us much harm but I cannot reward evil with evil. I cannot give information even against them. I pity them. I pray for them. I don’t wish to have any connection with the Communists.” Matchevici came back from the discussion with the political officer and died in the same cell I was in. I saw him die -he was praising God. Love conquered even the natural thirst for life.
If a poor man is a great lover of music, he gives his last dollar to listen to a concert. He is then without money, but he does not feel frustrated. He has heard beautiful things. I don’t feel frustrated to have lost many years in prison. I have seen beautiful things. I myself have been among the weak and insignificant ones in prison, but have had the privilege to be in the same jail with great saints, heroes of faith who equalled the Christians of the first centuries. They went gladly to die for Christ. The spiritual beauty of such saints and heroes of faith can never be described.
The things that I say here are not exceptional. The super-natural things have become natural to Christians in the Underground Church who have returned to their first love.
Before entering prison, I loved Christ very much. Now, after having seen the Bride of Christ (His spiritual Body) in prison, I would say that I love the Underground Church almost as much as I love Christ Himself. I have seen her beauty, her spirit of sacrifice.
What Happened to My Wife and Son?
I was taken away from my wife and I did not know what had happened to her. Only after many years I learned that she had been put in prison, too. Christian women suffer much more than men in prison. Girls have been raped by brutal guards. The mockery, the obscenity, is horrible. The women were forced to work at hard labour building a canal, fulfilling the same work-load as men. They shovelled earth in winter. Prostitutes were made overseers and competed in torturing the faithful. My wife has eaten grass like cattle to stay alive. Hungry prisoners ate rats and snakes at this canal. One of the joys of the guards on Sundays was to throw women into the Danube and then fish them out, to laugh about them, to mock them about their wet bodies, to throw them back and fish them out again. My wife was thrown in the Danube in this manner.
My son was left to wander on the street when his mother and father were taken away. Mihai had been very religious from childhood and very interested in matters of faith. At the age of nine, when his parents were taken away from him, he passed through a crisis in his Christian life. He became bitter and questioned all of his religion. He had problems that children usually don’t have at this age. He had to think about earning his living. It was a crime to help families of Christian martyrs. Two ladies who helped him were arrested and beaten so badly that they were permanently crippled. A lady who risked her life and took Mihai into her house was sentenced to eight years in prison for the crime of having helped families of prisoners. All of her teeth were kicked out and her bones were broken. She will never be able to work again. She, too, will be a cripple for life.
“Mihai, Believe in ]esus!”
At the age of eleven, Mihai began to earn his living as a regular worker. Suffering had produced a wavering in his faith. But after two years of Sabina’s imprisonment he was allowed to see her. He went to the Communist prison and saw his mother behind iron bars. She was dirty, thin, with calloused hands, wearing the shabby uniform of a prisoner. He scarcely recognized her. Her first words were, “Mihai, believe in Jesus!” The guards, in a savage rage, pulled her away from Mihai and took her out. Mihai wept seeing his mother dragged away. This minute was the minute of his conversion. He knew that if Christ can be loved under such circumstances, He surely is the true Saviour. He said afterward, “If Christianity had no other arguments in its favour than the fact that my mother believes in it, this is enough for me.” That was the day he fully accepted Christ.
In school, he had a continuous battle for existence. He was a good pupil and as a reward he was given a red necktie -a sign of membership in the Young Communist Pioneers. My son said, “I will never wear the necktie of those who put my father and mother in prison.” He was expelled from school for this. After having lost a year, he entered school again, hiding the fact that he was the son of Christian prisoners.
Later, he had to write a thesis against the Bible. In this thesis he wrote: “The arguments against the Bible are weak and the quotations against the Bible are untrue. Surely the professor has not read the Bible. The Bible is in harmony with science.” Again he was expelled. This time he had to lose two school years.
In the end he was allowed to study in the seminary. Here he was taught “Marxist theology ” Everything was explained according to the pattern of Karl Marx. Mihai protested publicly in class, and other students joined him. The result was that he was expelled and could not finish his theological studies.
Once in school, when a professor delivered an atheistic speech, my son rose and contradicted the professor, telling him what responsibility he took upon himself by leading so many young men astray. The entire class took his side. It was necessary that one should have the courage to speak out first, then all the others were on his side. To get an education he constantly tried to hide the fact that he was the son of Wurmbrand, a Christian prisoner. But often it was discovered and again there was the familiar scene of being called to the school director’s office and being expelled.
Mihai also suffered much from hunger. Many families of jailed Christians in Communist countries nearly starve to death. It is a great crime to help them.
I will tell you just one case of suffering of a family that I know personally. A brother entered prison on account of his work in the Underground Church. He left behind a wife with six children. His older daughters of seventeen and nineteen could not get a job. The only one that gives jobs in a Communist country is the state, and it does not give jobs to children of “criminal” Christians. Please don’t judge this story according to moral standards; just receive the facts. The two daughters of a Christian martyr -Christians themselves- became prostitutes to support their younger brothers and sick mother. Their younger brother of fourteen became insane when he saw it and had to be put in an asylum. When years later the imprisoned father returned, his only prayer was, “God, take me to prison again. I cannot bear to see this.” His prayer was answered and he was jailed again for the crime of having witnessed for Christ to children. His daughters were no longer prostitutes, as they received jobs by complying with the demands of the secret police -they became informers. As daughters of a Christian martyr, they are received with honor in every house. They listen and then they report everything they hear to the secret police. Don’t just say that this is ugly and immoral –of course
it is- but ask yourself if it is not also your sin that such tragedies occur, that such Christian families are left alone, and are not helped by you who are free.