The Sixty Priest-Martyrs
SLAIN IN THE TAIGA OF KACHUG-NIZHNE-UDINSK
Commemorated July 22 (t1933)
Everyone, therefore, who will confess
Me before men, him will I also confess
before My Father Who is in heaven.
The city of Kachug is on the bank of the Lena River, 140 miles from Irkutsk. There was a road from Kachug to Nizhne-udinsk and Ba lagansk. The road was completely in the taiga; there were no inhabi tants, and only prisoners worked on the construction. In the camps around Kachug at that time there an unheard-of tyranny. For no reason at all people were shot, beaten, flogged. Living conditions were terrible; there were sixty to eighty people in a barracks, with two tiers of boards for sleeping. In case one of the prisoners didn’t fulfill his daily assignment, the camp guards had the right to do what they wanted with him; they held prisoners on trial for a week in the open air. People were dying of hunger and cold.
From Irkutsk to Nizhne-udinsk we travelled by the steamship Bur From Nizhne-udinsk we travelled by horse-cart along the Kachug road, going over seventy miles from the right bank of the Ager River in the direction of Kachug. During this time I was working as hydrometer observer.
From the 8th to the 22nd of July, 1933, our exploration party stopped for several days not far from a concentration camp. In that re gion the soil was better suited to agriculture, and there were already plans for a State collective farm there. The weather had become quite pleasant. After dinner we sat until late at night by the bonfire. We often heard some kind of cries, which echoed through the taiga. We didn’t know yet what kind of cries these were.
It was a clear, quiet night; the fresh Siberian air was giving off a fragrant aroma of taiga flowers along the valley. And as long as I live I will never forget this valley, I will remember it always! Our sweet morning sleep was interrupted by a kind of mournful human moan. We all got up quickly. The head our party, a native of Irkutsk, quickly took up a pair of binoculars, others set up two levelling-instruments, and we were looking after our work, when we began to observe a crowd moving in our direction; because of the undergrowth it was difficult to understand what was going on.
It was sixty prisoners, and as they got closer we could see clearly that they were all wasted from starvation and overwork What did we see? Each of them had a rope on his shoulders They were dragging a sleigh.-)i sleigh in the month of July! And on the sleigh was a barrel with human excrement!
The guards who accompanied them apparently did not know that there was a scientific expedition on the territory of the concentration camp. We heard the precise words of the guards’ command: “Lie down and don’t move.” One of the guards ran back to the camp; apparently they considered us suspicious. One of our party somehow quickly determined the situation of the prisoners and said: ‘We’ve prolonged their lives a few minutes.” At first we didn’t understand these words. In perhaps 15 or 20 minutes we were surrounded by a platoon of camp guards, who approached holding rifles battle-ready, as if they were about to attack with bayonets. The platoon commander and the political commissar came up to us and asked for our documents. After verifying the documents they explained to us that these sixty men had been sentenced to be shot as an element foreign to the Soviet power.
Already a ditch had been prepared for these sixty. The political commissar asked us to go into our tents, which we did. The sixty martyrs were priests. In the quiet July morning the weak voices of many of the priests were clearly audible. One of the executioners asked the priests standing by the ditch, one by one: “Youre taking your last breath; tell us, is there a God or not?” The reply of the holy martyrs was firm and confident: “Yes, there is a God!”
The first shot rang out. Sitting in the tents, our hearts pounded.
A second shot rang out, a third, and more. The priests were led up, one by one, to the ditch; the executioners standing by the ditch asked each priest—Is there & God? The answer was the same; Yes, there is a God! We are living witnesses, we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears how people before death confessed their faith in God.
Perhaps years will yet pass, decades, but this grave on the Kachug road must be found. No Orthodox Christian anywhere must forget these holy martyrs, who gave their lives for their faith.
Arcbpriest Michiel Polaky, Russia’s New Martyrs, Jordanville, N. Y., vol. II pp. 214-6.