Communist ideology and religion were strong adversaries. The severity of governmental oppression and discrimination against believers, however, varied in the different communist countries. One of the instruments of ideological repression utilised by the communist authorities was limiting the availability of religious materials, especially Bibles. Thus, the smuggling of Bibles into communist countries became a widespread activity that involved private groups from around the world, yet its story remains mostly unknown. Many missions lacked personnel and linguistic skills and thus disappeared. Most information about these organisations originates from memoirs of the actors themselves or their admirers. Very few historical studies exist. This is most likely due to “the lack of scholarly interest, which seems to come down to an implicit dismissal of its significance and impact and the paucity of available and reliable archival sources”. Bible smuggling was an example of transnational anti-communist cooperation. It was aimed at denouncing the violation of religious rights in communist countries, it organised an exchange of information among opponents of communism, and it facilitated the coordination of their activities.2

The organisations involved in Bible smuggling were primarily Protestant. The first well-known smuggler was the Dutch factory worker, Andrew van der Bijl (commonly referred to as Brother Andrew), who later founded the organisation Open Doors. Other European organisations were Misjon bak Jernteppet (Norway), Suomen Evankelisluterilainen Kansanlähetys (Finnish Lutheran Mission), Glaube in der 2. Welt (Switzerland), and Danish European Mission. In the United States, the most prominent organisations were Underground Evangelism founded by L. Joe Bass and his wife Lois and Jesus to the Communist World, established by Romanian exile Reverend Richard Wurmbrand.3 These organisations cooperated with the Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism (later known as Keston College), founded by Reverend Dr Michael Bourdeaux and Sir John Lawrence. This institution was considered by the KGB one of the most dangerous anti-Soviet organisations.4 There was only one Catholic group focused on such activities, namely Russia Cristiana.5

The present study gives an overview of the more important smuggling groups, especially the American-based Underground Evangelism and its British associate, Reverend David Gordon Hathaway. Hathaway was arrested in 1972 by the Czechoslovak authorities at the West German–Czechoslovak border for smuggling and his case reached the highest levels of Czechoslovak and British politics. In addition to some already published materials, original documents from the National Archives (London), Archiv bezpečnostních složek (Prague), and materials found in the offices of Eurovision Mission to Europe (Dewsbury, UK) have been consulted. An attempt will also be made to analyse the complexity of Bible smuggling, its impact, and the multiple controversies surrounding it.


The pioneer among Bible smugglers was Brother Andrew, a young Dutch evangelist, who in 1946 joined the Dutch army to fight the anti-colonial insurgency in Indonesia. Some years after his return in Europe, Brother Andrew was persuaded by a well-known Dutch evangelist to join the Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade (WEC), a British group training missionaries to work in different parts of the world where churches lacked adequate educational programmes. In May 1953, he began his studies at the WEC Missionary Training College in Glasgow. Two years later, he attended a youth festival held in Warsaw. During an encounter with the proprietor of a Bible store in Warsaw, he learned of the scarcity of Bibles in Russia where “fortunes can be made by bringing Bibles there”.6 That same year, his next trip was to Czechoslovakia. In Prague, Brother Andrew succeeded in separating himself from his official tour guides in order to attend some Christian meetings and actually preached to some Christian groups. His separation from his assigned official tour group and his independent walks in Prague earned Brother Andrew a ban on further visits. After the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, Brother Andrew ministered to refugees in camps in Germany and Austria. Later, he expanded his activities to Yugoslavia, East Germany, Bulgaria, the Soviet Union, and, ultimately, to China.7 The organisation he founded to support his work behind the Iron Curtain was called Open Doors. The KGB knew of Brother Andrew’s activities in extensive detail. It was later established that his organisation was infiltrated by KGB informers, many of whom had been Brother Andrew’s friends. Following the fall of communism, Open Doors expanded to multiple other countries and today the organisation employs more than 300 full-time workers in 40 countries. It supports the families of martyrs, grants scholarships to seminary students in need, and provides printing presses, so that once closed countries can print their own Bibles. The money comes almost entirely from small donations.8


Less well known was the Bible-smuggling organisation founded by the Danish Pentecostal, Reverend Hans Christian Neerskov. The first serious analysis of Neerskov’s activities was written by Bent Boel.9 The Danish print media celebrate Neerskov as “smuggler-king by the grace of God”, “Agent 007” or “a living legend”, who set out in 1964 to bring Bibles to the “most remote corners” of the Soviet Union while heading a team of up to 40 couriers. Over the years, Neerskov managed to smuggle “millions of Bibles into communist countries for which he was arrested 11 times”, but somehow managed to escape trials and imprisonment.10

The media also state that Neerskov’s reputation prompted Soviet Nobel Prize winner and activist Andrei Sakharov to contact him in 1975. He allegedly held meetings with President Ronald Reagan, who invited him to his 75th birthday celebration. Neerskov’s “most spectacular success” came in 1983 when he managed to broker the donation of 60,000 tons of wheat by the US to Poland. He negotiated the deal personally during a face-to-face meeting with General Jaruzelski. Neerskov’s book Mission Possible was published in 26 countries and sold more than 10 million copies. The Danish media claim that few others exerted such an influence “not just in Denmark, but in the US, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe” and that Neerskov ought to be seen as one of those who contributed to the collapse of communism.11

Bent Boel provides a more realistic assessment of Neerskov’s activities, which were somewhat exaggerated in the Danish media accounts. For example, the famous donation of 60,000 tons of wheat to Poland never took place and no one thus far has discovered any evidence of Neerskov’s invitation to Reagan’s birthday party.12


The largest American Bible-smuggling organisation was Underground Evangelism. It was founded by L. Joe Bass in Fort Smith, Arkansas. In 1959, Bass and his wife, Lois, made a promise to a group of pastors Joe had met in Yugoslavia to support their activities. In 1960, the organisation Underground Evangelism was formed and published Underground Evangelism magazine. Their assistance to needy pastors consisted of sending each of them thirty dollars per month and to bring as many Bibles and other Christian literature into their countries as possible. The beginnings were modest. In 1961, the organisation moved first to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and later to Tulsa. Donations started to grow and, over the years, Underground Evangelism grew into a 20 million dollar organisation with offices in many countries.13 The development of smuggling activities was initially based on information from Keston College. Later, the mentor of Underground Evangelism, a retired British army colonel named Robert Thompson, established a clandestine network in the Soviet Union and provided information for Underground Evangelism magazine. Another useful contact was Lydia Breidenbach from West Berlin. The European operation was organised by Dale Smith, who set up an office in Munich and started the East–West Information Center.14

Their success was based on maintaining secrecy among the individual smugglers. The individual couriers knew very little and, therefore, if caught, could not inform on the activities of the others. “Volunteer smugglers were very effective in getting large quantities of goods through the Iron Curtain. Most of them were young people with little money looking for a camping adventure. For young Christians, the chance to help the persecuted church added a special level of excitement.”15 Most recruits came through churches in England where they were trained and instructed how to behave if caught. Individual volunteers not only did not know the true identities of the others, in fact, they did not even know that Underground Evangelism organised their activities. After the training, these volunteers were given a specially converted vehicle with hidden compartments for smuggled goods. Every summer, several hundred volunteers camped in Bulgaria or Romania and thus transported large shipments to the East. Although some of them were caught, they were usually promptly released.16

For the smuggling of large deliveries, a core group of professional men was used. The most famous were the German Fritz Sodickmeier and the Russian-German Johann Wiebe. The former worked in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Poland. The latter primarily worked in Russia. Accusations appeared that Underground Evangelism was supported by the CIA, but this was vigorously denied by the Basses.17 Lois Bass claims that Underground Evangelism managed to deliver more than 40,652,407 copies of Bibles and other religious publications to Communist Europe over the course of its existence.18 It is interesting that Lois Bass fails to mention other important participants in the activities of Underground Evangelism, most notably Reverend David G. Hathaway and Reverend Richard Wurmbrand.


Among those whom L. Joe Bass recruited as professional Bible smugglers was Reverend David Gordon Hathaway. Hathaway, who was based in Dewsbury, England, had been a pastor in the Elim Pentecostal Church, and had established a religiously-inspired tour company, Crusader Tours, Ltd., in 1961. Through this company, Hathaway organised overland tours to Jerusalem, continental Europe and North Africa. In his book, Czechmate, Hathaway writes how he became involved with Underground Evangelism. At a meeting in London in 1964, Hathaway informed Bass about his experience in delivering small numbers of Bibles and New Testaments which he brought on the request of friends in communist countries. Hathaway had difficulties obtaining as many Bibles as he needed and explained that Crusader Tours could be a perfect framework for Bible smuggling as it was an established travel agency with buses travelling regularly and frequently to countries behind the Iron Curtain.

Why not build a special compartment into one of the buses, so that as the couriers came out with the news of the believers’ needs, we could transport to order whatever was requested? … several thousand Bibles each trip … a special organisation to handle the unloading on the other side … and teams to work with me … organisation both to store and to distribute the literature … and most of all, someone who would supply all the thousands of Bibles, New Testaments, Gospels, and hymnbooks for which we were constantly being asked. It was too big a project for me to handle alone. I had no financial backing, I could not afford to buy so many Bibles, and the poor believers could not afford to pay for them. Mr Bass responded immediately. Underground Evangelism knew the need and had been doing this very work for many years. He said they would supply all the Bibles we needed as well as funds and some key people to help plan and carry out the work.19

The hidden compartment was constructed by dividing the luggage compartment at the end of the bus and camouflaging the partition. The first smuggling trip was made in December 1964 to deliver a special consignment to believers in Romania in time for Christmas. The modified bus was code-named Albert and Hathaway with two associates drove from Dewsbury to Frankfurt, where they received a load of 5,000 Bibles. During the drive through Austria, they encountered a technical difficulty: the floor under the hidden compartment sagged and had to be repaired by use of a hydraulic jack. When crossing the Hungarian frontier, the border guards were surprised that such a large bus had only three occupants. They got away with the answer that before taking any tourists, they first needed to check the road conditions, state of hotels, etc. They successfully crossed into Romania and delivered the Bibles.20

Smuggling of Bibles continued until 1972. Although no documentary evidence is available, Hathaway’s present charity, Eurovision Mission to Europe, claims that over 150,000 Bibles and New Testaments were brought across the Iron Curtain.21

After years of performing smuggling activities without a hitch, the biggest smuggling operation was planned for 19 June 1972. The bus would be loaded in Würzburg, West Germany, the next day it would cross into Czechoslovakia where the Bibles were to be unloaded, and then cross into Austria to pick up a new load, travel through Hungary into Yugoslavia, and finally into Romania for the advertised tourist destination at the Black Sea. The total load which could be delivered in this one round trip was over 15,000 Bibles or 36,000 New Testaments.22 The trip started on 19 June 1972. The driver, David Lowth, found out about the trip on the same day because the driver who usually drove this bus, Roger Fowler, became ill. 17 tourists were on the bus. The route of the trip had been planned by the Czechoslovak travel agency Čedok in London. The bus crossed the channel from Dover to Ostend, Belgium, and from there proceeded to Würzburg where an overnight stay had been arranged.23 On 21 June 1972, the bus with British registration GHD-400-GAEC crossed the Czechoslovak border at Rozvadov.

During routine customs control, an elaborately concealed space was discovered in which a large amount of religious literature with political overtones was found, as well as anti-state propaganda leaflets and other materials. The contents of the printed material show that it represents materials belonging to a sectarian Protestant church residing in the capitalist West. The conclusion was that these materials were to be used by a thus far unknown method for hostile activity against the Republic. Based on this report at the Border Control Office in Rozvadov, investigators of the StB (State Security) arrived and initiated an investigation. On the same day, the State Security decided to prosecute and on 23 June, David Gordon Hathaway was accused of committing the offenses of attempted sedition and attempted violation of customs regulations.24

The discovered contraband consisted of Bibles and hymnals in Russian, Bibles in Hungarian, Slovak and Czech, as well as New Testaments in Slovak, and 900 copies of a Czech leaflet entitled Proč. In addition, five tape recorders, two electric shavers, and 48 cassettes were found.25

