“Imprisoned for Their Faith”
BY AWAKE! WRITER IN POLAND
THE words Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Makes Free) are to this day found on the iron gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp in southern Poland, some 35 miles [60 km] from the Czech border.* Yet, those words belie what happened to most who entered those gates between 1940 and 1945. During these years, over a million people in Auschwitz died at the hands of the Nazis. Individuals of one group, however, could have been given their freedom at any time.
What was the price of their freedom? Any prisoner who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and who signed a paper stating that he or she would no longer actively serve as a Witness could be set free. What did most decide? Historian István Deák says that the Witnesses “were similar to the early Christians who would rather be devoured by lions than make a modest offering at the altar of a Roman emperor.” Such a stance certainly deserves to be remembered, and it has been.
For two months, beginning on September 21, 2004, the main hall of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum featured an exhibition dedicated solely to the Witnesses. The exhibition carried the appropriate theme “Imprisoned for Their Faith—Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Nazi Regime.” It consisted of 27 historical display boards portraying the firm resolve of the Witnesses to maintain Christian neutrality during the Nazi era.
Many visitors were touched by the copy of a letter that had been sent from prison by Deliana Rademakers of the Netherlands. Addressing her family, she wrote: “I vowed to do Jehovah’s will. . . . Be valiant and fearless. Jehovah is with us.” In 1942, Deliana was deported to Auschwitz, where she died less than three weeks later.
There were altogether about 400 Witnesses in Auschwitz. Three of the survivors were present at the inauguration of the exhibition, where they shared their experiences and answered journalists’ questions. They displayed the same fortitude that had allowed them to survive the conditions in the camp.
In her book Imprisoned for Their Faith—Jehovah’s Witnesses in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, researcher Teresa Wontor-Cichy of the State Museum wrote: “The stance of this little group positively influenced other prisoners, and their daily, determined resistance strengthened others in the conviction that under all conditions people can stay faithful to the principles they adhere to.”
The fact is, imprisonment and death are nothing new to followers of Jesus Christ, who was himself arrested and executed for his faith. (Luke 22:54; 23:32, 33) Jesus’ apostle James was executed as well. The apostle Peter suffered imprisonment, and the apostle Paul was beaten and imprisoned many times.—Acts 12:2, 5; 16:22-25; 2 Corinthians 11:23.
Similarly, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Europe provided a sterling example of faith in God during the 1930’s and 1940’s. It is fine that the faith of such ones has been acknowledged at Auschwitz.
Auschwitz was actually composed of three main parts—Auschwitz I (main camp), Auschwitz II (Birkenau), and Auschwitz III (Monowitz). Most of the notorious gas chambers were at Birkenau.
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Three Auschwitz survivors holding the exhibition title board
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Deliana Rademakers, and a letter she wrote while in prison
Inset photos: Zdjęcie: Archiwum Państwowego Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau
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Tower: Dzięki uprzejmości Państwowego Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau