“Forget Not All His Benefits”
As told by ALBERT WANDRES
WHEN I was seven years old my mother died in Strassburg. My father was completely absorbed in his business life and had little time for us children. Nonetheless, it was our custom to read a chapter in the Bible in the evening. No comments were given, but this book gradually began to influence my way of thinking very strongly. Psalm 103 moved me tremendously and later I often thought about it, particularly Ps 103 verse two: “Bless Jehovah, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.”—AS.
When I graduated from school in 1916, war was being glorified and youths were encouraged to register as volunteers for the army. This, however, did not coincide with what I had read in the Bible. Love is the Bible’s theme and not hate. On a clear starlit night I prayed: “Make known to me the way in which I should walk, for to you I have lifted up my soul. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Your spirit is good; may it lead me in the land of uprightness.” (Ps. 143:8, 10) It seemed like a nightmare to me when I heard reports of thousands of casualties on the battlefields. My attitude was: If one believes in God, then he should listen to him. Why do those professing to believe in God not obey him?
THROUGH DARKNESS AND LIGHT
Suddenly the first world war ended. The following year the Photo-Drama of Creation was shown in Kehl, where we lived. It was a beautiful motion picture that showed God’s purpose for mankind. It began with the preparation of the earth for man, and showed the history of the human family from its start until the time, yet in the future, when God’s kingdom will shower eternal blessings on mankind. I enthusiastically responded to this message. It was just what I had been looking for! So immediately I ordered an Elberfelder Bible, and all seven volumes of the Bible-study aids called “Studies in the Scriptures.” Repeatedly I read the wonderful chapters in the first volume, The Divine Plan of the Ages, which showed how the dark period of sin upon the earth would end in a joyous morning. How happy I was to have the heavenly calling clearly explained! I learned many paragraphs by heart.
After several weeks I was visited by a minister who gave me assistance. Soon I began attending the Bible meetings regularly, but my father did not approve. Once while I was studying until midnight he broke open the door and demanded that I immediately turn out the light. He was a well-known merchant in the community, and did not have any desire to be laughed at because of me. He threatened to drive me out of the house.
I was determined to maintain a tight hold on the truths that I had learned, and therefore dedicated my life to Jehovah. I was baptized one year later. My father continually brought pressure, but Psalm 27:10 was a strength to me: “In case my own father . . . did leave me, even Jehovah himself would take me up.”
In 1920 I became acquainted with a full-time preacher of the good news who witnessed through my hometown. He gave me much encouragement. In time, circumstances made it necessary for me to leave home, but in the city of Mannheim I found work immediately. I thanked Jehovah that he provided spiritual strength when I needed it most.
At last I had much time at my disposal, so I studied diligently and soon took up the ministry. The opposition had actually served to strengthen me in my resolve to continue in the things I had learned. I was filled with gratitude and never wanted to forget the benefits Jehovah had shown. In Mannheim I again met the minister that had witnessed in my hometown and who had been such a help to me, and we often worked together in the field ministry. Years later he died in the Mauthausen concentration camp, remaining faithful to God until death.
It was now my desire to become a full-time preacher of the good news. The heartgripping article in the Watchtower issue of January 15, 1923 (German), entitled “The Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand,” gave me the needed encouragement. It stated:
“Since 1914 the King of glory has taken his power and reigns. He has cleansed the lips of the temple class and sends them forth with the message. . . . Be faithful and true witnesses for the Lord. Go forward in the fight until every vestige of Babylon lies desolate. Herald the message far and wide. The world must know that Jehovah is God and that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. This is the day of all days. Behold, the King reigns. You are his publicity agents. Therefore advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom.” This Watchtower was my continual companion for several months until there was only a bundle of loose pages.
HEEDING THE CALL
On January 1, 1924, when twenty-two years of age, I took up the full-time ministry and rejoiced greatly at being able to devote my entire time in bringing Bible truths to others. In this way I wanted to show that I had not forgotten the benefits Jehovah had shown me.
During a baptismal service friends from Mainz and Wiesbaden urged me to come and help them organize a congregation there. I gladly accepted, and soon afterward was appointed congregation overseer of Mainz and Wiesbaden, where I remained until 1933. I repeatedly covered the territory with the Kingdom message, and gave Bible lectures.
More study groups were formed and some of the persons to whom we witnessed still belong to the congregations in Wiesbaden, Mainz and Bad Kreuznach—others have fallen asleep in death. At that time we did not have any cars. All our travel was done by bicycle, and often we rode from fifty to ninety kilometers in a single day to share in the ministry. But the enthusiasm for doing the preaching was always great.
During this time I also shared in preaching in Rheinhausen, Hessen-Nassau, Taunus, Hunsruck, Nahetal and parts of Saarbrucken. When looking back I can only gratefully say that Jehovah provided wonderfully for all my needs. I never experienced lack of life’s necessities and was always richly rewarded for what I had left behind, just as the Lord said in Matthew 19:29: “Everyone that has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive many times more and will inherit everlasting life.” Today I can see the marvelous growth of God’s organization. New ministers have come out of every territory to which I was assigned, and some of them are in the full-time preaching work. I rejoice at the part Jehovah has given me in this increase.
