A Communist Legacy Shattered Churches Stand as Mute Testimony to Soviet Rule

Wood, Carter. "A Communist Legacy Shattered Churches Stand as Mute Testimony to Soviet Rule." Grand Forks Herald, 8 July 1994.

ODESSA, Ukraine - St. Paul Lutheran church stands an empty shell, but once it was the central church for thousands of Black Sea Germans from Russia.

Built in 1897 on a high point in the heart of Odessa, the neo-Gothic church became a monument to their faith. Nearby, the church operated schools and a poor house.

The Communists closed it down in 1937, arresting ministers and teachers. Beginning in 1944, the building served as a gymnasium and warehouse for the Popov School for Communication. Leaky pipes led to extensive water damage.

Fire struck in 1976. All the wooden structures burned.

What happened to St. Pauli happened over and over to the Lutheran and Catholic churches throughout the Soviet Union. The persecution of buildings mirrored the persecution of people.

Michael Miller of North Dakota State University admits to being moved by seeing the ruins on a recent trip to the Ukraine.

"The most dramatic thing for me was to see the outer structure of these spectacular churches," said Miller, the head of the German from Russia Heritage Collection at NDSU.

"They wanted a focus in their community to stand out for their people, and I think they did it in their churches."

Like their ancestors, Germans from Russia who settled in the Dakotas made building a church a priority, he said.

Now children play in the expansive remains of the Catholic church of the former ethnic Germany community of Selz. Soviet slogans from World War II are written on the walls.

In Borodino, the church serves as the local cinema. In Vesjoly-Kut, once Paris, it’s a library. The church in Sarata is a "house of culture," the former Communist meeting hall.

In what once was Grossliebenthal, the church is boarded up, although signs say it will be renovated into a Ukrainian Orthodox church. The address is 97 Lenin Street.

In Krasna, the church is gone. German tombstones in the cemetery were razed.

Yet descendants of the German villagers have plans to build a little chapel there, and local residents don’t mind at all. In the cemetery stands a monument: The German settlers, 1814-1940.

And Lutheran church officials in Odessa have hopes of building a religious and cultural center within the very ruins of St. Pauli. However, some view the project as unrealistic. It carries a $2 million price tag.

Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller