“Our Help Is in the Name of Jehovah”
As told by August Peters
MUCH has been said about the persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses in Nazi Germany. What broke out upon the proclaimers of the good news in this land was a test to prove that their Christian thinking and behavior were genuine. Christians expect to be persecuted, even as Jesus was. (John 15:20) But you may ask yourself, Could I maintain my integrity under severe trial? God’s Word and the experiences of your Christian brothers in Germany should enable you to confidently answer, Yes! There can be no doubt that Jehovah strengthened us during moments of great danger. Our uncompromising stand for his kingdom proved to be the best course in every instance. I know this from personal experience.
INTERVIEWED BY THE GESTAPO
When the storm of persecution broke I was forty-three years old and the father of four children. To be brutally torn away from my family was a test in itself. At the police station a young Gestapo agent, hardly out of his teens, asked many questions. I was determined not to give the “Philistines” any details about the congregation of which I was overseer. The Nazis wanted neither to know anything about Jehovah nor to learn anything from him. I refused to deliver my faithful brothers and sisters over to the sword. Several blows to the face, administered by four squarely built men, did not change my mind. The record they were taking down remained incomplete.
On the following day the Gestapo agent returned with a head assistant of the police prison. Another kind of hearing was to take place, this time in the attic behind soundproof doors. Would they be able to complete their report today? The twenty-four intervening hours had made me even more determined. My refusing, as a matter of principle, to answer questions having to do with the congregation made it difficult for them to find grounds for complaint against me. They became angrier and angrier and felt called upon to schedule a third questioning about twenty-four hours later in the Gestapo basement. I had already heard the plaintive cries that emanated from the basement. They came from political prisoners who were anti-Nazi. Now it was my turn.
On Saturday morning a Gestapo secretary dropped by and advised me in a “friendly” way to tell them what they wanted to know so that I could be released and return to my family. Noticing my determination, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “All right, if that’s the way you want it.” Then I was moved into another cell, which I shared with another prisoner. Only a thin wall separated our cell from the guardroom and we could hear everything going on in there. Around midnight I heard my wife’s voice. This was designed to unnerve me. Later I found out that it was only a tape recording that had been made days before when she was questioned at the police station. I heard heavy footsteps going down into the basement, followed by a great deal of noise as they scuffled about getting ready for my next hearing. Unexpectedly a messenger came in with a telegram. A telephone call followed, whereupon the executioners straightened things around in the basement and left. In answer to an anxious question from a nearby prisoner, a guard answered, “No, they can’t do it any more; a telegram has just arrived.” My scheduled basement hearing was canceled. However, in order to hand me over to the district judge they had to finish up the record and sign it.
On Monday afternoon six persons, some high officials, showed up at my hearing in the police administration building. They asked many questions about personal matters, doctrinal points and the organization. They received their answers pertaining to personal data and Bible doctrine, but did not get any information about the organization. Angrily the Gestapo secretary declared: “We should have known this sooner. Then we would have let the others [political prisoners] out and taken you instead.” If only he could have crushed my fingertips in the washing machine wringer or beaten my naked, wet body before that telegram halted such treatment! I raised my heart and mind in thanks to Him whose arm is not too short to stop a gigantic police organization in its tracks.
After appearing before the district judge I spent several years in a prisoners’ camp. Thereafter, without benefit of a fair trial, I was thrown into a concentration camp near Berlin. Whereas the political officials in the Emslandmoor section were interested in reclaiming land in this arid section through hard labor, the SS officials who controlled the concentration camps were primarily interested in breaking down resistance to the Nazi regime. Daily and even hourly we were bullied by the SS men and also by trusties. Yet Jehovah proved to be with us. Even under those circumstances seven or eight prisoners became Jehovah’s witnesses and were baptized. The camp officials never learned their names, despite severe pressure applied to the “old Bible Students.”
