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With God in Russia: The Inspiring Classic Account of a Catholic Priest's Twenty-three Years in Soviet Prisons and Labor Camps

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Republished for a new century and featuring an afterword by Father James Martin, SJ, the classic memoir of an American-born Jesuit priest imprisoned for fifteen years in a Soviet gulag during the height of the Cold War—a poignant and spiritually uplifting story of extraordinary faith and fortitude as indelible as Unbroken. Foreword by Daniel L. Flaherty. While ministering i Republished for a new century and featuring an afterword by Father James Martin, SJ, the classic memoir of an American-born Jesuit priest imprisoned for fifteen years in a Soviet gulag during the height of the Cold War—a poignant and spiritually uplifting story of extraordinary faith and fortitude as indelible as Unbroken. Foreword by Daniel L. Flaherty. While ministering in Eastern Europe during World War II, Polish-American priest Walter Ciszek, S.J., was arrested by the NKVD, the Russian secret police, shortly after the war ended. Accused of being an American spy and charged with "agitation with intent to subvert," he was held in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison for five years. The Catholic priest was then sentenced without trial to ten more years of hard labor and transported to Siberia, where he would become a prisoner within the forced labor camp system made famous in Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Prize—winning book The Gulag Archipelago. In With God in Russia, Ciszek reflects on his daily life as a prisoner, the labor he endured while working in the mines and on construction gangs, his unwavering faith in God, and his firm devotion to his vows and vocation. Enduring brutal conditions, Ciszek risked his life to offer spiritual guidance to fellow prisoners who could easily have exposed him for their own gains. He chronicles these experiences with grace, humility, and candor, from his secret work leading mass and hearing confessions within the prison grounds, to his participation in a major gulag uprising, to his own "resurrection"—his eventual release in a prisoner exchange in October 1963 which astonished all who had feared he was dead. Powerful and inspirational, With God in Russia captures the heroic patience, endurance, and religious conviction of a man whose life embodied the Christian ideals that sustained him.


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Republished for a new century and featuring an afterword by Father James Martin, SJ, the classic memoir of an American-born Jesuit priest imprisoned for fifteen years in a Soviet gulag during the height of the Cold War—a poignant and spiritually uplifting story of extraordinary faith and fortitude as indelible as Unbroken. Foreword by Daniel L. Flaherty. While ministering i Republished for a new century and featuring an afterword by Father James Martin, SJ, the classic memoir of an American-born Jesuit priest imprisoned for fifteen years in a Soviet gulag during the height of the Cold War—a poignant and spiritually uplifting story of extraordinary faith and fortitude as indelible as Unbroken. Foreword by Daniel L. Flaherty. While ministering in Eastern Europe during World War II, Polish-American priest Walter Ciszek, S.J., was arrested by the NKVD, the Russian secret police, shortly after the war ended. Accused of being an American spy and charged with "agitation with intent to subvert," he was held in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison for five years. The Catholic priest was then sentenced without trial to ten more years of hard labor and transported to Siberia, where he would become a prisoner within the forced labor camp system made famous in Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Prize—winning book The Gulag Archipelago. In With God in Russia, Ciszek reflects on his daily life as a prisoner, the labor he endured while working in the mines and on construction gangs, his unwavering faith in God, and his firm devotion to his vows and vocation. Enduring brutal conditions, Ciszek risked his life to offer spiritual guidance to fellow prisoners who could easily have exposed him for their own gains. He chronicles these experiences with grace, humility, and candor, from his secret work leading mass and hearing confessions within the prison grounds, to his participation in a major gulag uprising, to his own "resurrection"—his eventual release in a prisoner exchange in October 1963 which astonished all who had feared he was dead. Powerful and inspirational, With God in Russia captures the heroic patience, endurance, and religious conviction of a man whose life embodied the Christian ideals that sustained him.

30 review for With God in Russia: The Inspiring Classic Account of a Catholic Priest's Twenty-three Years in Soviet Prisons and Labor Camps

  1. 4 out of 5

    Amicizia

    This is Walter Ciszek's first book about his experience as a priest living in captivity in the Soviet Union. Whereas "He Leadeth Me" deals with the spiritual side of his experience, "With God in Russia" is more of a factual account of what happened, albeit one that is told in a dramatic, suspenseful style that makes it almost read like an adventure novel. A great read and very inspiring. Be sure to read "He Leadeth Me" to get the FULL story of this heroic Jesuit's life. This is Walter Ciszek's first book about his experience as a priest living in captivity in the Soviet Union. Whereas "He Leadeth Me" deals with the spiritual side of his experience, "With God in Russia" is more of a factual account of what happened, albeit one that is told in a dramatic, suspenseful style that makes it almost read like an adventure novel. A great read and very inspiring. Be sure to read "He Leadeth Me" to get the FULL story of this heroic Jesuit's life.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kate.

