Jehovah’s Witnesses Stand Firm in Albania
AT HAND is a letter written by a brother who escaped from Albania about two years ago, telling of the situation there during the ten years prior to his escape. It follows.
“In 1939 the Fascists took over and local laws banned the work of Jehovah’s witnesses. However, the work continued with but few obstacles until June 1940, when a ministerial decree banned Jehovah’s witnesses and confiscated their literature. Fifteen thousand books, booklets and other material were confiscated. Nine were arrested and given sentences of from one to three years. By 1944 six others had been arrested and two were interned in Germany, where one died. (From 1946 to 1949, twenty more were arrested, some of whom were given five-year sentences.) During this time work was carried on underground by means of typewritten sheets and the few booklets they had been able to hide from the government. These were loaned to interested ones with the understanding that they were to be returned.
“In 1945 efforts were made to revive the work but not much could be done, because of lack of printing material. That year the Communists were too busy to bother with Jehovah’s witnesses. But in 1946 all the literature that had been hidden from the Fascists and the Nazis was seized by the Communists, who also took all our equipment, stating that ‘the material you have belongs to us’. Repeatedly the brothers went to the government to get paper to print the message of the Kingdom. At last they were forcibly evicted with a threat of violence if they came again with their petition. The brother answered them: ‘Jehovah, our God, laid the responsibility upon us to inform the Albanian people concerning the divine purpose which the people must hear in this day. But you are prohibiting us from doing this work by refusing us paper and not allowing us to witness to the truth the way Jehovah’s witnesses are doing all over the world. Now the responsibility rests upon you!’
“They answered: ‘Here in Albania, we are the lords of the land; we will not permit you to work for your Theocracy as your companions are doing in other lands. If you want to be free for this work go, if you can, to those lands where you can be free to work together with your companions. As for us, we are giving you neither permit nor paper for your printing; we do not want to bother our heads with you and Jehovah your God, whom we do not know!’
“In 1946 a law was passed that all literature that does not have the spirit of Communism must be turned over to the government, and this included the Bible as well as all Watch Tower publications. The same year a parliamentary decree forbade all meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses, their meeting together in numbers of more than two or three, and their preaching to the people.
“In 1947 the brothers in the capital engaged in a campaign with just their Bibles. They were immediately arrested, their Bibles torn, subjected to much torture and finally released but denied the right to travel far from their homes without police permits. This restriction was soon applied to all Jehovah’s witnesses.
“In 1949 the police broke up a meeting of Jehovah’s witnesses, held for the purpose of celebrating the Lord’s evening meal, and ill-treated the brothers. A few weeks later they arrested the one who had conducted the meeting, and after torturing him for many hours the police chief asked him: ‘Why did you break the law of the state by gathering together?’ The brother answered: ‘We are Christians . . . Christ commanded that we memorialize his death. We cannot put the law of the state above the law of God.’ At that the officer slapped the brother on the cheek, and was preparing to give the brother a beating, when he noticed that the brother had turned the other cheek. So he asked, ‘Why have you turned the other cheek?’ The brother replied: ‘I told you we are Christians, and Christ Jesus commanded us thus.’ At this the chief replied: ‘Because your Lord thus commands, I will not obey him by striking you any more. Get out! I do not want to see your face here again!’
“In 1948 a soldier in Tirana came to the knowledge of the truth, and took off his weapons. When asked by an officer as to why he did this, he replied: ‘Until today I was free to carry those, but from now on I am on the side of Jehovah God, who forbids me to carry and worship such emblems. . . . ’ After much torturing they sentenced him to five years. Through it all the brother stood firm.
“In 1940 there were 50 of Jehovah’s witnesses in Albania; in 1949, 71. Four of these were Mohammedans, two Roman Catholics, and the rest Greek Catholics. In comparison with the population of this country this is very small, and also very small compared with the number of people of good will. Three kinds of religion predominate: Mohammedan, 700,000; Greek Orthodox, 300,000; Roman Catholic, 200,000. Some 20,000 speak the Greek language. The most bitter of the religious enemies are the Roman Catholic clergy, then the Greek Orthodox clergy. Mohammedans are more friendly than the others. When Jehovah’s witnesses speak to them they receive them with a smile. Some say: ‘We Albanians are one race, and we all have one language. Why should religion divide us, causing enmity among ourselves? Surely God has not commanded so many kinds of religion. There should be only one way of truth.’
“Voting is compulsory, and because the brothers have refused to vote they have been frequently beaten and imprisoned. The economic situation is very bad, people are unable to travel even when necessary for them to do so. The police force is very big and strong, it controls the words and movements of every person. It is said that those in prison and concentration camps number 50,000, and the treatment they receive is at times even worse than that administered by the Nazi Gestapo. More than 90 per cent do not sympathize with the Communists.
“The Communists frequently gather the people of a locality together where an orator addresses them regarding the Red victories. The people must then shout ‘Long live . . . ! ’ Many times Jehovah’s witnesses are forcibly brought to these meetings. While the crowd shouts and applauds these stand erect and say nothing, causing the crowd to wonder what kind of people these are and how they dare to take such a stand. Then the orator or one of his companions will answer: ‘Let them alone, because they are those from Jehovah; men in whose minds has been deeply rooted the old culture of the Bible!’
“The censorship is very strict within the country. The brothers have sent reports in detail to the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn; surely they must have been held up by the censor. They are very zealous and witness as opportunity affords, while awaiting the time when Jehovah will once again open the way for them to bring the message to the people before Armageddon.”