Modern History of Jehovah’s Witnesses
Part 15—Foreign Activities Under Fascist-Nazi Persecution
BY THE year 1934 what was happening internationally as to Jehovah’s witnesses? In forty-nine countries branch offices were being maintained by the Watch Tower Society.a Its work was advancing and developing along the pattern as reported for the United States. As Catholic-Fascism was expanding in Europe increasing difficulties were coming upon the witnesses. In Italy some fifty witnesses had to operate underground, being continually hounded by the police, who arrested even persons accepting literature.b Several of these Italian associates were imprisoned by Mussolini’s Fascist government.
In Spain prior to the Fascist revolution from 1936 to 1939 the work of the handful of witnesses was growing very well. Actually amid civil war in 1936 the Spanish witnesses reported placement of 105,570 pieces of Bible literature.c
In pre-Hitler Germany the witness work of the Society grew tremendously. From 1919 to 1933 the German brothers distributed into the hands of the German people 48,000,000 books and booklets and 77,000,000 copies of the German edition of The Golden Age.d In the 1930’s the Society conducted what was known as “International Testimony Periods” of eight-day duration, during which all the witnesses globally would demonstrate their world unity by spending time every day that week giving a uniformly prepared testimony and distributing the same publication. For example, 58,804 workers in 77 countries reported activity for “The Remnant’s Thanksgiving Period” of April 8-16, 1933.e During this campaign the booklet Crisis was distributed. It is interesting to note that for this special period Germany reported 19,268 workers, to compare with 20,719 for the United States. Thus in 1933 workers in those two countries were about the same in number. But for this special week Germany reported distribution of 2,271,630 pieces of literature, surpassing the United States’ placement of 877,194, so demonstrating the very zealous publishing activity in Germany right after Hitler became dictator. Even before his time much Catholic opposition was experienced. For example, for the years 1931 and 1932 there was reported a total of 2,335 legal actions pending against the German witnesses.f
With the advent of the Hitler dictatorship in January, 1933, the clouds of opposition immediately became pitch-black. Early in April, 1933, the police occupied the Society’s large new factory and Bethel home in Magdeburg, Germany, placed its printing machines under seal and conducted an exhaustive search for evidence of subversive activity. None being found, the Society was allowed to resume control of its own premises on April 28. This enabled them to complete the compilation of their above record special-period report for April 8-16. Amidst this trouble Judge Rutherford decided to visit Germany, which he did in June, 1933. On June 25 in Berlin 7,000 witnesses attended a specially called assembly, unanimously passing a resolution entitled “Declaration of Facts.” It was a strong protest to Hitler and his government against their highhanded interferences with the witness work of the Society. In quick retaliation three days later, on June 28, 1933, for the second time the Society’s property was seized and occupied, and by government decree its printing plant was closed. The 180 members of the Bethel family at Magdeburg were compelled to leave the premises within the next few weeks. Said Hitler:
“These so-called ‘Earnest Bible Students’ [Jehovah’s witnesses] are trouble-makers; they disturb the harmonious life amongst the Germans; I consider them quacks; I do not tolerate that the German Catholics be besmirched in such a manner by this American ‘Judge’ Rutherford; I dissolve the ‘Earnest Bible Students’ in Germany; their property I dedicate to the people’s welfare; I will have all their literature confiscated.”g
This flagrant violation of international property rights was carried out by the Hitler government even though the American Watch Tower Society had been recognized in Germany since 1921, where, according to international law, it was allowed to own and operate property. At behest of the Society’s Brooklyn headquarters the United States Department of State did take action to register its protest with the Hitler government.h
With the Society’s German headquarters now closed the Hitler government proceeded to interfere with the congregational meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses throughout the land, forbidding the brothers to meet together. This forced the work to go underground in 1934, when some of the witnesses began to be imprisoned for failing to comply with the government’s totalitarian orders. Because of this unwarranted persecution a world campaign of protest was arranged by the Society for October 7, 1934. Notwithstanding the government’s order, every congregation in Germany did meet together on the night of October 7, when, after a solemn prayer to Jehovah, there was dispatched to the Hitler government in Berlin a resolution of protest signed by the local congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses. United in spirit on this same night, congregations of Jehovah’s witnesses in fifty countries met likewise in prayer to Jehovah followed by each group’s sending a cable of protest addressed to the Hitler government as follows: “Your ill-treatment of Jehovah’s witnesses shocks all good people of earth and dishonors God’s name. Refrain from further persecuting Jehovah’s witnesses; otherwise God will destroy you and your national party.”i