    True story. A hard-nosed Jesuit priest slipped behind soviet lines during WWII and got trapped there for 23 years. Through tortuous interrogations, 15 years of hard labor in Siberian labor camps, and plenty of laugh-or-else-you'd-cry hijinx, Walter Ciszek was convinced that he was made for this struggle. He was possibly the most disciplined and stubborn man of the 20th Century: blown up in coal mines, stuck in solitary for 5 years, nearly executed during a prison uprising, electrocuted while wor True story. A hard-nosed Jesuit priest slipped behind soviet lines during WWII and got trapped there for 23 years. Through tortuous interrogations, 15 years of hard labor in Siberian labor camps, and plenty of laugh-or-else-you'd-cry hijinx, Walter Ciszek was convinced that he was made for this struggle. He was possibly the most disciplined and stubborn man of the 20th Century: blown up in coal mines, stuck in solitary for 5 years, nearly executed during a prison uprising, electrocuted while working construction, starved for decades on end. And yet, he was convinced that he needn't worry because God had his back. And seeing how he survived the camps and was returned home in a Cold War spy swap, you have to think that he might have had the cosmos figured out. I remember an argument I got into in a class on Philosophy of Law -- is Communism just an economic system or is it a violation of human liberty/dignity/whatever? I am not exactly sure, even now. But in this book you really get to see the fascinating and absurd mechanics of life in the USSR, and wonder if that country's experience was just a load of misery and suffering, covered in a shellac of bureaucratic ego and paranoia. Hey Benedict! Mister anti-woman, retro-fitted bossy pants! CANONIZE THIS GUY ALREADY! We promise not to spend too much time comparing how you both spent your free time during Hitler's rise to power.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Teresa “Teri”

    Finally finished!! The book was very good and especially towards the end, very inspirational. I just found the endless day to day extreme hardships repetitive. This sounds so very disrespectful of Fr. Ciszek, and I do not mean to be! It’s really like like reading his daily journal from the time he starts out until his ordeal ends years and years later. I recommend reading it, but, if you are like me at all, it’s better read in “slices than chunks or whole”.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Elisa

    A man without faith could not have survived -- psychologically, if not physically -- the ordeals this man endured in communist Russia. From total isolation for years in prison, torture, constant interrogations, brutal work camps in Siberia, Walter Ciszek retained not only his sanity, but his humor, his kindness, and his ability to serve others as a priest. His faith was often his only sustenance through years of torment, and his relationship with God allowed him to endure even the worst treatmen A man without faith could not have survived -- psychologically, if not physically -- the ordeals this man endured in communist Russia. From total isolation for years in prison, torture, constant interrogations, brutal work camps in Siberia, Walter Ciszek retained not only his sanity, but his humor, his kindness, and his ability to serve others as a priest. His faith was often his only sustenance through years of torment, and his relationship with God allowed him to endure even the worst treatment because, as he said, he knew he was never alone, and that God was watching over him. This gave him the ability to help those who were suffering even more than he was, and to minister to people who had even less than he -- people with no spiritual life, no means to access baptism, or the Bible, or faith. An inspiring, challenging story that puts our own ordinary, wealthy, Western-world troubles in perspective. If he can say "God's will be done" in the midst of such trouble, how can I not?

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tanya

    I have now read both "He Leadeth Me" and this book. Unintentionally, I read them backwards, but I enjoyed both immensely. I always love a good Autobiography :) . My initial thoughts were "why did he write two separate books? He could of just combined both books into one." But after reading them both, I realized why he had written two books. The reliving of the actual story to share his experience with the rest of us must have been challenging in of itself. His story is very captivating and thoug I have now read both "He Leadeth Me" and this book. Unintentionally, I read them backwards, but I enjoyed both immensely. I always love a good Autobiography :) . My initial thoughts were "why did he write two separate books? He could of just combined both books into one." But after reading them both, I realized why he had written two books. The reliving of the actual story to share his experience with the rest of us must have been challenging in of itself. His story is very captivating and thought provoking. I could feel his thoughts, worries and fears right along with him as he shared the hardest years of his life with us. He had an incredible amount of faith and perseverance. He had complete trust in Our Lord, Jesus Christ to protect and lead the way and what a wonderful example of saying "yes" and being totally accepting to God's will.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    This was an excellent book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Moll

