"...we also glory in tribulations, knowing that
tribulation produces perseverance; and
perseverance, character; and character, hope."
waited prayerfully for nearly nine years to get a message through to
the outside world.... [Finally some of the prisoners] had been given
permission to write home, one of the small concessions that had
emerged after the bloody East German strikes of the previous year.
I sent out an odd postcard indeed: it was signed with
another man’s name, addressed to someone I had called
“uncle” as a child, and referred to myself as “the noble
nephew.” But it served its purpose, eventually reaching
my father who identified my handwriting and at last had proof to show to the State Department authorities at home....
Father had had previous word about me
from an in direct source. Homer Cox, an American GI who had been
arrested by the Russians in East Berlin and had wound up in Vorkuta
serving a long term as a “spy,” had been released unexpectedly in
December, 1953. ... He had told newspaper reporters on his release
that there was an “English prisoner” named Noble at Vorkuta. A
writer for a major British daily looked into the matter and came to
the conclusion that it was I. A friend sent my father a clipping of
the British story. And now, nearly a year later, came my card which
permitted my family to bring the powerful machinery of the U.S.
State Department into play on my behalf.
...on the tenth of June, 1954, the
supervisor came around and told me that I was leaving camp. My first
reaction was that he must be making a clumsy joke, but he wasn’t the
joking type, so I went to see the chief of the camp who had sent the
message. Sure enough, in it was true: first thing next morning I was
to be ready and waiting at the camp gate to be picked up....
Next morning, as instructed, I stood
at the camp gate with my remaining possessions in a small bundle,
and watched the other prisoners start off for their day’s labor. A
Russian guard came by and picked me up in a jeep. To my surprise, we
stopped a mile down the road at the entrance to another compound and
took on two more American prisoners. They were William Marchuk and
William Verdine, young American GI’s who had been arrested after
allegedly crossing the demarcation line into the Russian Zone of
Germany. They had received long sentences at hard labor as “spies”
but, like me, were being released from Vorkuta unexpectedly.
Down the long rail line to Moscow,
some 1600 miles away, we now went with two MVD officers
us. On this journey, I again had an opportunity to observe Russian
life at first hand. I was astonished by the number
of beggars we encountered at every station. Several ragged, starving
men said that they were crippled veterans of the war and loudly
complained that the government was not helping them, something they
would not have dared say if it was not patently true. Poor as I was
and undernourished, yet some of these men were in far worse
condition than I, and I gave them a few of the rubles I had earned
at slave labor. When I did so, they crossed themselves and said
fervently, “God bless you!”
As I watched them move down the car
to other compartments, I noticed that they made this religious sign
time they received aims. Thus, in the midst of an atheistic society,
charity is still recognized as related to the Christian religion.
Another vivid symbol of the survival
of Christian tradition came into view as we neared Moscow and we
began passing through some of the older towns and villages. In every
one I could see the domed spire of a Russian Orthodox church.
Whether these buildings were still being used for worship or not, I
do not know, but I consider it signficant that they were still
standing and that the Communists, despite their hostility to
organized religion, have never dared tear them down or alter their
In Moscow we found quite a reception
committee awaiting us, about twenty MVD agents! The door to freedom
was not yet open for me. Instead, we three Americans were taken to
Butirskaya Prison and, after a few days, were escorted under heavy
guard to a train which conveyed us to the repatriation camp at Potma,
located 2oo miles southeast of Moscow.
Potma is the center through which pass prisoners who have completed
long sentences of ten, fifteen or even twenty years at hard labor.
And here once again I had to learn the patience of unanswered prayer
as the days lengthened into weeks, the weeks into months, while
somewhere in the mysterious recesses of the Kremlin the question was
debated as to whether we should be’ released, sent back to labor
camp, or perhaps executed.
In our case, I believe that the
Kremlin had decided to put us “on ice” for awhile, hoping that the
hue and cry from America would die down. I am sure that the Soviet
security chiefs would have preferred to keep me in custody the rest
of my life because I had seen too much. On the other hand, the
foreign policy of the Soviet Union was official “smiles” at the
United States as they prepared the groundwork for the famous Summit
Conference at Geneva in 1955. My fate would be determined... not by
considerations of justice for the individual, but by those of
expediency for Moscow.
There was an unusually large number
of Yugoslavs in the Potma camp. Their sentences had long since run
out but they were being held as human pawns in an international
chess game while the Kremlin wooed the dissident Marshal Tito. Week
after week they waited, not knowing what fate held in store for
I was disappointed but not bitter to
find my hopes for freedom once more dashed. I could see the hand of
God moving slowly. I had been released from Vorkuta and its inhuman
toil and had been preserved from all dangers there, just as
previously I had been saved in the Communist prisons in East
Germany. I was confident that God would preserve me now at Potma and
I remained quietly in prison, performing whatever further mission I
The tuberculosis victims received
little attention. The other prisoners were afraid to help them for
fear they would contract the dread disease themselves. I was
confident that God would somehow protect me and began to do what I
could to ease their suffering. I got a supply of empty tin cans from
the kitchen for them to spit into. It was messy work to try to clean
up their bunks and empty these cans each day, but they were so
pathetically grateful that I did not mind. ... We often used to talk
about the Bible and faith in God...
While in Russia, I had met Russian
officials, Russian soldiers, Russian fellow prisoners but not until
the camp at Potma did I meet someone who had moved in Kremlin
circles: Madame N. K., former wife of the man
who has now achieved his ambition of becoming Premier and First
Party Secretary. [Nikita Khrushchev was premier from Sep.
1953 to Oct 1964]
Mme. Corskaya (for she had resumed
her maiden name) has now been released. ... but at that
time she had served an eight-year sentence at hard labor in Siberia
which had long since run out, yet she was still being held. The
reason for this, she believed, was that K. who, in late 1954, ranked
about fourth in the Kremlin hierarchy, was making a last desperate
effort to reach the top and for some time had not wanted her around
to witness his rise. ... Her husband, she said, was driven by
ambition and cared little for his family or for anything except his
own advancement. They had been married for a number of years and had
a son and a daughter when suddenly one day she was arrested,
denounced, and sentenced to hard labor in the mines. That same
week N. K. divorced her.
In his own power-hungry, boastful,
and often bibulous way K., I believe, stands for Soviet man, the
sinner in process of disillusion who would abolish God because he
can no longer stand the sight of his own defiance....
When I left Russia, as a foreigner
who had seen and learned more about the Soviet people than most
visitors are ever privileged to do, I knew that I was leaving the
land of disenchantment. It was still a long way, and an age of time,
to West Berlin.
"Thanks be to God,
who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always
abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your
labor is not in vain in the Lord." 1