Dukh-i-zhizniki in America
An update of Molokans in America (Berokoff, 1969). — IN-PROGRESS
Enhanced and edited by Andrei Conovaloff, 2013. Send comments to Administrator @ Molokane. org
Chapter 4 — The First World War [<Chapter 3] [Contents] [Chapter 5>]
[PAGE 63] At a Sunday morning [meeting] church service on Lafayette St.* on October 18, 1910, there was a most significant prophesy uttered through the lips of the most respected [Maksimist] prophet of the time, Afonasy Timofeitch Bezayeff. [* Stimpson-Lafayette Industrial School, now a parking lot just north of Jackson on Hewitt.]
Suddenly he cried out: "Oh God such a wrath is coming upon the earth!" Taking a glass tumbler, he placed it inside an enameled bowl and spun the tumbler within the bowl at a great speed saying; "Thus will the universe sway". Then taking an iron rod in his hand, he said; "This iron rod is going around the world to crush the kings of the world and all its people". "Oh Lord God will this come to pass? Answering the question himself he said; "It will surely come to pass". . ."Will Thy chosen ones be found? again he answered his own question; "Few called ones will be found". Oh Lord my God! Will enough women be found to bind the wounds?" the answer again; "There will be enough".
He then turned to the elders with a question: "Upon whose land am I standing?" The answer was; 'Upon God's land that is in possession of America". To this he said; "God looks upon this land with a compassionate eye". Then again answering his own questions he said; "Oh Lord my God! Will it reach the west? It will; Will there be any mercy from the south? No. Will there be any protection from the North? There never was and never will be. Behold I see a multitude of ships being moved up-millions, for a battle in the whole world, as it is said; from the cast to the west, from the south to the north they axe perishing in great waters by destroying each other. This is called the war of Armageddon".
[PAGE 64] This prophesy perplexed the elders very much, and the people also for it implied that America too, would be involved in the battle of Armageddon, and the flight to the refuge will have been for naught.
However, after a few weeks of discussion the incident was pushed into the background because of more pressing problems, such as the search for a location of a farming community for which purpose delegation after delegation was appointed and sent out to various parts of California and other Western states.
But this prophecy was not like others. It was urgent. The whole tone of it implied urgency. Only three and half years elapsed when, in the summer of 1914 the whole continent of Europe and even parts of Asia and Africa were aflame with war. Millions of men took up death-dealing weapons and began killing each other without compassion. Thousands of ships were assembled to supply the needs of the war and hundreds of battleships and submarines began sinking each other as the prophecy foretold: "Behold! I see a multitude of ships being moved up for a battle in the whole world."
At this time the feeling of the [Spiritual Christians] Molokan people towards the war was ambivalent. On the one band there was rejoicing that the prophecies of Klubnikin and Bezayeff were being fulfilled and they had been delivered from participation therein. On the other hand, there was sorrow for beloved relatives and friends in Russia who were in the midst of the conflagration. And, since blood was thicker than water, their sympathies were with the mother country, the more so when the armies of Russia were being defeated at every turn and its population was already suffering heavy casualties and privations.
The terrible carnage continued as the armies seesawed bark and forth month after month in trenches and out of them until the people of the world became inured to it and the news from the battlefields ceased to excite the people of America.
[PAGE 65] The [Spiritual Christians] Molokan people too, settled back into the routine of their lives. But as the months dragged on, German submarines were sinking Allied shipping at such a rapid rate that the latter were facing either starvation or surrender. Not only were the Germans sinking Allied ships, but they were not hesitant about sinking an American ship now and then so that the United States were being gradually forced closer into the war. Consequently, when in March of 1917 when news was flashed around the world of the tremendous upheaval of the Russian revolution and of the collapse of the Russian armies, the Allies knew that they were facing certain defeat unless they could induce the United States to join them. They therefore re doubled their efforts towards that end.
Their efforts succeeded. On April 6, 1917, America declared war on Germany despite the President's previous promise to keep the country out of war. The country immediately began her strenuous preparation to build an army and to transport it to the battlefields of France.