    There is no option but 5 stars for Father Ciszek and his story, his voice clear, his heart true in every part of his telling of his life in Russia. My advancing years has yet to diminish my amazement at just what the human heart can hope, the body withstand, the mind overcome. Yet, Father Ciszek reminds us with each page we turn, it is not the tragedy and cruelty we endure and survive, but the hope and salvation of our spirit and soul, in the face of such adversity. With God in Russia, Father Cisz There is no option but 5 stars for Father Ciszek and his story, his voice clear, his heart true in every part of his telling of his life in Russia. My advancing years has yet to diminish my amazement at just what the human heart can hope, the body withstand, the mind overcome. Yet, Father Ciszek reminds us with each page we turn, it is not the tragedy and cruelty we endure and survive, but the hope and salvation of our spirit and soul, in the face of such adversity. With God in Russia, Father Ciszek teaches us God is with us in our darkest moments. He reminds us all that we are not alone and that all things are possible with God.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    A priest willing to go wherever God leads him to serve who God asks him to serve. Unimaginable cruelty, starvation, and horror. Fr. Ciszek’s fortitude, perseverance, courage, and piety inspires me to become a better Catholic. This book tells the horrors of Communism while shining a light on how even the communists can’t stop the faith of the people. Fr. Walter Ciszek, pray for us!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Incredible memoir of incredible man. Good overview of Soviet Union, gulags, Siberia... it's amazing what people can endure. Would have liked more spiritual account here, but that's in his other book. Incredible memoir of incredible man. Good overview of Soviet Union, gulags, Siberia... it's amazing what people can endure. Would have liked more spiritual account here, but that's in his other book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Muziwandile Mahlangu

    A beautiful masterpiece, narrating the dedication of a man of God under the most extreme conditions-and without losing it too! I've made a resolution after this book-to never take anything for granted. Totally. A beautiful masterpiece, narrating the dedication of a man of God under the most extreme conditions-and without losing it too! I've made a resolution after this book-to never take anything for granted. Totally.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cassandra

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. “I felt I was destined to spend my life doing what I could for my ‘flock’ here in Russia who, as Our Lord had said, were lying like sheep without a shepherd. Let the KGB do what they ‘must.’ The Lord was my shepherd. He had proven that.” One day in 1929, while he was in seminary, Fr. Walter Ciszek heard someone read a letter from Pope Pius XI. In the letter, the Holy Father spoke about Soviet Russia, where religious persecution was rampant. There, all the Catholic bishops had been arrested and se “I felt I was destined to spend my life doing what I could for my ‘flock’ here in Russia who, as Our Lord had said, were lying like sheep without a shepherd. Let the KGB do what they ‘must.’ The Lord was my shepherd. He had proven that.” One day in 1929, while he was in seminary, Fr. Walter Ciszek heard someone read a letter from Pope Pius XI. In the letter, the Holy Father spoke about Soviet Russia, where religious persecution was rampant. There, all the Catholic bishops had been arrested and sent to concentration camps. There, hundreds of parishes lacked a pastor. It was illegal to teach religion to children. Seminaries were closed. The Holy Father expressed the urgent need for well-trained and courageous priests who would go into Russia, to this lost flock. Even as Father Weber read the letter something within me stirred. I knew I had come to the end of a long search. I was convinced that God had at last sought me out and was telling me the answer to my long desire and the reason for all my struggles. Yet, while his calling was clear, the way was not. Catholic priests were not permitted into Russian in 1937. So first Fr. Ciszek was sent to Albertin, Poland. He could not enter Russia, but very soon the Russians came to him: the Russian soldiers occupied Poland. At this time Russia was hiring workers from occupied territories to work in the Urals, a mountain range in western Russia. Fr. Ciszek, along with another priest, proposed volunteering to work in the area. The Archbishop cautiously approved of the plan, directing Fr. Ciszek to return in a year to report whether the conditions were favorable for ministering to the Russian people there. On the Feast of St. Joseph (March 19), the train carrying Fr. Ciszek, along with many other volunteer workers, passed into Russia. "There was no way of knowing what the future would bring, but we were doing at last what we had dreamt so many years of doing. It didn’t matter if no one else in that boxcar knew we were priests. We knew it. Crossing the border gave me a strange sense of exhilaration, and yet, of loneliness, of a beginning and an end to the life we had known." At the Urals, Fr. Ciszek worked as an unskilled laborer hauling logs from the river and stacking them over six feet high. It was demanding labor, with no breaks, and he was paid based on how many logs he stacked. He later worked as a truck driver, which carried its own hazards in a place where temperatures at times dropped forty degrees below zero. One night the truck stalled and wouldn’t start. He spent forty-eight hours sitting in the truck, his cheeks literally freezing, until someone came to help him. Fr. Ciszek found ways to continue his ministry as a priest. He memorized the prayers of the Mass by heart, in case someone took his Mass kit away. He would offer Mass in the forest after work, using a stump as an altar. He befriended the children and teens at the camp, asking what they had learned about God in school (nothing) and answering their questions. The teens especially were curious about religion. Mostly though, he turned his demanding work into prayer. Then, unexpectedly, in June 1941 at 3:00 AM secret police surrounded the barracks where he was sleeping. They found two bottles of Mass wine, a half-pound bag of tooth powder, and a sheet of paper with letters on it, which Fr. Ciszek had been using to teach a little boy the alphabet. The secret police claimed that the bottles contained nitroglycerin and the powder was gun powder: materials for making bombs. The paper with the letters was a secret code. In short, Fr. Ciszek must be a German spy. For two months Fr. Ciszek was imprisoned in a 30 by 30 foot cell containing more than 100 people. “Of course, there was no such thing as privacy, even to perform the natural processes. Each evening we were led in groups to the prison toilet, but at all other times we had to use a covered barrel in the cell. The odor in the room was foul. Every afternoon, too, we were taken out in groups to walk in the courtyard for perhaps twenty minutes of exercise. Otherwise, we were confined like sardines, with not even enough room to stretch out and sleep. The only measure of privacy was to withdraw within yourself, as many did, or else to engage in conversation with one or two people nearest you and try to ignore what was happening in the rest of the room.” Sometimes people were called out for interrogation. Some never returned; some came back with bruises. Fr. Ciszek himself was interrogated, sometimes for a whole day. They knew far more about him than he ever expected. They always asked the same questions. Who were his contacts? What kind of information had he sent to the Germans? No matter how often he told his story, they refused to believe him. He was hit, beaten with clubs, drugged, and put into solitary confinement: a cell of complete darkness. Fr. Ciszek spent four years at the famous prison of Lubianka. For almost a year he lived in a room alone, speaking to no one. He did his best to order his day around prayer. He would scrub his wood floor twice each day for exercise. He read voraciously, including many classic Russian novels. Outside he could hear the sound of German planes dropping bombs onto Moscow. Still, the interrogations continued. “The weary round of questioning continued; since there had never actually been any espionage or sabotage plot, they couldn’t prove anything, but they kept doggedly insisting. Tired of the subject as I was, I was equally dogged in insisting that my only motives for entering Russia, or going anywhere in Russia--no matter where--had been purely spiritual ones, like those of priests anywhere.” Fr. Ciszek and the communists spoke different languages and by that, I do not mean English and Russia. The communists simply could not understand the spiritual realm. It probably would have been easier for Fr. Ciszek to make up a story and go along with their insistence that he was a spy. But he spoke the truth and held fast to the truth of his spiritual motivations. Our Lord said that the truth will set you free. It would be many years before Fr. Ciszek would be physically free, but his soul was free .. and he continued to depend on God during those long years in prison, learning to abandon himself to Divine Providence. "Lubianka was a hard school, but a good one. I learned there the lesson which would keep me going in the years to come: religion, prayer, and love of God do not change reality, but they give it a new meaning. In Lubianka I grew firmer in my conviction that whatever happened in my life was nothing else than a reflection of God’s will for me. And He would protect me." After being found guilty of espionage, Fr. Ciszek was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in Siberia. There he worked as a coal loader, miner, and construction worker. Many times he almost died: he was electrocuted and once the ceiling in one of the shafts of the mine almost fell on top of him. But there were other dangers. Many of the other prisoners were common thieves and fights would break out within camp. In 1952 there was a revolt in the work camps and the Russian troops had to violently restore order. Here Fr. Ciszek quietly ministered to his hidden flock. He would offer Mass in another priest’s barrack. He would go on walks outside and seemingly “run into” a group of two or three men … and quietly distribute Holy Communion to them. He heard confessions and even offered retreats. In April 1955 Fr. Ciszek was informed that he had served his sentence. He was now a free man … but not really. The KGB informed him where he would live and even how much money he could earn. He also had to report to the police station and tell them his address. As soon as he was settled, Fr. Ciszek quietly resumed his priestly duties: baptizing, offering Mass, witnessing marriages. His parish grew as more people came, seeking the sacraments. They were starving for them. And yet, just when his ministry was really thriving, the KGB told Fr. Ciszek he had to leave that city and move somewhere else, since he was “agitating the people.” So he left, went to a new city, and began his spiritual work once again. Eventually, in 1963, Fr. Ciszek was allowed to return to the United States, in exchange for a Russian spy. As the plane took off leaving Russia, he made the Sign of the Cross over the country where he had been wrongly accused, sentenced without a trial, beaten, starved, worked mercilessly, frozen, and imprisoned. But it was not a curse he offered for all that suffering and pain; he offered a blessing. He was called to Russia to minister to the Russian people and that he did--in prison, in Siberia, in the cities controlled by the communists. They were his flock and, trusting in Divine Providence, he was their shepherd.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Karina

