In the center of Mozyr on the hill stands the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel. This is the business card of the city, and is usually tourists first being brought here. Few people know that in 30 years the Church was the NKVD prison. Prisoners were kept in 3-storey bunks in the main hall in the adjacent building “special Troika” sentences handed down, often by death. Also killed in the Church, the bodies were stacked in piles and covered with lime. The truth became known 50 years later. “Every day we make prayer for those who were killed and buried in the Church, says archdeacon George Tywoniuk. — During worship service has a special feel, because in the Holy place killing people”.
Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Mozyr built in the XVIII century as a Catholic Church, in its history has been repeatedly destroyed. In 1864 the Church was transferred to the Orthodox Church
We are located in the main temple of the ancient Turov diocese, says father George. — The beginning of the twentieth century was a time of special challenges for city residents, and for the temple — war, revolution, Soviet power…
First took away valuables from the temples and then the temples themselves
The Soviet government formally declared independence from the Church. But in fact, says the source, the task was first to subdue the Church, and then to destroy it. To do it right was impossible: the believers at that time were too many, and their faith they defended. Then to struggle with the clergy was involved in the security services.
Archdeacon George Tywoniuk
Meanwhile in the Church itself there is a split on the “Renovationists” (for “new” procedure) and “Tihonova” (for “old” order). The leader of “Renovationism” and became so-called “Living Church.” Soon representatives of “the Obnovlenie” took Church authority and created the Temporary Supreme Church Council. The Soviet government has recognized it and supported it.
Since 1922, begins the forcible confiscation of valuables, which were in the temples. The authorities reported that it will help save people from hunger. In fact, the Church itself tried to help the starving, writes human rights activist Tatyana Protko in the book “Yakutsk for the faith I Bazykin Mcreport Melchisedec”: “In 1921, Patriarch Tikhon founded the all-Russian relief Committee, made an appeal to the international community, which requested assistance for a country that is “fed many, and now she is dying with hunger”. Churches began to raise funds, in February 1922, the Patriarch was allowed to donate to help the victims of Church ornaments and objects, which had no liturgical significance. But, according to the decision of the Soviet authorities, the Committee was closed, and he collected funds requisitioned. The famine of 1921 was a handy lead, on the one hand, for replenishment of gold reserves of the Soviet state, with another — to undermine the economic stability of the Orthodox Church.”
Mikhail Odintsov in the book “the Church and the State 1917-1938 years” notes: “Party and Soviet workers, in an effort to expedite the process of “eradication of religion”, universally resorted to the illegal administrative measures: closed churches, confiscated religious and other property, arrested priests and they were not allowed on “their” territory, removed the bells and seized believers of icons of houses, intimidating the introduction of special tax.”
In this building, adjoining the Cathedral, is the management of Turov diocese. In Soviet times there was a warehouse and dairy plant, and the NKVD prison cellars
Belarus acceded to the confiscation of Church property on March 1, 1922, it was created a special Commission, headed by Aleksandr Chervyakov, Chairman of the Council of people’s Commissars of the Byelorussian SSR (then — government). In 1937, at the Congress of the CP(b)b he was accused of insufficient work for the destruction of “enemies of the people”, and in the break of the Congress he found himself in the office.
— In 1926 with the help of the machinations of the registration of the Orthodox community in Mozyr cancelled, and our Church moved to the jurisdiction of the “Living Church,” says father George. — Often in the “Living Church” consisted of priests who lost faith and tried to remove the people from the Church and undermine its credibility. The memories, once Mozyr priest from among the “renovators” lit during the rite of baptism. Of course, people protested what he said: “be Silent, otherwise all of you to jail”.
There was worked out a scheme to close the Church. First, the government organized workers, who themselves were “asked” to close the Church: a statement on behalf of the labour collective were printed in local Newspapers. After this meeting, local councils have taken the decision to close the Church. The decision was sent to the special Commission on separation of Church and state. Then the temple was used under the “economic-cultural” needs — it could be a warehouse, stables, a gymnasium, a pub, a distillery, the morgue or jail.
