A musician friend of mine had listened to the score I wrote for one of the organization’s videos. I actually split the assignment with another composer who is now in residence in Patterson. I had mentioned to my friend that I was really conflicted while working on this project and she asked me to provide the back-story for my work on “Jehovah’s Witnesses Stand Firm Against Nazi Assault.” Here is my response in the event this is of interest to any here.
This video was designed as an answer to claims that the Witnesses were trying to win the favor of the Nazi party in the early to mid 1930s. The video did not answer these claims directly, but rather presented accounts of the suffering of the Witnesses in the concentration camps. Unlike other groups, the Witnesses could have been released by simply signing a declaration renouncing their faith. Some did, but most did not.
The director asked to me to use string quartet only, which I thought was a good idea. Instinctively, I composed a Hebraic main theme that would convey the Holocaust setting. I always believed that the word “Holocaust” should only be used regarding the persecution of the Jews during the Second World War. For anything that had to do with the Witnesses, I wrote more German-sounding music. Though I couldn’t quite identify why I felt uncomfortable working on this project then, I now understand why the whole thing did not sit well with me.
The Witness experience during the Second World War was far different from the Jewish experience. In many instances, the Witnesses were assigned to the households of German officers as domestic workers. Even the loss of life suffered by them cannot be compared to that suffered by the Jews. To me, it felt as though this video and its promotion was attempting to elicit the same degree of sympathy as that extended to the Jews.After I left the cult, I researched the charges against the Witnesses and now believe that the charges are valid. The then President of the group, J.F. Rutherford, had made overtures to Hitler by using anti Semitic language and taking the position that the Witnesses upheld the same lofty principles as the Nazi Party. The Nazis had seized the Witnesses’ property in Magdeburg and Rutherford wanted it back. When Hitler did not comply, Rutherford (who had a mercurial temperament not unlike Hitler’s) launched a campaign against Hitler and the Nazis. He assigned the German Witnesses to distribute his rants throughout the country, knowing the consequences that would befall them. But Rutherford knew well the value of persecution in galvanizing his followers and winning support from outsiders. He had also enjoyed recognition and publicity from inciting opposition to the Witness religion in the past. The Witnesses could have physically signed the declarations while mentally and spiritually holding to their beliefs. Such a deception would have been no different than the smuggling of their literature into the camps or lying regarding the whereabouts of fellow Witnesses. They took pride in having done these things. More importantly, they would be free to continue their “vital” preaching, albeit underground. However, this would not have generated the degree of publicity that formally resisting the Nazis would. To that end, Rutherford tested the German Witnesses' obedience to his directives, under the pretense of obedience and exclusive devotion to God. In reality, he was sacrificing them to gain recognition and publicity for the Witness organization as a whole.