My Hate Turned to Love
As told by Ludwig Wurm
It was the coldest night I had ever experienced—minus 62 degrees Fahrenheit [-52° C.]. The date: February 1942—midwinter and wartime. The place: the Russian front near Leningrad. I was a soldier in the German Waffen-SS (Waffen Schutzstaffel), an elite armed force. A sergeant and I had been given the grisly task of burying more than 300 comrades, most of whom had died in their foxholes—frozen to death. The ground was so frozen, however, that it was impossible to bury them. Instead, we stacked the rigid corpses behind empty houses, just like logs. They would have to wait until springtime to be buried.
TO SAY that this gruesome assignment made me sick would be an understatement. In my wretchedness I blurted out, amid tears: “Unterscharführer (sergeant), can you tell me what all this senseless killing is for? Why is there so much hatred in the world? Why must we have wars?” He answered me in a low voice: “Ludwig, I really don’t know. Believe me, I also can’t understand why there is so much suffering and hatred in the world.”
Two days later I was hit in the neck by an exploding bullet that left me paralyzed, unconscious, and near death.
But my persistent questions enabled me eventually to experience firsthand how hate and despair can turn to love and hope. Let me explain.
My Meeting With Hitler
I was born in Austria in 1920. My father was Lutheran, and my mother was Catholic. I attended a private Lutheran school, where I received regular religious instruction from a clergyman. But I was not taught about Jesus Christ as Savior. Emphasis was constantly directed to a “God-sent führer,” Adolf Hitler, and a proposed Pan-German Empire. My textbook seemed to be Hitler’s book Mein Kampf (My Struggle) rather than the Bible. I also studied Rosenberg’s book Der Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts (The Myth of the 20th Century), in which he tried to prove that Jesus Christ was not a Jew but a blond Aryan!
I became convinced that Adolf Hitler was actually God-sent, and in 1933, I was proud to join the Hitler Youth movement. You might imagine the thrill it was when I was given the opportunity to meet him personally. To this day, I clearly remember the way he looked at me with his unusually piercing eyes. It had such a profound effect on me that when I got home, I said to Mother: “From now on my life does not belong to you. My life belongs to my führer, Adolf Hitler. If I see anyone try to kill him, I will throw myself in front of him to save his life.” It wasn’t until years later that I understood why Mother just cried and held me very close to her.
Early Influence of the Nazi Party
In 1934 the National Socialists revolted against the Austrian government. During this conflict Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, who opposed the unification of Austria and Germany, was assassinated by Nazis. The ringleaders of the revolt were arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. The Austrian government then introduced martial law, and I became active in the underground movement of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party—the Nazi party.
Then came the Anschluss, annexation, of Austria to Germany in 1938, and the Nazi party became legal. Shortly I was among the loyal party members invited by Hitler that same year to attend the Reich party annual rally in Nuremberg on the Zeppelin Meadow. There I saw Hitler display his growing power. His bombastic speeches, which held audiences spellbound, were full of hatred against all opposers of the Nazi Party, including international Jewry and the International Bible Students, now known as Jehovah’s Witnesses. I clearly remember his boast: “This enemy of Great Germany, this brood of International Bible Students, will be exterminated in Germany.” I had never met any of Jehovah’s Witnesses, so I wondered who these dangerous people were that he was talking about with such venom.
My Service at Buchenwald Concentration Camp
With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, I immediately volunteered to join the elite armed forces of Germany, the Waffen-SS. I was convinced that any sacrifices I was called upon to make in this war would be justified, for our führer was sent by God, was he not? But I was troubled in 1940, as our troops moved through Luxembourg and Belgium into France, when I saw for the first time at close range a dead soldier—a handsome young Frenchman. I could not understand why young Frenchmen would want to sacrifice their lives in a war that Germany, with God on our side, obviously would win.
I was wounded in France and brought back to be hospitalized in Germany. After my recovery I was transferred to duty in the outer perimeter of the Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar. We received strict instructions from our officers not to mix with the Totenkopfverbände (Death’s Head) SS camp guards or the prisoners. We were especially forbidden to enter the prisoners’ accommodations section, which was surrounded by a high wall with a large gate. Above the gate was a sign: “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes Free). Only the SS guards had special passes to enter this area.
Each day in the camp, we saw the prisoners as they were marched to their work assignments led by an SS guard and another prisoner in charge called a Kapo. There were Jews with the star of David insignia on their prison jackets, political prisoners with their red triangle, criminals with their black spot, and Jehovah’s Witnesses with their purple triangle.
I could not help noticing the unusually beaming faces of the Witnesses. I knew they were living in depraved conditions; yet they presented themselves with a dignity that belied their skin-and-bone appearance. Since I knew virtually nothing about them, I inquired of our superior officers as to why the Witnesses had been sent to concentration camps. The answer was that they were a Jewish-American sect closely linked to the Communists. But I was intrigued with their faultless conduct, their uncompromising principles, and their moral cleanliness.
My “Messiah’s” End
In 1945 the world that I had believed in collapsed. My “god,” Adolf Hitler, hailed by the clergy as the God-sent führer, proved to be a false messiah. His proposed Tausendjährige Reich (Thousand Year Rule) was completely in ruins after just 12 years. He was also a coward who escaped his responsibility for the slaughter of millions of men, women, and children by committing suicide. The subsequent news of the explosion of the first atom bombs on Japan almost caused me to have a mental breakdown.
