Forgive me, Natasha and Sergei!

In my first blog I wrote about the film The Way Back and the question of authenticity in memoirs. In the one of the responses which followed, I was directed towards Forgive Me, Natasha by Sergei Kourdakov. At first glance, one of the most incredible elements of this memoir is the fact that a Soviet naval officer managed to jump ship off the coast of Canada and swim ashore to start a new life. As the cleverly titled 2004 documentary Forgive me, Sergei shows, however, other parts of the story turn out to be more questionable.1 This excellent film follows the story of Caroline Walker, a Christian journalist, who believed God had called her to make a film about the life of Sergei until her encounters with his friends, relatives and colleagues in Russia made her question key elements of the memoir.

Forgive me, Natasha narrates a difficult childhood in a barbaric orphanage, from which Sergei emerges not as a criminal – like many of his peers – but an academic success and rising Komsomol star. Whilst training for the navy, he becomes a brutal persecutor of Christians, but then himself experiences conversion. As Walker, finds, however, no one in Siberia where he grew up or Kamchatka where he studied was  ready to corroborate Sergei’s story: the monster who ruled the orphanage is remembered by others former charges with great love and affection; the believers in Kamchatka say they met for worship without too much interference; and Sergei’s fellow ‘persecutors’ deny the charges entirely. The latter might of course have vested interest in labeling Sergei a liar, but the weight of the evidence is convincing and as a result of the interviews Caroline was increasingly convinced that the story did not hang together, even though this revelation is clearly painful for her. At the end of the film there is a poignant moment when she questions Joe Bass, the then-president of Underground Evangelism – the missionary movement which supported Sergei – about the authorship of the text; whilst she desperately wants to be convinced that Sergei’s story is the truth, Bass responds angrily to the direction her doubts are taking her and walks out of shot.

As Sue Vice has argued in her work on false Holocaust testimony, the huge cost to the author of their “testimony turning out to be false may actually blind us to that very possibility.”2. The same is surely true of accounts of Soviet persecution, like Rawicz’s The Long Walk and other Gulag memoirs, which impose a moral imperative to believe. This is not to say that all readers were convinced; indeed, in the early post-war period European intellectuals sympathetic to the Soviet cause were often unwilling to countenance accounts of the Gulag, but by the time Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago was published in the 1970s, this left-wing scepticism had significantly weakened.3 Published just a year before the first translation of Solzhenitsyn’s opus, Forgive me, Natasha was also a condemnation of the Soviet system, although its focus was rather different. Instead of focusing on arrest, interrogation, prison and camp labour, it showed how brutality spread to new arenas of Soviet life in the post-Stalinist era. The “persecutor” (the original title of the memoir) no longer had to be a prison guard or NKVD officer, but could be a young Komsomol member and naval student, carrying out raids in his spare time. In many ways this accurately reflects changes which occurred in the 1950s and early 1960s when reforms initiated under Khrushhcev brought about a significant reduction in the camp population and conferred much greater responsibility for maintaining law and order onto ordinary citizens who were urged to join volunteer patrols and brigades.  As Sergei’s account suggests, there were certainly clashes between the brigadeers and the trouble-makers they targeted.4 Yet the kind of sustained savagery described in Sergei’s memoir does not marry with other accounts. There were, it is true, incidents of believers being beaten to death – for example, the case of Nikolai Khmara who died in custody in early 1964 – but this was certainly not a usual occurrence, as testified by the huge outcry from his fellow believers and the internal investigations subsequently carried out by authorities.5

It is worth noting that despite the popularity of Sergei’s memoir at the time of publication – and the decline of an intellectual left ready to defend the Soviet bloc at all costs – sceptical voices, coming from perhaps unexpected perspectives, were heard, particularly with regard to the violence described in the memoir. In a 1974 review Albert W. Wardin, himself a scholar of Baptist history with a particular interest in Eastern Europe, suggested the number of attacks on believers was inconceivably high.6. Interestingly, Wardin also suggested that members of Underground Evangelism probably wrote much of the memoir for Sergei. Perhaps one possibility is to see the text as the work of more than one author. It could be that Sergei’s own memories, provided in a series of interviews, were interpreted (perhaps rather loosely) by members of a missionary movement who already had their own vision of what life must be like in the Soviet Union. And it is certainly worth remembering that whilst Sergei’s memories might be different from those of other people, this does not necessarily mean they were intentionally false; there is nothing to say that Sergei did not experience his own childhood as more difficult than other kids growing up in the orphanage, or that he did not feel remorse over involvement in certain Komsomol initiatives.

