Night of the Barbarians
Memoirs of Communist Persecution of the Slovak Cardinal
By Jan Chryzostom Cardinal Korec,. S. J.
Edited by Ivan Reguli, Emil Vontorcik, Richard Gaughran
Translated by Peter-Paul Siska, Jeff Schmitz, Richard Gaughran
INTRIGUE, SPYING AND DEFYING: IT’S ALL IN HERE
The Night of the Barbarians, Memoirs of the Communist Persecution of the Slovak Cardinal, by Jan Chryzostom Cardinal Korec, S.J.: first book in English featuring the values of a top Jesuit, top churchman, and a prominent Slovak; first expose of Communist persecution of religion and failure of Communist principles in Slovakia.
Another totalitarian system began vigorously marching across the borders of Central Europe. Violence, collectivization, mandatory atheist education, crude interrogations, and imprisonment were just a few of the many experiences that profoundly affected the life of Slovak people. Cardinal Jan Chryzostom Korec, S.J.’s book leads us vividly into the middle of this reality. The Night of the Barbarians is an honest and sincere account of events as they began to unfold in front of the author’s eyes beginning the night of April 13, 1950, and ending December 8, 1968. Includes a new foreword, introduction, notes, and epilogue.
(Quoted from a flier distributed by the Slovak-American International Cultural Foundation,
Inc., 1000 Brown Street, Unit 102, Wauconda, IL 60084.)
“No jail in the world can ever keep the human spirit, thoughts, or imagination imprisoned,.” said Jan Cardinal Korec.
At the tender age of 10, young Jan Korec already knew that he wanted to become a priest; however, until that time came, he constructed a makeshift altar in his boyhood home in the village of Topolcany in then-Czechoslovakia. A mere seventeen years later, he found himself charged and imprisoned for "studying theology and helping others remain faithful to their vows.” This was a criminal act according to communist officials.
Don’t believe the claim that we have no heroes in our world today; you just have to know where to look. A person cannot get much braver than to steadfastly defy the laws of a police state, which Czechoslovakia—and much of Eastern Europe—became by April 13, 1950, the night that the barbarian communist leaders ruthlessly and swiftly shut down the monasteries and the convents throughout Czechoslovakia. Our hero, Jan Korec, was determined not to take this lying down. He and many other religious leaders formed and maintained a “secret underground church,” hidden away and out of sight of the communists.
Even though the new communist government tried to keep their suppression of the Catholic Church secret from the rest of the world, news of their terrible acts eventually reached the Vatican in Rome. Distressed by these events, the Pope clandestinely managed to convey his encouragement for the preservation of this growing underground Church. Six months after the Soviet takeover, while working as a common laborer in Bratislava (now the capital of the Slovak Republic), Korec and four other theology students became secretly ordained to the priesthood.
This was an extremely dangerous act during a time when all Catholic Bishops in the Church were either imprisoned or under house arrest. Even so, Korec continued his priestly duties, covertly meeting with other priests and religious. In August of 1951, during the darkest days of religious persecution, he and four other young priests were secretly ordained as bishops.
Only 27 years old at the time, Korec lived in constant danger because of his subsequent ordinations of fellow priests. Nine years later, he was arrested for “treasonous acts” against the State and sentenced to twelve years in prison. He served time in the infamous prisons of Pankrac and Valdice in the Czech Republic.
“I knew that I was starting a journey to serve my Lord in prisoner’s clothes,” he wrote as he began to serve his eight-year sentence. (During the communist “thaw” of 1968, he was granted an early release.)
His life in prison makes for compelling reading. The author “pulls no punches” in this autobiographical account. If you’ve read other accounts of imprisonment under communist jailers, you’ll know that they are not a softhearted lot. Cardinal Korec intertwined his anguish with the advice of Saint Paul and Saint Augustine. He accepted that part of his pastoral mission was to take place now in these rough prisons, where he had to live side by side with violent criminals. Korec helped young criminals memorize Scripture, which he had furtively written on cigarette paper.
During these years of isolation from the Western world, prisoners would occasionally manage to get copies of smuggled newspapers. By these rare glimpses into the outside world, Korec and the other prisoners learned in bits and pieces about the Second Vatican Council reforms, which were taking place during the 1960s.
Despite the grim nature of these circumstances about which Korec writes, Night of the Barbarians is not a grim, humorless read. Korec weaves humorous anecdotes throughout his story and confesses that he learned as much about human life from his fellow inmates as they learned about Christian principles from him. He did not take mistreatment of himself or other prisoners lightly, and continually championed the cause of fundamental human rights inside and outside the prison walls. Once he was granted an early release in 1968, Korec emerged publicly as a bishop of the Church and refused to join the State-run (communist sympathizing) Catholic organization, known as
the “Peace Movement of the Catholic Clergy.” Once again, he became a marked man and lived under constant surveillance until just before the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
After his release from prison, Bishop Korec visited Pope John Paul II, who bestowed many priceless gifts upon him. In 1991, Korec was appointed Cardinal. At the beginning of the book is a letter from the Pope, which is very touching and exceptionally worthwhile reading.
I wish to close my review with several quotes from various persons about the book.
Thank you very much, Lord Cardinal, that you eternalized [in this book] your memories
of your eight year imprisonment under the Communist oppression….This testimony is
--Pope John Paul II
Cardinal Korec guided his severely tested Church….Today we are thankful to him for
his example and the stand he took, even here in the Czech Republic, where he survived
the most crucial moments of his life in Valdice prison.
Cardinal Korec is one of my heroes….He writes of events in history—moments that
changed the world, like the Communist takeover of Eastern Europe, or the Second
Vatican Council….I am truly honored at being invited to write this brief Foreword
to Cardinal Korec’s book. It is a way of saying “Thank you” for his inspiration and
--Theodore E. Cardinal McCarrick