The Evils of Nazism Exposed
IN THE 1920’s, as Germany struggled to recover from its defeat in World War I, Jehovah’s Witnesses were busy distributing tremendous amounts of Bible literature. Not only did this offer comfort and hope to the German people but it alerted them to the rising power of militarism. Between 1919 and 1933, the Witnesses delivered an average of eight books, booklets, or magazines to each of the approximately 15 million families in Germany.
The Golden Age and Consolation magazines often drew attention to the militaristic stirrings in Germany. In 1929, more than three years before Hitler came to power, the German edition of The Golden Age boldly stated: “National Socialism is . . . a movement that is acting . . . directly in the service of man’s enemy, the Devil.”
On the eve of Hitler’s taking power, The Golden Age of January 4, 1933, said: “There looms forth the menacing promontory of the National Socialist movement. It seems incredulous that a political party so insignificant in its origin, so heterodox in its policies, can, in the space of a few years, develop into proportions that overshadow the structure of a national government. Yet Adolf Hitler and his national socialist party (the Nazis) have accomplished this rare feat.”
An Appeal for Understanding
Hitler became prime minister of Germany on January 30, 1933, and a couple of months later, on April 4, 1933, the Magdeburg branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses was seized. However, the order was rescinded on April 28, 1933, and the property was returned. What would happen next?
In spite of the evident hostility of the Hitler regime, Jehovah’s Witnesses organized a convention in Berlin, Germany, on June 25, 1933. Some 7,000 persons assembled. The Witnesses publicly made their intentions clear: “Our organization is not political in any sense. We only insist on teaching the Word of Jehovah God to the people, and that without hindrance.”
Thus Jehovah’s Witnesses made a good-faith effort to state their case. What were the consequences?
The Attack Begins
The immovable neutral position of the Witnesses, along with their loyalty to God’s Kingdom, was unacceptable to the Hitler government. The Nazis did not intend to tolerate any refusal to support their ideology.
Immediately after the Berlin convention concluded, the Nazis again seized the branch office at Magdeburg, on June 28, 1933. They broke up Witness meetings and made arrests. Soon Witnesses began to be dismissed from their jobs. They suffered raids on their homes, beatings, and arrests. By early 1934 the Nazis had seized from the Witnesses 65 tons of Bible literature and had burned it outside Magdeburg.
Witnesses’ Resolute Stand
Despite these initial attacks, Jehovah’s Witnesses stood their ground and publicly denounced the oppression and injustice. The November 1, 1933, issue of The Watchtower featured the article “Fear Them Not.” It was prepared especially for the German Witnesses, exhorting them to take courage in the face of mounting pressure.
On February 9, 1934, J. F. Rutherford, the president of the Watch Tower Society, sent a letter of protest to Hitler stating: “You may successfully resist any and all men, but you cannot successfully resist Jehovah God. . . . In the name of Jehovah God and His anointed King, Christ Jesus, I demand that you give order to all officials and servants of your government that Jehovah’s witnesses in Germany be permitted to peaceably assemble and without hindrance worship God.”
Rutherford set March 24, 1934, as the deadline. He said that if by that time relief did not come to the German Witnesses, the facts about the persecution would be published throughout Germany and the rest of the world. The Nazis answered Rutherford’s demand with stepped-up abuses, sending many of Jehovah’s Witnesses to the concentration camps that had recently been set up. Thus, they were among the first inmates of these camps.
Witnesses Expose Nazi Atrocities
As Jehovah’s Witnesses had promised, they began exposing the atrocities occurring in Germany. Witnesses around the globe repeatedly registered protests with the Hitler government.
On October 7, 1934, all congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany assembled to hear a letter read that was being sent to the officials of the Hitler government. It said: “There is a direct conflict between your law and God’s law . . . Therefore this is to advise you that at any cost we will obey God’s commandments, will meet together for the study of His Word, and will worship and serve Him as He has commanded.”
On the same day, Jehovah’s Witnesses in 49 other countries met in special assembly and sent the following telegram to Hitler: “Your ill-treatment of Jehovah’s witnesses shocks all good people of earth and dishonors God’s name. Refrain from further persecuting Jehovah’s witnesses; otherwise God will destroy you and your national party.”
The Nazis responded almost immediately by stepping up their persecution. Hitler himself screamed: “This brood will be exterminated in Germany!” But as opposition intensified, the determination of the Witnesses stiffened correspondingly.