Whoever the author, or authors, of the memoir they certainly created a powerful text, as shown both by its popularity at the time and by its ongoing appeal to a later generation (including Caroline Walker). The power of Sergei’s story is, I believe, the fact that he is not a victim throughout, but is instead a “persecutor” who repents.  This is a familiar pattern in other memoirs from the Soviet Union; we might think, for example, of Lev Kopelev’s Education of a True Believer, which recounted – from the viewpoint of a by then elderly dissident – his experiences as a young idealist actively involved in the brutal process of collectivization. This desire for the author to experience a journey of self-discovery in part reflects cultural expectations of a good story, with the conversion offering a satisfying climax to the account. But it also has a political implication. As Benjamin Nathans has noted, western visitors to the USSR were inclined to ask those involved in dissidence or non-conformist art “When did your eyes open?” 7 A belief that most people were in the dark meant Soviet society could remain “totalitarian” (i.e. a worthy enemy) whilst the scattered individuals starting to see the light gave hope; their freshly opened eyes meant that at least a handful of “surrogate soldiers of Western liberalism” – to borrow Nathans’ terms – could enter into “the ideological battles of the Cold War.” In the case of Sergei and Underground Evangelism, though, the Cold War is not just an ideological battleground, but also a religious one. Increasingly, I think, the Cold War took on religious dimensions which mapped on to existing political and ideological divisions, helping to give the West an ever stronger sense of mission, in a way – perhaps – that the atheist drive no longer could in the USSR.  This is, at least, one of the issues I hope to probe in my new(ish) project on evangelical Protestantism in the post-war decades – about which I plan to blog more over the course of the coming months.

  1. I am very grateful to Andrey Shcherbenok for drawing my attention to this film
  2. Sue Vice, “False Testimony,” in The Future of Memory, ed. Rick Crownshaw, et al. (Berghahn, 2010)
  3. Tony Judt, Past Imperfect: French intellectuals, 1944-1956 (Berkeley, 1992), p. 3; I am also grateful to Marc Elie for helpful comments in this regard.
  4. On the Komsomol brigades, see Juliane Fürst, “The Arrival of Spring?: Changes and Continuities in Soviet Youth Culture and Policy between Stalin and Khrushchev,” in The Dilemmas of De-Stalinization: Negotiating Cultural and Social Change in the Khrushchev Era, ed. Polly Jones (London: Routledge, 2006)
  5. GARF f. 8131, op 31, d. 97865
  6. Albert W. Wardin, Journal of Church and State, 16 (1974), 346-347
  7. Benjamin Nathans, “When did your eyes open?,” London Review of Books, 13 May 2010, pp.25-26. This pattern is also found in memoirs of French intellectuals who, in old age, asked how they could have been so blinded to the truth of communism. See Judt, Past Imperfect, p. 5.
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44 Responses to Forgive me, Natasha and Sergei!

  1. Benjamin says:

    I just finished the book and stumbled across this article. Is there a way to get ‘Forgive me, Sergej’, the documentary? I searched the internet but didn’t find anything …

  2. Lucy says:

    I’ve been wanting to leave a comment on this one, but hadn’t gotten back here….

    This is such a timely and difficult topic for me as I try to sort through the narratives of former KGB officers for the book I’m writing. Even when several narratives seem to be consistent, you can never be really sure, because writers do read each other.

    Someone (Orlando Figes?) pointed out the problem after Gulag Archipelago was published: people who might not even have been in certain camps or situations would “remember” them exactly as Solzhenitsyn had described.

    On topics where official statistics aren’t reliable or don’t exist–that is, neither confirm nor deny a particular claim–forming one’s own conclusions becomes an exercise in sifting through plausibilities. And sometimes it feels unsettling.

  3. Miriam Dobson says:

    Hi Benjamin,
    I don’t know about buying it – I borrowed it from someone. There is a website for the documentary (http://www.forgivemesergei.com/Purchase_DVD.asp) and they seem to suggest it’s possible to buy through Amazon, but perhaps that information is out of date.
    Hi Lucy,
    I agree that sifting through the plausibilities is difficult. If the only sources we have for a topic are memoirs, our judgement of what is plausible only comes from other memoirs. And as you say, these are often shaped by the author’s own reading of other memoirs – which all makes it hard to disentangle. I found the article by Sue Vice (referenced above) useful in thinking about these questions. Work by Ben Nathans on the memoirs of dissidents might also be relevant. I heard him present recently on this at a in Germany – might be worth contacting him if you’re interested.

  4. Lucy says:

    Thanks for the link!

    LC

  5. Beth Berry says:

    I read “The Persecutor” years ago and then read about Caroline Walker’s documentary a few years ago. I have to admit that I was disappointed with what I’ve read about her discovery and subsequent documentary.

    Tonight I was reminded of it and tried to link to her web site and it wasn’t available. Further research about her hasn’t produced much accept a few positive reviews of her perspective on Communist life during that era.

    To be honest, I’m wondering how valid her criticism/ investigation is now. There are a few details of this that seem odd. Have the Canadian authorities denied he was picked up off their shores? Has anyone denied that he risked his safety to defect? Were his claims to be involved in the KGB disproved? Why would he claim to be an Evangelical Christian once he had defected and was living in America?

    How much money was this ministry actually making of Sergei? If they were selling his tapes for so cheap, how did the ministry make money? Why are the only critics I can find of the ministry Christian/ Communist associations?

    Again, I understand there is some question to the accuracy of his story and it seems the documentary brought up some legitimate skepticism but I think it’s worth investigating the actions that brought him here and the determination that drove him to attempt defection. If it wasn’t so bad, why did he (and many others) defect? Also, why does this web site not exist anymore?

    Bakersdozen2

    Can you shed some light on this

    • Caroline says:

      Hi Beth,

      I’ll try to answer your questions.