On May 18 a Selective Service Law was passed by the 65th Congress which called every male person between the ages of 21 to 31 inclusive, to register for the National pool from which able bodied men would be drafted for the army.
The passage of this law naturally disturbed every [Spiritual Christian] Molokan family because at least one or more member of each family was within that age bracket. For this reason the whole community was stirred up as it had not been stirred up since 1900 when the agitation to migrate to America was at its height.
It also aroused unprecedented feeling of unity in the brotherhood. Meetings to discuss the situation were frequently called by the elders. The young men of draft age in particular, were moved to a great spiritual revival. The [assemblies] churches were all filled to capacity. Emotional and inspiring speeches calling for rebirth of the spirit of the ancestors were the rule. On the whole, [PAGE 66] the young men expressed their willingness to follow the elders in whatever direction they chose to lead them.
The Selective Service law contained a provision that said; "And nothing in this act contained shall be construed to require or compel any person to serve in any of the forces herein provided for, who is to be a member of any well recognized sect or organization at present organized and existing and whose existing creed or principles forbid its members to participate therein in accordance with the creed or principles of said religious organization; but no person so exempted shall be exempted from service in any capacity that the President shall declare to be non-combatant". (Emphasis by the author.)
The problem facing the [Spiritual Christian] Molokan community then, was to prove to the authorities that their Brotherhood indeed was a "religious sect or organization at present existing whose creed forbade its members to participate in war," but it was felt that the [Spiritual Christians] Molokans were not sufficiently known in America to be included in the provisions of the law. [Another problem was that these diverse faiths were never united in one persistent consistent organization.]
To make it certain that they were included, it was unanimously decided to petition President Wilson for exemption from military service as provided by that law. A delegation was elected to present the petition in person. For this purpose the veterans of the negotiations with the Russian government, Philip M. Shubin and Ivan G. Samarin were chosen, the latter was also asked to write the petition.
The petition, dated June 2, 1917, began by summarizing the previous history of the [Spiritual Christian Pryguny] Molokans and their opposition to military service for which reason they left their native Russia, coming to a country "worthy of freedom and peace" where, for the past ten years they supported their families, "not burdening the country". (See Addenda I, II and III.)
[PAGE 67] The petition further stated that "since a law was, recently passed requiring all males between the ages 21-31, regardless of nationality to register for military service on June 5, 1917, it was felt that it included the [Spiritual Christians] Molokans also, which was "prejudicial to our consciences." They were therefore compelled to notify the government beforehand that because of their religious beliefs, they cannot enter the armies of the country "entrusted to your care".
The petition concluded by stating that there were approximately 4000 members of the faith in the United States, and by asking the President to shield them from possible prosecution for disobeying the Law.
Leaving for Washington by train, the two delegates were joined in Phoenix by Mihail P. Pivovaroff as the delegate of the Arizona colony[, who had his own separate petition signed in Arizona].
Arriving in Washington they first of all directed their attention to the Russian Embassy for advice and for help in establishing their claim as historic objectors to military service. The Embassy agreed to assure the American authorities of the authenticity of their claims but at the same time gave them a letter in which they explained the provisions of the Selective Service Law, emphasizing the fact that registration did not mean enrollment in the army but only a means of identification, also advising them to comply with the law to avoid possible legal action.
Following this they presented their petition to the Provost Marshal, General E. H. Crowder who, in accordance with their request, gave them a letter dated June 19, 1917, in which he summarized that morning's conversation with them, expressing his belief that their difficulties with the registration was a result of their misunderstanding of the meaning of registration and assuring them that registration did not mean enrollment in the army but only a means of determining whether or not a registrant was in fact, subject to the draft, further assuring them [PAGE 68] that in their case it was a means of calling to the attention of the authorities their convictions against participation in war.
