Surviving Persecution in Nazi Germany
LET me take you back to post-World-War-I Germany where the stage was being set for a dramatic period of persecution of Christians.
In 1919 my parents were married, and that same year they dedicated their lives to serve Jehovah. I was born the following year, my brother Johannes in 1921, Eva in 1922, and finally George in 1928. We were the only children of Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called, in our city of Wittenberge.
When the National Socialists, or Nazis, took power in 1933, many teachers became members of the party. When I refused to say the greeting “Heil Hitler!” I was constantly harassed by Hitler Youth classmates. The climax came for me when I did not participate in the summer-solstice festival during which literature outlawed by the Nazis, including Bibles, was publicly burned.
About the same time, in front of the entire class, my brother Johannes was slapped across the face for refusing to say “Heil Hitler!” Mother challenged the teacher’s right to do this, citing the law on freedom of worship and speech, which, at that early stage of Nazi rule, was publicly supported by Rudolph Hess and Reichsminister Dr. Frick.
Ignoring what she said, the teacher screamed: “How dare you speak like that! The Führer has taken power and everybody had better hurry and get in line!” Then he snarled: “I will see to it that you and your family end up in the gutter!”
Looking him right in the eye, Mother replied: “That, Herr Sienknecht, Jehovah the God of the heavens and earth will decide, and not you!”
Persecution of Our Family
Not long afterward Father came home and, without any introduction, said: “We are in the lions’ den of Daniel!” He had without notice been dismissed from his job. This meant, in effect, being left without any visible means of support. What would we do now?
Well, people whom we least expected would do so brought us food, some coming to our home cautiously at night. Father later began selling vacuum cleaners, at the same time distributing the now outlawed Watch Tower literature.
In 1936 our Christian brothers outside Germany adopted a resolution that warned the Hitler government to stop its mistreatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We Witnesses in Germany distributed the resolution throughout the country on December 12, 1936, between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. That is when I started to participate in the field ministry.
In December of that year my parents were served with a summons to appear before the Sondergericht (Special Court) in Berlin. The charge: distributing the literature of a banned organization. A few days later another summons came for all four of us children to appear in the local court in Wittenberge. Why? It was claimed we were being spiritually neglected by our parents. How preposterous!
Court officials were amazed when they heard us youngsters, now 16, 15, 14, and 8 years of age, defending our faith by using the Scriptures. We noted that “Heil Hitler” means “Salvation comes from Hitler,” and that since salvation comes only from Jehovah God through Christ Jesus, we could not use that slogan. Nevertheless, the court ruled that we be taken from our parents and be sent to a reform school in Strausberg near Berlin.
Before we could be picked up, my parents took us children to the railway station and sent us to Wolfenbuttel to our grandmother. They did this because their court case was pending, and they feared the outcome. On the station platform Mother, with tears in her eyes, said very firmly: “Jehovah is a better Protector than we are.” Hugging us for what they felt might be the last time, our parents quoted Isaiah 40:11: “Like a shepherd he will shepherd his own drove. With his arm he will collect together the lambs; and in his bosom he will carry them.” We felt greatly comforted.
To the total surprise of our parents, the case against them was dismissed for lack of evidence.
Escaping the Nazis
Soon the Nazis were again on the trail of us youngsters. They arranged immediately to see us so as to check our “views.” To avoid them, we left our grandmother in Wolfenbuttel and separated, each of us taking up residence in a different place. I took a job as a front-desk clerk in the Duisburger Hof, a hotel in the Rhineland.
One day the hotel was excitedly awaiting a visit by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels and his staff. When they arrived, everybody in the lobby saluted and shouted the customary “Heil Hitler!”—except me. One of the officials of high rank noticed that, and later, in a back room, confronted me. I thought: “This is it this time!” But suddenly he was called away. Apparently Dr. Goebbels needed him right away. I quickly disappeared in one of the many corridors of the huge hotel, not to be seen for the rest of the day.