    This is autobiographical, about his imprisonment in Russia. -- Just started reading a couple of days ago. It reminds me of the memoir by Ginzburg a bit (Journey into the Whirlwind) which basically also had to do with the Russian prisons, interrogations and work camps in Siberia and Ginzburg also was a political prisoner, but obviously this author has a rather different perspective as an American and a priest. (As far as I remember, it seemed that the interrogators were tougher on Ginzburg. I wonde This is autobiographical, about his imprisonment in Russia. -- Just started reading a couple of days ago. It reminds me of the memoir by Ginzburg a bit (Journey into the Whirlwind) which basically also had to do with the Russian prisons, interrogations and work camps in Siberia and Ginzburg also was a political prisoner, but obviously this author has a rather different perspective as an American and a priest. (As far as I remember, it seemed that the interrogators were tougher on Ginzburg. I wondered if it's due to the fact that Ciszek was an American citizen and they were concerned that if he ever went back he'd tell stories about torture, etc.) I was so happy to read about the first time Fr. Ciszek was able to celebrate Mass after 5 years. Oh, and the part where he got the high recognition of "Zvanie Udarnika Kommunisticheskogo Truda" (translated in the book as "Shock Troop of Communist Labor") made me laugh out loud. (I was reading that on my luch break at work: not sure what my co-workers thought...) It was just so unexpected; it's a very old term. I was impressed with the way Ciszek argued with the authorities about conducting his missionary work after his release (with restrictions). So brave to continue doing it after numerous hints.

  13. 4 out of 5

    booklady

    This is Father Ciszek's first book, the one which gives the factual account of his early life, decision to become a priest, seminary years, journey to Poland and behind the Iron Curtain where he lived and was eventually held captive for many years, presumed dead by his family and all who knew him in the US. It's a fascinating account, both humorous and inspiring in turns and yet Fr. Ciszek only wrote it because he was asked to. It wasn't the book he wanted to write. Later he went on to write He This is Father Ciszek's first book, the one which gives the factual account of his early life, decision to become a priest, seminary years, journey to Poland and behind the Iron Curtain where he lived and was eventually held captive for many years, presumed dead by his family and all who knew him in the US. It's a fascinating account, both humorous and inspiring in turns and yet Fr. Ciszek only wrote it because he was asked to. It wasn't the book he wanted to write. Later he went on to write He Leadeth Me which tells the spiritual aspect of his journey inside the Soviet Union and how God used him to do His Will. In fact this second book is the more inspiring of the two books, while this book, is written in a factual, straightforward, explanatory style. Both books complement each other, can be read in either order and are guaranteed to enliven and encourage you spiritually.

  14. 5 out of 5

    P

    Fr. Ciszek’s account of his years in Soviet solitary confinement, Siberian prison camps, and finally serving as parish priest while under constant KGB surveillance is all the more harrowing and inspirational for the frank, humble, matter-of-fact manner in which it’s told.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    Rereading for book club. Love Fr. Ciszek!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sonali Ekka

    A young American Jesuit priest illegally enters Russia during WW2, to spread the word of God when the Communist regime has shut down all Catholic churches and has banned all ministerial work, and then the priest gets arrested by the Russians and accused of being a German spy. And thus begins Walter J. Ciszek's 23 year long ordeal in Russia, 15 years of torturous imprisonment and hard labour in several Russian prisons, and 8 more years of living in Russian towns, constantly under vigilance by the A young American Jesuit priest illegally enters Russia during WW2, to spread the word of God when the Communist regime has shut down all Catholic churches and has banned all ministerial work, and then the priest gets arrested by the Russians and accused of being a German spy. And thus begins Walter J. Ciszek's 23 year long ordeal in Russia, 15 years of torturous imprisonment and hard labour in several Russian prisons, and 8 more years of living in Russian towns, constantly under vigilance by the Russian government. Ciszek spends all this time, tolerates loneliness, threats, insults and constant suspicion by everyone, simply because of his dedication towards his work as a Jesuit priest, his immense faith in God and his strong belief that his life has a purpose, of serving the Russian citizens in need of a Church. It is difficult to review a memoir because the story commands respect on account of being true. So what remain to reviewing such writings, are the other technical aspects like language, structure and composition. This book is well written on all 3 accounts. The book is narrated in first person from the viewpoint of Ciszek himself, and describes his ordeal in clear, chronological order. The book is divided into chapters based on the various locations and phases of Ciszek's ordeal. There are no loose ends or interruptions. Nor are there any digressions or pointless digressions. The plot is tightly written with just the perfect amount of descriptions about people and places and smaller incidents. While the title says "With God in Russia", this book is not a spiritual book, it is not even a theological book or a Christian literature. Ciszek strictly speaks about his experiences as they occurred, and hence this book is purely a memoir. While it conveys the horrors of being imprisoned for 15 years and trapped for 8 more years in a cold (literally and figuratively speaking), dangerous country like the USSR, it does not mention much about religion. Ciszek merely mentions his actions of holding Mass, or praying, or conducting a Church service, whenever and wherever possible, but in a very matter-of-fact way. This could be a little disappointing for readers if they may have picked up this book expecting a narration on spirituality or sustaining faith in a crisis. These are not directly talked about, rather, they are implied through Ciszek's experiences. This could probably be the reason why he wrote another book focusing on the spiritual aspect of his life in Russia. Nevertheless, this book is a must read for anyone interested in Russian prisons, memoirs in general, and especially in memoirs or true stories of Christian priests and missionaries.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Crofut