General Crowder concluded his understanding of the morning's conversation with the hope that, following his explanations, they were willing to register and that when the facts of their petition regarding the creed and principles of their religion are proven, they will be exempt from all forms of combatant service. (See Addenda p. 111.)
The delegation then returned home rejoicing in the mistaken belief that they were granted exemption from all forms of military service and upon arrival, advised the brotherhood not to resist the law as it pertained to registration in the face of such assurances from the government. Despite some minor opposition to this report, the young men confidently proceeded to register and, in due time, to fill out the required questionnaires, subsequently receiving their classification cards. After the registration and the classification, the community returned to normal for the time being.
During the following months, however, the government, to finance the huge war time expenditures, conducted several intensive drives to sell war bonds to the population. In the midst of the aroused patriotic fervor, strong pressure was exerted on [Spiritual Christian] Molokan men by their employers to participate in the war loans.
The great majority of these men were conscientiously opposed to this form of participation in the war but were unable to articulate their religious objections in English well enough to satisfy their employers and were therefore looked upon as slackers in the war effort.
Sample of receipt issued during the first World War to [Spiritual Christian] Molokan participants in the community donation to the American Red Cross in lieu of purchase of War Bonds.
Courtesy of David J. Valov.
Click to Enlarge.
[In 1918 John Valov reported his religion is "Russian Spiritual Christian."]
The elders, with the help of Dr. Dana W. Bartlett, worked out a plan by which a community donation to the American Red Cross in lieu of subscription to the war loans was accepted as satisfactory by the Liberty Loan Committee. Each participant [PAGE 69] in the donation to the Red Cross received a letter from that organization which showed the concurrence of the Liberty Loan Committee to the arrangement. Thereafter no [Spiritual Christian] Molokan was subjected to undo pressure by his employer to the purchase of war bonds or Liberty Bonds as they were called at that time.
[See Wren, Alex Fred. True Believers : Prisoners for Conscience : A History of Molokan Conscientious Objectors in World War One : The Absolutists of Arizona : “You Shall not Lose One Hair on Your Head” (Australia : A. F. Wren, 1991).]
Not so in Arizona, however. That colony, by then grown quite numerous [nearly a 1000], was considerably agitated even before M.P. Pivovaroff joined the delegation to Washington because one of the local prophetesses was moved by the Holy Spirit to warn the brotherhood to refrain from registering for the draft. Her prophesy was interpreted by the elders of the church that registration was tantamount to receiving the mark of the beast on the right hand and on the forehead as prophesied in the Book of Revelation Chap. 13.
As a result of this prophesy, 34 men between the ages of 21-31 notified the local draft officials of their determination not to comply with the law, at the same time leaving their addresses with the officials, thus showing their willingness to abide by the consequences of their act. [They were absolutist conscientious objectors from the Spiritual Christian Maksimist and Prygun faiths.]
The whole colony solidly and cheerfully backed the young men, on occasions demonstrating before the government by marching in the streets of Phoenix and Glendale, singing and jumping in the spirit the meanwhile.
The demonstration failed to move the authorities in any way, however. On registration day the 34 men were arrested, released on bail and on August 7th, after a one-day trial, all were convicted and sentenced to one year in the Yavapai County jail in Prescott, Arizona.
After serving ten months of their sentence in Prescott (where they were treated very leniently), 28 of them agreed to register. They were therefore released and went back to their farms and their families. But the remaining six were adamant in their refusal to register. These were summarily inducted into the army as non-combatants as the law provided and assigned to the [PAGE 70] Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Riley, Kansas, where many other conscientious objectors of various denominations and callings who were unwilling to serve in the army in any capacity were already experiencing the rigors of life in a military disciplinary barrack. With these rigours the six [absolutists] Molokans soon became well acquainted.
Upon their arrival in Ft. Riley they were ordered to put on a uniform which, of course, they refused to do. For their constant refusal to put on a uniform and to obey orders they were periodically subjected to some very harsh, not to say cruel, treatment. They were sprayed from high pressure fire hose until they were unconscious, at times hand-cuffed to their cell doors in such a position that they either had to stand on their toes or hang by their wrists for an hour, repeating the process after a short rest.