According to an eyewitness report, this world-wide demonstration caused quite a stir on October 7, 1934, at Berlin in the Reich Ministry of the Interior when Hitler himself happened to visit Dr. Frick, minister of the interior, who was receiving these protest messages. The sworn account (reproduced below) says that upon Hitler’s hearing of the telegrams, he jumped to his feet and with clenched fists hysterically screamed: “This brood will be exterminated in Germany!”j Thus a mad national effort was embarked upon, to eliminate Jehovah’s witnesses from the German national scene. In the course of the dark years that followed thousands of witnesses were arrested, falsely convicted and put in prisons and concentration camps where many of them suffered unspeakably. Some two thousand witnesses lost their lives in this struggle to keep faithful integrity to Jehovah. But as warned in the global flood of cablegrams and telegrams of October 7, 1934, Hitler, the fighter against God, was no more in the land of the living eleven years later, when it is claimed he committed suicide in Berlin in 1945. Nevertheless, some 8,000 witnesses survived his demonized, torture-chamber concentration camps to live to take up again their preaching work and freely worship their loving God Jehovah.
Britain, too, saw an expansion of theocratic interests. In the early 1930’s the field organization attained a steadiness as to size and distribution of Bible literature. By 1931 there were 365 congregations established and functioning for service with about four thousand regular workers, including 196 pioneers, distributing annually between one and a half to two million books and booklets.k However, in 1937 a special call to wakefulness was sounded that stirred the British announcers of Jehovah’s kingdom to greater efforts and growth. The report for the next year, 1938, indicated five thousand ministers participated in the field service, placing 4,308,710 pieces of literature. During 1939 this was amazingly expanded to 6,185,937 books and booklets by 6,861 ministers, 511 of which were pioneers. This expansion rolled on into 1940 with a distribution of 6,200,282 Bible publications by 9,860 publishers, including the remarkable number of 1,037 pioneers.l In spite of total war conditions the increase continued to mount, 12,436 partaking in the monthly service in 1942, with 1,488 full-time ministers among them.a The British witnesses became a united solid organization, spiritually up to date to withstand the ordeals of the long dark war years.
British activities were not conducted without opposition. Theirs as well was the experience of opposition from Catholic-inspired sources as was their brothers’ in other parts of the world, but not to the same extent. Several Catholic-Fascist attacks were withstood in 1938 and 1939 at such points as London, Glasgow, Clydebank, Oldham, Newbridge, Hebburn on Tyne, Folkestone, Camberley, Leicester, Dundee, Ebbw Vale and Northwich, where, in some cases, priest-led mobs assaulted the witnesses and in other instances meetings were interfered with.b There were 71 cases of assault reported for 1940.c The London Catholic Herald on October 14, 1938, published a libelous attack on the witnesses and Judge Rutherford, falsely charging that their activities were subversive. The Catholic Herald was promptly compelled to publish a humiliating retraction on the front page of its issue for November 25.d
In 1938, too, on September 10 and 11, London was the key city for the Watch Tower Society’s first multicity convention. Fifty assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses met simultaneously in England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the United States and Australia. All fifty cities were tied together by radio-telephone public-address facilities so that the two principal addresses delivered at London’s Royal Albert Hall by Judge Rutherford were excellently heard by all the overseas audiences as well as audiences at the other cities in the British Isles. On Saturday the hour’s talk was on the striking subject “Fill the Earth.” On Sunday (September 11), for the public talk, at the fifty-city convention 150,000 persons heard Rutherford’s direct original delivery of his stirring lecture “Face the Facts,” warning the democratic peoples of the approaching Catholic-Fascist bid for world control. This was a remarkable assembly.e Within twelve months thereafter World War II had started, with the Nazis and Fascists feverishly making an all-out effort for world domination, as warned.