The first formal interrogation of Rev. Hathaway took place on 22 June 1972, and lasted three hours and fifteen minutes. Hathaway claimed that he had no explanation for how the printed material got on the bus and he asserted that he was not aware of the secret compartment. He admitted, however, that he alone was responsible for the bus and its travellers, and acknowledged his personal responsibility for the discovered materials. When asked why he was bringing 46 cartons containing thousands of copies of religious publications, he declared that he had no idea of their presence on the bus. When asked about 100,000 Romanian lei found in his possession, Hathaway stated that he was unaware that the envelope contained the currency, but stated that the envelope had been given to him at the hotel in Würzburg by a young lady in the hotel restaurant to be delivered to an address in Austria. On 23 June, the regional prosecutor in Plzeň decided that Hathaway would be remanded into custody.26

The next interrogation took place on 24 June. Hathaway was instructed in English about the mitigating circumstances provided for in the penal code. During this session, Hathaway changed his story and admitted that he had not been truthful in the previous two days and that he would make a complete confession.27 During further interrogation, Hathaway said that he was not aware of the contents of the envelope containing 100,000 Romanian lei. During the interrogation that followed, he gave the same answers as previously. When asked why his personal briefcase contained bills in his name signed by A. Brabec from the Park hotel Oberalm (the same name as on the envelope with Romanian money), he declared that he did not know any A. Brabec from the hotel and that it might be a coincidence.28

The British Consulate in Prague was in formed about Hathaway’s detention on 28 June 1972. The consul was in contact with Dr Majšajdr of the Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs. On 5 July, the consul, Matthew McCallion, received a letter from Hathaway requesting a consular visit.29 On 7 July, the Consulate received a note from the Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Hathaway was taken into custody for attempteds edition under Articles 8/1 and 1000/1of the Czechoslovak penal code and for “attempted violation of the regulations on the circulation of goods in connection with foreign countries” (Articles 8/1 and 124/1 of the code). He had concealed in his vehicle a “large amount of objectionable literature and leaflets of undesirable content”. In addition, he attempted to “take through clandestinely” five tape recorders, tapes and other items. Further, there was found 100,000 lei in Romanian currency which he was transporting through Czechoslovakia to Austria where he was going to hand it over to a particular person.”30

The interrogation of Hathaway continued on 3 July 1972 in the presence of his court-appointed defence attorney, Dr Karel Strejc, who made a statement on Hathaway’s behalf that he was going to protest his incarceration because the whole issue was not sufficiently significant and he did not even know that these printed materials were on the bus. Hathaway was of the opinion that, once the British public learned of his detention, it would lead to a deterioration in relations between Great Britain and Czechoslovakia. He promised not to leave the territory of Czechoslovakia and he also stressed that his detention would result in an interruption of the business activities of his company, which would lead to the cancellation of trade with several countries where his agency had arranged trips and hotel reservations. Many people had already paid for their trips and cancellation would cause great dissatisfaction.31 On 6 July, the regional court in Plzeňrejected Hathaway’s request.32 That same day, Hathaway, in contradiction of his statements of 3 July, stated that he knew about the printed religious materials and repeated that he was supposed to meet the Germans from Christliche Ostmission (who had also helped load the Bibles in Würzburg) in Prague to obtain further instructions. He also provided some details about his company and its eight employees.33

On 13 July, the British Consulate informed the Foreign Office that an investigation of the case had been completed. The defence lawyer would, in turn, begiven an opportunity to prepare Hathaway’s defence. “The lawyer’s opinion is that he could get away with a relatively light sentence of 6 or 7 months. On the other hand, he could be jailed for up to 3 years. ”The cable also stated that Her Majesty’s Consul found Hathaway in good health except for a minor stomach trouble. He complained, however, that he had to sleep on a mattress on the cell floor due to prison overcrowding. As a special concession, the prison authorities imposed no restriction on the number of letters he could send or receive concerning business affairs. In relation to the Czechoslovak officials, the Consulate has “so far taken the line that Hathaway was probably simply misguided and that, on this basis, we hope the Czechoslovak authorities will be lenient. It would be risky to go much further than this without knowing more of Hathaway’s background, e.g. whether he had contacts with émigrés.”34

On 15 July, the BBC broadcast to Czechoslovakia announced the detention of the British Protestant minister David Hathaway.35 Three days later, the announcement was repeated along with an extensive commentary on anti- religious activities of communist governments.36

The formal indictment prepared by the district prosecutor in Tachov contained nine pages and accused Hathaway of violating customs by processing goods valued at 114,601 Czechoslovak crowns and of the smuggling of 900 Czech- language leaflets entitled Proč, in which the social and political conditions in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic were attacked as were allies of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic with the aim of inciting negative feelings towards social and state institutions of the Republic. The accused committed violations of regulations regarding foreign goods, customs duty evasion, and the crime of sedition.37

It is interesting that the text of the indictment, which required four months of investigation to prepare, did not even have the middle name of the accused written correctly. Hathaway was informed on 11 October that his trial would take place on 27 October at the district court in Tachov. The court found Hathaway guilty as charged and sentenced him to two years imprisonment and subsequent expulsion from Czechoslovakia.

The Foreign Office was informed about the trial by means of a detailed report prepared by British consul Matthew McCallion. The report stated that “The prosecutor launched a vigorous, but, on the whole, fair attack against Mr Hathaway on all three charges. But the main burden of his opening speech was that Mr Hathaway was an enemy of the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and he called on the court to impose a heavy sentence as a deterrent to others who might be tempted to emulate him.” Hathaway put up a successful defence against the second and third charges and stated that it had been his intention to declare the items, but because of the confusion brought about by the discovery of the hidden material, he had no opportunity to do so. “He also made the point that, on that particular day, nobody at the border spoke English. Consequently, it had proved impossible to communicate with them.” The court found Mr Hathaway not guilty on the second charge. On the third charge, no sentence was imposed since the attempted evasion of customs duty was unsuccessful and the goods had been impounded. As regards the first charge, “Mr Hathaway was on very shaky ground indeed. He denied any knowledge of the secret compartment in the luggage compartment. When asked who then could have made the compartment, he said that it must have been a Mr Fowler, one of his employees.” On this count, the court was unimpressed by his stories and found Hathaway guilty. He was given eight days in which to decide whether or not to appeal against his conviction. The consul’s report also mentions that according to an expert report all the Bibles and some of the pamphlets had been printed in Britain.38 On 13 November 1972, the Foreign Office in London was informed that Hathaway planned to appeal the verdict of the Tachov district court. The regional court in Plzeň decided that Hathaway’s appeal was unfounded and upheld the two-year sentence.39