Toward the end of 1943 the Allied air raids on cities intensified, and for the first time concentration camp inmates were used to help in the cleanup and repair work following bombing attacks. The hotel needed repairs on some windows and doors, so prisoners were assigned to do this work. I was excited when I saw purple triangles on their striped jackets, identifying them as Jehovah’s Witnesses! Unfortunately, when I tried to speak to them, the SS guards raised their rifles, aimed at me, and shouted: “Keep moving!” I felt sick at heart.
The terrible world conditions at the time caused many of us to feel that this would all end up in Armageddon. But then information began leaking through that the Allied forces were on their way into Germany. We started to rejoice because we knew that the Nazi tyranny was near its end.
The Postwar Period
After the dust clouds of Allied conquest settled, the brothers started eagerly to participate in the reorganization of the public preaching work. By now our family was reunited—having been separated for ten long years—and we were living in Hannover in northern Germany. In that first postwar year, 1946, we held the Memorial celebration in our home, which was big enough for all the some 50 brothers in Hannover. What a memorable celebration, associating with brothers who had recently been released from concentration camps and seeing the anointed partaking of the emblems! It made an unforgettable impression on me.
In 1946 we also held our first large postwar convention in northern Germany. Many tears of joy were shed. Even the speakers had to stop from time to time during their talks to give way to their feelings. It was just too much for them to bear when they saw so many of their dear brothers sitting peacefully and enjoying the instruction without barbed wire surrounding them! After this I entered the pioneer ranks and was assigned to the nearby city of Lehrte.
From there I was called to serve at the German branch office in Wiesbaden. When I arrived in 1947 the number in the Bethel family was less than 20. We temporarily worked in a large villa, and space was limited. From Bethel I was called in 1952 to attend the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead and graduated with the 19th class. Afterward I was reassigned to Wiesbaden to continue work as a translator.
In 1954, at 34 years of age, I decided to marry. Edith was a pioneer and also still had some contract obligations as an opera singer. In time, however, we were sent as special pioneers to Lohr, a medieval town.
Soon there came another change in assignment. Edith became pregnant with our son Markus, so we had to leave the full-time service. Later we moved to Canada. There another son, Reuben, was born. These sons are now 34 and 30 years old. One serves as an elder and the other as a ministerial servant in the Thornhill Congregation, Ontario, north of Toronto, where I serve as the presiding overseer.
Jehovah Blesses Enduring Ones
With Jehovah’s help his people survived the horrors of the Nazi regime and were reorganized for increased theocratic service. In contrast, note what took place with the Nazis. They had celebrated their early victories during the early prewar years on the Zeppelinwiese in Nuremberg. But now we obtained that very location for a memorable convention in September 1946. The real climax came Monday, September 30. The offices, stores, and restaurants in the city were closed all that day.
But why were businesses closed that particular Monday? Because the death sentences of the Nazi war criminals were to be pronounced in Nuremberg. Originally, the pronouncement of sentences was to have been made on September 23, but it was postponed to September 30. Thus, at the very time when our former persecutors were in custody hearing the verdicts, yes, on the same day, on what were formerly the Nazis’ own parade grounds, here we previously persecuted ones were happily celebrating before our God!
Looking back, I can confidently say that we should never be concerned with a seeming “delay” in the foretold impending destruction of this unjust and oppressive system. “It will without fail come true,” just as God has promised. “It will not tell a lie.” Jehovah is loyal. He is in full control of time. Thus, the “appointed time” must arrive when he will “without fail” annihilate his enemies, to his own glory and for the salvation of those worshiping him. “It will not be late”! (Habakkuk 2:3)—As told by Konstantin Weigand.
[Picture on page 18]
Konstantin Weigand, seen here with his family, survived Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses
[Picture on page 21]
Nazis saluting Hitler in 1937. In 1946, Jehovah’s Witnesses used this Nuremberg stadium for a convention while Nazi leaders were being sentenced
U.S. National Archives