      I wasn’t aware the documentary film site was down, but it appears to be up now: http://www.forgivemesergei.com/

      I also wasn’t aware of any positive reviews of my “perspective of Communist life during that era.” Do you mean positive reviews about the documentary? The documentary actually wasn’t my perspective – it was the perspective of the director (Damian Wojiechowski)http://www.forgivemesergei.com/directors_bio.asp

      who wanted to show my search for the truth about Sergei. I was never present during the editing . . .

      Sergei indeed did jump ship off the Coast of Canada and did risk his safety. Although the storm was exagerrated in the book (height of waves, etc.) and the distance that he swam was exagerated (closer to 3 miles instead of 11), it was an incredible survival story. We couldn’t figure out how he survived the cold water . . . some Canadians said it was impossible for him to be in the water so long (at a minimum it seems he was in the water 6 hours but could have been longer, depending on when he jumped. The Russian captain – interivew not shown in the film – said he thinks Sergei jumped at 1 a.m. ; the book has him jumping at 10 p.m. Regardless of the time he jumped, the Canadians we interviewed couldn’t explain how someone could survive the cold water for so long. One person things he was going in and out of the water along the shore, but another says that’d be impossible due to barnacles that would tear up his feet . . . The doctor who treated Sergei saved the knife that Sergei gave him, so I do belive that Sergei cut off his boots. He likely prayed to God as the story claims. Most people would.

      Sergei’s claims of involvement in the KGB couldn’t be corroborated. As far as Communist leadership, he was a leader in the Komsomol, but not the top leader as he claimed.

      He might have had a genuine conversion experience at the Ukrainian Evangelical church in Toronto. But he was paid well for his work in UE and he was due to make fifty percent off his book. UE made the other fifty.

      Other sailors defected because they heard how much better life was in the West . . . simple. They wanted a better life.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.
      Thanks,
      Caroline

      • Laura says:

        Dear Caroline,
        What did this journey do to your faith? Are you still a believer? Are you more cynical now about evangelical creeds? At the end of the documentary, you are shown listening to your pastor talk about believing and having faith, and he seemed cultish in light of what you had experienced. Do you believe that God had given you the vision of your hand being directed by Him to write the screen play? I too was enormously impacted by The Persecutor when I was about twelve years old (I’m now 46). Once a year my church (5,000 members) would rent out our local fair grounds, and “pretend” we lived behind the iron curtain, and had to smuggle our Bibles to a secret Bible study, where fake KGB would come in and scare us. All to help us be stronger, in case we lost our freedom, and thankful for our current religious freedoms in the the U.S. I am sure much of the information our youth leaders got was from Sergei’s autobiography, much like, most of the information we learned about satanism and the occult was from Mike Warranke’s Satan Seller, which also turned out to be a huge piece of fiction. So much of the Jesus Movement (with “I Found It” and “One Way”), during the 70′s and 80′s seemed to be based on these mystical, made-up memoirs that shaped so much of the way we thought as Christians. I am a believer, but I am so much more cynical than I was. And I think that is a good thing.

  6. Hi . . . yes, you can purchase via Amazon – there is a link on http://www.forgivemesergei.com.

    I really appreciate this blog entry and the attention given to some of the details in Forgive Me Sergei. As the journalist in the film, I did discover an interesting detail that I wish we had captured in the film ( the readers of this blog seem like an audience who cares enough about the details to hear this fact.) Sergei’s autobiography mentions a “famous Soviet author” whose frail son was saved by Sergei from some Moscow thugs on a train. The author invites Sergei to his home and listens to Sergei’s tales about the orphanage, telling Sergei that he’d like to write a book based on Sergei’s childhood, that Sergei would be like a Russian Tom Sawyer. However, Sergei declines, saying he needs to protect the identity of his friends in the orphanage. In my investigation, I couldn’t find any Russian who recognized the name of this so-called famous author . . . until we visited an office that held the records of all registered Soviet writers. Turns out the writer’s name was recorded, and guess where he was from — Bareshevo, Sergei’s village. Turns out Sergei’s classmates recognized the name of the local Bareshevo writer who used to occasionally visit the orphanage to share his stories or poetry. This single finding was the final straw that convinced me that not only is Sergei’s autobiography false but that Sergei himself fabricated certain parts, and most likely on his own initiative, using his own imagination. If Joe Bass had wanted to fabricate this tale about the Soviet author, he surely would have chosen a real famous author. I can imagine Sergei soliciting his story himself, telling Bass that a famous author in Russian wanted to write his story (just my opinion). I base this partially on this: a Canadian newspaper article written within the first couple weeks of Sergei’s escape to freedom quoted the first translator of Sergei as saying, “Seems like he wants to write a book about his life in Siberia.” (I probably misquoted slightly . . . ). Also, Sergei’s grade school classmates confirmed that they did read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. We shouldn’t underestimate Sergei . . .
    Caroline Walker Pallis, Co-Producer, Forgive Me Sergei

    • Miriam says:

      Thanks for adding your perspective Caroline. One of the things I really liked about the documentary was the way it showed your quest to find to out the truth behind the memoir whilst, to large extent, leaving it to the viewer to reach their own conclusions.
      I’m interested in the detail you give about the ‘famous’ author. As an historian of the period lots of the memoir doesn’t ring quite true, but I don’t think this means it’s all a deliberate falsification (for money or any other reason). Lots of us re-imagine, invent, or glorify episodes from our past, perhaps some more than others.

