Review by: David Doellinger, Slovo, National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library's Journal - January 1, 2005
THE NIGHT OF THE BARBARIANS: MEMOIRS OF THE COMMUNIST PERSECUTION OF THE SLOVAK CARDINAL
Reviewed by David Doellinger
The Night of the Barbarians: Memoirs of the Communist Persecution of the Slovak Cardinal
Jan Chryzostom Cardinal Korec, S.J.
475 pages; notes, index, photographs, map
Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2002
Following the collapse of Communism in 1989, many of the clergy who had resisted collaborating with the fallen regime became leaders within the Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia. In 1991, Pope John Paul II promoted one such Slovak, the bishop of the diocese of Nitra, Jan Chryzostom Korec, to the College of Cardinals. As a result of his unwillingness to compromise with the communist authorities, Cardinal Korec had become one of the most prominent leaders of the underground Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia. The Night of the Barbarians is his memoir of persecution and ministry in Czechoslovakia from the Stalinist repression of the early 1950s to the political liberalization of the Prague Spring in 1968. First published in Slovak in 1990 (Od barbarskej noci, Bratislava: Lúc, 1990), the 2002 publication of this translation makes available to the English-reading, non-specialized audience an insightful look at one of the most difficult periods in recent Czecho-Slovak history.
The title, The Night of the Barbarians, refers to the events that Cardinal Korec experienced as a student at the Jesuit seminary in Trnava on April 13, 1950. That evening, the police and militia attempted to liquidate the male religious orders throughout Czechoslovakia. Cardinal Korec describes how he, his fellow students and professors were herded into buses and transported to one of several "concentration monasteries." Though he was released after a few months due to health problems, many of his colleagues received prison sentences and/or were assigned to labor camps. The elimination of the monasteries was one component of a broader communist program to decapitate and control the Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia.
In spite of the persecution, Cardinal Korec makes it clear, he and other clergy unwilling to collaborate with the communist authorities found new avenues to pursue their ministry. In 1951, he was secretly consecrated as a Bishop at the age of 27. During the remainder of the decade he worked a number of jobs outside of the church while secretly fulfilling his duties as a bishop by writing prayers and meditations, helping seminary students complete their training, and ordaining priests (over 120 secret ordinations by 1989). Arrested and charged with treason in 1960, he served eight years of a 12-year prison sentence.
Review by: Shirley LaBusier - June 24, 2004
Jan Korec's Book vividly shares the events that unfolded in front of his eyes beginning on the night of April 13, 1950, and ending in December 8, 1968. "It won't be long before we will turn the last church building into a museum!" was a serious threst from Moscow as soon as the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czar of Russia. During the night of april 13, 1950, the communists' militia and police surronded all cloisters and monasteries in the former Czecho-Slovakia and in a few hours ended a thousand years of monastic history. Jan Cardinal Korec was a student at the Jesuit seminary and personally witnessed this "barbaric" night. At the age of 15, he was the youngest novitiate in the region of Bosan; he took his vows at age 17 in 1941. Cardinal Korec was ordained a priest 6 months after the invasion. The following year he was secretly consecrated a Bishop of the Catholic Church. He played a significant role in the "the underground church," and he himself ordained 120 priests in "underground" cermonies. He worked for nine years in a factory, carrying out his priestly ministry in secret. In 1960, he was arrested and condemned to 16 years in prison for "treason" and imprisoned at the infamous Valdice and Pankrac prisons, he was released in 1968. On February 6, 1990 Pope Paul II named him Bishop of Nitra and at the Consistory of June 28, 1991, a Cardinal. Cardinal Korec writes about people who found themselves cooperating in the oppression of their nation, and people who stood up to that oppression. He tells of years of stifling drudgery, and amazing acts of bravery. But what emerges from his story is an image of human lives. This man is truly a modern day hero. The Night of the Barbarians is available at your favorite bookstore or online at www.amazon.com
Review by: Robert Herbert, KOSMAS - November 10, 2003
Cardinal Ján Chryzostom Korec. The Night of the Barbarians: Memoirs of the Communist Persecution of the Slovak Cardinal. Traps. Peter Siska.
Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci, 2002. 475 pp. ISBN 0-86516-532-7.
The English translation of Od barbarskej noci, the Slovak Cardinal's memoirs, is a welcome and important addition to English-language literature on government persecution of religion and religious institutions during post-World War ll socialist Czechoslovakia. The title refers to a single event, the night of April 13, 1950, when religious orders and monastic establishments throughout the country were forcibly suppressed. Religious orders were forbidden to accept new members, many monks and nuns were arrested, and ecclesiastical property was confiscated without compensation. As Viliam Judák observes in the introduction, the seeds of this night were sown even before the end of WWll, and one needs to understand the wider meaning of this attempt to shatter institutional Catholicism within the context of the intimate association of Slovak nationalism with the Catholic faith throughout the past millennium. Catholicism is inseparable from Slovak nationalism. As in Communist Poland, Catholicism was a primary vehicle for nationalist expression. The misinformation used to justify governmental action against religion is a common story in communist regimes. Korec's own perspective on the background of Communist persecution of the Catholic Church, which began in 1948, is given in Chapter 7 and in several later chapters in which he reflects upon his life as a seminarian, priest, bishop, and prisoner of the state.
Ján Chryzostom Korec, born in 1924, entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1939. This present volume begins when he was a theological student in Trnava, and it chronicles the various incarcerations, interrogations, and imprisonments that Korec suffered during the following decades as he was moved from one restrictive situation to another, but the details of those movements are not the most important aspect of the book. At the same time, Korec's personal history is the stuff of legend: he was ordained to the priesthood during this difficult period and secretly consecrated a bishop in 1951, as the Church hierarchy needed to insure continuity of pastoral care and priestly succession. By 1950, more than 3,000 Catholic priests were in prison or in labor centers, and at least 8,000 members of religious orders (male and female) were contained in so-called "concentration monasteries." The future of the institutional church was in jeopardy, and Korec found himself a key player in its preservation. Following the interruption of his studies, Korec was interned in Jasov, Podolinec, and Pezionek, and then worked in factories for nine years, while fulfilling his priestly mission in secret. ln 1960, he was finally arrested for treason
and sentenced to prison. He was released in 1968, rehabilitated, and received his Episcopal insignia from Pope Paul Vl in 1969. He then returned to factory work and was later reincarcerated in 1974, only to be released later on account of ill health. This personal history, gripping in its own right, provides the background for the present memoir.
The Communist regime's attempt to infiltrate and then suppress the Catholic establishment precedes 1950, and it is a familiar scenario in the ideology's battle with faith. ln the present case, government propaganda held Catholics accountable for the division of the state in 1939, when Bohemia and Moravia were annexed to the Third Reich, as well as for the failed government of the Slovak Republic headed by Monsignor Jozef Tiso. Catholic Action, a popular organization promoted by the church hierarchy, had been dissolved by state decree in 1948, but it was replaced by a state enterprise with the same name with the goal of undermining the legitimate Church. Catholic clergy were divided in their response to state interference. Around 10% of the Catholic clergy informed for the secret police; a much larger group took part in the Peace Committee of Catholic Clergy, a priestly society developed and sponsored by the Communist government. These "progressive" priests sought to create a "national church," for they were involved in a schism with Rome and were free of Vatican oversight. Korec belongs to a third group of priests, characterized by unwavering fidelity to the Roman Church and to Catholic doctrine. For this loyalty, Korec was rewarded with incarceration, harsh interrogations, and was finally sentenced in 1960 to a twelve-year prison sentence and "exile" to the Czech lands. Korec refused to appeal the sentence on the grounds that to do so would legitimize the charges, the trial, and state authority. He was released from prison in February 1968, when his legal rehabilitation began.
The strength of the present volume comes from Korec's recounting of his life as a prisoner. He offers himself not as a hero, but rather as one of many who were deprived of their freedom and humiliated by an illegitimate power. "The life of priests in solitary was, in spite of all that misery, also joyful. We knew why we were there, and we knew that by being imprisoned we were helping to fulfill the mission of the church with sacrifices" (297). At various points, Korec shares his prison quarters with murderers, thieves, and other civil criminals. He mentors young prisoners, not only of the Catholic faith, and details his attempts to encourage them to study and seize control of their futures. He is, in his own words, a pastor.
Korec provides a useful historical document, a personal and deeply emotional tale of faith and survival. Understandably, the writing was not contemporaneous with the events it describes; indeed, several of the incidents that Korec recounts involve frustration about access to writing and print materials during his imprisonment. The original Slovak edition of the work appeared in 1976, and Korec was still concerned enough to gloss over certain details in order to protect other persons from potential repercussions of his reporting. There is thus an occasional haziness about chronology and individual identities, and one suspects that this is deliberate. Korec promises "more at another time," and perhaps the twenty-five years between the original publication and the English translation should have provided that additional time.
The reader is struck by the force of Korec's rejection of state legitimatization of religious persecution. At the same time, Korec maintains a laudable moderation toward prison guards and all those with whom he came in contact. There is a moving description of how covert theological training sessions and priestly duties were undertaken in the prisons, as well as a depiction of the deprivations which Korec and others suffered when these activities were discovered. Writing after his release, Korec is able to observe that "our time in prison was a precious time, a holy time, which God had given to us at that moment to use" (359-60). The author avoids some of the sectarianism of previous contri-
114 KOSMAS: Czechoslovak and Central European Journal
butions to the genre of prison memoir, such as are found in Pavel Uhorskai's Uncompromising Faith: One Man's Notes from Prison (St. Louis: Concordia, 1992), which is marred by anti-Catholic rhetoric.
Night of the Barbarians is actually the first of a three-volume set. The other volumes were published in Slovak almost fifteen years after the first. They provide some documentation in the form of letters and other correspondence, and there may be some more direct discussion of particular persons and actions. At the time of Korec's writing this present volume, the underground church in Slovakia was apparently vigorous, but the "legal" church was also prominent and manipulated. Korec felt constrained in his ability to provide all the details of the quarter century that he chronicled.
The value of the present volume resides in several areas. First, Korec provides an eyewitness account of an important period in post-WWll history in Czechoslovakia. Second, he offers a prominent church official's perspective of the encounter between socialist ideology and organized religion. Finally, the book is a testament to the author's faith and dedication to his pastoral vocation. He ordained priests secretly and consecrated at least one bishop, Dominic Kalata. For these acts, he risked and sacrificed his freedom. Korec's later accomplishments make the importance of this volume all the greater. He was officially made bishop of Nitra (Slovakia) in 1990 and was anointed a cardinal in 1991.
From a technical perspective, Korec's book has been painstakingly translated, and rhetorical lapses are rare indeed. The translator has provided many helpful notes on persons and places in accompanying notes. Night of the Barbarians needs to be read by anyone interested in state-religion relations in Czechoslovakia during the period between World War Il and the Prague Spring.
Robert K. Herbert
Stephen F. Austin State University
Review by: James Cox, Midwest Book Review - April 1, 2003
1000 Brown St. #101 Wauconda IL 60084
Two unique and outstanding history coverages may not find use in every collection; but any collection with in-depth focus on Eastern Europe will find these essential editions. Particularly important is Slovak History: Chronology And Lexicon (086-5164444, $59.00), an important chronology of events which attempts to fill the gap in literature on Slovak history. The coverage records Slovak history chronologically up through 1998, then offers an encyclopedia dictionary with over three hundred entries outlining the important concepts and events of the region. Jan Chryzostom Cardinal Korec, S.J.'s Night Of The Barbarians: Memoirs Of The Communist Persecution Of The Slovak Cardinal (086-5165378, $24.95) provides the author's memoirs of the Communist persecution of the Slovak Cardinal. Cardinal Korec guided his Church and took a dangerous stand in the Czech republic, one which resulted in his imprisonment. This provides his personal observation of events which shaped Eastern Europe. Both are quite specific but powerful additions to any in-depth collection on the region.