On 31 October 1972, Hathaway’s wife, Zena, issued an open letter to Christians asking them to support her husband’s case and to help persuade the communist authorities to release him from jail.40 Indeed, a campaign was initiated by supporters in Britain encouraging the British government to intercede on Hathaway’s behalf. On 20 November 1972, questions were posed to the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Julian Amery, regarding the Hathaway case by MP Sir Tufton Beamish. Amery summarised the Hathaway case and concluded: “I have no evidence that there was anything improper about the conduct of his trial … It would be contrary to international usage for Her Majesty’s Government to intervene while the case is sub judice.”41

The British Embassy in Prague was informed on 30 November by Julian L. Bullard of the Eastern European and Soviet Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) about a conversation with Czechoslovak minister-counsellor Janák concerning the Hathaway case. Janák expressed the opinion that Hathaway could be released early as long as no public pressure would be exerted that could make leniency difficult.42 The FCO answered the inquiries of David Ginsburg, MP, into the Hathaway case. It was pointed out that the pamphlet Proč was not as innocent a political innuendo as first appeared and that it could be interpreted as a direct reference to the events of 20–21 August 1968. Additionally, it was emphasised that Hathaway did not receive less favourable treatment than a Czechoslovak national would have received under similar circumstances.43 Brian Rose of the Consular Department summarised as follows:

British subjects in foreign countries should obey the law or leave … In any event, I find it very difficult to believe that Mr Hathaway did not know what he was doing and the risk he was taking … I have seen little evidence that public opinion in general has been swayed by his plight … It is worth remembering that while there might appear to be some domestic political mileage in an approach to the Czechoslovaks, there might be more merit in holding firm to the principle that we and other countries have the right to make our own laws and have them respected by foreigners …44

On 15 December 1972, Janák of the Czechoslovak Embassy informed David Tonkin of the FCO that in his “purely personal opinion” Hathaway would be released from prison and expelled by Easter.45 In his report to the FCO, the British Consul in Prague had emphasised that the president of the court was careful to stress that Hathaway was being sentenced because of the seditious pamphlets and not for transporting Bibles. He was sorry about Hathaway’s financial difficulties, but he had brought these troubles on himself by his conduct.46

British newspapers started addressing Hathaway’s case thanks to his brother, Kenneth, who informed the press of Reverend Hathaway’s plight. Articles appeared in The Yorkshire Post (2 January 1973) and The Daily Telegraph (9 January and 15 January 1973).47 On 29 January, a number of questions were raised in the British Parliament about the Hathaway case. MP William Price raised the matter of how many letters the FCO had received, asking that representations be made on Rev. Hathaway’s behalf. The answer was that 61 letters had been received as of 29 January.48

The British Vice-Consul visited Hathaway in Pankrác on 26 January and Hathaway claimed that he had experienced as light heartattack, but did not wish to inform his family.49  Hathaway’s heart attack was not confirmed by the prison health authorities.50 On 1 February, Sir Alec Douglas-Home sent a priority telegram to the British Embassy in Prague stating that Tonkin had been told by Janák at the Czechoslovak Embassy in London that Hathaway would hopefully be released by Easter. Janák stressed that it was important that there should be no pressure by Her Majesty’s Government for Hathaway’s release.51 At the beginning of February, Tonkin summarised for the Consular Department the issues associated with Hathaway’s sentencing. He made a comparison of several cases involving Czechoslovak citizens and concluded that several Czech dissidents, such as Jaromír Dus, Vlastimil Sláma or Jan Klima, received either lighter or the same sentence as Hathaway for more serious sedition activities. On this basis, it would not be unreasonable to argue that Czechoslovak law is unfair and unjust and that Hathaway’s sentence was out of all proportion to the gravity of his offense. Tonkin believed that, as Hathaway knew the risks he was running, he must take the consequences.

According to Tonkin, the basic endeavour was to get Hathaway out before his case would become an irritant in Anglo-Czechoslovak relations. Infact, he felt that it would not be very difficult to find grounds for intervention. He warned, however, that it would be embarrassing to Her Majesty’s Government if the British Communist Party were to take up his case. He also suggested that Amnesty International may have Hathaway’s name at least on their books as his trial was primarily a political one. Tonkin did not recommend any change in the basic approach of the FCO because he thought representations “would prejudice Hathaway’s chances of an early release and would be unlikely to move the Czechoslovak Government, who has shown no sign of being influenced by international criticism of the 1972 trials”.52

On 2 March, Ronald Scrivener addressed the case with Czechoslovak Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Růžek, and expressed the hope that Hathaway would be covered under a recent amnesty, stating that “while we have no complaint about the manner in which his trial was handled, we would, of course, like to see the Hathaway question disposed of”.53

In the spring of 1973, Czechoslovakia and the United Kingdom were negotiating a consular convention.54 The Foreign Secretary informed the British Consulate in Prague that it was hoped that Růžek (Czechoslovak Deputy Foreign Minister) would bring news concerning Hathaway’s early release, but if he did not, Ministers may have second thoughts about signing the Consular Convention during Růžek’s visit to London.