The reason for the detention of all conscientious objectors in Ft. Riley was due to the delay by the War Department in defining non-combatant service as provided by the Selective Service Act. No one knew for sure what to do with them until March 23, 1918 when President Wilson signed executive order #28 which, among other provisions, defined non-combatant service as service in the following branches of the Army:
When this order was issued it also provided,that those who were willing to accept service in the above categories were to be segregated and placed in command of a "specially qualified officer of tact and judgment" who was not to punish them nor to grant them "favors or consideration beyond exemption from actual military service".
- Medical Corps on the battlefield or in the rear area.
- Quartermaster Corps such as stevedore companies, the laundry service, labor companies, etc., etc.
- Engineering service, in the front or in the rear such as rail road building and operation, road building, construction of rear line fortifications, docks, wharves, etc., etc.
[PAGE 71] No such promises or considerations were made for those who were unable to accept service in any branch of the Army so designated by the President, consequently, the six [absolutists] Molokans, together with many other absolutists were victims of non-commissioned personnel of the camp who tried by every means, legal or otherwise, to break their resistance to wearing the uniform or to army discipline.
However, the War Department was not unaware of the existence of these "absolutists". The Secretary of War, on June 1, 1918 set up a Board of Inquiry whose purpose was "solely to inquire into and determine the sincerity of conscientious objectors". Upon assuming its duties the Board set out to examine and interview every conscientious objector throughout the county.
If the Board, upon examination, judged the objector sincere in his claims, it had the option of assigning him either to a farm furlough, to an industrial furlough or to the Friend's Reconstruction unit in France. If, in the opinion of the Board, the objector was not sincere in his claims, it was to assign him to service in the Army.
There were many such objectors scattered in the country, consequently a considerable time elapsed before all of them were interviewed. Meanwhile, the harsh camp discipline continued unabated.
In due time the Board came to examine the six [absolutists] Molokans. The following is an excerpt from the book "The Conscientious Objector" written by the chairman of that Board, Maj. Walter G. Kellog, and published in 1919: "The Board found that the Mennonites, the Quakers, and the [Spiritual Christian absolutists (Maksimisty and Pryguny)] Molokans presented the most interesting features. The Mennonites comprise the largest class of conscientious objectors; the Quakers perhaps the most admirable. The [absolutists] Molokans undoubtedly, not because of their number, but because of their novelty, have been among the most perplexing cases of what the War Department has had to deal."
[PAGE 72] Describing the six [absolutists] Molokans in particular, Maj. Kellog says: "The writer found that six [Spiritual Christian absolutists] Molokans were quartered in one of the western camps. He was told that they were on a hunger strike, absolutely refusing to take food or drink. He was told that this hunger strike was for the purpose of embarrassing the camp authorities, that they were in the base hospital to be forcibly fed. He was asked by the camp authorities how, in his opinion, they were to be treated. He suggested that no attention be paid to their strike except to return them to their quarters and to place food and water within their easy reach and if they did not use the food and if their condition became extremely bad to send them back to the hospital and to consider what other measures to take."
During his personal examination of them the major found that the Holy Spirit told them not to register and to have nothing to do with the war; that they spent about a year in prison and upon their release they were brought to the camp. He was informed by one of the six who spoke English that they did not wish to embarrass the government in any way. Their reason for the strike was that they were vegetarians and their desire was that they be allowed to prepare their own food in their own way. He was told that they would not take part in the war in any way and would not accept farm furlough as that too was under military control.
When Major Kellog informed them that such refusal would undoubtedly subject them to further imprisonment, they replied that they would rather be shot to death than participate in war.
