Sunday, September 20, 2015

Extended history of the Salvation Army in Russia: 1889-1944

Within the Finland General-District of Czarist Russia.

1892 First corps opened in Vyborg

1905 The Vyborg Division grew to include 13 corps, 650 soldiers and recruits, 500 junior soldiers, four slum stations, and two homes to serve military personnel.

1909 March the founder, General William Booth, travels to St. Petersburg, at the age of 80. Deputy Chairman Baron Meindorf welcomed the General to a session of the Russian Duma, but he was unsuccessful in securing permission to establish work in the country.

1910 Colonel and Mrs. Jens Polvsen from Denmark arrived in St Petersburg to prepare the way for official registration of the Army in Russia. However, after two years in the country their application for registration was denied and they returned home.

1912 General William Booth Promoted to Glory.

1912 Colonel Karl Larsson, a Swedish officer was appointed Territorial Commander, Finland

1913 Colonel Karl Larsson, was invited to feature Salvation Army social work in Finland during the All-Russia Hygiene Exhibition. Colonel Larsson sought through this means an avenue that the Army could begin its work officially in Russia.

1914 Constantine Boije, a pioneer officers in Finland, offered to become the Russian owner of Vestnik Spaseniya (The War Cry, called Salvation Messenger in Russian). Adam Piesheffsky, a Polish Jew who had been converted in a meeting conducted by William Booth in Hamburg, Germany, was to serve as its Russian editor.


1914 St. Petersburg, was founded in 1703 by the czar Peter the Great. The name was changed to Petrograd.

1914  Under the supervision of Colonel Larsson, Ensign Boije became the leader of the Russian work which, at that time, included a corps and slum post. Salvationists set up shelters for refugee women and children. The officers continued to sell the Vestnik Spaseniya and to hold worship meetings in Adam Piesheffsky’s apartment.

1914 December 20 The first enrolment of soldiers. However, due to government restrictions, the Army placed their names on the rolls of the Helsinki Temple Corps, Finland.

1915 February  The Salvation Messenger was officially registered as a Russian publication. Captain Olsoni and Lieutenant Granstrom move to Petrograd as the magazine’s first registered sellers. Soon after, Lieutenant Nadya Konstantinova and Ensign Helmy Boije joined them.

1915, Lieutenants Lydia Konopoliova and Natalia Ilina, Finnish-trained Russian officers, appointed to Petrograd to assist in selling the Vestnik Spaseniya; monthly circulation of 10,000.

1917 February The Russian revolution provided a previously unknown freedom to the Army in Russia to hold marches, conduct open-air meetings, and to rent halls for evangelistic meetings.

1917 General Bramwell Booth appointed Commissioner Henry Mapp as TC for North Russia/ His translator was Clara Becker, fluent in numerous languages. Trained as an officer in 1917 and served in Russia until 1922.

1917 September 16 Petrograd, the “official opening” of the SA work with a visiting band from Finland providing support and garnering interest. Soon thereafter the Army’s work in Petrograd grew to include; seven corps, two children’s homes, two slum posts, and an eventide home for the elderly.

Russian Revolution of 1917 came about in two stages, the first of which, in February (March, New Style), overthrew the imperial government and the second of which, in October (November), placed the Bolsheviks in power.

When Commissioner Mapp was recalled to London for a conference, Colonel Larsson was asked to oversee the work in North Russia during his absence. He was also appointed to oversee operations in South Russia when the work opened in Moscow.

1918 August 1918 Commissioner Karl Larsson and their six children arrive in Russia

1918 September 11 Dedication of new SA Headquarter Russia

1918 September 12  Several hundred soldiers and Army friends welcomed the Larsson family during the September Congress in Petrograd. Fifty-two officers attended, including reinforcements from Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Also present were 18 newly commissioned Russian officers who had trained for four months.

1918 September 15  Dedication and Commissioning services were conducted. 17 Cadets promoted to Probationary Lieutenants and 1 to Probationary Captain.

1918 September 16 Congress Farewell meeting and Appointment service. Captains Nadia Konstantinova and Maria Petrogizky, and Lieutenants Lucie Ihrberg and Zinovsky were to depart for the commencement of SA operations in Moscow.