It might be interpreted as pressure on the Hathaway case, which the Czechs have said would be the reverse of helpful. On the other hand, there have so far been three parliamentary questions and over sixty MPs’ letters generated by the Hathaway lobby. Signature of the convention while there was no progress on his case, might lead to another flurry of press and parliamentary activity.55

On 10 April 1973, at a meeting with Sir Alec Douglas-Home in London, Dr Růžek said “that a sequence of events has been set in train and he had every hope that it would lead to a solution in the foreseeable future. In addition, Mr Hathaway has submitted a petition through his lawyer to the Czechoslovak court seeking expulsion”.56 On 16 April, the British Ambassador sent a cable to London that stated:

Shakespeare operation successfully accomplished. He leaves on our plane tomorrow Tuesday. You must be prepared for possibility that announcement here will be deferred until Wednesday. Ambassador and Tony working on announcement time and likely result is after plane leaves. If not announced tonight, Monday, and if you have not received contradicting instructions let press know to be there in force and arrange for photo call and TV at aircraft steps. S. will be spirited away and H. W. will take any press conference.57

This cable was from the British opposition leader, Harold Wilson, who was on a formal visit in Prague and was using the diplomatic channel to communicate with his press secretary. The reply from the Foreign Office to the British Embassy was terse: “Close relatives informed. They wish to collect him in their own car. Facilities have been arranged at airport, but car is unlikely to be allowed to aircraft steps.”58 That same day, the Czechoslovak News Agency (ČTK) released a statement: “A Prague district court has complied with an appeal by the British national, D. G. Hathaway, for the remission of the remainder of the sentence he was serving in Czechoslovakia. The court has ruled that Hathaway be expelled from Czechoslovakia.”59

On 17 April, Tonkin informed Sir Thomas Brimelow that he sought the assistance of the duty customs officer and duty immigration officer at No. 2 terminal at Heathrow Airport that Mr Hathaway be provided with assisted passage through customs and immigration.60 Harold Wilson made the following statement:

I am very happy that Mr Hathaway has been released. His release will go a long way to smoothing Anglo-Czech relations. The real purpose of my visit was to discuss world affairs and Anglo-Czech relations. I had a number of invitations over the last few months to visit Czechoslovakia and as an MP I exercised my right of choice to go there. But, at no time, did I make it a condition of my visit that they should release David Hathaway. This was something I did off my own bat, I heard that he was imprisoned and knew that he was a local lad from Yorkshire. I made representations to the authorities and they were very quickly carried out. In fact, the Czechs who have an elaborate court system for this sort of thing did it with great dispatch. I merely said it would be a great help to Anglo-Czech relations, if Mr Hathaway could fly home on the same flight as me.61

That same day, David Ginsburg, MP, asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs about the state of the Hathaway affair. Kershaw informed his fellow parliamentarians that “Mr Hathaway has been released and has arrived in this country”. He added that the Secretary of State had spoken the previous week with Czechoslovak Deputy Foreign Minister, Růžek.62

The following day, Sir Douglas-Home informed the British Embassy in Prague that the Czechoslovak Ambassador was invited to the FCO and appreciation was expressed for the role of the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry in Hathaway’s release. The FCO officials expressed the displeasure of the Prime Minister and Secretary of State and added that a question of this kind should be dealt with by the respective governments and not by the leader of the opposition. Mr Brimelow of the Foreign Office explained that the only point that had been problematic was the political twist, which had been given to the final stage of the Hathaway case. The Czechoslovak Ambassador stated that he had declined Mr Wilson’s invitation to take part in his television appearance and in the press conference at Heathrow Airport.63 Unfortunately, apart from the case record leading up to the trial and subsequent sentencing, no other documents are available in Czech archives.


Harold Wilson tried to use Hathaway’s release for publicity purposes. His visit to Czechoslovakia, however, received mixed reviews. The memory of the events of August 1968 in Czechoslovakia was still fresh and fraternisation with the leaders of the communist “normalisation” regime was not in vogue with British politicians as Czechoslovakia was still occupied by the Soviet army.

On 17April 1973, Conservative MP John Bruce-Gardyne mentioned in Parliament Wilson’s visit to Czechoslovakia and his alleged statement there “that the events of 1968 were over and done with”.64 In his memoirs, Labour MP Tony Benn referred to complications that Wilson’s visit to Czechoslovakia had caused in parliamentary discussions on defence policies:

I sat next to Harold and he is hopping mad at the way in which this Czechoslovak visit has been built up in order to damage him … But he shouldn’t have said what he did in quite that way. He just got it wrong, but he did bring out with him David Hathaway, a Nonconformist minister who had been arrested eighteen months ago (sic!) for allegedly smuggling Bibles into Czechoslovakia. Harold is very proud of his Scarlet Pimpernel role and he told me that this was the seventy-second person he had got out of jail … He is very resentful of the fact that a number of Labour MPs tried to put down a motion criticising his visit. He said, “What’s the point? They elect a leader in November and then attack him all year.”65

On 20 April 1973, Wilson denied that the release of David Hathaway from Czech custody “had been orchestrated for publicity purposes”. He stated that he had received several invitations from the Czechoslovak government to pay a visit to Prague to discuss the European Security Conference. In January 1973, he was invited again and he replied that “in view of the arrest of Mr Hathaway, such a visit would be very difficult unless either he had been released or unless his release was assured during or shortly after my visit”. In February, Wilson received a clear message that if he “were to make a personal appeal for clemency, he could count on Mr Hathaway’s release … authentication of this message was received personally from the Czech ambassador”.

A few days before the visit in April, Wilson called David Ginsburg, MP, and other Labour MPs who had been concerned with the case and informed them of what was happening. “On arrival in Prague on Saturday, April 14, I was told of the procedures I should follow including the form of the clemency application which was made to the deputy foreign minister.” On Sunday, Wilson informed the British consul to take necessary action in the event the clemency would be approved. On Monday, it was clear that the release action was taking place. Wilson added: “It has been suggested that I knew of the presence in Slovakia of a group of British education correspondents and that the whole operation was orchestrated for publicity purposes.” Wilson also denied newspaper articles to the effect that Mr Ginsburg, MP, tipped him off about the impending release. “Since the event of last Tuesday, two or three newspapers, for political reasons, have sought to spin a web of confusion and deceit around a very simple story.”66

Hathaway’s release caused a storm in British political circles. On 26 April, Wilson wrote to Permanent Undersecretary of State, Sir Denis Greenhill:

Last Tuesday, I am told, that the Foreign Office News Department telephoned a number of journalists to rebut the factual statements I had made about the Reverend David Hathaway. I cannot recall any precedent for such action against a leader of the Opposition before. Towards the end of the week, talks with Mr Bullard were disclosed by the FO. It was flatly stated in the Sunday Telegraph, that he had come to see me on my initiative and that he had put me in possession of all the facts about the Hathaway situation. This is not true. Mr Bullard had met my Parliamentary Private SecretaryatapartyandexpressedgreatinterestinthefactthatIwas due to meet very senior people in Czechoslovakia … He also mentioned the Hathaway question and I told him the situation, including the understanding I had been given that Hathaway would be released during my visit … To my mind, the most regrettable action of your officials, relatedtothetelegramIhadsenttomyPressSecretaryfromPrague. The gist of it was leaked to the press earlier this week and provided the basis for a headline and story centring on the word “scandal” … This does scandalise Members of Parliament since it has always been understood that an MP, whether Front or Back Bench could send messages through the diplomatic channel when abroad without fear of disclosure.67