Upon conclusion of his examination, the major stated that he had no alternative but to recommend that they be furloughed to work on a farm and if they refused, to let the law take its course, but he was very favorably impressed by their stand for he concluded his account of them in the following terms: "The few [Spiritual Christian absolutists] Molokans here who announced themselves as objectors have been most perplexing. Whether the six [Spiritual Christian absolutists] Molokans truthfully [PAGE 73] represented their religions is not known, but during the time the Board had them under observation, they appeared to be absolutely sincere and of more than average intelligence. They very probably were good fathers and model husbands whose good citizenship could hardly be questioned until they and their exotic religion were brought plumb against the grim realities of war."
Subsequent to these interviews with the chairman of the Board of Inquiry and following their refusal to be furloughed to farm work, a deliberate test was made of each one individually by a direct order of a military officer to pick up a rake and clean up the yard. They refused and for that they were court-martialed and were given severe sentences in Federal prison. However, for some unknown reason not all six were sentenced for the same terms: J. D. Conovaloff and F. F. Wren for a period of 25 years while A. F. Shubin, Ivan W. Kulikoff, Ivan W. Sussoyeff and Morris E. Shubin for a period of 15 years, all to serve in the Federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Happily however, they did not have to serve much of these sentences. The war was soon over and in April of 1919 all such prisoners who were sentenced for violation of the draft law were amnestied by President Wilson and the six returned to their farms and families in Arizona to resume their normal lives.
The conclusion of the war left a feeling of euphoria in the whole brotherhood. It was universally and sincerely felt that God indeed showed His blessing to His people and the flight to the refuge proved itself as Divinely inspired.*
(Footnote: * This fact was further proven to them when, after a five year absence of letters from Russia some were brought to America from Trans-Caucasia by members of the Near East Relief Society who were working among the starving Armenians and other people of the region during the war and the subsequent upheaval. One of the first of these letters was received on November 20, 1920 but was written on July 20, 1920 from which the following is cited; "All are suffering from cold hunger and inflation. Flour is 10,000 rubles a pud (40 pounds) and there is none to buy. Sugar is nonexistent, raisins 15,000 a pud, a horse 300,000 rubles, a cow 250,000 rub. Clothing is made of burlap. In addition to hunger and cold there was terror from the war and revolutions concerning which there were only hints in the letter, apparently from fear of reprisals.)
[PAGE 74] And no wonder! Out of an estimated 4,000 members only three members took part in the war and these volunteers for service out of sheer bravado. All the rest that registered for the draft were legally exempt as aliens, having declared themselves in their questionnaires not only as objectors to military service on religious grounds but also as "resident aliens who had not declared their intention to become citizens of the United States". This was legal grounds at the time to claim, classification of 5-F (aliens who were exempt from military call). This was a more favorable classification than 1-O [one-oh], (conscientious objectors) because, as we have seen, all men so classified were subject to serve in non-combatant capacity, a fact not clearly understood at the time.*
(Footnote: * This misunderstanding created a serious problem for a young [Prygun] Molokan, M.J. Bolotin, whose father, previous to the war, declared his intention to become a citizen. Since his children were minors at the time of his declaration, they too came under the same declaration, consequently, when the war came they were unable to claim exemption as aliens. In 1918 the oldest son was therefore ordered to report for induction into the army. Upon his refusal he was arrested and, after a court-martial held in Ft. McArthur in San Pedro, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison despite the intercession on his behalf by the elders. Fortunately he too was amnestied by the President and returned home in 1919.)
The 34 Arizonans, too would have been eligible for classification as aliens because naturalize because no [Spiritual Christians] Molokans of that time where naturalized citizens. Much misunderstanding and hardship would have thus been avoided.
But such was the will of God. It would be unjust to say that they were willful in disregarding the advice of the Los Angeles elders who went out of their way to urge them to register. They sincerely believed that they were obeying the commands of the [PAGE 75] Holy Spirit. By their adamant position they became a symbol of [Maksimist and Prygun] Molokan firmness in time of trial. Their fearless and stoic stand in the face of such extreme harshness is a credit not only to them but also to the whole community of the Russian Spiritual Christian jumpers.* Of such strong pillars is the church of Christ built. [* The first and only use of the terms "Spiritual Christian" and "Jumper" by Berokoff in this chapter, while incorrectly using "Molokan" 22 times.]