1918 September 16 Adjutant and Mrs. Ljungholm of Sweden appointed to lead the Moscow venture.


October 17, 1918 the first public meeting took place in the Polytechnic Museum, Moscow

November 11, 2018. A government resolution ordered the Army to cease its activities in Petrograd; closing its headquarters.

1918 December 18 Due to worsening conditions and increasing danger, Commissioner Karl Larsson and his family were forced to leave Russia.
Staff-Captain Boije stayed on to oversee the remaining work, assisted by 40 Russian and Finnish officers.

1918 Fifteen officers and a few employees were left to serve in Petrograd and Moscow.

1920 September Soviet authorities closed the Volga Children’s Home of Moscow

1921 Petrograd was under martial law following an uprising and ten Salvationists were arrested in various “domiciliary visitations,” (Law) a visit to a private dwelling, particularly for searching it, under authority) accused of “counterrevolution,” and were imprisoned for weeks.

1921 Meetings in Moscow continued throughout that year, with 350 seekers kneeling at the mercy seat.

1921 Governmental opposition led to the arrests of Captain Konstantinova, who spent eight months in a Moscow prison. Lieutenants Ihrberg and Kusnetzova, and two SA soldiers spent a lesser time incarcerated.

1922 April 3 Government approval to continue SA programs was approved allowing corps works in both Moscow and Petrograd to grow without restrictions for the ensuing seven months.

1923 February 7 The inspector of the Moscow City Council and the militia carried out a search in the Army’s Moscow headquarters and gave Adjutant Olsoni a resolution officially closing The Salvation Army. The Central Committee of the Communist Party issued a decree three weeks later  “to liquidate the sect as an anti-Soviet organization.”

1923 Expatriate officers made arrangements to leave the country -  more arrests were made.

1923 As a final attempt to remain in Russia, Adjutant Olsoni secured a job working for the Finnish embassy. This arrangement allowed her to travel within Russia, making contacts with the remaining officers and assisting the foreign officers to leave the country. However, by July Adjutant Olsoni, who had served from the beginning of the work in 1913, had no alternative but to return to Finland. With this, The Salvation Army in Russia officially brought its ministry to a close.

1924  After the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924, the Soviet Union changed Petrograd’s name to Leningrad.

1944 The Karelia region had come under Finnish control after Russia’s war with Finland in 1917-1918, enabling the work of The Salvation Army to continue their work under the supervision of headquarters in Helsinki, Finland. This changed though, in 1944, when the Soviet Union reclaimed Karelia and soon after closed the work of The Salvation Army.


Leningrad became St. Petersburg again 67 years later when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this information. Incredible what the SA invested in the way of personnel and finances to establish our work there. I remember someone writing a book about the SA history with a focus on the Army's struggles during that period. Is your information lifted from that book?
ML Sweden

FORMER SALVATION ARMY OFFICERS FELLOWSHIP said...

Thank you for your comments and enquiry.

My information was garnered from four sources; my grandfather's diary, written while serving as a SA officer in Petrograd and Moscow 1918-1919, the book Ten Years in Russia written in Swedish by Karl Larsson in 1937, information gathered from SA archives in 4 different countries and and private interviews. Noting that you're posting from Sweden I assume you're referencing Larsson's book. However, a more recent history, Blood and Fire, Tsar and Commissar, was published seven years ago. I've not yet read it but expect delivery next Thursday.

My recent research is motivated by my decision to write a book focusing on my grandparents' officership service in Russia, and also, my then wife, Kathie's and my SA service there in the late1980s forward. The challenges were in many instances similar, not least in overcoming the charge that the SA was a sect or a cult within the broader Protestant church and, therefore, had no right to preach or serve in Orthodox Russia.

Many assisted the SA in establishing our legal right to exist and work in Russia, including some high profile figures operating on our behalf behind the scenes and without the SA's full knowledge. Two of those persons were President Boris Yeltsin and Madame Ella Pomfilova. The latter and Mrs. Yeltsin were regular visitors to my SA office when serving as SA Commander, Moscow.