861.404/437: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Steinhardt) to the Secretary of State

294. I today addressed the following note to Molotov:21

“Excellency: I have the honor to advise Your Excellency that the Catholic Church known as ‘Saint Louis des Français’ situated at No. 12 Malaya Lyubyanka is in charge of the Reverend Father Leopold Braun, American, and that among other representatives of the Diplomatic Corps in Moscow members of the staff of the American Embassy properly attend divine services conducted in that church by Father Braun.

On December 6, 1939, Father Braun’s church was forcibly entered and robbed of church appurtenances such as chalices, altar lace, and trays and liturgical objects for ministering to the sick. The robbery was reported immediately to the militia, section No. 22, of the Municipal Department of Criminal Research.

On April 9, 1940, Father Braun’s church was again forcibly entered and church appurtenances and currency were stolen. This robbery was immediately reported to the same militia, section No. 22.

On the night of December 25, 1940, the church was forcibly entered and robbed for the third time. This occurrence was reported by Father Braun to the militia man on duty in front of the church who was requested to make a written report thereon.

On the night of December 29th–30th, 1940, Father Braun’s church was again forcibly entered and in addition to robbing it was outrageously [Page 996]desecrated. Upon consultation the militia on duty in the neighborhood admitted that they had heard persons in the church who presumably were the ones committing the robbery and perpetrating the desecration.

Finally on the night of February 13th–14th, 1941, Father Braun’s church was forcibly entered for the fifth time. Damage was inflicted and gold and silver implements were stolen. This robbery was immediately reported to the headquarters of the Moscow Criminal Research No. 38 on the Petrovka.

In view of the undertakings with respect to the maintenance of appropriate religious institutions in the Soviet Union entered into by Mr. Litvinov through an exchange of letters with the President of the United States in October [November] 1933,22 I addressed a note to the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs (No. 983, dated December 30, 1940) with respect to the first four violations and robberies inflicted upon Father Braun’s church. As is almost invariably the practice, however, I have not received the courtesy of a reply to this note.

In bringing the foregoing directly to Your Excellency’s attention I venture to renew the expression of my hope addressed to the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs that the persons who have repeatedly violated the church presided over by this American citizen and in which divine services are attended by American members of my Embassy be apprehended if possible and suitably punished.

I avail myself of the opportunity to renew to Your Excellency the assurances of my highest and most distinguished consideration.”

I have been informed by Father Braun that in addition to the repeated violations of his church he has been subjected to other vexations through the imposition of what he regards as excessively high income taxes, electric light and property tax assessments, and the coercion of his altar boys to the point where they now fear to officiate in his church.

It may reasonably be assumed, therefore, that the robberies which I have brought to the attention of the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs may be regarded as part of a deliberate plan to induce Father Braun to close his church, which is now the only foreign church functioning in Moscow.23

Steinhardt
  1. Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union.
  2. These letters, exchanged on November 16, 1933, between President Roosevelt and Maxim Maximovich Litvinov, at that time the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, are printed in Foreign Relations, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, pp. 29 33.
  3. In telegram No. 213, February 21, 1941, the Department of State approved the action taken by Ambassador Steinhardt (861.404/437).