Rwanda: 800,000 dead. Armenia: 1 million. The Holocaust: More than 6 million.
World history is littered with exhibits of the utter brutality of mankind toward his fellow man.
But now a new project under way to recount a history that has not received the attention it deserves, the “militant atheist” campaign in the former Soviet Union on people of faith.
The staggering death toll of Christians alone, estimates the documentary, “Martyred in the USSR,” is 12 million.
One and a half times the population of New York. The equivalent of 20 cities the size of Denver. Six times the number of residents of Paris.
The film examines the “militant state atheism” behind the atrocities of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev and others.
“The goal of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” the movie makers explain, “was the liquidation of religion and the means to achieve this goal included the destruction of churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, religious monuments, as well as the mass deportation of believers to Siberian forced labor camps, which is commonly referred to as the Gulag.”
Many houses of worship were converted into bath houses, granaries and museums of atheism, they point out, while atheistic and anti-religious carnivals were frequently held to promote the mockery of religion and religious believers.
By the 1960s, a fourth Soviet anti-religious campaign was under way, and half of the Russian Orthodox Christian churches were closed, along with five of the eight seminaries.
Several other Christian denominations were devastated, including the Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Evangelical Christian Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The League of Militant Atheists, founded in 1929, aided the Soviet government in murdering clergy and devout believers, the documentary’s promoters note.
Along with the martyrdom of an estimated 12 million Christians, millions of Muslims and Buddhists also were killed because of their faith.
In one documented case, Nikolai Khmara, a Baptist, was arrested, his tongue was cut out and he was tortured until he died.
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Kevin Gonzalez, the producer and director, told WND the project fell into his lap. With a news background, he had moved into the arena of corporate video and was trying to take the next step into something more creative.
He met a woman at his church who came from Russia, and she mentioned some of the atrocities that had occurred. Gonzalez ended up interviewing her parents, grandparents and some friends, and he knew he was onto something that needed to be exposed.
His impetus is to tell the story of the attempt by atheists to stamp out belief — primarily of Christians but also Jews and Muslims .
He wants to tell the story so that today’s generation will not repeat it.
He told WND that younger generations in the former Soviet Union don’t know much about the era, because those who experienced it were told not to talk or are reluctant to relive the horror.
“The Holocaust did it to the Jews,” he said. “The Russians, they did it to a population.”
Their target was religious because it was “the biggest wall at the time that kept people from bowing to the Soviet government.”
Under the Soviet doctrine of separation of church and state, churches were forbidden to give to the poor or carry on educational activities.
Religious believers could not publish literature and churches were barred from holding special meetings for children, youth or women.
Church property was confiscated, and religion was banned from the school and university system. Students were indoctrinated with atheism and anti-religious teachings.
Gonzalez told WND there is a danger that such persecution could return.
“It is our hope that individuals can learn from the history of the persecution of believers in the USSR and therefore, recognize the harm of a new militant atheist movement today, which promotes the mockery of the religious and the believes they hold sacred.”
The movie makers want to address in future projects the atheist regimes of the French Revolution, the People’s Republic of China, the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, North Korea and others.
Christopher March, professor of political science at Baylor, explained the communist goal was to build society without God.
To do that, one atrocity witness told the filmmakers, the Soviets would take people, “dig holes in the ground and bury them like chess pieces.”