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Special Issue

2004-04-06

The victims of Communist totalitarianism in the USSR

Rome (Fides Service) - Thirteen years since the fall of the Soviet Communist rule with the opening of many archives, although not all, the real dimensions of repression in the USSR are beginning to appear although at the same time it is becoming increasingly clear that a complete count of the victims will never be possible because so much information was destroyed.
The number of victims should include those killed in civil war, those executed (hundreds of thousands were shot without a trial or even a piece of paper and therefore without record), those who died of hunger (three famines: 1921-22 central Russia, not relieved - 5 million deaths; 1932-33 in Ukraine and Lower Volga, induced - 7.7 million deaths; 1946-47 - 2 million deaths), those who died of deportation (during transport, marching on foot, cold, hunger, in places of deportation), those who died in concentration camps, labour camps (exhaustion, accidents, hunger, cold, disease, while trying to escape), during interrogation (at least 250,000).
A first estimate of the officially registered dead gives a provisional figure of 20 million (in the black book of Communism), but we do not know for certain whether there are reasons for which not all the dead are counted. Even police reports are not always reliable due to the use of inspection and consequent censure which induced camp commanders to lie with regard to the number of the dead (we know that prisoners on the point of death were often released to reduce the statistics of registered deaths among prisoners). We recall also that the political police did not use the Gulag to exterminate its enemies. Mass executions were carried out mostly in the open, in forests or at special “immediate death camps” so that no trace remained in the archives and are now being discovered here and there (so far one hundred camps have been found mostly very near large cities Moscow, St Petersburg, Kiev, Vilnius).
Many who died during transfer or interrogation or a few days after liberation were never registered. Moreover whole archives were destroyed and in some cases, during the induced famine in Ukraine for example in 1932-1933, Moscow issued precise orders not to register the deaths.
To illustrate the case of systematic repression of one particular category of citizens (believers), we give figures relative of the largest religious community in the USSR, the Russian Orthodox Church : in 1917 the Russian Orthodox Church had 210,00 members of the clergy, by 1941 some 130,000 had been shot and only 500 of those who survived were free; of 300 Russian Orthodox Bishops, 250 were shot and of the rest only 4 were free in 1941. It is impossible to count the number of Orthodox faithful annihilated by the repression machine. Moreover in 1939 in the whole of the USSR, there were only 100 of the 55,000 churches which had existed in 1917, and not one of about 1,000 existing monasteries (Fondazione Russia Cristiana-Seriate-Bg)
(Agenzia Fides 6/4/2004 lines 36; words 539)

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