This letter was forwarded to the Prime Minister on 27 April 1973. It was discussed in a conversation between the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. It was agreed that the Foreign Secretary should write a letter to the leader of the opposition.68

Indeed, Sir Alec Douglas-Home wrote a letter to Harold Wilson on 30 April, in which he rebutted most of Wilson’s complaints. No calls to journalists were initiated by the News Department and at no time did the FCO reveal to anyone other than Mr Haines (Wilson’s press secretary) the contents of the telegram.69 Wilson’s reply to Douglas-Home’s letter, dated 11 May 1973, rejected most of the Foreign Secretary’s statements and stated that Douglas-Home’s letter “in fact strengthens rather than weakens the case I made in my original letter for a full enquiry”. Wilson also complained that “nothing you have said answers the point in my letter that to leak a private message is unprecedented and that I would have had greater security if I had employed Czechoslovak communist channels rather than the British Foreign Office”.70 In his letter of reply, Douglas-Home basically repeated his statements from the previous letter. He concluded: “I hope it will be clear that I have been into all this very thoroughly. To the best of my knowledge and belief, the facts are as we have stated them. No purpose at all can be served by my instituting any further enquiry.”71 Wilson’s reply disagreed with Douglas-Home’s answers. Wilson stated that he “had it from a journalistic source that selective telephone calls to a number of journalists were made”. The letter concluded with Wilson’s disappointment at Douglas-Home’s “zeal to prove the correctness of your officials and that there is nothing out of order in one of them discussing a message which was no concern of his with a journalist”. On the letter is a handwritten note by Douglas-Home: “This is grossly offensive.”72 On 19 June 1973, Douglas-Home replied: “I do not think that there is any point in continuing this correspondence … I am satisfied that the account I have given you is correct. If you are still not content with my assurances, the only other thing which I can suggest is that we should have the whole thing out in the open by publishing all the relevant papers, including our letters, FCO minutes and the message itself. My own view, however, is that it would be best now to let this matter rest.”73 This correspondence was forwarded to the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, who sent the following comment: “It seems a pity to deprive the public of this correspondence. If it is published, a chronological appendix should be added for the benefit of simpler readers, but the message will get the headlines. E. H.”74

The Hathaway affair was getting some publicity, but the interest slowly started to decline. There were no more documented exchanges between Harold Wilson and Alec Douglas-Home. Not all newspaper reviews of the Hathaway case were favourable. The most critical review was published in the satirical current events magazine, Private Eye, on 4 May 1973. The article began with the declaration that “the squabble between Mr Wilson and the Foreign Office about who persuaded the Czechs to release the Rev. David Hathaway might never have started if either had known about Mr Hathaway’s background”. The rest of the article was rather hostile to Hathaway and all his past activities. It was also critical of all efforts to smuggle Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, pointing out that “the United Bible Societies supplied 131,000 Bibles to the Czechs in 1970 and 1971 … The Bible is freely on sale in Prague.” The article ended:

Before he went to prison D. Hathaway (a man, according to one of his former associates, who could smell money a mile off) was in a bit of a fix. He had long since been advised to go into liquidation. He had abused the trust many had placed in him as a clergyman. Today the future looks rosier. He is known all over the world as an evangelical hero and martyr. Above all, he has a ready explanation for his financial failure and can count on widespread sympathy. Last week, he addressed two packed meetings at the Albert Hall where he was received back like the prodigal son by the Elim Pentecostal Church.75

This hostile newspaper clipping is contained in the British government archives attached to a handwritten note by Edward Heath’s private secretary, F. E. R. Butler: “Prime Minister-interesting reading!”76

Undoubtedly, the personal request for clemency by Harold Wilson had played a significant role in Reverend Hathaway’s release. His actions, however, were not appreciated by the Conservatives during the “declining period” of Edward Heath’s administration.


Reverend David Hathaway continued to work for Underground Evangelism, but in a different capacity. The former Bible courier became director of a new organisation called Christian Prisoners’ Release International (CPRI), whose stated purpose was “to lift its voice on behalf of imprisoned Christians. … Worldwide reaction will be mobilised against communist violation of religious rights and the imprisonment of Believers for their faith, a vital forward step which many Christians feel has been all too long in coming.”77 The President of CPRI was L. Joe Bass, with Hathaway serving as its international director. Hathaway’s primary role in the organisation was to arrange regular speaking engagements together with charity shops. The initial main activity was to lobby public support for the release of Christian prisoners in communist countries. The worldwide activities involved several countries, including France, Holland, Singapore, South Africa, Ireland, Germany, United States, Great Britain, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Throughout the world, approximately 600,000 individuals signed petitions to free Soviet Baptist pastor Georgi Vins.78 The report states that letters of personal support were obtained from Margaret Thatcher and former Irish Prime Minister Jack Lynch. On 8 May 1976, a massive prayer rally to free Vins was held in London’s Hyde Park. The event was largely organised by Reverend Hathaway.79 The world wide effort succeeded and Vins was released from the Soviet Union in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter announced that he had succeeded in winning the release in exchange for two convicted spies.80

Hathaway ultimately terminated his association with Underground Evangelism and founded Eurovision Mission to Europe, which functions as an international evangelist organisation under his leadership to the present day.


