Remembering Jehovah’s Guidance
As told by Martin Poetzinger
I WAS born just after the turn of the century in a city that lies athwart the beautiful river Isar. The city is Munich, Bavarian capital, center of Catholicism, scene of many historic events and onetime capital of the Nazi movement.
At ten years of age I was already interested in questions to which my Catholic teacher could offer no satisfying answers: Why do people die? Does death signify the end of existence?
Not until 1926 did I have my first encounter with genuine Bible truth, for that is when my own brother told me about a meeting of a Bible research group that he had attended. I began attending too, and soon after acquired a Bible, a Catholic version.
Thus I became a Bible reader, and one of the earliest texts that really impressed me was Amos 8:11, where the prophet speaks of a great famine for hearing Jehovah’s words. I realized that I was one of the hungering multitude, and here at last I was getting satisfying food for the mind.
PERCEIVING A RESPONSIBILITY
‘Can anyone who loves God share in announcing his kingdom?’ was one of my early questions. The answer was, Yes. So I asked for a district to be allotted to me, filled my bag with fifty booklets, aids to a study of the Bible, and off I went on my first solo experience in the house-to-house ministry. In a very short time I had only twelve booklets left. That was but the first of many happy hours in the Kingdom-preaching service.
In the autumn of that same year I am convinced that Jehovah led me to the point of taking another major step. A large meeting had been arranged in the huge tent of the “Circus Krone,” where a lecture on the theme of Isaiah 6:8 was presented. The speaker then asked those who had heard and understood to rise and join in a solemn declaration to Jehovah: “Here I am! Send me.” Filled with God’s Word at that moment, I joined a large group who repeated the prophet’s words and really meant it. Soon after I was baptized.
That baptismal day is etched in my memory, especially my father’s words as I was on the point of leaving: “Son, have you considered this step well?” I assured him I had. His next words I shall never forget: “I don’t want to stop you, but remember, when one makes a pledge to God, he has to keep it.” That was exactly what I intended to do. My next vacation I spent in the Bavarian Forest, not relaxing, but gaining some experience in the house-to-house ministry full time.
A lifesaving service I knew our preaching activity to be, but not until one experience in the Bavarian Forest did I realize how literally this was so. With only one book left in my case I was hastening back to my lodging place in a nearby village so as to avoid a threatening storm. All at once I spied a little house high up on the hill. It seemed like an ill-considered time to climb up that steep track, but somehow a sense of responsibility moved me to go. Up I went, only to find the house locked up. As I hesitated I thought I heard a slight noise at the barn. I pushed open the door, and there stood a man who asked, with a tired voice, “What do you want?”
When I explained, he informed me that such things no longer had any meaning for him. He confessed that he had sent his people out into the fields so he could be alone, and with the rope he still held in his hand he had planned to take his own life. Immediately I took out my last book and began showing him the hope that God’s Word holds forth to the weary, heartbroken ones—a Kingdom of peace and righteousness. The storm was now drawing close. I awaited his reaction. After a few moments he wiped his forehead, hung the rope back on the wall and said: “For this Kingdom I still have the courage. Young man, God sent you at the last minute. I would like to keep this book and study it carefully.”
October 1, 1930, was the date when I finally commenced regular full-time preaching. With several others I was assigned territory in the Black Forest region as far as the Swiss border, along Lake Constance and deep into the Bavarian Catholic territory. Then in 1931 we received an invitation to attend the Paris convention, where Witness delegates from twenty-three nations would assemble. There was also a meeting in Berlin and a visit to the Watch Tower Society’s branch headquarters in Magdeburg.
In 1931 we acquired the name Jehovah’s witnesses. Astonished faces appeared at every door when we introduced ourselves with the words: “I have come to you today as one of Jehovah’s witnesses.” People would shake their heads or ask: “But you are still Bible students, are you not? Or have you joined a new sect?” But now, after thirty-seven years, what a change! Before I say a word people will remark: “You must be one of Jehovah’s witnesses.”
I recall that the yeartext for 1933 reminded us that the name of Jehovah is a strong tower. (Prov. 18:10) We certainly needed this assurance, for by this time belligerent nationalism backed by religious influence was spreading. Our preaching work was forbidden, our meeting places closed down and our literature confiscated. Was this to be the end of my beloved full-time service? The notorious Gestapo visited me, and, finding nothing incriminating, left me with the ultimatum: Stay inside the city of Munich or prepare to be sent to the concentration camp at Dachau.
PREACHING IN OTHER LANDS
Conditions in Germany daily grew more difficult. That autumn the Society invited me to move into Bulgaria to look after the Kingdom interests there. Happily for our preaching work, we had testimony cards introducing each publication in whatever language was called for. That was a big help to me, for this would be for some time the only bridge of communication with Bulgarians. I soon realized, however, the importance of quickly mastering the Cyrillic alphabet, for many were illiterate, and needed to have even the card read to them.
Adults in this land had lived through troublous times, and so very few had the benefit of schooling. Thus it often happened that young children would have to read to a circle of oldsters by the light of a petroleum lamp. The Kingdom message was heard from the mouths of little children.
