- In Lubianka's Shadow: The Memoirs of an American Priest in Stalin's Moscow, 1934–1945
In Lubianka's Shadow is the apt title given to the memoirs of Father Leopold Braun, A.A., the American Assumptionist priest who served in [End Page 394] Moscow during the Stalin era at the Roman Catholic church of Saint Louis. This was at one point the only Catholic church open in all Russia and stands next to the fearsome Lubianka, headquarters of the Soviet secret police and prison for thousands of people. The prison includes parts of the parish property, and it edges up to the church itself. The NKVD watched the priests and people of the parish quite thoroughly as a result. Father Braun went to Moscow as part of the United States' recognition of the USSR in 1933, and stayed until the end of 1945. Often reviled as being politically conservative and paranoid as a result of this assignment, a reading of these memoirs shows just how persecuted this priest was by the Soviet state.
Father Braun dedicated himself to keeping Saint Louis open, serving Catholic foreigners and Soviets under the provisions of the Roosevelt-Litvinov Agreement. His pastoral work took him outside the church, as he ministered in private homes in other cities. His work in Moscow prospered despite police provocations and attacks. He writes of pastoral work and of the steady stream of Soviet Catholics who came because of the efficiency of the underground Catholic network that passed on the word about Saint Louis and its American priest. Braun had the support of many foreign Catholics in Moscow for his pastoral work, but he did not always have support from American ambassadors. The failure of some diplomats to protect his sacramental work, the provisions of the agreement, and his life, or to understand the depth of antireligious persecution, was the source of deep frustration. He felt that Americans really did not understand the depth of evil in the Soviet system. A classic example was the trip of Vice President Henry Wallace to the deadly Kolyma labor camps and his comparison of the gulag to the Tennessee Valley Authority. This type of naiveté pushed Father Braun to become passionate about revealing the truth.
The book gives us an eyewitness account of the fierce antireligious campaigns; of the dedicated faith of ordinary people; of the determination of the Soviets to destroy Father Braun by any means; of life under constant police surveillance; and a rare account of the panic that gripped the Soviet government as it packed up and fled east as the German forces drew near in 1941.
Hamburg has edited this long-suppressed work and given a very good introduction, which must be read first to understand the plight of Father Braun long after he left Moscow. Cold war politics inside the Church doomed Braun's manuscripts to silence, and as Hamburg writes, the Vatican itself had a "coldly instrumental" attitude to this priest whose dispatches from Moscow helped Pius XI write his anticommunist encyclical.
After Braun's departure from Moscow, the Assumptionists were restricted to work with foreigners under the title of Our Lady of Hope, without a church. Our Lady of Hope still does not have a church building, and it only exists because of Father Braun's work. The first apartment used for Our Lady of Hope after the restrictive 1997 Law on Religion was that of a convert baptized by Braun: The pastor said at the time that his parish survived because of that [End Page 395] woman's faith and determination. Braun's ministry bore many fruits, of which we still know only a few. [End Page 396]