A pub, a prison and distillery. What the Communists turned the Belarusian temples
In 1935, near the Cathedral in Mazyr was found the body of Archbishop Peter Avdashkevich, who led the “Renovationist” Church.
— According to the official version, he committed suicide. But there is reason to believe that this was facilitated, says father George. — We know that Peter Avdashkevich filed a petition to the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, where he repented and has declared that wants to return to the true Church. After this the Church was closed, before the Germans there was the NKVD prison.
The temple became a place of detention of innocent people
We are located in the Central part of the Cathedral. It was here, according to father George, from 1937 to 1941 the prisoners were held with all of the Polesie region.
First prison has equipped the lower room adjacent to the Church building, a former Catholic monastery, now there is control of Turov diocese. But in the 1930s, on top was the offices of the NKVD, where the “special Troika” were the interrogations and sentences handed down, the bottom was for prisoners, — said the source. — In 1937, the prison becomes a temple. In the Central hall were the camera follows: the room was divided into sections, on three-tiered bunks lay people — several people on one lounger. On the upper balcony, where now during worship is the choir, stood an armed guard, from there it was convenient to observe what was happening.
To reach the center was prohibited, in violation of the security guard fired without warning. From the top of the temple was the descent at the bottom. There were some camera special content — a kind of solitary confinement. This is where people were placed for punishment and for execution of sentences.
So the temple where for so many years was a place for prayer, was the place of detention of innocent people — and clergy and laity. People who lived near the Cathedral, remembered the terrible screams coming at night from the cellars of the Cathedral, says the priest.
According to the data cited by the candidate of historical Sciences Vladimir Adamushko, from 1917 to 1953 in the Byelorussian SSR were arrested more than 250 thousand people, including more than 35 thousand were shot, the rest sentenced to long prison terms or sent. Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel in Mozyr — one of the few places in our country where the keep the memory and every day revered the innocent convicted and executed Belarusians.
In the publications of the Turov diocese notes that in a prison in Mozyr temple was about 5 thousand people, there were issued more than 2 thousand death sentences. Almost all the clergy of the city and district were arrested. Things repressed in the archives of the KGB in the Gomel region studied Archpriest Alexander Lopuszanski.
— We can say that our Church is literally on the blood of martyrs, slain without guilt. Many priests have gone through suffering. Every meter of the temple is associated with a terrible history. In the basement found a lot of remains of people killed, said father Alexander in interview to the newspaper “Zvyazda”.
On “justice” took six days, shot even those who denounced the “enemy of the people”
Through the walls of this prison was the deacon Nicholas Sahno. His case can be called typical for those times.
Nicholas Sahno (left in pictures) with his family, 1933 Photo: “Open list” from the criminal case of Nicholas of Sahno (archive of the KGB of Homel region)
He was born in 1871 in pyetrykaw in the family of a clergyman. He graduated from the parish school, served first in Pyatnitskaya, and then in the intercession Church cemetery in Mozyr. Nikolai Ivanovich had a family — a wife and two children. In 1930, they were dispossessed, deacon was detained and expelled from Mazyr.
A few years later he was able to return to the city. He worked as a Carter at the factory “Profintern” and as a believer, attended divine service in the cemetery Church, which took place until 1938, until he was arrested.
Seized during the search of the passport, profile and six cartridges for a revolver that belonged to the son-in-law — military engineer. The accusation was standard: he was involved in anti-Soviet agitation, was a member of the counterrevolutionary group, the organizer of counter-revolutionary gatherings, spread provocative rumors about the war and the change of government.
