Alpine Countries Join in Theocratic Expansion
AFTER completing a very encouraging tour of Northern Europe, N. H. Knorr, president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, and his secretary, M. G. Henschel, emplaned at Oslo, Norway, at 8 a.m. Monday, September 24. Their destination was Zurich, Switzerland, but there was no direct flight. A change of planes was necessary at Copenhagen, but that fitted into the scheme of things nicely on account of the fact that there were a few important matters of business that had not been handled during the visit to Denmark a few weeks previously. When the plane landed, at 9:30, there were a few of the Danish brothers at Kastrup airport waiting behind the fence. No one took time to sit down and the minutes flew by very quickly.
Out of Denmark, the flight was nonstop to Zurich. At 1:30 p.m. a group of about thirty Swiss brothers, including Brother Zuercher, the branch servant, waved to the traveling brothers as they disembarked from the plane at the Zurich airport. It was a gracious welcome to Switzerland, very much appreciated. Before long the brothers were in a car and headed toward Berne. The scenery was beautiful, as is almost always true in Switzerland, but all along the way were signs of the preparations being made for national defense. Men in uniform were doing their annual service. Antitank barriers stretched across fields, and highways were prepared here and there for erection of road blocks which could be erected at a moment’s notice. What appeared to be gaily painted farmhouses at a distance were seen to be fortifications when close up. So even peaceful Switzerland lives in the shadow of fear.
When the visiting brothers arrived at the fine Bethel home in Berne they were greeted by Brothers Hoffmann and Schwafert from the Wiesbaden Bethel (German branch) who were on hand to investigate the transfer of a rotary press to Germany for the printing of the Society’s magazines, now so much in demand.
On Tuesday morning a trip was made to Geneva, to the south. It was not a clear day and so much of the scenery was obscured. But the lake of Geneva was a beautiful sight, with its boats and resort towns, and especially the miles and miles of vineyards on the terraced hills along the shore. The destination was the missionary home in Geneva. The trip took several hours, allowing only about two hours for discussions and lunch with the graduates of Gilead stationed in Geneva. There was one thing they wanted to show the travelers before their departure, and that was the Reformation wall. The wall is in a park and it commemorates the days when men of learning broke away from many of the traditional pagan teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Inscriptions show the accomplishments of the reformers, and there are statues of such men as Calvin, Beza, Huss, and Knox, who were prominent in the Reformation movements.
It was necessary to speed back to Berne because a meeting was scheduled for the evening at Der Grosse Kasinosaal (Casino Hall) for the units of the Berne company. It had been many years since that foremost hall in Berne had been used by Jehovah’s witnesses. Judge Rutherford had spoken there more than fifteen years before, but then prejudice from religious sources bore the fruit of having a resolution passed to bar Jehovah’s witnesses from meeting there. The resolution was still on the records of the governing board, but when a brother spoke to the management in a kind way, trying to reason on freedom of worship and the clean record of Jehovah’s witnesses, and at the same time was persistent in his quest for use of the hall, a favorable impression was made and the hall was rented to Jehovah’s witnesses. So it was in the shadow of a theocratic victory that the 890 publishers from Berne and vicinity assembled at the Casino Hall to hear from Brothers Knorr and Henschel. Looking back to the previous visit of the Society’s president to that land, the publishers could see how much growth there had been, for in 1947 there were 1,645 publishers and now 2,756 preach in the valleys and hills of Switzerland.
In Switzerland, as elsewhere, it has been difficult to get sufficient supplies of paper for printing, but the alertness of the brothers in locating some supplies has kept the production of the printed message going. When the authorities base allocations on previous usage, then an expanding organization must face problems. A number of countries receive literature from Switzerland and it is an important center of theocratic activity.
There was some delay at the Zurich airport. The British European Airways attendants kept putting departure back a few minutes more each time someone inquired. Finally the cause was made known: Weather had closed in the airport at Vienna and it had been necessary to receive clearance from the American authorities at the Tulln airport located in the Russian zone of Austria. When everything was in order the plane took off and flew via Munich and Linz and finally over Vienna. The ceiling was low and the two-engine plane circled and circled, slowly losing altitude, until it broke through the overcast a few hundred feet above the earth. It was a pleasure to see the spray as the plane splashed to a landing, because that meant that at long last the Austrian brothers would have a visit from the president of the Society. The brothers had been through the times of oppression under Hitler’s regime, when the Nazis and the local cardinal had collaborated, and now, though they were under the occupation rule of the four big military powers, they could have a visit from the president.
For many years Jehovah’s witnesses and the persons of good will in Austria had read with great joy and delight about the travels of Brother Knorr and Brother Henschel. When reading those articles many would ask: “When shall we here have the privilege of having these brothers in our midst and be united in a big assembly?” Then at last the day had come, when in the 150 companies throughout the country the good news of Brother Knorr and Brother Henschel’s visit and a big convention in Vienna had been announced.
Beaming with happiness everybody got busy preparing for the feast. Of course, there were the big, important preparations concerning the hall, and the brothers in Vienna also knew that the many visitors from the country would need food and lodging; so they did all they could to make them feel as comfortable as possible. Those in the country began to save money for the trip, while others had to arrange their vacations and private affairs so that they would not need to miss one single hour of companionship with their brothers.
The choice of a hall was not easy, as Vienna, although being a city of almost 2,000,000 inhabitants, has no really nice hall large enough to hold a crowd as large as was expected, and the season would not allow for a gathering in the open. So the final choice fell on the Konzerthaus. It is a beautiful hall in which only good classical music is played, and people looked up in surprise when they saw the bright yellow placards inviting them to that place to hear Mr. Knorr from New York speak about the subject “Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?” There was also a large sign right across the front of the Konzerthaus advertising this lecture many days before, and all the people passing by could not fail to see it.
