Endurance with Patience Brings Joy
As told by Josef Scharner
I WAS one of the 10,000 witnesses of Jehovah that the Nazis threw into their fiendish concentration camps. For more than nine years I endured their hatred for being a lover of God’s Word, the Holy Bible, and for refusing to renounce Jehovah my God.
Shortly after my being imprisoned it became evident that no matter what the Nazis did I could endure it with the strength Jehovah gave me. But before relating some of my experiences during those years, permit me to tell you why I became one of Jehovah’s witnesses. The story begins in 1914 when I was ten years old.
Being a zealous member of the Roman Catholic Church, my mother made sure that we attended church regularly. But after war broke out in 1914 the priest made it a practice to conclude every Sunday sermon by saying: “God bless the German army. God bless the German soldiers. God bless the German weapons. We want, we will and we must have the victory.” We children did not think this statement by the priest amiss, but our mother did.
One Sunday, upon coming out of church, my mother turned to us and said: “Children, something is wrong here! Whom shall the beloved God help? What will the priest in Russia pray? What will the priest in France pray? For all of us there is only one God.” I never forgot these questions. Obviously, God could not answer the prayers for victory coming from both sides in the war. The more I thought about these questions the more I wondered why Christian people are not able to live in peace. I found the answer in 1925.
A CHANGE IN MY LIFE
Just after finishing apprentice time for my trade I was put to work with another employee who was one of the Bibelforschers or Bible Students, known today as Jehovah’s witnesses. He always spoke of God’s kingdom and how it will bring permanent peace to the earth. He offered me the book The Divine Plan of the Ages, which I took and read. Here I found the answers to my questions and a hope for the future.
One day I asked my co-worker where he went on Sundays, and he explained to me the Christian ministry in which he engaged on Sunday, called the “colporteur work.” When I asked if I could go with him, he quickly consented and assured me that the work was not difficult. I found this to be so. After accompanying him to three houses, I asked if I could try the next house by myself. From that time until now I have found the house-to-house ministry a source of joy.
I studied diligently the Bible-study aids given me, and my knowledge of the Bible and appreciation for it grew. I soon made a dedication of myself to God and symbolized it by water baptism. Six months later, in the fall of 1925, I began devoting my full time to talking about God’s kingdom from house to house.
With a bicycle, a suitcase and parcels of Bible-study aids published by the Watch Tower Society, I headed for the town of Hohenstein, where I was assigned to serve full time as a pioneer minister. My assignment also included the small village of Tannenberg. Great was the joy I found there talking to the people about the good news of God’s kingdom and the peace it will eventually bring to all mankind.
Later, in 1931, while working in a village near the German town of Johannesburg, I found some young men who were interested in Bible truth. They were all in the chorus of the local church. When the priest heard that I was talking with these men, he announced from the pulpit that every Bibelforscher that came into the village should be chased away. The next time I came and began going from house to house, talking with the people about the good things in God’s Word, a man came at me with a long knife. I took my Bible in my hand and took two steps toward him, saying: “I have a better weapon, the sword of the spirit, which is God’s Word. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself to come at a man with such a dirty weapon, a man who wants to talk with you about the kingdom of God? Was it your priest who told you to take such action? Jesus Christ told his disciples to love their neighbors. Do you?” The man became confused, turned red and went away grumbling.
When I related this incident to the young men with whom I was studying the Bible, they became very angry with the priest. One said: “I shall withdraw from the church.” Three days later the priest came to the home where I was having a Bible study. During the discussion the interested persons asked the priest questions and asked for scriptures to support what he said. He then became angry and left. Now the young men in the chorus began leaving the church one after the other because they had found true Christianity. Later some of them began engaging in the full-time Christian ministry as pioneers, just as I was.
ENDURANCE DESPITE PERSECUTION
It was in the fall of 1935 when I was imprisoned for being one of Jehovah’s witnesses. In June of 1933 Hitler’s government had banned all activity of Jehovah’s witnesses as to meetings and the distribution of aids to Bible study. So it was no surprise to me when I was finally arrested and imprisoned for being a Christian servant of Jehovah God. When that happened I was thankful that I had not neglected personal Bible study, as it helped me to have the faith to endure. Frequently I thought about the endurance mentioned by the Bible writer James, who said: “Look! We pronounce happy those who have endured.”—Jas. 5:11.
Although the prison officials took the Bible away from me, they permitted other prisoners to have it. They thought that my faith would become weak if I did not have the Bible, and I would therefore renounce my faith by signing a declaration to that effect prepared by the Nazis. They failed to realize that I had impressed the truth of God’s Word deeply upon my mind by personal and group Bible study long before I was imprisoned. They could not remove those faith-strengthening truths from my mind.
