The Nazis Could Not Change Me
As told by Hermine Liska
MY SHELTERED early childhood came to an abrupt end in 1938 when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party took power in my home country, Austria. Soon my schoolmates and I were required to give the “Heil Hitler” salute, sing Nazi songs, and join the Hitler Youth movement. These things I resolutely refused to do. Let me explain.
I grew up with four siblings, all older brothers, on a farm in St. Walburgen in Carinthia, Austria. My parents were Johann and Elisabeth Obweger. In 1925, Father became a Bibelforscher, or Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. Mother was baptized in 1937. From my childhood, they taught me Bible principles and helped me to develop a love for God and his creation. For example, they showed me that it is wrong to give worshipful honor to any human. Jesus Christ said: “It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service.”—Luke 4:8.
Mother and Father were very hospitable. We had many visitors, and a number of farmhands lived with our family of seven. We sang a lot—a custom that is still popular in Carinthia—and we had many interesting Bible discussions. I still cherish the memory of our family gathered around our living-room table every Sunday morning for Bible study.
From Freedom to Fear
Germany annexed Austria when I was nearly eight years old. From then on, the pressure to comply with Nazi party demands increased, and soon all citizens were expected to greet others with the “Heil Hitler” salute. I refused to do so because “heil” in German means “salvation,” and I was not going to ascribe salvation to Hitler! I knew that Jesus Christ was my Savior. (Acts 4:12) Because of my stand, I was constantly mocked by both teachers and classmates. When I was 11 years old, my primary-school headmaster said: “Hermine, I’m going to move you back to first grade. I cannot tolerate such a stubborn child in my class!”
Because my brothers and I steadfastly refused to heil Hitler, Father was summoned to appear in court. He was asked to sign a document renouncing his faith. The document also stated that he would rear his children according to Nazi ideology. Because he refused to sign, he and Mother lost custody of us children, and I was sent to a reeducation facility some 25 miles (40 km) from home.
I soon felt terribly homesick, and I cried a lot. Meanwhile, the governess tried to force me to join the Hitler Youth, but in vain. Other girls tried to hold my right arm up during the salute of the Nazi flag, but they did not succeed. I felt as did God’s servants of old who stated: “It is unthinkable, on our part, to leave Jehovah so as to serve other gods.”—Joshua 24:16.
My parents were prohibited from visiting me. They did, however, find ways to meet me clandestinely on my way to school and at school. Those short meetings encouraged me greatly to stay faithful to Jehovah. At one such meeting, Father gave me a small Bible, which I carefully hid in my bed. How I enjoyed reading it, even though I had to do so in secret! Indeed, one day I almost got caught, but I quickly hid the Bible under my blanket.
Off to a Convent
Since all efforts to reeducate me had failed, the authorities suspected that I was still under my parents’ influence. Hence, in September 1942, they sent me by train to Munich, Germany, where I was put into a Catholic school called Adelgunden, which was also a convent. During the transfer, nuns saw my Bible and confiscated it.
Nevertheless, I was determined to remain faithful to my beliefs, and I refused to attend church services. When I told one of the nuns that my parents used to read the Bible to me on Sundays, her response surprised me. She gave me back my Bible! Evidently, what I had said touched her heart. In fact, she even let me read the Bible to her.
On one occasion, a teacher said to me: “Hermine, you are blonde, and you have blue eyes. You are Germanic, not Jewish. Jehovah is the God of the Jews.”
“But,” I replied, “Jehovah made everything. He is the Creator of us all!”
The headmaster too tried to pressure me. On one occasion, he said: “Look, Hermine, one of your brothers has joined the army. What a fine example for you to follow!” I knew that one of my brothers had joined the army, but I had no intention of following his example.
“I am not a follower of my brother,” I said. “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.” The headmaster then threatened to send me to a psychiatric ward, even instructing a nun to get ready to take me there. However, he did not carry out his threat.
In the summer of 1943, Munich was bombed and children from Adelgunden were moved to the countryside. During that time I often reflected on Mother’s words to me: “Should we ever be separated and you do not even receive my letters, remember that Jehovah and Jesus will be with you. They will never abandon you. So keep on praying.”
Allowed to Go Home
In March 1944, I was taken back to Adelgunden, where we spent nearly all our time—night and day—in the air-raid shelter because of the intense bombing of Munich. In the meantime, my parents regularly requested that I be returned to them. That request was finally granted, and I arrived home at the end of April 1944.
When the time came to say good-bye to the headmaster, he said: “Write to us when you get home, Hermine. And stay the way you are.” What a change in attitude! I learned that soon after my departure, nine girls and three nuns were killed during a bombing raid. What a horrible thing war is!
On the other hand, I was happy to be reunited with my family. In May 1944, as the war raged on, I was baptized in a bathtub, thereby symbolizing my dedication to Jehovah. When hostilities ceased in 1945, I took up the full-time ministry, eager to share with others the good news of God’s Kingdom, mankind’s only hope for lasting peace and security.—Matthew 6:9, 10.
In 1950, I met Erich Liska, a young traveling minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses from Vienna, Austria. We were married in 1952, and for a short time, I accompanied Erich as he visited congregations to strengthen them spiritually.
Our first child was born in 1953, and two more followed. Because of our increased responsibilities, we discontinued the full-time ministry to raise our family. I have learned that if you stick to God, he will never disappoint you, but he will give you strength. He never failed me. Especially since the loss of my dear husband in death in 2002, Jehovah has been a source of comfort and strength to me.
As I reflect on my life, I am most thankful to my parents for inculcating in my young heart a love for God and his written Word, the source of true wisdom. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) But most of all, I am grateful to Jehovah, who continues to give me strength to cope with life’s trials.
[Blurb on page 19]
“I am not a follower of my brother . . . I am a follower of Jesus Christ”
[Picture on page 19]
With my family on our farm in St. Walburgen
[Pictures on page 19]
My parents, Elisabeth and Johann Obweger
Both photos: Foto Hammerschlag
[Picture on page 20]
With my husband, Erich