Dramatic Changes in My Life
Shortly after the hostilities of World War II ended, I was denounced to the U.S. Army CIC (Counterintelligence Corps), a part of the United States’ occupying forces. I was arrested as a Nazi and a member of the Waffen-SS. My loving fiancée, Trudy, eventually located a doctor who, because of the aftereffects I was experiencing from a spinal injury, convinced the CIC to release me from prison because of my health. I was then put under house arrest until I was cleared of all charges of being a war criminal.
As a war invalid, I was sent to the repatriation hospital in the Austrian Alps for a medical examination. Then one particularly beautiful spring morning as I was enjoying the breathtaking scenery and warm sunshine and listening to the melodious songs of the birds, I uttered a short prayer from deep within my heart: “God, if you really exist, you must be able to answer my many disturbing questions.”
A few weeks later, after I had returned home, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses called at my door. I accepted Bible literature from her. Although she called back regularly every Sunday morning, I did not give any serious thought to or read the literature she left at that time. One day, however, I came home from work more depressed than usual. My wife suggested that I read something to try to relax my mind—a booklet left by the Witnesses entitled Peace—Can It Last?
I began to read the booklet and found that I could not put it down until I had read it all. I said to my wife: “This booklet was printed in 1942. If someone on the street had then said that Hitler and Mussolini would lose the war and that the League of Nations would reappear in the form of the United Nations, people would have thought he was mentally disturbed. But what is now history is precisely what this booklet said would happen. Do we have a Bible somewhere so that I can check these Scripture references?”
My wife went to the attic and found an old Luther translation of the Bible. I checked the Bible verses listed in the booklet. Soon I began to learn things that I had never heard of before. I learned of the Bible’s promise of a new world right here on earth under God’s Messianic Kingdom. This real hope for a happy and secure future is reflected in the words of Jesus’ model prayer that I often repeated as a boy: “Let your kingdom come. Let your will take place, as in heaven, also upon earth.” And to my great surprise, I learned that Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth, has a personal name, Jehovah.—Matthew 6:9, 10; Psalm 83:18.
It was not long before I began attending the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At my first meeting, I met an elderly woman whose daughter and son-in-law had been executed in a German concentration camp because of their faith. I felt terribly ashamed. I explained to her that because of my past connections, I knew firsthand what she and her family had experienced, and in view of my association with those responsible, she had the right to spit in my face in disgust.
To my surprise, instead of hate, tears of joy welled up in her eyes. She embraced me warmly and said: “Oh, how wonderful it is that Almighty God, Jehovah, permits individuals from such opposing groups to come into his holy organization!”
Instead of the hatred that I had seen all around me, these people were truly reflecting God’s unselfish love—true Christian love. I remembered reading what Jesus said: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) This was exactly what I had been looking for. Now it was my turn for tears. I too began to cry like a child, in appreciation for such a wonderful God, Jehovah.
I Still Had Much to Learn
In time I dedicated my life to Jehovah God and was baptized in 1948. But I soon discovered that I still had much to learn. For example, since I had been so thoroughly brainwashed by Nazism, I could not understand why Jehovah’s organization at times printed articles against the infamous SS. I argued that we as individuals had not been to blame. We were just soldiers, and most of us were completely ignorant of what was happening in the concentration camps.
Then one day a dear brother who understood my problem and who had himself suffered for many years in a concentration camp put his arm around my shoulder and said: “Brother Ludwig, listen to me carefully. If you have difficulty appreciating this point and you find that it bothers you, just put it aside in your mind. Then leave your problem with Jehovah in prayer. You can take my word that if you do this, the day will come when Jehovah will open up an understanding of this and any other matter that perplexes you.” I took his wise advice, and as the years went by, I found that this is exactly what happened. Eventually I came to understand that the whole system of National Socialism, with its SS, was just another diabolic part of Satan the Devil’s entire world system.—2 Corinthians 4:4.
Back to Zeppelin Meadow, Nuremberg
Can you imagine what a highlight of my life it was to return to Nuremberg in 1955 and there attend the “Triumphierendes Koenigreich” (Triumphant Kingdom) Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses! Yes, this assembly was held in the very same place where I had heard Hitler boast that he would exterminate Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany. Here, for an entire week, more than 107,000 of Jehovah’s Witnesses and friends from all over the world came together for worship. There was no pushing; there were no voices raised in anger. A truly united, international family living peaceably together.
It is hard to describe the emotions I felt when at that assembly I met some of my former comrades from the Waffen-SS who were now dedicated servants of Jehovah God. A joyful reunion indeed!
Looking to the Future With Hope
Since my dedication and baptism, I have had the privilege of conducting several home Bible studies with ex-Nazis in Austria. Some of them are also now dedicated Witnesses of Jehovah. In 1956, I emigrated from Austria, and I now live in Australia. Here I have enjoyed the privilege of serving in the full-time ministry. Lately, however, advancing years and failing health restrict my activity.
One of my most ardent hopes is that of welcoming back from the dead some of the faithful men and women who refused to compromise with the wicked Nazi system and who were executed in concentration camps for their integrity.
Meanwhile, in a most literal way, I have experienced seeing the destructive quality of hate turn to love and hope. My strong hope now is that of living forever on a paradise earth in human perfection, free from sickness and death—a hope not only for me but also for all those who humbly subject themselves to Jehovah’s now-reigning King, Christ Jesus. In my case I can truly repeat with conviction the words of the apostle Paul: “The hope does not lead to disappointment; because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy spirit, which was given us.”—Romans 5:5.
[Picture on page 13]
In my SS uniform
[Pictures on page 14, 15]
The 1955 “Triumphant Kingdom” Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses held in Nuremberg at the place where Hitler formerly held his annual Nazi rallies
U.S. National Archives photo
[Picture on page 15]
With my briefcase, ready to preach in Australia
[Picture Credit Line on page 11]