He Died for a Principle

“WE REMEMBER August Dickmann (born 1910), one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” So begins the inscription on a plaque (shown here) recently unveiled in the former concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. Why would one of Jehovah’s Witnesses rate such a plaque? The rest of the inscription tells the story: “[He] was publicly shot by the SS on September 15, 1939, because of conscientious objection.”

August Dickmann was interned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1937. Three days after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he was ordered to sign his military induction slip. When he refused, the camp commander contacted Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS (Schutzstaffel, Hitler’s elite guard), and asked permission to execute Dickmann in the presence of all other camp inmates. On September 17, 1939, The New York Times reported from Germany: “August Dickmann, 29 years old, . . . has been shot here by a firing squad.” The newspaper said that he was the first German conscientious objector of that war.

Sixty years later, on September 18, 1999, Dickmann’s death was commemorated by the Brandenburg Memorial Foundation, and the memorial plaque now reminds visitors of his courage and strong faith. A second plaque on the outer wall of the former camp reminds visitors that Dickmann was just one of some 900 Witnesses of Jehovah who suffered in Sachsenhausen for their beliefs. Many more suffered in other camps. Yes, even under the terrible conditions of the concentration camps, many remained faithful to godly principles.

To Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is a Christian duty to be “in subjection to the superior [government] authorities.” (Romans 13:1) However, when governments try to force them to transgress God’s laws, they follow the example of Christ’s apostles, who said: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) As a result, in a world where tribal enmities and ethnic hatreds have led to shocking atrocities, Jehovah’s Witnesses everywhere, like August Dickmann, pursue peace. They follow the Bible’s exhortation: “Do not let yourself be conquered by the evil, but keep conquering the evil with the good.”—Romans 12:21.