Brother Knorr and Brother Henschel had been expected on Thursday, September 27, at 3 p.m. at a certain airport south of Vienna. In spite of wind and rain a large crowd of brothers walked joyfully an hour from the tram terminus to the airfield to give Brother Knorr, Brother Henschel and Brother Rütimann (from the Swiss Bethel), who would interpret for the English-speaking brothers, a hearty welcome. There were children with bunches of flowers in their little hands, their cheeks glowing with excitement, for they had already heard so much about Brother Knorr’s visit. And then came the disappointment. Just at the last minute, they were told the plane had to land on another airfield west of Vienna. The few who had come in cars were able to be back in the city in time to meet the bus that brought the travelers from that airfield and were glad to be the first to greet the brothers in Vienna.
The same day, there was also much excitement at the different railway stations. Special trains brought hundreds from Styria, Carinthia, Salzburg, Upper Austria, Tyrol and Vorarlberg. Two hundred had also come from Switzerland, and some brothers from England, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Yugoslavia, Germany and the United States made this assembly quite an international one. The language barrier was soon overcome, and the strange people made remarks on how favorably impressed they were when watching the harmony and love between Jehovah’s witnesses, even if they had never before seen each other.
Friday, September 28, at 9 a.m. the assembly began, when more than 2,000 joined in singing to the praise of Jehovah. In this hall one is used to seeing the singers only on the stage, but this time it was different; everybody in the hall sang with his voice and heart. The attendance grew from 2,426 on Friday to 2,773 on Saturday and many had to stand.
Saturday brought, besides the blessings of the meeting, another nice surprise. Brother Knorr was interviewed by a reporter from the sender Radio II, and the same evening, at 10:15, this was broadcast. It had been announced at the hall and all hurried home and tuned in to that station. For the first time in Vienna the radio waves carried words to the honor of the Most High, who had created them. Beautifully and clearly, the voices of Brother Knorr, Brother Rütimann, and the gentleman who interviewed them, could be heard. What a testimony for many, including those who think they can get rid of Jehovah’s witnesses just by ignoring them!
There was another thing that helped a great deal in advertising the public talk and that provided many opportunities to witness to the people in the streets, tramcars, shops, and restaurants. At the beginning of the assembly everyone received a small sign inviting people to the public lecture, and it was pinned on the coat or dress. It certainly made the people of Vienna curious, and many were thankful to get an explanation. Everybody had to take notice, and Jehovah’s witnesses became the talk of the town. It was these little signs that had caused the radio station to request the interview.
The assembly program was filled with instructive and encouraging talks by Brother Knorr, Brother Henschel, and other brothers. Two talks that Brother Franz, the Society’s vice-president, had given at the other big assemblies were read to the brothers so that they would have a program very similar to that of their brothers in London, Frankfurt and other places. When the people of good will found out that all the speakers were full-time workers, many who had only recently become acquainted with the truth remarked how much they appreciated that it was not as in other religious organizations, where they talk well but would not in their daily life be willing to suffer the hardships a true follower of our Lord has to overcome.
Happy hours seem to fly, and Sunday, the last day, came only too soon. All three halls of the Konzerthaus as well as the sitting foyer and lounge rooms were connected by loud-speakers. Long before three o’clock, when the public talk was to begin, every seat was taken, and 4,467 persons listened with the greatest interest to Brother Knorr’s explanations. They were so logical, true to facts and based on the Scriptures, that people who had never before known anything about the subject expressed their appreciation for all they had heard, and a tremendous applause proved how much the audience was in harmony with the speaker.
There were 3,373 who stayed on to hear the closing words by Brother Knorr. When the moment came for Brother Knorr to say “good-by” the brothers applauded so long that it seemed as if by this they were trying to keep him there a little longer.
At the end of World War II, in 1945, the first reports received from Austria indicated there were 421 publishing the good news of the Theocracy. As the years have gone by there have been hundreds more joining annually in the Kingdom proclamation. In June 1951 a peak of 2,702 publishers was reached. This is more than unusual in a land where the people are more than 90 per cent Roman Catholic and where about 25 per cent of the territory is affected by the occupation of Russian forces and Communist propagandists. The spirit of the brothers is very high and they are glad to have the assistance of nine graduates of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead, including the branch servant, Brother Voigt.
Throughout Austria and all of the countries of Western Europe the theocratic organization is firmly rooted. Jehovah has greatly blessed all the work of the brothers and sisters and the increases have been unprecedented. Their joy and that of the Kingdom publishers everywhere in the world has been built up through the blessings received and also by the reports that have by one means or another come through the so-called “iron curtain” from the faithful publishers in Eastern Europe. Although the work has been banned by the communistic governments, individual publishers of the good news of God’s kingdom have stuck to their ministry and preached to people whenever and wherever possible. So in the 1951 service year new peaks of workers were established in Czechoslovakia (3,705), Hungary (2,583) and Yugoslavia (617) in the face of violent opposition and the jailing of hundreds. More than 15,000 reported in Poland, too. Publishers are at work in the other “red” countries and occasionally they are heard from. All this stands as proof that the message of final warning is being sounded, even as Jehovah foretold in the Bible prophecies, and the fearlessness and faithfulness of Jehovah’s witnesses as they stand for clean, undefiled worship before God’s enemies and theirs “is a proof of destruction for [the enemies], but of salvation for [Jehovah’s faithful ones]; and this indication is from God”.—Phil. 1:27-29, NW.