JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES AND THE NAZIS
PERSECUTION, DEPORTATION, AND MURDER
My interest in this book was the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s long held view that a ‘Dead Witness’ is better than an ‘Alternative Service Witness’ . The leaders of this group have long held that their World War Two German adherents have ‘died rather than compromised their neutrality’.
I have long believed otherwise. My thanks go to the writers of this book that have given the facts to support my contentions.
I find no fault with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, brave in the face of death. Most of my anger is toward the Watchtower that I believe, and have since been able to prove, sold out their German adherents. I also feel that IF the poor German JW’s in the turn of the century had been aware of the Watchtower’s atrocious history of lies and lost court cases and revision of organizational history, there would have been fewer of them to have suffered.
My greatest fault with the book is that it makes no mention of the anti-Semitic nature of the Watchtower’s early days; views that made it easier to become established and gain so many adherents in Germany in the first place. There is no mention of the now infamous Watchtower 1934 yearbook, wherein the Watchtower claims (my paraphrasing) “We don’t like the Jews any more than Hitler does; we blame Jews for lots of bad things, we can’t wait for Christ to come and fix what the Jews are doing, we have never taken a penny of money from Jews.” This last was a lie. Although at first blush, Watchtower seems to be currying favor with Hitler, actually they insulted his intelligence. He knew it was lies, and promptly took action against the Watchtower and continued to do so untill the day of his death.
Although I don’t think the book says so in so many words, the facts and figures are there to support the contention that Jehovah’s Witnesses (Bible Students) were the smallest group, the ‘best’ (if such word can be used) treated, and had the highest survival rate of all the groups in the death camps. There is no evidence Hitler was ever trying to exterminate them physically as he was the Jews and the Gypsies. There IS evidence Hitler found them useful for slave labor, and for the property and money he was able to confiscate from them.
Another fault I found with the book is the claim, of both the writers and the Watchtower, is that ‘The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only group that could have ended its persecution by just signing a paper. They could have walked away. They refused.” (my paraphrasing). A copy of the renouncing form is even given in the book.
There is no proof of this claim presented, not here and not anywhere. First of all, yes, the Witnesses may have been the only group offered this ONCE INSIDE THE CAMP; but there were many others OUTSIDE THE CAMP that were offered this and refused it, leading to their incarceration, torture, and sometimes murders. (I have in mind many Catholics, and also many Millerites, Hutterites, Quakers, Ahakers, and so on, of whom it was so well KNOWN they would not change their stand no ATTEMPT seemed to have been made to 'convert' them.) Should there be that much distinction between turning down an offer of respite from persecution because it is made a few feet OUTSIDE prison walls rather than a few feet INSIDE prison walls? Should a few feet make one group ‘nobler’ than another? And further, there is no evidence even in this book that the Nazis had any intention of following through with their offers of release, or decrease in maltreatment, and furthermore there is no evidence presented on behalf of the Witnesses that very many of them even believed these ‘offers’. If Jehovah’s Witnesses did not believe that the Nazi’s offers were genuine, and therefore refused to compromise, that is hardly a ‘choice’ and proof of anything. This seems simply to be a possible but unprovable claim of the Witnesses.
The Watchtower’s claim of neutrality in reality translates merely, sadly, to just mere silence at the overt acts of rape, torture and mass murder going on around them at that terrible time in European history. Perhaps if the Witnesses, along with many others, had spoken up at the beginning, the whole process of the Nazi Regime could have been derailed at some earlier point in time. As it was, by the time Hitler had gone through all the other groups while Watchtower and its adherents stood silently by, there was no one left to speak for the Witnesses when Hitler came for THEM. So very very sad.
This book is full of personal experiences not just of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but also of the many non-Witnesses that had contact with the Witnesses in various contexts during the war. On the whole the Witnesses were admired, as well they should be. But another fault of the book, is that while it lauds the Witnesses staunch belief that ‘God’ was going to rescue them, it makes no attempt to explain HOW the Witnesses believed that God was going to achieve this.
Simply enough, the Witnesses believed Armegeddon was coming in 1925 (or shortly thereafter), all the way up to the end of the war. Who, in their horrible circumstances, would not believe they were IN Armegeddon right then and there in those camps?
The reality was, the Allied Forces (‘agents of Satan’ in Watchtower dogma) were who rescued them. The book makes no mention either, of any gratitude expressed by the Witnesses then or now toward the brave men and women, of every nation and tribe and peoples and tongues (and religions) who worked and suffered side by side to effect the rescue of these Witnesses from the camps.
