A distraught band of devout Siberians knocked in vain on America’s door this month. Their plea, significantly like that of many early American settlers, was for religious freedom. In one of the most heartbreaking episodes of the cold war, they were turned away.

Thirty-two men, women, and children were in the determined party that set out for Moscow from the Siberian coalmining town of Chernogorsk. Some carried babies in their arms. The 2,400-mile trip took four days, and they arrived in the Soviet capital hungry and cold.

There was some light snow in Moscow on the morning of January 3, and the temperature was well below freezing. The group obviously risked their lives in surging past the armed Soviet militiamen who guarded the gates at the U. S. Embassy. They described in detail how they had been persecuted for religious reasons, and they pleaded for help from American officials. They were quoted as expressing a desire to leave Russia, and some reports said they wanted to go to Israel.

The group was herded into a lunchroom building on the embassy compound. They were served coffee and a snack while embassy officials summoned representatives of the Soviet foreign ministry. A bus arrived, too, followed by Russian plainclothesmen.

The embassy refused to let correspondents see the group. The plainclothesmen threatened to confiscate the camera of any Western photographers who took pictures (some were said to have been taken nonetheless).

The group consisted of six men, twelve women, and fourteen children. They described themselves as “evangelical Christians” and complained that they had not been permitted to hold worship services, that they had not been allowed to observe religious holidays, and that in some instances they had been ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.