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Ukrainian pastor says: 'People of faith need each other'

Calling people of faith to pull together, the Rev. Alexandr Kaprian, pastor of Pilgrim Slavic Baptist Church, told a story his family long kept secret. 

Alexandr Kaprian
Alexandr Kaprian
With the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service on Nov. 24 moved at the last minute from Temple Beth Shalom to St. Mark’s Lutheran Church because of vandalism to security cameras, his story was a reminder why people of faith need each other.

Rather than canceling the service for security concerns, Dennis Twigg, vice president of the temple, said the community pulled together, changed locations and showed “that people of faith here stand together, despite different practices, and that they practice tolerance, acceptance and unity.”

Fifteen years ago, Alexandr fled to the United States as a religious refugee from the Ukraine, after years of persecution as a Christian in the Soviet Union.  Under perestroika in the 1980s, the state allowed Jewish people to emigrate.  With the help of Jews, he and other Christians left posed as Jews.

The family story goes back to his grandparents under German occupation in World War II. German soldiers built a concentration camp near his town for Russian soldiers and Jewish people.

“My grandparents felt they should help our Jewish ‘cousins’ in faith.  German soldiers dug a big hole in the town’s cemetery,  brought Russian and Jewish captives there in the evenings, shot them and dropped into the hole.

“Christian families decided to save some of them.  Women offered German soldiers food in trade for some captives.  Some were angry and threatened to kill them, too. Sometimes, some released Jews.  The women took them home,” he said.

In addition, people returned after the Germans left to look for places where the thin layer of dirt over the bodies was moving.  They found wounded people and brought them home to hide, too.  His grandparents hid people in an underground tunnel. 

“One day, Germans found that neighbors were hiding Jews in their home and killed everyone,” he said.  “My grandmother was scared.  She knew the price.  She prayed hard.”

Over the years, his grandparents saved several Jews and Russian officers.  They kept the story secret after the war under the Soviet Union, which persecuted both Jews and Christians, Alexandr said.  So Jews and Christians continued to help each other.

“We see around the world that people who do not understand each other may hurt each other.  When hard times come we are brothers and sisters, and we help one another.  In the good times, we must not forget the hard times,” he reminded.

“Now I am here and thankful I can celebrate in freedom and joy,” Alexandr said.

“We must look to the past time and remember,” he said.  “Then we must be filled with God’s love for each other.  We must never fight or hurt each other.  We are all God’s children.”

For more on the Interfaith Thanksgiving Service and
for Bishop Martin Wells’ address click here.



By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - Copyright © December 2005