The year 1933 marked the beginning of the Hitler regime and a complete change in our method of service. In the summer of 1934 we had to go underground, carrying the preaching work on secretly. I could plainly see that it would be a hard fight, but the promise at Revelation 2:11 strengthened me: “He that conquers will by no means be harmed by the second death.”
Where the enemy inflicted deep wounds in the congregations, the most pressing work was that of comforting, upbuilding, and supplying the brothers with the essential spiritual food with which Jehovah faithfully kept supplying us. Many brothers risked their lives to see that the Bible literature was distributed. Jehovah was our refuge and our source of strength in all times of distress.—Ps. 46:1.
Bible literature was secretly brought in from Switzerland, Holland and the Saar territory. This was not restricted to The Watchtower, but included also bound books such as Preservation and Preparation. The brothers manifested deep appreciation for this spiritual food, and their joy repaid us for all the discomforts and dangers encountered. Several times I was offered the opportunity of staying in beautiful Switzerland. But I replied that I could not possibly leave my brothers, who had not bowed their knees to Baal.
Since the Gestapo was looking for me and had a warrant for my arrest, I had difficulty in crossing the border. In one instance two of us were walking along playing our harmonicas when a Swiss guard called out to us. We identified ourselves as lost wanderers, and were able to get across the border successfully. Often I did not know where to spend the night, for the brothers with whom I associated were themselves being watched. Many times I slept in traveling trains, but checks were made there too. Jehovah’s protecting hand could often be seen at work. My faith brought me ever closer to Him, as he was the only One upon whom I could rely. As the apostle Paul said: “We are pressed in every way, but not cramped beyond movement; we are perplexed, but not absolutely with no way out.”—2 Cor. 4:8.
One day in Karlsruhe I visited my sister who was also a Bible student. As I approached the house I saw a man in plain dress waiting in front. I went past him and on through the yard to the house. The door opened and a second man came out. I called to him, asking him to hold the door for me. When my sister saw me she almost fainted. I understood what was happening right away, so turned around and walked right past the two men who were still standing in the yard, and headed to the railway station. My sister told me later that the men were Gestapo officers, and they were looking for me!
At the many court trials of fellow ministers my name was often mentioned, since I was well known because of my many years of preaching. The Gestapo were at my heels all the time, and they only needed to close the net at times. However, Jehovah demonstrated his protecting power.
On one occasion I had two cases loaded with Bible literature that I had brought across the border to deliver in Bonn and Cassel. Late in the evening I arrived in Bonn and had the cases put in the congregation overseer’s basement. The next morning at five-thirty the doorbell rang. It was the Gestapo. The congregation overseer knocked on my door to tell me that they were here. Since there was no time to leave, we just had to wait and see what would happen.
When they got to my door they asked what I was doing here. I replied that I was taking a trip down the Rhine River and wanted to visit the botanical gardens in Bonn. My papers were then checked, and skeptically returned. The congregation overseer was told to get ready to go with them. Later he told me that when they arrived at the police station the officer asked: “There was another fellow too. Where do you have him?”
“We didn’t bring him along,” was the answer. “Should we go and get him?”
“Get him?” asked the officer, surprised at their stupidity. “Do you think he will wait for you to return?”
Of course, I had not waited, but had left immediately with the Bible literature for Cassel.
On another occasion I brought two heavy cases filled with Bible literature to Burgsolms near Wetzlar. It was about eleven o’clock on a pitch-black night. I did not see or hear anyone, but, nevertheless, had the feeling I was being watched. When I arrived at the brother’s home, I immediately had him hide the cases in a safe place. At five-thirty the following morning the police came. I was standing directly in the middle of the room, and was just preparing to wash myself.
“Last night a man came here with two large cases. You no doubt received books again. Where are they?”
The woman of the house, who had answered the door, replied: “My husband is already at work and I don’t know what happened last night as I wasn’t at home.”
The policeman was unconvinced. “If you don’t give me the cases, then I’ll have to search the house.” When she made no move, he charged: “Don’t you leave. I am going to get the mayor to obtain permission to search.”
During the conversation I was standing in the middle of the room, and wondered why he did not see me. I suppose that he must have been blinded to my presence. When he left to get the mayor I went out the back way. The neighbors must have watched, for they were jubilant at my escaping, so I was told later. In the woods I finished dressing, and went to the next railway station, where I continued my trip.
ARREST AND IMPRISONMENT
In the summer of 1937 I had the privilege of attending a Bible assembly in Paris and speaking to the Watch Tower Society’s president, J. F. Rutherford, about the preaching work in Germany. In the meantime most of the brothers in Sachsen had been arrested. So when I returned I endeavored to reorganize things there. But on the second day of our activity I and the brother accompanying me were arrested. We were taken to the Gestapo in Berlin, where a forty-day questioning session ensued, the first ten days of which were most gruesome. Then we were transferred to the special court in Frankfurt am Main and I was given a sentence of five years’ imprisonment.