One day I was put into a cell with a prisoner that had been sentenced to death for robbery and murder. The guards had permitted him to have a Bible. Just before he was executed he was transferred to another cell, but he left his Bible behind, much to my joy. Now I could feast upon the strengthening Word of God. Every day I read it and tried to commit many of its verses to memory. Very often I thought of Jesus’ words: “He that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.”—Matt. 24:13.
After I had been in prison for six years a possibility arose that I might be released. An officer from the Gestapo (Security Service) interviewed me regarding it. He asked whether I was cured of my wrong ideas after the six years and whether I still believed in Jehovah. I made it clear that I was still devoted to the worship of the true God, Jehovah, and that I would not sign the declaration renouncing my faith. The order was then given that I should be shipped off to a concentration camp. The official from the Gestapo said: “There another wind will blow. There you will keep quiet, and your way out will be only through the chimney if you refuse to sign.”
ENDURANCE WITH PATIENCE
Every opportunity I had in the concentration camp to speak about the good news of God’s kingdom and the comforting promises of his Word was a source of joy to me. I recall an experience that I had when I was in the camp hospital for a while. There was a young prisoner there who was very sick and always said to me: “Tell me something about the Kingdom. What you say is so comforting.” He was especially interested in hearing about the resurrection of the dead because he did not expect to recover from his illness. It was a pleasure to be able to give him hope with the truth of God’s Word.
On another occasion when I was sick with typhoid fever and was put into the camp hospital, I had the privilege of talking with the other sick persons there about the many blessings that God will give suffering mankind under the rule of his kingdom. The doctor, who also was a prisoner, said: “Your faith and your joyful attitude will help you to get well quickly.”
Again and again I experienced the joy of Jehovah when I spoke to others about the truths of his Word. I even had the opportunity to give a witness to some SS officers that came to inspect a piece of land. They looked around, and when one saw my lilac chevron, which had to be worn by Jehovah’s witnesses as a mark of identification, the officer called to me: “Lilac! Come here!” When I approached, he asked: “Why are you here in the concentration camp?” I told him that I believe in the Bible as God’s Word and spoke about it. He then said: “So you are a Bibelforscher.” I told him that I was. He then asked: “Did you sign the papers?” My reply was that I had not, and he wanted to know why. “I do not want to make myself a traitor.” He observed: “Then you must be a real Bible student and must know when peace will come.” I told him that peace will come only when God’s kingdom under Christ establishes it.
The SS officer turned to his fellow officers and said: “Look at these people! One can imprison them, take everything away from them and even kill them, but they do not give up their belief in Jehovah. They do their work well and are honest people, but for war they are no good.” Prisoners that heard this conversation had greater respect for us. There were, of course, some that said we were stupid for not signing the papers, renouncing our faith, so that we could be released and go home.
LIBERATION AT LAST
After spending more than nine years in a prison and the concentration camp in Stutthof near Danzig, I finally regained my freedom. It came after about 900 prisoners were moved to another location. We were put into a small coal barge that was pushed by a tugboat. While crossing the Baltic Sea to Flensburg in northern Germany, many of the sick prisoners were thrown overboard by the guards. I am sorry to say that one of them was one of Jehovah’s witnesses from Poland, Ignatz Ukrzewski. The sick were crammed into a three-yard-deep coal bunker with no room to move about. Some even lay on top of one another. When the SS men learned that we were talking with the sick prisoners, they confined us to the other end of the barge.
After the Allied occupational forces freed us in Flensburg, I took up once again the Christian work that had been interrupted by my arrest more than nine years before. I began preaching the good news of God’s kingdom from door to door.
There were few of Jehovah’s witnesses that were capable of giving public talks in Germany right after the war. So I had the privilege of giving such talks in a number of villages and towns. Being able to talk about God’s Word in this manner was a source of great joy to me. Then when the Watch Tower Society began sending special representatives, called circuit servants, to the various German congregations, I was invited to be one of these representatives. What a joy that was! It was a real privilege to engage in a work that strengthened the congregations, that helped my Christian brothers toward spiritual maturity and that encouraged them to endure faithfully in Jehovah’s service.
In 1946 I was blessed with a lifelong companion when I married a spiritual sister whose first husband and oldest son had been executed by the Nazis for maintaining integrity to Jehovah God by refusing to break their neutrality in the war. Since then we have served Jehovah together as full-time servants.
From the time I began the joyful service of our Creator until now more than forty-two years have passed. Although I have had many severe trials that required patient endurance, I have had many rich blessings because I trusted in Jehovah, kept integrity to him and put his interests foremost in my life. I know from personal experience that those who trust in him are able to stand firmly like a mountain against all attempts to break their Christian integrity. Looking back on my life, I am more convinced than ever that endurance with patience eventually brings innumerable joys and blessings.—Ps. 125:1; Luke 21:19.