  7. Cathy says:

    I have not watched the documentary, so I don’t know if these questions have been answered or not. I’m wondering about the possibility of people in Russia not wanting to corroborate the story of Sergei for fear of possible repercussions. Also, could not the Soviets themselves, at the time of Sergei’s escape, have changed/destroyed documents to cover up what he reported himself to have done in the USSR? And if this was all false, why would Sergei have received death threats? Or are you saying those were made up also?

  8. Cathy says:

    Just wanted to comment again… I spoke with a man in my church whose wife was from the Ukraine. He says the area of Komchatka, where Sergei was doing his raids, was/is a highly secure area, and he wonders how any interviewer would have been able to get in there. He says any people who would have been interviewed would have been carefully chosen and instructed what to say. Russia is not free, and her people still may not freely speak of all that they may know. The severity of the persecution of believers described in the book is accurate. Believe what you will, but I don’t think you know the whole story, and I don’t think you will ever get the whole truth from anyone still living in Russia.

    • Harry Gibson says:

      Cathy I’m inclined to agree with your view. I think it naive to believe that a journalist could get “the truth” from interviews in Russia except from personal friends. No country has suffered so much persecution of the general population let alone non-Russian Orthodox Christians as Russia. I would refer doubters to “The Church in the Bear’s Garden”. I think the details of “Forgive Me Natasha” are not of great importance suffice to say that even today non-Russian Orthodox Christians are having their adopted children taken away by the “authorities” – and Caroline thinks she will get the “truth” in Russia? – dream on!

    • Michael McDonald says:

      I live in Russia, have spent almost 12 years here. I read “The Persecutor” shortly after becoming a believer in 1971. It is one of the reasons I am in Russia today. As for the Russian people being controlled and told what to say. I doubt it. I travel freely in Russia and can speak with anyone I want to. Certainly some people might lie about the past. I think the story of Sergei was mostly a myth and that Joe Bass was making money of the kid and exploiting him, but that Sergei cooperated. This documentary is doing a huge service to the church. The Truth matters.

  9. Denzil says:

    Hi Caroline,I did read the book of Sergei.But tell me Caroline did anybody try to trace Natasha to hear her side of the story? Denzil.

    • Natalie says:

      I read the Persecutor about five years ago, and I must say that this book really spell bounded me in such a way like few stories ever have. I find it difficult to let go of and forget Sergei Kourdakov himself.
      I cannot believe that most of the details in the story are exaggerated or fabricated. I believe that the orphanage conditions of baryshevo were really horrid and that Sergei and his orphanage companions were neglected by “Big Irene,” and the rest of the staff. That the children really did go through intense food shortages. That they had no access to medical care or were prohibited from it. That children were taken away from Christian parents and put into these orphanages to be re educated in communism. Have you ever tried looking up the boy that Sergei called the Deacon?? I was always curious about what might have happened to him…………………….
      Even though the baptists in Kamchatka denied that there had ever been persecution towards them in Sergei’s time, wouldn’t Russian/Slavic immigrants in Canada or the U.S.A be less afraid to be vocal?? To acknowledge their struggle with practicing their faith in their native lands?? There has to be hundreds of these refugees out there willing to share their stories………………….
      I just can’t give up on this story!! Besides, observing Sergei in the film caused me to realize how big and bulky he was in real life and how frightened I would be if I ever saw him in a dark alley way!! He looked like somebody that could frighten elderly people and small children!! Don’t you think??

  10. Tasha says:

    I have just finished reading the book “The Persecutor”. My Dad read this book 21 years ago and has recently given it to me to read telling me He named me after Natasha. I was incredibly moved. I am trying to do some research now on more specifically her. I am however saddened to see these debates as to the authenticity of his story. I would add that I am a bible believing born again Christian. Who myself have seen God move in miraculous way in my own life. I was in a wheelchair do to a genetic syndrom and disorder and then along with some injuries this is why I was in the wheelchair.

    In 2011 I was instantly healed by the power of God. and can now run and jump like any-other 21 year old.

    Therefor and for many other reasons I do not doubt he could have made it in that water. He prayed to God and God took care of him…

    I guess I have the same question as Denzil “did anybody try to trace Natasha to hear her side of the story?”

  11. I’m looking forward to responding to some of the questions in this blog and not sure how I lost track of this great discussion thread. When I first read the blog, I was in a relatively new job and juggling being a mom of a 22-month-old, wife, and a family vacation to Greece where passports were stolen . . .

    I really appreciate the interest in Sergei’s story, Russian history, and my personal faith journey. And I’m encouraged by Tasha’s testimony. Thank you! I will write more later this week and answer some specific questions.
    Caroline

  12. For Laura: thanks for your questions. It is sad to think about the way “mystical, made-up memoirs” shaped the way we thought as Christians. Unraveling some of the formational ways that Sergei’s memoir shaped my thinking required an awful lot of time and travel and, well, you probably noticed – pain. I haven’t begun to address the way other potentially made-up memoirs affected me! Regarding the vision that I had of me as a pen in God’s hand (when I was praying in 1995 for His permission to write a screenplay about Sergei), yes I believe this vision was from God but not a direct “yes” to my question. After I arrived to Moscow in 2000 to meet the to-be director, he asked me if I’d be willing to appear in the documentary; his explanation was that it’s not so easy to make a compelling documentary about a deceased hero and needed a live person like myself who was so interested in the story. At that time I started to understand the vision differently – that perhaps I was supposed to be a vehicle, not a writer of the story. Until then, I thought the documentary would establish and verify the truth of the story and serve as the forerunner to an epic film. But I started then to see the documentary as the fulfillment of the vision. Although I terribly feared being on camera and feared and hated even more watching myself on camera, I agreed fairly readily mainly because of this vision. I remember that day because this agreement raised the stakes much higher regarding what information we would find, and I felt I was taking a spiritual gamble that the story would be proved true (and I began to more strongly associate that outcome with God being faithful). I could not imagine at the time that much good could come from uncovering a false story and humiliating myself, although I knew this scenario was possible. In hindsight, I mostly marvel at how God provided that vision as a source of enthusiasm, guide and comfort. I understand the vision now as God being the author of my faith and giving me an adventure to live through verses living vicariously through my writing. Thankfully, He cares enough to do that – to somehow “write” the wrong – extracting deeply rooted lies that formed false aspects of my faith. On the heels of nearly completing the documentary, I was contacted by an LA movie producer who had run across my screenplay about Sergei – a script that I had sent out to various agencies five years prior and had forgotten about. The incident helped form my current understanding of the vision – that He truly wants to be the author of our lives. I am so glad that I never sold that screenplay and made a killing off of a lie so that I could keep believing a lie. Regarding the preacher in the documentary, he is actually a really good pastor. Yes, at the time of hearing that sermon, I did hear it in light of a “cultish” interpretation – that I should believe Sergei’s story no matter how incredible and unsubstantiated. But, my pastor during that sermon was not referencing Sergei or any memoir or even thinking of me. I hear this sermon a totally different way now – that it was “too incredible” for me to believe God was doing a good work in the process of uncovering a lie. It was even more incredible to believe He might care enough about me to go to all that trouble to help me see the truth. It was easier to believe He wanted to use me for His greatness, not tend to my deep flaws. In the middle of making the documentary, a young but wise seminary student responded once to me after I said that I just wanted to be used by God: “No, God doesn’t use people; you are God’s aim.” It disturbed me a lot but continued to resonate. Could I believe that I am God’s aim? It required humility and faith in His goodness and love. Although God using people is not necessarily an “evangelical creed,” it’s perhaps an example of an emphasis in many Evangelical churches and how I did depart from some key Evangelical creeds, joining the Catholic church in 2004. I miss and still fellowship and visit Evangelical churches and wish for a more formal unity and coming together. My husband is Greek Orthodox, which adds another element to my interest in church unity.

    Regarding your remarks about cynicism, perhaps it is a good thing to protect one from receiving just anything inspirational that comes along. John 14:30 comes to mind where Jesus says that the ruler of this world “has nothing” in him. To me, it means Jesus never believed a made-up memoir.

    Your experience as a twelve year old in a church that simulated raids is really something! I heard that a church or churches in California associated with Underground Evangelism would do the same thing . . .

  13. Miriam – as I recall my own experiences and write them down, your words about elaboration come to mind! Surely it’s a temptation or an ingrained part of human nature to put things in a favorable light. Sergei’s account, however, of a famous author whom he met in Moscow, is in my opinion completely fabricated. In recordings of his preaching, Sergei says, “Well, I have been to Moscow maybe 17 times, and I can tell you there is no freedom of religion in Russia!” We found no evidence that he ever went to Moscow once and certainly disproved his fantastic tales about life in the orphanage (which were strongly connected to the account of the famous author who wanted to write about those fantastic tales.)

    Cathy: people in Russia, including Kamchatka, are as free and capable of telling the truth as anyone else. If 150 violent raids occurred throughout the city streets of Petropavlovsk in the early seventies, someone would say it. They were more isolated from the mainland of Russia during Soviet times but instead of things being stricter they likely enjoyed more religious freedom than other regions. Beginning in 1999, I had no restrictions or oversight when moving around Kamchatka and interviewing people.

    Denzil: yes, a Russian film editor in New York tracked down Natasha Zhdanova surprisingly a few years ago! She is Ukrainian, lives still in the Ukraine, but never lived in Russia and never met Sergei – they were pen pals. She was shocked to learn her name was in his autobiography. They never wrote about religion, she said, but shared poetry, favorite books, etc.

    Tasha: I would love to hear more about your healing. That is amazing. Thank you for sharing. Yes, it’s surely possible that God protected Sergei in the water. Natasha is a wonderful name. I remember recently seeing your comment on YouTube and so glad that I have gotten another chance here on this blog to respond to your questions. How do you feel about all this?

    • Eduardo Salomón says:

      Hi! My name is Eduardo and I am researching Sergei Kourdakov, I’m very interested in the documentary but I can not get it, I live in Argentina. I wish, if you will let me caroline, information. I’m really interested in the interviews you’ve done with Damian people who had contact with Sergei, if you could give me materials I will be eternally grateful.
      Any documents, contemporary newspapers, pictures, recordings or videos would help in my research. my email is eduardoandres.salomon @ gmail.com

      Caroline is a pleasure to cross words with you, thank you very much.
      Greetings from Argentina!
      sorry for my clumsy English haha

      • Lyudmila Tsuber says:

        I have abook all store about Sergey Kurdukov–
        “Forgive Natasha” and you can email me if you have
        want to talk to me,
        Lyudmila tsuber

  14. Miriam says:

    Thanks for these thoughtful responses to all the questions, Caroline. I am really so very glad that you found the original blog and subsequent comments. It is interesting for me to have further insight into your research into Sergei’s life, but also to hear about how this research affected your own faith.

  15. Joe says:

    Dear Caroline,

    It seems to me that Sergei may have wanted to protect his actual victims and accomplices, and so he used names in the book of people he knew or knew of but that could never be traced into the activities he reports. e gr. A girl in the Ukraine (the extreme opposite side of the Soviet Empire from Kamchatka) who most likely had never ever been to Kamchatka, would be difficult to accuse of belonging to Christian groups there. I think maybe Sergei envisioned the work that you did 2000-2004 being done by KGB agents in the early 70′s. Maybe first he thought by exaggerating everything that when they first read it, they would think it unworthy of following up on? Before Solzheznitsyn emigrated to the West he was laying low at a communist friends’ dacha outside of Moscow. Solzheznitsyn has a few children by two different wives, if my memory serves me right. That Sergei, a young rising star in the Communist party, would have access to this “communist resort” makes sense, and again he meets Solzheznitsyn near Moscow and gives him the name of a little known party-line author in Siberia–the KGB is off on another wild goose chase. If my memory serves me well, Solzheznitsyn did not arrive to the USA until after Sergei’s death. I have neither read his book nor have I seen your documentary, but it seems as though there is a core of truth to Sergei’s book. He was an orphan of the state and became a model youth of the state. He most likely participated in some persecution raids, and being of a much smaller number was probably able to remember better his victims and was more surprised to continue finding the same attractive young lady at various of them inspite of the beatings threats etc. Her real courage, thwarted his false bravado, and made him seek the truth. Even if he only went on one raid he surely would have collected up Christian literature. Whether it was 3 miles or 11 miles, he swam a long way in very cold water risking his life for freedom. So, my point is, maybe there is a method to the seeming madness, maybe there are still some great truths to hold onto under the exaggerations and misdirections?

  16. Ruth says:

    To Caroline,
    I just finished the book The Persecutor. God knows the truth. John 8:32;14:6;16:13.
    Folks just take a look at one of the Voice of the Martyrs magazines. Ephesians 6:10-18.
    Persecution is real even today. Whether the details in the book are accurate or not, I am once again, stirred in my “comfort zone” to pray and plead for those who need Jesus and for those who have embraced Romans 10: 9, 10, 13 and are persecuted. John 3:16,17.
    Ruth

  17. Bob says:

    Sergei’s accounts reflect what was going on in USSR at that time it was written. Regardless of the claim of the “debunker” there are many considerations to take into account relating to Sergei’s accounts of the life of a “true believer” in the Soviet system. I believe Sergei’s accounts were 100% real. 3 miles or 12 miles from the coast. Give me break. A man dies from exposure quickly that time of year in the Pacific waters. I followed his case when he jumped ship. I know of what he speaks. Even if you are to debunk his story take into account the motivation of the citizens interviewed in USSR. Bad memory. Fear. Not really knowing Sergei and giving the interviewer what she wants to hear. That’s part of the Russian way. What was done to Christians in the USSR really occured the way that was described in Sergei’s accounts. I know from first hand accounts of those who were in USSR at that time. Sergei was real. He died at the hands of KGB because of his desire to spread the word about what was really happening to Christians in Russia. You can lose a lot by saying the wrong things about people even 40 years later. God bless you Serei. Rest in peace.

    • peacemakerpete says:

      I heard Sergei speak in person in about 1971. In his own words, he described how he made a rubber suit to assist him in the super cold water off of Vancouver Island.
      Sergei was a very convincing and powerful speaker, often brought to tears in revealing how he had savagly beat christians in the Soviet Union. After almost an hour, we were all moved by his account of how the Gospel of Jesus Christ had changed his life. But he did warn us that if he was ever found to have committed suicide, that it would not be true, but an act of revenge by his government, staged to look innocent. I believe he was VERY sincere about his account. And look at the risks he made to escape. This man knew the reality
      of a relationship with the living God.

  18. Astichete.Lamula.pe says:

    This small agricultural city has a long history of growing strawberries,
    except for the interruption during the World War II.
    Next up is for those who are planning on a more simple party
    for their New Year’s Eve celebration. The oldest petroglyph is believed to be about 2,000 years old.