    Ciszek doesn't quite rise to the level of Solzhenitsyn, but who does? Fr. Ciszek himself would admit as much and I am not surprised to see the introduction of He Leadeth Me say that With God in Russia was not quite the book he wanted to write. And yet, this straightforward narrative is worthy of our time and quite well put together. My attention never faltered and I was often quite moved by the dedication of the good Father to his mission and faith in God's Providence to see him through whatever Ciszek doesn't quite rise to the level of Solzhenitsyn, but who does? Fr. Ciszek himself would admit as much and I am not surprised to see the introduction of He Leadeth Me say that With God in Russia was not quite the book he wanted to write. And yet, this straightforward narrative is worthy of our time and quite well put together. My attention never faltered and I was often quite moved by the dedication of the good Father to his mission and faith in God's Providence to see him through whatever it was God meant him to achieve. And achieve he did, saying Mass and baptizing throughout this openly hostile nation. If nothing else, Ciszek provides a great example of why the priesthood should not be the haven of beta males. A one time thug who becomes a Jesuit just to see if he could, Ciszek went to Poland with plans to get into the USSR and evangelize in an obviously hostile environment, but World War II interrupts, and Ciszek ends up in the Soviet Union by dint of the Soviets wiping out Poland. Quickly caught, Ciszek adapted to every harsh situation he found himself in, both spiritually and often technically (sure, I know how to mold shock absorbers out of scratch...). The tale is realistic and yet fantastic; no pretense is made to hide the bouts of depression and worry, yet the good priest manages to not only trudge along but constantly make friends and build trust with a surprising range of locals, both in prison and without, quietly but unabashedly performing the divine liturgy right under the nose of the authorities. I'm looking forward to He Leadeth Me, the spiritual reflection of his 23 years in Russia. Lord, send us Jesuits like Fr Ciszek again!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rosemary Blevins

    Before I get into this, I just want to say that, even as someone who doesn't associate with any form of religion, this biography is very much worth reading. When I first bought this book, I was at a point where I was questioning religion, and I had stopped into a little religion-oriented bookstore in my town. I'm a very big fan of world history, more specifically, even, Russian history, and so this book caught my eye almost as soon as I walked in the door. Ciszek's time in Eastern Europe and Rus Before I get into this, I just want to say that, even as someone who doesn't associate with any form of religion, this biography is very much worth reading. When I first bought this book, I was at a point where I was questioning religion, and I had stopped into a little religion-oriented bookstore in my town. I'm a very big fan of world history, more specifically, even, Russian history, and so this book caught my eye almost as soon as I walked in the door. Ciszek's time in Eastern Europe and Russia is so well captured in this book. As you're reading through the years, you can really feel what Ciszek was feeling. You get to know his fears, his friends, his strengths and his weaknesses. I felt massive amounts of sympathy for Ciszek the first time I read this book, especially since, for most of the time passed in the book, Ciszek really believes that he may never return home to America. I indeed would recommend this biography to anyone, and when I say anyone, I mean it. You don't have to be a devout Catholic to enjoy this; I'm a pretty adamant atheist and I still very much enjoyed it. Yes, Ciszek talks about how he remained a priest through all of those years in Russia, but it isn't a sickening amount of "religious propaganda". Being a priest is a part of his life, and without it, this biography would make absolutely no sense. Overall, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though, perhaps, I would have liked to know what Ciszek's life was like upon returning to America?

  19. 4 out of 5

    Erin Bottger (Bouma)

    I've read several Soviet Gulag testimonies, and the value of this one is that Fr. Ciszek, an immigrant American, volunteered to put himself in harm's way in order to serve God and his fellow man. He prepared to take Eastern rite (Orthodox-like) Catholicism behind the Iron Curtain and assumed it as a personal mission. He was captured by the Russian army near the Polish border during World War II and convicted of being a “Vatican spy.” Jesuit Father Walter J. Ciszek then spent some 23 agonizing yea I've read several Soviet Gulag testimonies, and the value of this one is that Fr. Ciszek, an immigrant American, volunteered to put himself in harm's way in order to serve God and his fellow man. He prepared to take Eastern rite (Orthodox-like) Catholicism behind the Iron Curtain and assumed it as a personal mission. He was captured by the Russian army near the Polish border during World War II and convicted of being a “Vatican spy.” Jesuit Father Walter J. Ciszek then spent some 23 agonizing years in Soviet prisons and the labor camps of Siberia. Finding himself captive, he drew upon his strong faith in order to survive and reach out to fellow suffering prisoners. This volume is a powerful testimony of the horrors of concentration work camps and how God can work in extreme circumstances when He has a channel to work. Ciszek's companion volume, "He Leadeth Me," is an internal, spiritual account of the same experience and period. Also highly recommended I read it many years ago but it has left a powerful impression.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amy Gieser

