Protected by Faith in God
IT WAS May 1945, and World War II had just ended in Europe. I had arrived home in Chojnice, Poland, only two days before. The trip had taken almost two months, since I had to walk, and I had made a number of stops along the way to visit people. My previous two years had been spent in the Stutthof concentration camp, located near Danzig (now Gdansk).
Seated in the living room, Mother, my two sisters, and I were enjoying a visit. There was a knock at the front door, and Elaine, my oldest sister, excused herself to answer it. We didn’t pay much attention until we heard her scream. Immediately I jumped from the chair and ran to the door. There stood Wilhelm Scheider and Manfred Licnierski, two fellow Christians who I thought had died soon after I last saw them.
After I stared at them for some time in openmouthed disbelief, Brother Scheider asked if I was going to invite them in. We spent the rest of the day late into the evening getting reacquainted and recalling how Jehovah God had protected us during our imprisonment. Before I share some of these experiences, let me explain how I came to be in the concentration camp.
Faith Tested at an Early Age
My parents became Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called) about the time I was born, in 1923. The years leading up to World War II were not easy for Witnesses. The Catholic religion was taught in school, and Witnesses were treated harshly. I was constantly picked on by other children, and the teacher would invariably side with the children against me. The preaching work was also difficult. Once while we were preaching in the nearby town of Kamien, at least a hundred townsfolk surrounded about 20 of us Witnesses. Polish soldiers arrived just in time to protect us from the mob.
The persecution intensified when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Finally, in 1943, I was arrested by the Gestapo for refusing to serve in the German Army. While I was under arrest, the Gestapo interrogated me, trying to get me to give them the names of other Witnesses in the area. When I refused, the Gestapo agent told me that I would probably die in a concentration camp.
First, I was sent to the Chojnice jail, where a couple of jailers beat me with a rubber stick, trying to force me to compromise my determination to stay loyal to Jehovah. This beating went on for 15 or 20 minutes, and all the while I was praying fervently. Toward the end of the beating, one of the jailers complained that he was going to wear out before I did.
Strange as it might seem, after the first few blows, I really didn’t feel them anymore. Instead, it was as if I could only hear them, like the beating of a drum off in the distance. Jehovah definitely protected me and answered my prayers. News of the beating soon got around the jail, and some started calling me “a man of God.” Shortly afterward I was sent to Gestapo headquarters in Danzig. A month later I was taken to the Stutthof concentration camp.
Life in Stutthof
Upon arriving we were told to line up in front of the barracks. A kapo (a prisoner given oversight of other prisoners) pointed to the three huge smokestacks of the crematorium and told us that in three days we would be in heaven with our God. I knew that Brother Bruski, from our congregation in Chojnice, had been sent to Stutthof, so I tried to find him. However, a fellow prisoner informed me that he had died about a month earlier. I was so devastated that I actually fell to the ground. I felt that if Brother Bruski, a physically and spiritually strong Christian, had died, I certainly would too.
Other prisoners helped me back to the barracks, and that is when I first met Brother Scheider. I later learned that before the war he had been Poland’s branch overseer. He had a long talk with me, explaining that if I lost faith in Jehovah, I would die! I felt that Jehovah had sent him to strengthen me. Indeed, how true the proverb is that says: ‘There is a brother born for when there is distress’!—Proverbs 17:17.
My faith at that time had weakened, and Brother Scheider brought to my attention Hebrews 12:1. There Christians are told to beware of the sin that easily entangles them, namely, lack of faith. He helped me to recall faithful ones spoken of in Hebrews chapter 11 and to analyze my faith in comparison with theirs. I stayed as close as possible to Brother Scheider from that time on, and although he was 20 years older than I, we became very close friends.
Once a big fellow wearing a green triangle (which meant that he was a criminal) told me to get up on a table and preach to the prisoners about Jehovah. As I started to do so, other prisoners began making fun of me. But the big fellow went over and quieted them down—everyone was afraid of him. When we assembled to eat at noon and in the evening during the rest of the week, this big guy would have me get up on the table to preach.
The following week some of the prisoners, including me, were assigned to a different barracks. Another prisoner with a green triangle approached me and asked why my God had sent me to this “hell.” I answered that it was to preach to the prisoners and that being here served to test my faith. While with these prisoners, I was allowed to stand before them and preach every night for two weeks.
One day a kapo told a fellow prisoner to beat me. He refused, risking being beaten himself. When I asked him why he did not beat me up, he said he had been planning to commit suicide but had listened to one of my sermons, and it had helped him to change his mind. He figured that I had saved his life and that he couldn’t beat someone who had done that.
Faith Tested to the Limit
In the winter of 1944, the Russians neared Stutthof. The German camp officials decided to move the prisoners before the Russians arrived. The Germans started to march some 1,900 of us prisoners to Słupsk. When we reached the halfway point, only some 800 of us remained. Throughout the march we had heard a lot of shooting, so apparently the rest had been shot or had escaped.