  19. Randall says:

    This has been very interesting reading for me…the article and the comments….thank you Caroline for your passion in pursuing this story and for taking the time to make comments on it. I read “the Persecutor”…but that was after I met Sergei Kourdakov….as a teen, i went to an Underground Evangelism conference at Winona Lake Indiana in the mid 1970′s….after Sergei spoke, if my memory is correct, he stood up front all alone…..I mustered the courage to walk up and shake his hand….he grabbed my hand and shook it vigorously (he was very strong)….he had a huge smile on his face and kept saying “praise the Lord, hallelujah”………whatever the truth is about the book, that meeting subtly changed the way I understood my life, this world and the Gospel…..and I hope with all my heart to shake Sergei’s hand again…

  20. Randall says:

    …I apologize for my poor memory….but it must have been in the early seventies…I think I was around 11 to 13 years old….so that would put it between 1970 to 1972……

  21. Courtney says:

    Dear Caroline,

    I can’t seem to find the documentary to watch it myself, but from what I’ve read, it seems the argument against “The Persecutor” is that things “weren’t really that bad” and he exaggerated the hardships and brutality. Is that the gist? If so, what is your take on books like “Tortured For Christ” by Richard Wurmbrand? Or “These are the Generations” by Mr. and Mrs. Bae? They also relate harsh circumstances and brutality in other Communist countries. IF you do not consider these books fabricated or exaggerated, what makes them different or more plausible than “The Persecutor”?

    And amen to Ruth–persecution is real, and even IF Sergei’s personal accounts are fabricated, such circumstances are the reality for many other Christians. This book wasn’t in vain, as it also motivated me along the path of praying for and aiding the persecuted church.

    And for the record to all, I could believe in such a survival story as Sergei’s jumping ship. Not because it is possible, but because he was praying to the God who does impossible things.

  22. Sergei Kurkovain says:

    Maybe the christians beaten up were finally converted to communism and now they reject their Christian past life or maybe they just want to forget the beatings and don’t want to speak about that

  23. jean deakin says:

    well I am 77 years old, and I remember Sergei coming to speak at the church I attended
    in wolverhampton. I later read the book Forgive Me Natasha, and I believe that this story is true.one thing that I always remember is how he escaped by jumping overboard and prayed. He had also been training and making himself as fit as possible.when being questioned by those that found him,they said that it was impossible, but after putting this information into their systems and saying that he prayed to God, the answer was that it was possible with God. Also I remember reading that if any thing happened to him it was NOT suicide.It was not to long after he had been to our church that I heard if his untimely death.

  24. Michael McDonald says:

    Always amazed that so many “believers’ believe falsehoods in the face of evidence.

  25. Russ Allert says:

    My parents saw Sergei speak in Revelstoke, British Columbia, in the summer of 1972. I watched him on the TV show Crossroads in the fall of 1972, and my mother had (and still has) Sergei’s book, which I read as well. I haven’t seen the film yet, other than a preview on YouTube, so I can’t really comment on it. However, based on what I’ve seen and read, and especially based on Caroline’s comments both here and elsewhere, there seems to be pretty strong evidence that Sergei’s story was less than truthful, so to say the least. It’s unfortunate that some people can’t realize this. There seems to be a misconception among some people that if a Christian writes or says something, it must automatically be true, because he/she is a Christian and therefore must be telling the truth. Of course, the revelations about frauds like comedian Mike Warnke and Oral Roberts’ son Richard prove this to be a fallacy.

    • peacemakerpete says:

      I went to School with Richard Roberts. He was a fraud. And I also heard Sergei Speak at an hour long Chapel service. In my opinion, Sergei’s life shows commitment and actions that validate his story. There is no doubt that he jumped
      into the 44 degree water off the west coast of Vancouver Island, and lived to tell about it. Do you doubt that part of hia account too? How else did he get to America/Canada? The let him go ashore on the west coast of Vancouver Island, in the middle of an arctic storm, where there are no ports for 100 miles???
      If he were a fraud, WHY would he risk his life to perpetuate that fraud? Does not make any sense. Fraudulent people are unwilling to risk their lives. They take the easy way out.

      • Russ Allert says:

        I did not say that he fabricated the story of his swim in the ocean. That’s pretty well accounted for. But it is very clear that numerous aspects of his life story were indeed fabricated, eg. the “famous Soviet author” incident and his false characterization of Big Irene as a hateful ogre. As well, Sergei’s account of the alleged 1963 famine at Barysevo doesn’t ring true either. There was a drought in the USSR in 1963, and it did cause economic problems and food shortages, but not a famine. Khrushchev dipped into the country’s gold reserves to buy grain – a move that helped contribute to his overthrow the following year, as his agricultural policy had been less than successful. Combine all this with the other inconsistencies and fabrications that Caroline Walker has uncovered, and the result is a highly unreliable source of accurate information in the person of Sergei Kourdakov. As to the question of why he would risk his life to perpetuate a fraud, only Sergei knows the answer to that one.

  26. K Kidd says:

    I started reading the Russian History Blog more than a year ago. It would be an understatement to say that it affected me. Everyone who left a comment about Sergei Kourdakov, positive or negative, convinced me I needed to tell the story that I kept close to my heart for more than forty years. I knew it was finally time to write about Sergei.

    Sergei spent several weeks in Washington DC talking to Government Officials in the fall of 1972. During that time he met a young secretary with whom he had an instant connection. I was that young girl. The story of our time together, A Rose for Sergei, is scheduled to be released from Amazon in late fall of 2013.