But the principal motive force behind the flight to the Refuge, Efeem G. Klubnikin, was not present to enjoy this feeling of euphoria the fruits of his sixty-year vigil. When the war commenced in 1914, Turkey was not immediately involved. This had some secret spiritual significance to him. Not being able to read the American newspapers, he would frequently and anxiously inquire of those who did whether or not it appeared that Turkey was going to be involved. Whether he was anticipating some further signs from God from the actions 'of Turkey, we will never know. In October 1914 Turkey did enter the war, but Efeem Gerasimitch did not reveal anything about it to anyone. Perhaps he was awaiting further signs. Be that as it may, he passed away on August 5, 1915 without any further word concerning the war. He died suddenly, apparently from a stroke, and was buried with the honors due to a man, who in matters temporal, was meek and poor, but who in spiritual matters was a true prophet of God.
A year after his death, a song whose words were attributed to him, became tremendously popular in the community. Although it was never found among his other manuscripts, trustworthy persons bear witness that Efeem Gerasimitch gave a copy of the composition to a prominent singer of the time with a request that the latter adapt an appropriate tune to the words and put it in circulation. It was done as he requested but only after he passed away.
The song, number 308 in the present song book, deserves perpetuation for it is accurately descriptive of [Spiritual Christian] the Molokan people's feelings during the first World War and for many [PAGE 76] years after its conclusion. The song, in a somewhat liberal translation, is as follows:
Песнь 308 The voice of God to His chosen people;
To go, to go away on a journey,
From this land to that peaceful country,
To be preserved in safety.
Глас Божий к избранным людям!
Итить, итить им всем в поход;
От сей страны в тот мирный край,
И будете вы спасены.
There'll come a wrath upon this land
And violence extremely fierce;
But pity those who're left behind,
To be overtaken by the sword.
Придет гнев на сию землю
И ярость очень лютая;
Но жалко будет тех людей,
Коих постигнет острый меч.
They shall call upon their Maker;
Save, Oh Savior these our souls;
That we may not take up this sword
And be not destroyed by it.
Они будут взывать к Творцу:
Спаси, Спаситель душ наших;
Чтобы нам не взять сей острый меч,
И не погибнуть от него.
The voice will say to them in turn;
I took My peace from off this earth.
But pity only for those people
Who heard the trumpet's sound.
Но голос скажет им в ответ:
Я снял теперь свой мир с земли;
Но жалко только тех людей,
Кои слыхали глас трубы.
But I'll deliver those people only,
Who always follow me,
And lead them to that promised land
With My almighty hand.
А Я избавлю тех людей
Кои всюду следуют за мной;
И провожу их в тот мирный край,
Своей могущей рукой.
I'll give them an inheritance;
My own, My promised land
Where they'll abide in quiet peace,
And thank Me evermore.
И дам Я им в наследие,
Землю свою обетованную;
Они там мирно будут жить,
И вечно Бога благодарить.
God is the glory and the power,
Forever and ever [unto the age of ages]. Amen.
Богу слава и держава,
Во веки веков. Аминь.
This period indeed, was productive of many other songs reflecting the joy and gratitude of the people for their Divine deliverance from the war and its terrible consequences. Philip M. Shubin gave expression to his feelings in a long and inspiring song that also achieved deserved popularity. It is number 319 in the [Dukh-i-zhiznik] songbook [, Зионский песенник : Zionskii pessenik, Songbook of Zion]. Numbers 322, 323, 446, among many others, were likewise composed at about this time. Even a brief study of them will show that their central theme is also praise for Divine deliverance from the world's calamities. These songs show considerable talent on the part of the authors but for lack of space, they cannot be reproduced in this work.
[<Chapter 3] [Contents] [Chapter 5>]
Molokan, Prygun and Dukh-i-zhiznik History
Molokane, Pryguny and Dukh-i-zhizniki Around the World