In Mozyr served the Holy Bishop John of Pashin. In 1926 he was arrested and soon deported. However, this pursuit did not end there: in 1932 he was sentenced to hard labour, in 1937 shot
What “evidence” was behind these accusations? The testimony of the informer, who stated that “in the city of Mozyr a Church group, which in addition to managing the Affairs of the Church, leads anti-Soviet, counter-revolutionary agitation among the population, using religious prejudices”:
— The composition of this group consists mainly of former bandits and generally counter-revolutionary element… Under their leadership, the people gather in the cemetery Church, where they conduct anti-Soviet conversations: “the time will Come when the clergy will begin to live still, and the Communists will carry their heads for the destruction of churches. All people are dissatisfied with Soviet power”.
The lower Church, which the NKVD was used as a jail and place of execution of sentences
Evidence against Nicholas Sahno Dali and other defendants in the case:
— In the summer of 1937, Sahno said, “has Lived up to what the Soviet power the Church closes, the Cathedral is already closed and the rest of the churches will close. We further his work must continue soon will wait for the change of the Soviet government. Then we begin to live again”.
Here’s another quote from the testimony of one of the defendants in the case:
— When Sahno returned from exile, he said: “Is the present-day Antichrist will give to breathe freely man? I think the war will start and deliver us from all this. Or we ourselves have to take up the axe and start to be free.” After the closure of the Mozyr Council of Sahno said: “the time will Come and we will be free from Soviet domination, we still impaled those who destroyed the churches of God.”
Nikolay Ivanovich on interrogation stated that a party to anti-Soviet groups have never been:
— Plead guilty only that has been associated with the clergy that opposed the Soviet regime. Being present at a counter-revolutionary conversations, shared their views.
On “proving” the guilt of the “special three” needed just six days after the arrest of Nicholas Sahno. Sentence — capital punishment. The shot is not the only deacon of Sahno, but those who gave evidence against him — all 14 participants of the “criminal group”. His last days were spent in the temple, which has become a prison.
Where it was shot Nikolay Ivanovich, is not known. In Mozyr, according to father George, the sentences of the “special Troika” was performed in at least three places — at the Cathedral, in the ravine near the Mound of Glory, in the tract in the village of Berezovka, where in our time was a memorial cross to the victims of Stalinist repression.
In 1959 Nicholas Sahno was rehabilitated by the Supreme court of the BSSR decided that his wines and the other defendants in “the Church” is not proven. Statement on the rehabilitation was filed by the granddaughter of shot of deacon. The investigator who led the case, for “gross violations of the law” was dismissed from the KGB.
The prison in the Cathedral lasted until the moment when Mozyr joined the Germans. According to the recollections of local residents, the retreating guards locked the remaining prisoners behind the big doors in the Church — they are there and died.
During the Second world war, the Cathedral was reopened and remained in force the entire period of occupation. After the war, again there was a threat of closure, but in 1951 was was the Orthodox community and the Church managed to defend.
The bodies of executed people were sprinkled with sand and lime
Father George notes that according to the recollections of local residents who found the time of Stalin’s repressions at night near the Church constantly heard the rumble of trucks — were brought to the sand. What will become clear in the early 1990s, when clerics get access to the lower part of the Church.
— Sand and lime sprinkled on the bodies of executed people lying in piles, says the priest. Until 1993 open access to these dungeons at Church was not. When I got there the believers and the priests, he saw a terrible picture: in the basement there were 15 tons of earth, almost to the ceiling, there were the remains of people and tons of debris. The sand used to hide traces of crimes. But as you know, all secret becomes obvious.
The large graves were discovered in the altar. Initially it was speculated that the remains belonged to the monks of the Bernardine, who founded a monastery here.
But was immediately discovered by Soviet objects: pennies, gun belts, cartridge cases from under the rifles and finally, the skulls with bullet holes, including women, talking about the killings in Soviet times, says father George.
All the remains were carefully collected and placed in the chapel, which is located in the crypt. The iconostasis is made in the form of wrought iron, Recalling that the people here were in prison.
— Every Monday there is the Liturgy in the light of candles and lamps. During the service special feel, because in the Holy place killed people. We should be aware of this and remember the innocent victims.
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