During the course of the trial I was asked why I would not serve Adolf Hitler. I answered: “As far as I know Adolf Hitler demands 100-percent participation.” The response was, “Yes, indeed!” I replied: “Then, Mr. Judge, could you please tell me what remains for God, when it says: ‘Give Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God’?” There was only an embarrassed clearing of his throat in answer. I was very thankful to Jehovah that he gave me the courage to represent him worthily with freeness of speech. My previous study of the Bible was a real source of strength to me.
Thankfully, while I was in solitary confinement for the next two and a half years, I could continue my prayerful reading of the Bible, for I was able to acquire a copy from the prison officials. I read it clear through two times, and read the Christian Greek Scriptures nearly ten times.
Later, with a group of fifteen others, I was put to work in the prison tailor shop. There plenty of opportunities were presented to give a witness. On one occasion I was able to give a talk on the subject “Where Are the Dead?”, and a Catholic clergyman, who was also a prisoner, was supposed to express his thoughts about the subject afterward. The eyes of many were opened as they heard the clergyman finally say in desperation: “All heathens believe in life after death; why shouldn’t we also believe it?” The answer was: “O do they read the Bible too?”
Shortly before my prison term ended I carefully reviewed appropriate Bible texts because I expected to be brought before the Gestapo again. This happened, and during the course of three days I was able to give a good witness and shatter the arguments of the opposers, just as Jesus had promised: “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your opposers together will not be able to resist or dispute.”—Luke 21:15.
I was then taken to the Mauthausen concentration camp. They said it was for the purpose of “blotting me off the earth.” But here again the hand of Jehovah was not short, and I will never forget the benefits he showed me during this time. I was put on the road-building crew, and with a diet of turnips and black coffee my strength was exhausted in three months. I weighed only seventy-five pounds and was prepared to die at any time. But then the order came: “Twenty-one prisoners from Barracks I report to the kitchen.” I was among them. Soon I began to regain my strength, and I thanked Jehovah for his merciful direction. After eight and a half years the doors were opened in 1945, and we were again free.
THE WORK OF REORGANIZING
In August I arrived in Wiesbaden, and in September we began with the job of reorganizing. Since many organizational instructions were issued during the years we had been working underground, we first received a refresher course in Magdeburg. Arrangements were made to have circuit and district ministers regularly visit the congregations. By applying the instructions received, the preaching work in Germany moved ahead marvelously. Here again I could see Jehovah’s undeserved kindness in the way he leads his people by means of his organization.
Twenty years have now passed since our release from Hitler’s concentration camps. During this time I have had the privilege of serving in district and circuit work. It has been a ministry that Jehovah has richly blessed and has brought me great joy. Brothers often say: “Can you remember when you placed the first Bible-study aid with me?” or, “You were the first one to visit me.” From time to time we had additional refresher courses, the most impressive and instructive of which was at the Kingdom Ministry School, which I was privileged to attend in 1960. How much we appreciated the loving explanations of our instructor! We have since endeavored to apply the things learned, to the blessing of our brothers.
It was a special joy and surprise to me when I received the invitation to the Theocracy’s Increase Assembly in New York in 1950. The flight across the great ocean, the huge city of New York with its many sights, the immense convention in Yankee Stadium, eight days filled with wonderful instructions—all these impressions are unforgettable. A sister translated the talks into German for us, and we took many notes so that we could help our brothers at home. Since I had done work in connection with assemblies in Germany, I was especially interested in observing the smooth-running organization of this assembly and watched everything closely.
A couple of years later I was overjoyed to hear that there was to be another international assembly of Jehovah’s people in New York City during the summer of 1953. By Jehovah’s undeserved kindness I was again able to be present. Truly here were a people who were separated from the world to serve Jehovah’s interests. Later in the year, at a convention in Nuremburg, I became acquainted with a zealous and diligent sister who was engaged in the full-time ministry. In 1954 we were married, and since then she has accompanied me in the circuit ministry. It was our privilege to attend together the unforgettable Divine Will Assembly in New York City in 1958. Here we also received blessings that encouraged us to remain awake and fulfill our obligation never to forget the benefits Jehovah has shown us.
I experienced the happiest hours of my life at these three international conventions in New York. I never would have tasted all these good things if I had not grasped the opportunity of full-time service when I was a young man. Time and time again I saw that it is not difficult for Jehovah to help us with much or little.
All the past years have proved that I can have peace of heart and satisfaction if I do my best and fulfill my obligations by putting the Kingdom interests first. True, there are hindrances, but when these have been overcome they contribute greatly to our spiritual strength.
It is my sincere prayer and desire that my love and faithfulness may continue to increase in order that, when I grow older and my strength and health dwindle, I may continue to be rich in works of praise to Jehovah, who has shown me so many benefits.