    History is astounding. This is the story of Fr Walter Ciszek as he is led by God to sneak into Russia and then spend the next 23 years there as a worker, then prisoner, then in labor camps in Siberia. That he lives through so many different types of suffering is amazing and truly a miracle many times over but the fact that he keeps his faith and perseveres as a priest and Catholic is very inspiring. I am glad I finally picked this one up at our church library. Very easy to read and captivating th History is astounding. This is the story of Fr Walter Ciszek as he is led by God to sneak into Russia and then spend the next 23 years there as a worker, then prisoner, then in labor camps in Siberia. That he lives through so many different types of suffering is amazing and truly a miracle many times over but the fact that he keeps his faith and perseveres as a priest and Catholic is very inspiring. I am glad I finally picked this one up at our church library. Very easy to read and captivating throughout. I learned much and couldn’t help immediately looking up all the places he lived on Google earth as well as read his posthumously published book “With God in America” I conveniently found online. His thoughts coming back to America in 1963 after being gone since 1934 are very interesting too especially of Catholics living in a free country vs those in Russia.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I read this book on the recommendation of a colleague because I had a group of students who specifically requested a book about Catholicism, but not a book that was instructional or expositional on the theory of Catholic beliefs. These students were looking for a traditional novel structure: plot, character development, themes centered around their Catholic beliefs, etc. This book is definitely structured as such, but the history and the plot sort of overwhelms the theology and doesn't do enough I read this book on the recommendation of a colleague because I had a group of students who specifically requested a book about Catholicism, but not a book that was instructional or expositional on the theory of Catholic beliefs. These students were looking for a traditional novel structure: plot, character development, themes centered around their Catholic beliefs, etc. This book is definitely structured as such, but the history and the plot sort of overwhelms the theology and doesn't do enough to explore Ciszek's beliefs and actions. However, I'm not sure that there is a perfect balance out there, and everything in this book is interesting, humorous, and worthy of discussion. Overall, I enjoyed it and it's been a good book for small group discussion.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Anne-Marie

    From the moment Fr Walter Ciszek heard the appeal from Rome to Jesuit priests to serve the Catholic Church in Russia he was convinced that this was God’s will for him. Nothing was going to stop him fulfilling it. And he did. Perhaps not in the way he might have anticipated, but there is no doubt he did it. He heroically and faithfully served the Church in Russia between 1939 and 1963 while falsely imprisoned in Moscow and Siberia and while he was “free” in Norilsk and Abakan. How he survived is From the moment Fr Walter Ciszek heard the appeal from Rome to Jesuit priests to serve the Catholic Church in Russia he was convinced that this was God’s will for him. Nothing was going to stop him fulfilling it. And he did. Perhaps not in the way he might have anticipated, but there is no doubt he did it. He heroically and faithfully served the Church in Russia between 1939 and 1963 while falsely imprisoned in Moscow and Siberia and while he was “free” in Norilsk and Abakan. How he survived is an absolute mystery and how he withstood the pressure from the secret police was equally miraculous. His fortitude and trust in God was exemplary. His account of his experiences is incredible. A gripping and inspiring read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    I left off this memoir with the feeling that after you've read one prison camp memoir you've read them all; I have been through a few. (I have also read a Chinese prison camp one but I don't remember its title or the author - but I've also read a couple of others of various other nationalities like the Alcatraz prisons IIRC and a particularly scary one in the MENA region I can't remember clearly anymore...) I mean, it's humanizing to remember that we're all in this together. So I found this book so I left off this memoir with the feeling that after you've read one prison camp memoir you've read them all; I have been through a few. (I have also read a Chinese prison camp one but I don't remember its title or the author - but I've also read a couple of others of various other nationalities like the Alcatraz prisons IIRC and a particularly scary one in the MENA region I can't remember clearly anymore...) I mean, it's humanizing to remember that we're all in this together. So I found this book so-so. You may find it has more or less value. ETA: I preferred Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, his The First Circle, Cancer Ward and Applebaum's Gulag: A History, but this is something to whet your appetite for this kind of stuff.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Regina Hiney