In 1935, The Golden Age exposed the Inquisitionlike torture methods of the Nazi regime and its spy system. It also revealed that it was the aim of the Hitler Youth organization to purge Germany’s youths of their belief in God. The following year a nationwide Gestapo campaign resulted in the arrests of thousands of Witnesses. Soon after, on December 12, 1936, the Witnesses answered with their own campaign, blanketing Germany with tens of thousands of copies of a resolution protesting the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
On June 20, 1937, the Witnesses who were still free distributed another message that was unsparing in its detail about the persecution. It named officials and cited dates and places. The Gestapo were appalled at this exposure and the ability of the Witnesses to carry it off.
Love of neighbor is what compelled the Witnesses to warn the people of Germany not to be fooled by the grandiose vision of a glorious thousand-year rule by the Third Reich. “We must tell the truth and give the warning,” said the booklet Face the Facts, published in 1938. “We recognize the totalitarian government . . . as the product of Satan brought forth as the substitute for God’s kingdom.” Jehovah’s Witnesses were among the first targets of Nazi abuse, but they also loudly decried atrocities against Jews, Poles, the handicapped, and others.
The resolution “Warning!,” adopted at a 1938 convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., said: “The Fascists and Nazis, radical political organizations, have wrongfully seized control of many countries of Europe . . . All the people will be regimented, all their liberties taken away, and all will be compelled to yield to the rule of an arbitrary dictator and then the ancient Inquisition will be fully revived.”
Rutherford regularly took to the airwaves, delivering powerful lectures on the satanic nature of Nazism. The lectures were rebroadcast globally and were printed for distribution by the millions. On October 2, 1938, he delivered the address “Fascism or Freedom,” in which he denounced Hitler in no uncertain terms.
“In Germany the common people are peace-loving,” Rutherford proclaimed. “The Devil has put his representative Hitler in control, a man who is of unsound mind, cruel, malicious and ruthless . . . He cruelly persecutes the Jews because they were once Jehovah’s covenant people and bore the name of Jehovah, and because Christ Jesus was a Jew.”
As the Nazi rage against Jehovah’s Witnesses reached new heights, the Witnesses’ denunciations became ever more scathing. The May 15, 1940, issue of Consolation stated: “Hitler is such a perfect child of the Devil that these speeches and decisions flow through him like water through a well-built sewer.”
Horrors of Camps Exposed
Although the public was largely unaware of the existence of the concentration camps until 1945, detailed descriptions of them appeared often in Watch Tower publications in the 1930’s. In 1937, for example, Consolation told of experiments with poison gas at Dachau. By 1940, Witness publications had named 20 different camps and had reported on their unspeakable conditions.
Why were Jehovah’s Witnesses so well acquainted with the concentration camps? When World War II started in 1939, there were already 6,000 Witnesses confined in camps and prisons. German historian Detlef Garbe estimates that the Witnesses constituted at that time between 5 and 10 percent of the total camp population!
At a seminar on the Witnesses and the Holocaust, Garbe stated: “Of the 25,000 persons who admitted to being Jehovah’s Witnesses at the beginning of the Third Reich, about 10,000 were imprisoned for any length of time. Of these, over 2,000 were admitted to concentration camps. This means that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were, with the exception of the Jews, the worst persecuted by the SS of all the religious based groups.”
In June 1940, Consolation said: “There were 3,500,000 Jews in Poland when Germany began its Blitzkrieg . . . , and if reports which reach the Western world are correct their destruction seems well under way.” In 1943, Consolation noted: “Whole nations like the Greeks, Poles and Serbs are being exterminated systematically.” By 1946, The Golden Age and Consolation had identified 60 different prison and concentration camps.
Nazis Frustrated by Witnesses
Although the Nazis tried to stem the flow of Watch Tower literature, a Berlin official admitted: “It is hard to find the secret places in Germany where the Bible Students’ literature is still being printed; no one carries names or addresses and no one betrays another.”
Despite their frantic efforts, the Gestapo were never able to capture more than half the total number of Witnesses in Germany at any given time. Imagine the frustration of the elaborate Nazi spy system—it could not round up and silence this tiny army or stop the flow of literature. The literature found its way to the streets and even penetrated the barbed-wire fences of the concentration camps!
