A Living Faith Amid Tragedy
NEARLY 60 years ago, Mina Esch received a postcard from her husband, Peter. The handwritten message was brief and vague. Nevertheless, she was happy and relieved to receive it. Mina’s husband was a prisoner in the Buchenwald concentration camp, sent there by the Nazi government for being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The back of the postcard bore the terse statement: “The prisoner remains a stubborn Bible Student [as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known] . . . For this reason only, the privilege of otherwise permissible correspondence is taken from him.” This message told Mina that Peter was holding true to his faith.
The postcard, now fragile and yellowed, is on loan to the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, located in Battery Park, New York City. Along with a photograph of Peter Esch, the postcard shares in telling a small part of an enormous human tragedy—the Holocaust—during which six million Jews perished. The museum’s core exhibit contains more than 2,000 photographs and 800 historical and cultural artifacts that depict the experiences of the Jewish community from the 1880’s to the present, including the Holocaust. Why is the Museum of Jewish Heritage a fitting place to display Peter Esch’s letter?
“The mandate of the museum is to represent Jewish history,” explained museum historian Dr. Jud Newborn. “Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted for who they were. The Witnesses were persecuted wholly for their religious beliefs and because they did not believe in racism, in swearing allegiance to an evil, worldly dictator. And they didn’t believe in fighting his war. . . . Jews struggled to maintain their values and their faith against tremendous opposition. The museum celebrates such spiritual resistance. For that reason, this institution also acknowledges and admires the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Nazi era.”
In its temporary home at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a simple letter depicts the struggle of one man whose loyalty to Jehovah was put to the test. Peter Esch survived his ordeal in the Nazi camp, his faith intact.
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Museum of Jewish Heritage, in New York City
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Esch, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, was imprisoned from 1938 to 1945 for refusing to renounce his beliefs