The persecution of religion in communist countries took many forms, including interference in the practice of religion by individuals and the limitation of access to Bibles. Yet, the availability of Bibles varied in different countries. A report dated 19 March 1979 by Time magazine’s Eastern Bureau chief said:

A Christian’s chances of buying a Bible openly are currently good in Poland, erratic in East Germany, difficult in Czechoslovakia and Hungary (where the purchaser’s name may go directly into a government dossier), extremely difficult in Romania, and virtually impossible in the Soviet Union and Bulgaria. Buying a Bible is an out-and-out crime in Albania.81

Communist authorities in different countries spent considerable energy in denouncing groups of Bible smugglers.82 In the Soviet Union, a pamphlet entitled Diversion without Dynamite was published in 1974.83 The underground missions were denounced as part of the anti-communist front that was trying to overthrow the Soviet system.84 Bible smuggling led to conflict between conservative evangelicals and theological liberals in several traditional Protestant denominations. At a news conference in Houston in 1980, recently released Soviet Baptist Georgi Vins “asked the Western world to continue to get Bibles into the Soviet Union by any means possible, including smuggling”. At the same time, in the next room, Bob Denny, secretary general of the Baptist World Alliance, told the audience of the Southern Baptist Convention that “there is no need for underground evangelism or Bible smuggling into Eastern Europe or Russia”.85 Alice Ball, general secretary of the National Division of the American Bible Society stated:

We have found over the years that, by distributing Bibles through proper channels, in the long run, it’s more successful and we don’t jeopardise our position in other parts of the world. The United Bible Societies distributed in Eastern Europe 13,273,137 Bibles and New Testaments between 1945 and 1980. Smugglers say, considering the population of the countries involved, that distribution is “just a trickle”, but they offer no solid data of their own. They simply say they have distributed “millions” or “many hundreds of thousands”.86

At the same meeting, Paul Hansen, Europe secretary for the Department of Church Cooperation of the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, stated: “church members are being duped by the underground mission groups … To smuggle Bibles into these countries is a demonstration, not a necessity.” Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board President R. Keith Parks said: “They have created problems for the whole Christian witness … they could accomplish what they are trying to do in other ways … But it’s not sensational and you can’t raise money if you do it quietly and legally and don’t have a lot of fanfare.”87 The claims of the smuggling organisations were in many cases exaggerated and this no doubt contributed to an overall dismissal of their importance. This fed suspicions for many that the whole process was nothing more than personal “empire building” and fundraising, particularly in the United States.88 A steady source of income came from a number of books written by the evangelists themselves.89 The reputation of the underground missions further suffered by a “good deal of scandal” among the larger organisations, especially Underground Evangelism and some of its former affiliates. Among those was the mission Jesus Christ to the Communist World, headed by Richard Wurmbrand, a previously persecuted Romanian pastor living in the United States, who for a while helped to enhance the support level for Underground Evangelism led by L. Joe Bass. They parted company, however, and became fierce competitors.90 Their feud led to a personal multi-million defamation lawsuit during which Wurmbrand published a 78-page booklet, The Evidence against Joe Bass, containing indiscreet and damaging accusations.91 L. Joe Bass’s organisation attacked Wurmbrand in two pamphlets entitled Conspiracy and Conspiracy Part II. The journal Christianity Today concluded:

Despite their volume, however, the conflicting accounts generate more questions than answers … It is evident that both missions have systematically engaged in dishonest practices, and in their conduct of the case fail to demonstrate the qualities one would expect of Christian leaders who together were responsible for dispensing $13.3 million in 1977.92

The lawsuit was terminated in an out-of-court settlement signed on 27 July 1979, containing a statement declaring their mutual accusations to be “groundless”.93 Despite this conclusion, the enmity between the two groups continued. One might concur that the conduct of the leaders of the two groups was not in harmony with what can be expected from religious and moral leaders.

With the collapse of Communism and the restoration of basic civil liberties, the need for Bible smuggling to Eastern Europe disappeared. However, Rev. David Hathaway and his Eurovision Mission to Europe have continued to work in various Eastern European countries, including Russia, and they claim that their efforts have met with considerable success in a number of countries.

1 A longer version of this article, entitled “Underground Evangelism during the Cold War: The Case of Reverend David Gordon Hathaway”, was published in Comenius: Journal of Euro-American Civilization, Volume 2/2014, pp. 175–197. The author would like to thank the following individuals for their hospitality and for making certain materials available during his visit to the Eurovision Mission to Europe in Dewsbury, UK: Reverend David Hathaway, Katie Morris, Simeon James Morris, Tabea Lechleiter, Line Marie Glyde, Jeremy Childs and Peter Harvey.

2 Boel, Bent, “Bible Smuggling and Human Rights in the Cold War”, In: Van Dongen, Luc, Roulin, Stephanie, and Scott-Smith, Giles (eds.), Transnational Anti-Communism and the Cold War, New York, 2014, p. 263.

3 Ibid., p. 266.

4 Keston Institute: Resources for the Study of Communist Countries at

5 Boel, Bible Smuggling, p. 266.

6 Brother Andrew and Sherrill, John and Elizabeth, God’s Smuggler, Grand Rapids, MI, 2001, pp. 81–85.

7 Ibid., pp. 79–225.

8 Ibid., pp. 243–247.

9 Boel, Bible Smuggling, pp. 267–271.

10 Ibid., p. 267.

11 Ibid., pp. 267–268.

12 Ibid., p. 268.

13 Bass, Lois M. and Landolt, Heinrich, Forbidden Faith, Thousand Oaks, CA. 2000, pp. 205–210.

14 Ibid., pp. 217–220.

15 Ibid., p. 221.

16 Ibid., pp. 221–224.

17 Ibid., pp. 224–229.

18 Ibid., p. 232.

19 Hathaway, David, Czechmate, Old Tappan, NJ, 1974, pp. 47–49.

20 Ibid., pp. 54–62.

21 Curtis, Cyril, D. G. Hathaway, Dissertation for MTh. in Practical Theology, Bangor University, Mattersey Hall, Wales, 2010.

22 Hathaway, Czechmate, p. 75.

23 Archiv bezpečnostních složek (ABS), Fond V/Plzeň, V-8558 Plzeň, David Gordon Hathaway, p. 94, Protocol of interrogation of witness D. B. Lowth, 22 June 1972.

24 Ibid., p. 2, Resolution to prosecute David Gordon Hathaway, 23 June 1972.

25 Ibid., p. 13, Accused D. G. Hathaway – Transfer of confiscated items, 10 August 1972.

26 Ibid., p. 60, Protocol of interrogation, 23 June 1972.

27 On 4 July 2014, Peter Harvey told the author in Dewsbury that he actually helped to load the Bibles onto the bus in Würzburg; ABS, Fond V/Plzeň, V-8558 Plzeň, David Gordon Hathaway, Interrogation of Peter Morrel Harvey, 22 June 1972, pp. 130-133. During his interrogation at the border by StB. Captain Karel Bally, Harvey did not admit any knowledge about the hidden compartment or its contents.