Triumph Over Barbarism
The Nazis, who were considered masters at breaking the human will, tried desperately to get Jehovah’s Witnesses to violate their Christian neutrality, but they failed miserably. The book The Theory and Practice of Hell said: “One cannot escape the impression that, psychologically speaking, the SS was never quite equal to the challenge offered them by Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Indeed, the Witnesses, backed up by God’s spirit, won the battle. Historian Christine King, chancellor of Staffordshire University in England, described the opponents in the conflict: “One [the Nazis] enormous, powerful, seemingly invincible. One [the Witnesses] very, very tiny . . . with only their faith, no other weapon . . . Jehovah’s Witnesses brought morally to their knees the might of that Gestapo power.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses were a small, peaceable enclave within the Nazi realm. Yet, they waged and won a battle in their own way—a battle for the right to worship their God, a battle to love their neighbor, and a battle to tell the truth.
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Witnesses Exposed Existence of Camps
ALTHOUGH Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen were names unknown to most people until after World War II, they were well known to readers of The Golden Age and Consolation. The reports of Jehovah’s Witnesses, smuggled out of the camps at great risk and publicized in Watch Tower literature, exposed the murderous intent of the Third Reich.
In 1933, The Golden Age carried the first of many reports of the existence of concentration camps in Germany. In 1938, Jehovah’s Witnesses published the book Crusade Against Christianity, in French, German, and Polish. It carefully documented the vicious Nazi attacks on the Witnesses and included diagrams of the Sachsenhausen and Esterwegen concentration camps.
Nobel prize winner Dr. Thomas Mann wrote: “I have read your book and its terrible documentation with deepest emotion. I cannot describe the mixed feeling of abhorrence and loathing which has filled my heart while perusing these records of human degradation and abominable cruelty. . . . To keep quiet would serve only the moral indifference of the world . . . You have done your duty in publishing this book and bringing these facts to light.”—Italics ours.
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Witnesses Among First in the Camps
MADAME Geneviève de Gaulle, niece of former president of France Charles de Gaulle, was a member of the French Resistance. Upon her capture and her later imprisonment in the Ravensbrück concentration camp in 1944, she met Jehovah’s Witnesses. After World War II, Madame de Gaulle lectured throughout Switzerland and spoke often of the Witnesses’ integrity and courage. In an interview on May 20, 1994, she said of them:
“They were among the first deportees in the camp. Many had already died . . . We recognized them by their distinctive badge. . . . It was absolutely forbidden for them to talk about their beliefs or to have any religious books, and especially the Bible, which was considered the supreme book of sedition. . . . I know of [one of Jehovah’s Witnesses], and there were others I was told, who was executed for having a few pages of Bible texts. . . .
“What I admired a lot in them was that they could have left at any time just by signing a renunciation of their faith. Ultimately, these women, who appeared to be so weak and worn out, were stronger than the SS, who had power and all the means at their disposal. [Jehovah’s Witnesses] had their strength, and it was their willpower that no one could beat.”
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Conduct of Witnesses in the Camps
OUT OF love of neighbor—cell mate, barracks mate, camp mate—the Witnesses shared not only their spiritual food but also whatever physical food they had.
A Jew who survived the Buchenwald concentration camp explained: “There I met the Bibelforscher. They constantly testified to their beliefs. In fact, nothing would stop them speaking about their God. They were very helpful to other prisoners. When the pogrom sent a mass influx of Jews to the camp on November 10, 1938, the ‘Jehovah’s schwein’, as the guards termed them, went round with a bread ration to the aged and famished Jews, going without food themselves for up to four days.”
Similarly, a Jewish woman imprisoned in the Lichtenburg camp said of the Witnesses: “They were a brave people, who bore their fate patiently. Though the gentile prisoners were forbidden to talk to us, these women never observed this regulation. They prayed for us as if we belonged to their family, and begged us to hold out.”
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Efforts to Deny the Holocaust Predicted
IN ITS September 26, 1945, issue, Consolation noted that future attempts might be made to revise history and deny what had happened. The article “Has Nazism Been Destroyed?” said:
“Propagandists think the people have short memories. It is their intention to erase past history, presenting themselves in the modern disguise of benefactors, their incriminating record being covered up.”
The magazine gave this perceptive warning: “Until Jehovah does fight Armageddon, Nazism will continue to raise its ugly head.”
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These diagrams of concentration camps appeared in Witness publications in 1937
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The 150 workers at the Magdeburg branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1931
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Publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses exposed church collaboration with Nazism