    In my August 5, 2013 posting on my blog, ARoseforSergei.blogspot.com, I talk about the influence of social media and how it pushed me to write my book. It has been a long process. My book was cleared for publication by the Department of Defense after nearly two months. I am currently working on the final changes with my editor.

  27. Miriam says:

    Thanks for your post – I look forward to reading A Rose for Sergei.

  28. Lyudmila Tsuber says:

    I Have story about “Forgive Natasha ”
    I can Email me if you have any questions.

  29. Janice Shay says:

    Fear and intimidation were and are very much a factor of Russian life. Those who are not of Russian heritage cannot understand this. My dad was Mennonite, born in the southern Ukraine in 1914. Because of the Communist uprisings and brutality, our large family left in the mid 1920′s to settle in Mexico and then Canada. Most went on to be succesful and well-educated. My dad always told me he’d love to go back to Russia but he wouldn’t because he was afraid he’d never get out. My mom says on his Canadian passport it was printed that if he did go back, the Canadian government would not responsible for him. And a family friend, a professor in Winnipeg, did return to visit during the 1970′s and tried to find his way, without a guide, to the area of his childhood. He was immediately confronted by Russian police who were suspicious and took him away for interrogation. He said, “they knew everything about me, everything!” and he was threatened, and fearful he would not be released! My dad always told me of murders of Mennonite pastor friends, their wives, even children, during his childhood. Even my great grandfather’s life was threatened as he was a land owner. Dad hated the color red. I asked him why and he replied, “red banners were hung everywhere and I knew those banners were why horrible things were happening to us.” My point is that there was much terror in Russia throughout the centuries and even now. I don’t doubt the main points of Sergei’s story. The facts remain that he was led to God and the Christian faith, and his escape was miraculous. He was a very new Christian and unknowlegeable of Scripture or of life as a committed Christian. At age 21, with handsome looks and build, sudden fame and international attention–how many would not fall to some temptation? We only have to look to Hollywood for that answer. I would not doubt that the KGB could and would go after him. I was raised in Southern California and lived near both Los Angeles and Wrightwood. Those are rugged but highly accessible areas. There probably was a command to “keep him quiet.” It is right about fear “silencing” those he knew back in Russia. And if his untimely death was indeed accidental–as a Christian I believe that one doesn’t “mess” with a Holy God. Even if not entirely of truth, his is a compelling story and if he accepted Jesus as I believe he did, he is in Heaven. As Christians, we’ll all know, someday!

  30. Sunshine Johnson says:

    I had the privilege of hearing Sergei Kourdakov speak in mid April in 1972. I will never forget that moment. A group of us traveled from Western NY to hear another speaker. But then Sergei appeared. He told us his life was in danger yet he had a message for us. That was why they had to change speakers. He asked for prayer. 7 1/2 months later he was dead! It was the most powerful testimony I have ever heard. I remember every word 42 years later.
    Sunshine Johnson

  31. Piotr says:

    I remember watching a documentary on some prominent Christian evangelists, one of them was Reinhard Bonnke and the other one was Benny Hinn, there were probably two more figures I think. Bonnke was portrayed as a madman and Hinn as a greedy guy. The documentary authors said that despite their best efforts and intentions they could not find any person healed by Bonnke’s or Hinn’s ministry. Well, they should have called me – I myself could point them to people I personally know who have been healed of serious and incurable diseases as fellow Christians prayed for them. So either my friends and me have seen more healings than Bonnke and Hinn or the authors of the documentary are anti-Christian hypocrites pretending to be sincere and truth-loving researchers. Christians need to be a little bit more sceptic to what other people say – whether believers or not. So, well, yes, Kurdakov may have made some things up. And so is with Caroline’s documentary, her words and the words of the people in the documentary. I know of many pastors and ministers who have been caught lying, it’s a shame but it’s a fact. God does not lie, but ‘every man is a liar’

  32. Russ Allert says:

    Quite frankly, reading some of these comments are enough to make anyone facepalm themselves to death. It is unfortunate that people continue to believe in Kourdakov’s (or maybe Joe Bass’s, or both) fabricated story, despite the evidence that’s been posted on this blog by the very person who did more research on the subject than anyone else. Instead, lame excuses (“Sergei may have wanted to protect his actual victims and accomplices, and so he used names in the book of people he knew or knew of but that could never be traced into the activities he reports”; “Maybe the Christians beaten up were finally converted to communism and now they reject their Christian past life or maybe they just want to forget the beatings and don’t want to speak about that”; “I cannot believe that most of the details in the story are exaggerated or fabricated”) and shallow platitudes (“As Christians, we’ll all know someday”) are offered up as “proof” that the story is true. Any reasonable thinking person, regardless of religious belief (or lack thereof), can see that the truth of Kourdakov’s story was stretched to a degree that would make Plastic Man envious. That people still cling to this story as “inspiration” is absolutely beyond me. It is about as accurate as Oliver Stone’s portrayal of the life of Jim Morrison.

    • Russ Allert says:

      Sorry, the first sentence should read “reading some of these comments IS enough to make anyone facepalm themselves to death”.

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