28 ABS, Fond V/Plzeň, V-8558 Plzeň, pp. 69-73, Continuations of protocol of interrogation, 26 June 1972 and 30 June 1972.

29 National Archives (London), PRO, FCO28/1765, R.S. Scrivener to B. Illek, 5 July 1972.

30 Ibid., PRO FCO28/1765, Telegram from R. Scrivener to Foreign Office, 7 July 1972.

31 ABS, Fond V/Plzeň, V-8558 Plzeň, David Gordon Hathaway, p. 74, Continuation of protocol of interrogation, 3 July 1972.

32 Ibid., p. 76, Decision of the regional court in Plzeň, 6 July 1972.

33 Ibid., p. 78, Continuation of protocol of interrogation, 6 July 1972.

34 PRO, FCO28/1765, Cable to Foreign Office, 13 July 1972.

35 ABS, Fond V/Plzeň, V-8558 Plzeň, David Gordon Hathaway, p. 192, News London, 15 July 1972.

36 Ibid., pp. 193-195, Comments on domestic politics, 18 July 1972.

37 Ibid., p. 283-291, Prosecution of David Georg (sic!) Hathaway, 27 September 1972.

38 PRO, FCO28/1765, McCallion to Kidd, 30 October 1972.

39 ABS, Fond V/Plzeň, V-8558 Plzeň, David Gordon Hathaway, pp. 298–303, Verdict, 13 December 1972.

40 PRO, FCO28/1765, Open letter from Zena Hathaway, 31 October 1972.

41 Ibid., Written answers to questions, 20 November 1972.

42 Ibid., Bullard to R. S. Scrivener, 30 November 1972.

43 Ibid., Kershaw to Ginsburg, 5 December 1972.

44 Ibid., Rose to Bullard, 7 December 1972.

45 Ibid., Tonkin to Golding, 18 December 1972.

46 Ibid., McCallion to Kidd, 15 December 1972.

47 PRO, FCO28/2226, Newspaper clippings, 15 January 1973.

48 Ibid., Parliamentary questions, 29 January 1973.

49 Ibid., Barrett to Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 26 January 1973.

50 Ibid., Barrett to E. Squires, 14 February 1973.

51 Ibid., Douglas-Home to Prague Embassy, 1 February 1973.

52 Ibid., Tonkin to Rose, 2 February 1973.

53 Ibid., Conversation between Scrivener and Růžek, 2 March 1973.

54 PRO, FCO53/3049, Scrivener to FCO, 4 April 1973.

55 Ibid., Douglas-Home to Prague Embassy, 3 April 1973.

56 PRO, FCO28/2226, Background note for Easter adjournment debate, 1973.

57 Ibid., Scrivener to FCO, 16 April 1973. The author of this letter was Harold Wilson and the letter was directed to Haines (Wilson’s Press Secretary).

58 Ibid, Douglas-Home to Prague Embassy, 16 April 1973.

59 Ibid., “Reverend Hathaway expelled from Czechoslovakia”, 16 April 1973.

60 Ibid., Tonkin to Sir T. Brimelow, 17 April 1973.

61 National Archives, PRO, PREM15/1806, Harold Wilson at Heathrow, 17 April 1973.

62 PRO, FCO28/2226, Rev. David Hathaway, 17 April 1973.

63 Ibid., Douglas-Home to British Embassy in Prague, 18 April 1973.

64 Hansard, 17 April 1973, Foreign Countries (Visits).

65 Benn, Tony, Against the Tide: Diaries, 1973–1976, London, 1989, p. 19.

66 PRO, PREM15/1806, My role in pastor’s release – Wilson, 20 April 1973.

67 Ibid., Wilson to Greenhill, 26 April 1973.

68 Ibid., Prime Minister, 27 April 1973.

69 Ibid., Douglas-Home to Wilson, 30 April 1973.

70 Ibid., Wilson to Douglas-Home, 11 May 1973.

71 Ibid., Douglas-Home to Wilson, 21 May 1973.

72 Ibid., Wilson to Douglas-Home, 7 June 1973.

73 Ibid., Douglas-Home to Wilson, 19 June 1973.

74 Ibid., Heath to A. A. Acland – FCO, 22 June 1973.

75 Ibid., “He went Hathaway”, In: Private Eye, 4 May 1973.

76 Ibid.

77 Archives of Eurovision Mission to Europe, Dewsbury, UK, Christian Prisoners’ Release International, 1976.

78 Ibid., CPRI Report, 75/76.

79 Ibid., “Marches, Rallies around the World Turn Spotlight on Imprisoned Christians”, In: Underground Evangelism, July 1976, pp. 2–5.

80 Bass and Landolt, Forbidden Faith, p. 86.

81 Time, 19 March 1979.

82 Boel, “Bible Smuggling”, In: Van Dongen et al., Transnational Anticommunism, p. 264.

83 Belov, A. and Shilkin, A., Diversia bez Dinamita, Moscow, 1974.

84 Gouverneur, Joe, “Underground Evangelism: Missions during the Cold War”, In: Transformation, 24/2, 2007, p.81.

85 Jameson, Norman, “Smugglers, Legalists Disagree on Bible Distribution Method”, In: BP-Features: News Service of the Southern Baptist Convention, 12 November 1980.

86 Ibid.

87 Ibid.

88 Boel, “Bible Smuggling”, p. 266.

89 Brother Andrew and Sherrill, John and Elizabeth, God’s Smuggler, Grand Rapids, MI. 1967; Wurmbrand, Richard, Tortured for Christ, Bartlesville, OK, 1967; Hathaway, David, Czechmate, Old Tappan, NJ, 1974; Kourdakov, Sergei, Forgive Me, Natasha, London, 1975; Vins, Georgi, Three Generations of Suffering, London, 1976.

90 Sawatsky, Walter, Soviet Evangelicals since World War II, Eugene, OR. 1981, p. 396.

91 Ibid., pp. 407–408.

92 Ibid., p. 408.

93 Ibid., p. 415, ref. 55.

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