One can hardly blame the Witnesses for their lack of gratitude. After all, their country had mistreated them, their Watchtower had betrayed them, and finally their God seemingly had turned away from them in their time of need, necessitating agents of their Great enemy Satan the devil to rescue them by default. There was no one else left to save them. Bitterness and hatred leave little room for gratitude. So does religious intolerance.
And lastly, today the Watchtower states that under no circumstances did Witnesses have a share in the Nazi war machine. Well, according to the writers of this book, after watching the strongest of their fellow adherents tortured and murdered, some Witnesses apparently got a clue and started pitching in and arranging for, and contributing to, their own survival. This book details much of the work the Witnesses did in and around the camps. Laying buildings, pipes and roads, helping with buildings, personally attending to the individuals that carried personal responsiblility for the camp administration (and meeting its goals and quotas)…would certainly be considered, by Watchtower, to be alternative service today. And most certainly, a Witness engaging in this activity today would be expelled and shunned, and most definitely not be held up as a shining example of ‘neutrality’.
The Watchtower’s claims that these brave people were simply passively neutral is an insult to the creativity and dedication to survival of these people. The surviving Witnesses worked hard, in appalling conditions, to survive. They did not betray their beliefs so much as they gained some common sense. For a short time in history, the Witnesses identified slightly with their fellow prisoners and even their captors (some of who did not want to be there either) and between them all, many have survived to tell their story today.
WE MUST NOT FORGET.
From the introduction:
During the years 1933-1939, some groups were victimized for what they did, others for what they refused to do, and still others for what they were.
Gypsies..along with the Jews, they were the only other group killed in their entirety. Men, women, and children were gassed together at Birkenau, the death camp of Auschwitz.
Jehovah’s Witnesses were isolated and harangued from 1933 on. The Nazis believed the Witnesses had American connections and international aspirations. They read a political message into the Witnesses’ description of chaos, anarchy, and revolution that would precede the coming of the millenium. Prophecies about the return of Jews to the Holy Land prior to Armegeddon classified the Witnesses in Nazi eyes as Zionists.
So faithful were they to the tradition of nonviolence that even in the camps, Witnesses could serve as barbers and shave their oppressers, holding razor blades to their throats.
Exerpts from the book:
A telegram sent October 7, 1935:
“To the Hitlerian Government in Berlin’
The ill-treatment which you inflict on Jehovah’s Witnesses shocks all good men and dishonors God’s name. Refrain from further persecuting Jehovah’s Witnesses or God will destroy you and your national party.”
Thousands of telegrams, worded like this one were sent from the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, the Scandinavian countries, France, Hungary, the Netherlands, and other European nations.
The effect on Hitler? “This mob will be exterminated in Germany….these telegrams touched off a wave of arrests across Germany.
A whole chapter is devoted to the Arnold family, who are the subject of the book “Facing the Lion”.
“ Erich Frost composed a hymn while working alongside forty Witneses on a sewage system.(page 185)
Speaking of Auschwitz in 1942, Germaine Tillion is quoted as saying: “Once the most corageous and outspoken had been tortured and executed…They used those who were left to keep their children because they were especially scrupulous.”
They [The SS in Auschwitz in 1943] lived there in a middle-class environment with wives, children, gardens, and ‘maids’—and this use of Witnesses was doubtless appreciated because the camp charged more for them than for other inmates.
Page 189: After that incident, the Witnesses stood firm “They refused to help, and Milean implored, reminding them of all I had done for the Jehovah’s Witnesses for two years and the risks I took for them—but nothing doing. Then, threatening in a vengeful tone, she had recourse to the God Jehovah and gave them a lesson on love of fellow man, painting all the horrors which awaited them in the afterlife if their hearts remained hardened. Whining, they did bring me the food they had to deliver.”
Franz Desch even succeeded in converting an SS officer at Gusen. Some 227 Russian women and seventy-three Ukranians were baptized at Ravensbruck.
Erich Frost, a devoted Witnesses who provided comfort to his fellow prisoners, once remarked, “Harsh is life on God’s Soldiers. They do not seek the approval of the prideful.
At Ravensbruck: inmates were allowed to buy letter paper at the canteen bearing the legend “Ravensbruck Concentration Camp”. There was even special paper for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, over and above the usual rules, which carried the inscription in green letters “I am still a Jehovah’s Witness.”
Final note: it is my understanding that this year the Watchtower is campaigning for reparations for their adherents mistreated and killed during the War, both survivors and their descendants.