MASS MURDER PLOT
Right after World War II broke out and Poland had been occupied by German troops, I overheard a prisoner say: “Have you heard? All the Bible Students are being taken away.” I thought about this the rest of the day. On the following day a prisoner who worked on the cleaning detail and served the SS commanders at meals called to the SS guard in the corridor: “Head watchman, when are the Bible Students to be taken away?” Came the reply: “Probably tomorrow; their things are already here,” meaning that they had been brought in from the storage room. So it was true!
On the third day the clatter of the commander’s boots, jangling with spurs, echoed through the corridors. Cries of “Heil Hitler!” from the guards were followed by the footsteps of the official commission. “Are you still a Bible Student?” “Yes.” “And do you plan to remain one?” “Of course!” Bang! The door was slammed shut. Several cells farther along: “Still a Bible Student?” The brother gave a lengthy witness. The same thing happened at the third cell. Then cell 6, the fourth door bearing the posted instructions: “Utmost solitary confinement!” No questions were asked here. Instead the commander explained to the commission; “The one in there must definitely be sent along, because he tried to desert his working group by excusing himself from a rattle-brained guard and then trying to go out to preach the gospel.” The SS officer’s “thumbs down” sign with both hands told everything. There was no mistaking it, we were to be taken away. But where? Those gestures with the arms and hands looked like something was to be sunk into the water or into a pit. Did it mean that all 500 or perhaps even more of our brothers would be murdered?
To our surprise nothing happened and the talk about taking the Bible Students away began to die out. How strange! All the plans had been made, lists had been drawn up, plans of march had been devised, instructions had been given and now all was quiet. Five or six days after the commander’s visit we heard a voice cry out from cell 20: “Head watchman, have you already read? A whole transport of prisoners from a concentration camp had an accident in the Polish swamps, caused by a misplaced switch. All prisoners were killed to the very last man.”
A trainload of prisoners from a concentration camp? Killed in the Polish swamps? What were they doing there? They could not have been Witnesses, because we would have missed such a large group by now. Could it be that a shipment of prisoners scheduled to follow Jehovah’s witnesses had left first by mistake? Had they met death intended for us? We were reminded of Jehovah’s words at Isaiah 43:4, 5: “Owing to the fact that you have been precious in my eyes, you have been considered honorable, and I myself have loved you. And I shall give men in place of you, and national groups in place of your soul. Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
It would fill volumes to relate how secret baptisms were carried out in camp, how the bread and wine for the Memorial were smuggled in to us, how Jehovah provided spiritual food that strengthened us, and how much sacrifice, vigilance and tact were necessary. Even through indescribable tortures Jehovah enabled his servants to preserve their integrity. Often he provided escape from the most critical situations.
How glad I was that years before the storm broke I made use of every opportunity to attend meetings and impress upon my mind the various Bible prophecies and their present-day fulfillments! I wrote them down and often repeated them during lectures. This helped me to remember them. Later, during the years of persecution, I had many opportunities to recount many of these things to those who were hungering and thirsting for spiritual food. The Nazis were unable to rob me of the riches stored away in my mind, because it had become part of me.
The fall of the Nazis freed us from our tormentors. Immediately we began to fulfill our preaching commission on a larger scale. It was then that my wish to become a full-time minister became a reality, without any neglect of my family responsibilities. This was real cause for joy. My former employer offered me a well-paid position, but I decided that there could be no better job than serving only Kingdom interests. In 1946 I became a member of the German Bethel family and was soon joined there by my wife. What a wonderful privilege to serve the God of eternity here in the Bethel home in Wiesbaden, where we still live!
Serving Jehovah is the way of immeasurable happiness, no matter what momentary tests are permitted to come upon faithful Christians. We need have no fear of what man can do, for we have seen the truth of the psalmist’s words: “Had it not been that Jehovah proved to be for us when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up even alive. when their anger was burning against us. Blessed be Jehovah, who has not given us as a prey to their teeth. Our soul is like a bird that is escaped from the trap of baiters. The trap is broken, and we ourselves have escaped. Our help is in the name of Jehovah, the Maker of heaven and earth.”—Ps. 124:2, 3, 6-8.