Barbara von dec Heydt, author of the book Candles Behind the Wall, an Eerdman’s publication in 1993, lives in Germany as an American journalist who reported European news on US, Canadian and Australian television from 1984 to 1989. She was a presidential appointee to the White House Office of Public Liaison (1981), having served at the Heritage Foundation (1978–1981) where she was the Director of Legislative Information on Capitol Hill.
Peter Hahne, Anchor of the “Today” Nightly News, Mainz, Germany, writes: “For anyone who wonders if there are still heroes today: Here they are! Women and men whose faith moved mountains, also those of marble, stone and iron…Christian faith was at the epicenter of the earthquake that brought the Iron Curtain to the ash heap of history…Those who wonder why merely candles and prayer were sufficient as weapons will know the answer from reading this book.”
What brought the Berlin Wall crashing down in 1989? It was not the result of a shooting war victory. What happened in the collapse of Communism is a story which must never be forgotten. We who are living during this monumental epic in world history, brought about in God’s time for His purpose, must acquaint ourselves with this movement. It will be reported for years to come in history books. We must see what really happened.
Edward E. Erickson, Jr., Professor of English at Calvin College, and author of Solzhenitsyn: The Moral Vision, says: “That the collapse of Communism throughout Eastern Europe was caused by a moral and spiritual revolution from the bottom up is the heart of the matter, and Barbara von der Heydt gets it right. She well understands that societies change when human hearts change.”
What rumbled across the European continent to bring Communist governments heaving and crashing to the ground in 1989 and 1991 has no purely political explanation. It was a peaceful revolt of staggering proportions that freed 400 million people. It was the clash of moral and spiritual kingdoms. It began long before the actual collapse of the Berlin Wall. It began as a revolution in people who experienced the moral poverty and spiritual barrenness of Communism and rejected it. The Christian faith was at the center of it, both in its inspiration and in its peaceful expression.
Western journalists missed the story. They told it from a superficial political and economic perspective. They do not think in spiritual categories. Barbara von der Heydt, a fellow journalist says, “These things do not fit through the grid most journalists use to define ‘news’” (p. xiv).
The beginning of the end of Communism happened in Poland with Lech Walesa, and the Solidarity workers at the Gdansk shipyard who were the first to face down the Communist regime in a conflict which did not end with tanks and bullets. In 1953 (Berlin), 1956 (Hungary), 1968 (Czechoslovakia), it had been different. The Soviets invaded with tanks and bullets to squash the revolutions. But not in Poland in 1980. This began a new era in Eastern Europe.
The election of Pope John Paul II, a Polish cardinal, had a major impact. “He articulated a vision of human beings with rights and responsibilities transcending those of the state, moral agents with a God-given nature, a vision that challenged Communism at its very roots” (p. xiv).
President Ronald Reagan played a major role in the collapse of Communism. His strong stand against Communism and his commitment to a strong defense as seen in his decision to station the Pershing missiles in response to the Soviet 55 20’s, and his decision to initiate the SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) or “Star Wars,” forced the Soviets into a corner they could not escape from economically.
President Reagan saw the moral dimensions of the conflict and described the Soviet Union as the “Empire of Evil.” This was criticized in the West, but those under Communism saw the truth of that description.
However, the most significant factor in the collapse of Communism was the spiritual issue. The Communist experiment was the first movement in history in which man attempted to eradicate God fully, claiming that man himself held all potential. Communism borrowed from Christianity but stripped it of its source. The reason Communism collapsed is because it was based on the wrong premise: that the nature of man is good and perfectible through human endeavor; that man is a product of his material surroundings devoid of anything transcendent (p. xv).
Without the Transcendent One (the true and living God), there is tyranny. It is estimated that over 60 million people died under Communistic power, 50 million under Stalin alone.
Barbara von der Heydt tells the vivid, powerful stories of common people who believed in Christ and stood for the truth in very difficult and almost impossible times. She tells the story of a border guard at the Berlin Wall who refused to shoot at a fleeing East German, and the consequences he faced. She tells of the KGB and their evil tactics.
She gives an inside look at the Protestants in Russia and their valiant struggle of faith.
She gives us a picture of Mikhail Gorbachev and the strategic role he played in the collapse of Communism.
In the conflict with Communism a certain kind of person was forged, morally and spiritually. Lech Walesa describes it this way:
If you choose the example of what we Poles have in our pockets and in our shops, then…communism has done very little for us. But if you choose the example of what is in our souls, I answer that communism has done very much for us. In fact our souls contain exactly the opposite of what they wanted. They wanted us not to believe in God, and our churches are full. They wanted us to be materialistic and incapable of sacrifice: we are anti-materialistic and capable of sacrifice. They wanted us to be afraid of tanks, of guns, and instead we don’t fear them at all (p.122).
The closest advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev from the late 1980s through 1990 said: “Let us remember not the empty shelves but the empty souls who have brought a change to our country which demands revolutionary change” (p.149).
Karl Marx’s view of religion was fatally flawed: “Religion’s sole function is to fill a need that will in time disappear, once the material needs of the people are met” (p.150).
“It would be overstating the case to say that Christians won the revolution,” says Barbara von der Heydt, “but as individuals they significantly influenced the tone” (p.191).
The hallmark of the revolution of 1989 was its extraordinary restraint. Alexander Solzhenitsyn put it this way: “Those who choose error as their principle must use violence as their method. Those who choose truth as their principle must use peace as their method.” He said this at the occasion of receiving the Nobel prize in 1970. He also said: “Once the lie has been dispersed, the nakedness of violence will be revealed in all its repulSiveness, and then violence, become decrepit, will come crashing down” (p.199).
Barbara von der Heydt puts this entire epic into very personal perspective by telling the stories of real people who courageously stood for their convictions against a tyrannical empire. She tells the stories of those who were the victims, but also of those who were the perpetrators and informants. She tells what happened in cases of unrepentance and in the cases of real repentance and forgiveness.
This is a book which must be read. We must know what happened and why it happened in this period of earth-shaking significance.
And now in this issue of The Outlook, we take a closer look at Christian work being done in the Ukraine by Christ for Russia as it seeks, by God’s grace, to “light more candles” by preparing young pastors to preach the gospel to hungry souls in that land.