In advertising the “Face the Facts” public lecture extensive sandwich-sign parades were used in the convention cities in both hemispheres. Later, when this and other lectures were reproduced by recordings at smaller public gatherings, single-file lines of publishers with such advertising signs suspended over their shoulders would march along heavily traveled streets handing out leaflets to advertise such meetings. This spectacular feature of street witnessing became known as ‘information marching.’f Subsequently 12,000,000 copies of this lecture “Face the Facts” in booklet form were distributed in all the earth.g A mighty prewar testimony was this.
(To be continued)
a 1935 Yearbook, p. 53.
b 1935 Yearbook, p. 131.
c 1937 Yearbook, pp. 193-196.
d 1934 Yearbook, p. 145.
e Bulletin, July 1, 1933.
f 1933 Yearbook, pp. 122, 123.
g Face the Facts (1938, Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society), pp. 60, 61.
h 1934 Yearbook, pp. 127-146.
i 1935 Yearbook, pp. 115-122.
j Following is the full text or the sworn account signed November 12, 1947, by Karl R. A. Wittig. He in 1934 was a then-in-favor German government worker present on the occasion when Hitler was informed by Dr. Frick of the protest telegrams of Jehovah’s witnesses. English translation of the sworn account follows:
“DECLARATION—On October 7, 1934, having been previously summoned, I visited Dr. Wilhelm Frick, at that time Minister of the Interior of the Reich and Prussia, in his home office of the Reich, located in Berlin, 6 am Königsplatz, since I was a plenipotentiary of General Ludendorff. I was to accept communications, contents of which were an attempt to persuade General Ludendorff to discontinuance of his objection to the Nazi Regime. During my discussion with Dr. Frick, Hitler suddenly appeared and began taking part in the conversation. When our discussion obligatorily dealt with the action against the International Bible Students Association [Jehovah’s witnesses] in Germany up until now, Dr. Frick showed Hitler a number of telegrams protesting against the Third Reich’s persecution of the Bible Students, saying: ‘If the Bible Students do not immediately get in line we will act against them using the strongest means.’ After which Hitler jumped to his feet and with clenched fists hysterically screamed: ‘This brood will be exterminated in Germany!’ Four years after this discussion I was able, by my own observations, to convince myself, during my seven years in protective custody in the hell of the Nazi’s concentration-camps at Sachsenhausen, Flossenburg and Mauthausen—I was in prison until released by the Allies—that Hitler’s outburst of anger was not just an idle threat. No other group of prisoners of the named concentration-camps was exposed to the sadism of the SS-soldiery in such a fashion as the Bible Students were. It was a sadism marked by an unending chain of physical and mental tortures, the likes of which no language in the world can express.
“Frankfort-on-the-Main, November 12, 1947; 9 Wehrheimer St.
[signed] Karl R. A Wittig
“Roll of Record No. 778 in the year of 1947:
“The signature of the author Karl Wittig appearing on the reverse side of this page, residing in 9 Wehrheimer St., Frankfort-on-the-Main, is herewith certified.
“Frankfort-on-the-Main, November 13, 1947.
[signed] Ludwig, Notary Public
[SEAL] Otto Ludwig, Notary Public in Frankfort-on-the-Main.”
k 1932 Yearbook, pp. 94, 95.
l 1941 Yearbook, pp. 100-116.
a 1943 Yearbook, p. 132.
b Consolation, May 31, 1939, pp. 26, 27; June 28, 1939, pp. 3-7.
c 1941 Yearbook, p. 111.
d 1940 Yearbook, p. 78.
e Consolation, Oct. 5, 1938, p. 18.
f Informant, May and June, 1939.
g Informant, December, 1938.