Forgiveness and the Gulag: Reconciliation and Resurrection

Eric Metaxas | BreakPoint | Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Forgiveness and the Gulag: Reconciliation and Resurrection

Eighty-five years ago, as part of their campaign to collectivize Soviet agriculture, Stalin and his lackeys declared war on a group of peasants they dubbed “kulaks.”

Officially at least, a “kulak” was a so-called “rich peasant.” So-called, because in a village where most people owned a single cow, the man with two was regarded as “rich.”

In reality, “kulak,” as historian Orlando Figes has documented, was a catch-all phrase applied to every rural resident perceived as obstructing the re-creation of Russian rural society along Bolshevik lines.

The definition of obstruction was as arbitrary and hazy as the definition of “rich.” Often, all it took to be labeled a “kulak” and sent to the Gulag was a denunciation by a jealous neighbor and/or local ne’er-do-well turned party hack.

That’s exactly what happened to Nikolai Golovin and his family in 1930. Nikolai was a respected leader in the village and, by any measure, an upright Soviet citizen. That meant nothing when he was denounced as a “kulak” by Kolia Kuzmin, a ne’er-do-well turned Communist Youth League leader.

Adding insult to the substantial, life-changing injury he was about to suffer — suffering that included the murder of his brother, Ivan — was that Golovin had gone out of his way to help Kuzmin, the son of an alcoholic and abusive father. Kuzmin had often stayed in his home, and Golovin had given him a job out of pity for his situation.

None of that mattered. Like other “enemies of the state,” the Golovins were given hours to gather their belongings and were sent into exile. What the family endured is the subject of Figes’ book, The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia. It was suffering on a level that is almost impossible to imagine.

Given his monumental betrayal, you’d kind of hope that Kuzmin would have eventually had to pay for his treachery. Well, he did, but not in the way you might imagine.

After Stalin’s death, when virtually all of the surviving exiled “kulaks” were released, Kuzmin went looking for the Golovins to ask for their forgiveness. This in itself was extraordinary: In the post-Stalin USSR, most persecutors and functionaries clung to the “following orders” defense or pretended that nothing had happened.

Even more extraordinary was the Golovins’ response: They forgave Kuzmin. They did it for the same reason they had helped him out years before, their Christian faith. As Nikolai’s wife, Yevdokiia, told their incredulous daughter, “a truly Christian person should forgive his enemies.”

They not only forgave Kuzmin, they made him an integral part of their lives. He moved in next door. He ran errands for them and they went to church together on Sundays. When Kuzmin died in 1970, he was buried alongside the Golovins, where their bodies await the resurrection of the dead together.

At that time, Jesus’ kingdom will be visible to all. But to those with eyes to see, it was visible in a tiny town in northwest Russia. There, the kind of forgiveness and reconciliation made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection was on display.

Soviet efforts to create a new “Soviet man” brought death and despair — injuries from which the lands under their rule are still recovering. But the Golovins bore witness to the new creation made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

That’s why Kuzmin was repaid for his treachery with forgiveness and grace. And it’s why we should go and do likewise.

Come to BreakPoint.org and check out some great resources on forgiveness.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: March 26, 2013

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