At the beginning of the trek, we had each been given a pound [450 g] of bread and a half pound [220 g] of margarine. Many immediately ate all that they were given. However, I rationed mine as best I could, knowing that the trip could last about two weeks. There were only about ten Witnesses among the prisoners, and Brother Scheider and I kept together.
On the second day of the journey, Brother Scheider became sick. From then on I practically had to carry him, since if we stopped, we would be shot. Brother Scheider told me that Jehovah had answered his prayers by having me there to assist him. On the fifth day, I was so tired and hungry that I felt I could not go another step, let alone carry Brother Scheider. He also was getting weaker because of lack of food.
In that early afternoon, Brother Scheider told me that he had to relieve himself, so I carried him over to a tree. I was looking around to make sure that we were not spotted by German guards. After about a minute, Brother Scheider turned around with a loaf of bread in his hands. “Where did you get that?” I asked. “Was it hanging from the tree or something?”
He said that while I had my back turned, a man approached him and gave him the loaf. That seemed remarkable to me, since I never saw anyone. At the time we were so hungry we didn’t question how it was delivered. But I must say that the request Jesus taught us to make for our bread for each day was afterward much more meaningful to me. (Matthew 6:11) We could not have made it another day without that bread. I also thought of the psalmist’s words: “I have not seen anyone righteous left entirely, nor his offspring looking for bread.”—Psalm 37:25.
After about a week, when almost half way to Słupsk, we stopped at a Hitler Youth camp. There we were to rendezvous with prisoners from other camps. Brother Licnierski had developed typhoid fever and was put in a special barracks with other sick prisoners. Every evening I would sneak out of the barracks I was in and go to Brother Licnierski. If I had been spotted, I would have been shot, but it was important to me to do what I could to get his fever down. I would wet a rag and sit by him and wipe his forehead. Then I would sneak back to my own barracks. Brother Scheider also developed typhoid fever and was put in the barracks with Brother Licnierski.
We were told that the Germans planned to take us to the Baltic Sea, load us on a boat, and transport us to Denmark. However, the Russians kept getting closer. As the Germans grew afraid and began to flee, prisoners seized the opportunity to escape. The Germans ordered me to leave, but since Brother Scheider and Brother Licnierski were too sick to travel and I was unable to carry them, I did not know what to do. So I left, praying that Jehovah would take care of these dear companions.
An hour after I left, the Russians entered the camp. A soldier found Brother Scheider and Brother Licnierski and ordered a German woman who lived at a nearby farm to feed them chicken soup every day until they recovered. The woman told the soldier that the Germans had taken all her chickens. He then told her that if she didn’t feed these men, he would kill her. Needless to say, she promptly found some chickens, and my dear brothers were on their way to recovery!
Continued Refinement of Faith
While in my mother’s living room, we talked about these and other experiences until the early hours of the morning. The brothers stayed a couple of days and then moved on to their own homes. Brother Scheider was used mightily by Jehovah to reorganize the preaching activity in Poland, resuming many of his former responsibilities. However, because of the takeover by the Communists, the preaching activity became very difficult.
Time after time Witnesses were arrested for preaching about God’s Kingdom. Often I was among these and was interrogated by the very ones who had freed me from the Nazis. Then we realized why the authorities were so familiar with our activities. The Communists had planted spies within the organization to keep tabs on us. The infiltration was so successful that in one night in 1950, thousands of Witnesses were arrested.
In time my wife Helena and our growing family decided to move to the United States. We arrived in 1966. While visiting Brooklyn, New York, I was able to present to responsible ones at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses information that helped them determine who were those that had been planted within the organization by the Communists.—Compare Acts 20:29.
I am now 70 years old and live in the state of Colorado, where I serve as an elder in a local congregation. Because of failing health, I am no longer able to do things as I once could. However, I still very much enjoy talking to people about Jehovah’s Kingdom. When working with younger ones in the ministry, I also take advantage of the opportunity to help them realize that no matter what adversity comes their way, Jehovah is always there to exert his strength in behalf of those who have complete faith in him.
As I look back on my life, I appreciate that Jehovah delivered me and my friends out of perilous situations. These events have made my faith in his protective care definitely stronger. There is not a doubt in my mind that this system of things will soon end in the fast-approaching “great tribulation” and that survivors will have the grand prospect of restoring this earth to a global paradise.—Revelation 7:14; 21:3, 4; John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:13.
I look forward to having a share in this grand restoration of the earth to a paradise condition, and so can you if you do Jehovah’s will to the best of your ability and trust in his promise to protect those who exercise their faith in him.—As told by Feliks Borys.
[Picture on page 20]
A year after getting out of the concentration camp
[Picture on page 23]
With my wife, Helena