Bible Smuggling and Human Rights in the Cold War

  • Bent Boel
Part of the The Palgrave Macmillan Transnational History Series book series (PMSTH)


Bible smuggling was a little known dimension of Western anti-communist endeavours during the Cold War.1 It took place throughout the conflict and involved numerous (overwhelmingly Protestant) groups from especially the Nordic countries, West Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States. Unambiguously anti-communist in their orientation, these groups were fully transnational in terms of outlook and operation. The original source of inspiration for many was a pioneering Dutch smuggler, Anne van der Bijl, better known as Brother Andrew, whose first visit to the Soviet bloc took place in 1955.2 By their very nature, these operations required secrecy and segmentation. Nonetheless, forms of cooperation developed as the various groups shared the view that missionary efforts ought to ignore state borders. Transnational cooperation was helped by personal links between key actors, public as well as secret international gatherings aimed at denouncing violations of religious rights in the communist countries, the exchange of information, and the coordination of activities. Such cooperation took very practical forms: co-financing publications, dividing tasks among Bible translators, producers and smugglers, and even operational collaboration.


Religious Freedom Communist Country Soviet Bloc Transnational Cooperation Controversial Activity 
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  1. 1.
    The Bible smuggling referred to in this article was performed by non-state groups (leaving aside the special case of the Vatican. The CIA’s secret bookdistribution programme included religious literature, but its primary focus lay elsewhere. See Alfred Reisch, Hot Books in the Cold War: The CIA-Funded Secret Western Book Distribution Program behind the Iron Curtain (Budapest: CEU Press, 2013).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Brother Andrew (with John and Elizabeth Sherrill), God’s Smuggler (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2001 [1967]).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Those who have conducted research in this field include: Piia Latvala, Valoa itään? Kansanlähetys ja Neuvostoliitto 1967–1973 (Helsinki: Suomen Kirkkohistoriallinen Seura, 2008), abstract in German on pp. 366–73;Google Scholar
  4. Walter Grassmann, “Geschichte der evangelisch-lutherischen Russlanddeutschen in the Sowjetunion, der GUS und in Deutschland in der zweiten Hälfte des 20. Jahrhunderts”, PhD dissertation, Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, Munich, 2006 (see pp. 208–38);Google Scholar
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  19. 4.
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  21. 5.
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  22. 7.
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  23. 11.
    Interview with René Hartzner, 29 August 2012; Mikael Wandt Laursen, “Han gik imod strømmen”, Udfordringen 12 (2012); Mary Raber, “Remembering the Russian Bible Commentary”, in Mary Raber and Peter F. Penner (eds), History and Mission in Europe (Schwarzenfeld: Neufeld Verlag, 2011), pp. 303–25 (see p. 321).Google Scholar
  24. 12.
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  25. 13.
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  26. 15.
    Pigi Colognesi, Russia Cristiana (Milano: San Paolo Edizioni, 2007), p. 104. Possible explanations for the key role played by Protestant groups include the Protestant emphasis on a personal reading of the Bible, denominational pluralism and diversity within Protestantism, or, as far as the US is concerned, the rise of (right-wing) missionary evangelism. On the last of theseGoogle Scholar
  27. see Sara Diamond, Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right (Boston: South End Press, 1989). Part of the difference, however, may simply be due to the fact that Protestant endeavours were more publicized than the Catholic ones. Allegedly Archbishop Karol Wojtyła, later John Paul II, was heavily involved in the illegal import of Bibles into Poland in the 1960s and the Vatican was kept abreast of Russia Cristiana’s Bible smuggling. See Giacomo Galeazzi and Ferruccio Pinotti, Wojtyla segreto (Milano: Chiarelettere 2011), p. 42; Romano Scalfi, interview with the author, 2 May 2012.Google Scholar
  28. 29.
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  30. 36.
    Øjvind Kyrø, “Strid om bibelsmugling gavner de kristne i Østeuropa”, Weekendavisen (11 September 1981); Claus J. Deden, “Det kristne budskab smugles ind i Østblokken”, Aalborg Stiftstidende (9 March 1980). For non-Danish tributes to Neerskov and DEM: Mann, Red November, pp. 10–13; contributions of Waldemar Sardaczuk and Seppo Pehkonen in DEM’s … jubilæumsskrift, pp. 41–2; from a Soviet perspective, V. Kassis, “Фабрикант? Нет, провокатор!”, Izvestia (19 August 1977), and Boris Antonov, “Prisoners of Conscience” in the USSR and Their Patrons (Moscow: Novosti, 1988), p. 55.Google Scholar
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    Neerskov, Sejrende martyrer, p. 167. See also Borislav Arapović, Bibelns Sidenväg (Stockholm: Institutet För Bibelöversättning, 1998), pp. 26, 33, 105; Borislav Arapovic´, correspondence with the author, 9 October 2012.Google Scholar
  33. 54.
    When Solidarnosc in 2005 published a book as “a way of saying ‘thank you’ to all those with whom, together, we were trying to give a new meaning to the word ‘solidarity’ ” (Lech Walesa, in the preface to the book), Hans Kristian Neerskov was among the selected 59 Solidarnosc sympathizers. See: Marcin Frybes and Andrzej Jagodzinski, Solidarnosc and Solidarity (Warsaw: Instytut Adama Mickiewicza, 2005), p. 116.Google Scholar
  34. 55.
    For a Danish — and somewhat more detailed — version of this article, see Bent Boel, “Dansk Europamission, bibelsmugling og menneskerettigheder under den kolde krig”, Fund og Forskning 52 (2013), pp. 381–401.Google Scholar

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© Bent Boel 2014

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  • Bent Boel

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