    Ciszek gives a much more dramatic and harrowing picture of the Russian Gulags than Solzhenitsyn does in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. While this is certainly a story of faith in the face of suffering, and inhumane conditions, ultimately, this is a story of retaining one's humanity and dignity and the power of perseverance. The story is told in the first person and changes tenses which can at times be awkward to read, but is told as if there are times Ciszek is retelling the narrative i Ciszek gives a much more dramatic and harrowing picture of the Russian Gulags than Solzhenitsyn does in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. While this is certainly a story of faith in the face of suffering, and inhumane conditions, ultimately, this is a story of retaining one's humanity and dignity and the power of perseverance. The story is told in the first person and changes tenses which can at times be awkward to read, but is told as if there are times Ciszek is retelling the narrative in real time. One does not get the impression that he is prone toward embellishment or hyperbole. I would recommend reading the forward after the reader finishes the book as Ciszek ending concludes without much fanfare. The forward picks up where Ciszek leaves off.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    I finished this book in the nick of time for a Catholic book club with one of our parish priests who admires Fr. Ciszek. I enjoyed the book, and was amazed by how easily and openly he spoke of extreme hardships. I expect the fruit of reading this book will be revealed when I read his later books; understanding someone's life experience often helps understand the...I don't want to say angle, but choice of words and which lessons to try and pass on. That said, this book on its own is quite good. I I finished this book in the nick of time for a Catholic book club with one of our parish priests who admires Fr. Ciszek. I enjoyed the book, and was amazed by how easily and openly he spoke of extreme hardships. I expect the fruit of reading this book will be revealed when I read his later books; understanding someone's life experience often helps understand the...I don't want to say angle, but choice of words and which lessons to try and pass on. That said, this book on its own is quite good. I am glad I read it and have an appreciation for the level of trust in the providence of God Fr. Ciszek always displayed.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    WE enjoyed this. (It was a "car read.") Ciszek was a Jesuit priest who chose to go to Eastern Europe to work with Eastern rite Catholics toward the end of WWII, only to be arrested as a "spy" for the Vatican. He spent 23 years in work camps and prisons before bing released. And the it was a number of more years before after that before he was able to leave Russia, primarily because of the work of his sisters. He gets discouraged many times but never does he lose is faith or his ability to befrie WE enjoyed this. (It was a "car read.") Ciszek was a Jesuit priest who chose to go to Eastern Europe to work with Eastern rite Catholics toward the end of WWII, only to be arrested as a "spy" for the Vatican. He spent 23 years in work camps and prisons before bing released. And the it was a number of more years before after that before he was able to leave Russia, primarily because of the work of his sisters. He gets discouraged many times but never does he lose is faith or his ability to befriend and support other people in the same situations.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Timmy

    Absolutely amazing book. Edge of your seat suspense coupled with inspirational faith in God in a true life story that follows a priest who devoted his life to spread the faith to the atheistic Soviet Union. His survival in the Gulag against brutal cold, little food, thuggish gangs, sadistic guards not to mention the ever dangerous work in the mines makes for compelling reading. Might be the finest book I've read this year. Absolutely amazing book. Edge of your seat suspense coupled with inspirational faith in God in a true life story that follows a priest who devoted his life to spread the faith to the atheistic Soviet Union. His survival in the Gulag against brutal cold, little food, thuggish gangs, sadistic guards not to mention the ever dangerous work in the mines makes for compelling reading. Might be the finest book I've read this year.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    I really wanted to read something intense for Holy Week this year and I really scored big with this one. I’m not usually a fan of memoirs but I found myself riveted by the story of this priest and the mental capacity he had to survive what he went through. His depth of faith amazed me. What also amazed me is the faith he found among many of the people in Russia during the Communist era. Their lives give me a whole new perspective on my own.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Shelli

    I would like to have 2 ratings - one for impact and another for writing style. While the style of this book is nothing special, the impact of its content is something that should be required reading for anyone who thinks that our way of life in the world is secure. Civilization is but a thin crust over a sea of boiling lava which is humanity. Ciszek's experiences are an invaluable lesson for those who have never experienced anything but peacetime. I would like to have 2 ratings - one for impact and another for writing style. While the style of this book is nothing special, the impact of its content is something that should be required reading for anyone who thinks that our way of life in the world is secure. Civilization is but a thin crust over a sea of boiling lava which is humanity. Ciszek's experiences are an invaluable lesson for those who have never experienced anything but peacetime.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mark Thiesen

    This is one of the best books I have ever read. If you want your faith to be challenged, the story of this man's surrender to God to take the gospel to the Soviet Union and willingly suffer the terrors of Stalinism in complete trust of Providence will do just that. Once you know Ciszek's story, you won't be able to forget it because it will keep coming back to haunt you as you yourself are asked to trust God in the various situations of your life. This is one of the best books I have ever read. If you want your faith to be challenged, the story of this man's surrender to God to take the gospel to the Soviet Union and willingly suffer the terrors of Stalinism in complete trust of Providence will do just that. Once you know Ciszek's story, you won't be able to forget it because it will keep coming back to haunt you as you yourself are asked to trust God in the various situations of your life.

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