One custom that badly confused me at first was that the Bulgarian, when he means “No,” nods his head affirmatively; when he means “Yes,” shakes his head negatively. That was hard to get used to, and it often happened that I began to turn away, thinking a person had no interest in our Bible message.
Within a year pressures mounted to the point that those of us who were nonnationals were deported, and my next move was to Hungary, where a new language and new customs had to be learned. In Budapest I was delighted to find a group of German pioneers (full-time ministers) who conducted regular study meetings, something I had missed for more than a year. Since residence of foreigners was limited to six months at a time, I would travel into Slovakia and help the German-speaking Witnesses in Bratislava.
It was here that I was falsely arrested as a spy and jailed for three days, after which I was deported. This time, at my own expense, I traveled to Prague. From there the Society directed me to go to Yugoslavia and take oversight of a group of pioneer ministers there. It was wonderful to have Jehovah’s guidance through his theocratic organization.
Many are the happy memories of that period: Walking many kilometers through the countryside and villages, literature packed on one’s back; hospitable people offering us food and even a bed for the night; hiking through the night over the Hungarian “Pusta” (plains), starry sky above, the sound of a balalaika wafting from a distant farmhouse through the cool night air; then making my way back again through the night with a load of literature from our depot so as to be ready on the next day for a new territory; spending an evening in a farmhouse where I had been invited to stay, with neighbors coming in to hear more of the comforting message of the Kingdom.
BACK IN THE LIONS’ DEN
After a serious illness that necessitated a long stay in a hospital in Zagreb, I found it necessary to return to Germany, where I was soon in the midst of the underground movement, not any political movement, but the countrywide underground preaching of Jehovah’s witnesses. In 1936 two very different events affected my life. In August I married one of the faithful companions of those thrilling days of preaching in Central Europe. That year, too, I was arrested and sent to a concentration camp for refusal to renounce my faith and acknowledge Hitler’s government as highest authority. There I was in Dachau while my wife was in prison in some other location.
My first impression of the camp, as I observed the prisoners march on the double to their work, was that of a madhouse of demons. But worse was to come, for when Dachau became a recruitment center, we were transported to the extermination camp at Mauthausen, Upper Austria. There in the granite quarries one had to exert every effort to hold on to one’s faith.
There were 145 of us Witnesses in this camp, where the Gestapo tried every method to induce us to break our faith in Jehovah. Starvation diet, deceitful friendships, brutalities, having to stand in a frame day after day, being hung from a ten-foot post by the wrists twisted around the back, whippings—all these and others too degraded to mention were tried. But Jehovah’s guidance was always with us, calling to mind his grand counsel: “Be wise, my son, and make my heart rejoice.”—Prov. 27:11.
JOY IN THE MORNING
At last the longed-for day arrived; the nightmarish life in a Nazi concentration camp was over. The American forces had disarmed the Viennese police, who had in the last few weeks taken over guard duty at Mauthausen. The guards were now themselves prisoners. To many non-Witness prisoners this was the opportunity to arm themselves and settle accounts with vicious erstwhile guards. A ghastly scene resulted, one in which over a thousand prisoners lost their lives.
Meantime we Witnesses assembled in one of the camp’s open streets and joined in prayer. As armed fellow prisoners ran to and fro seeking out their ex-tormentors, Jehovah protected his own, not permitting one casualty even from stray bullets. No one had any account to settle with us, for we were well known as peace-loving Christians.
Eventually, I was with the group transported to my hometown of Munich. Amid the ruins of the city we arranged for meetings and began to lay the groundwork for resumption of the Kingdom-preaching above ground. Soon after I was asked to do my best to get in touch with our fellow Witnesses in Austria. With the help of a Christian sister who knew the ground thoroughly, I managed to get to Salzburg, convene a meeting of faithful, responsible Witnesses, and lay before them the Society’s suggestions for reorganizing. What a joy to note their beaming faces as they readied themselves for a vast postwar rehabilitation work!
CONTINUOUS FLOW OF BLESSINGS
Then came, in swift succession, blessing after blessing. Imagine the joy of reunion with my loyal wife after both of us had undergone nine cruel years of imprisonment! The Society organized a series of ten conventions, commencing with one in Nuremberg, September 28-30, 1946. What a victory for Jehovah! On the famous Zeppelinwiese, the onetime assembly place of the Nazi party, in the huge auditorium, open to the sky, facing the 144 immense pillars, Jehovah’s people were assembled in peaceful consideration of God’s Word, while on the very same day twenty-one prominent Nazis were sentenced to death for their crimes against humanity.
Words fail to describe the joys of attending the 1950 assembly in New York; and again in 1953 the visit to Yankee Stadium with its sea of happy faces; the thrill of receiving our invitation to attend Gilead School in 1958; the unforgettable parting from that beloved school at South Lansing in the Spring of 1959; then back to Germany for many more privileges, with greatly strengthened assurance of Jehovah’s guidance.
We have now behind us a total of over seventy-five years as full-time ministers, in pleasurable season and in troublesome season. From our hearts my wife and I say to all who can do so, “Become a pioneer!”
Should we be asked whether we would be guided along the same way if we were starting out in youth again, here is our answer: YES! With the exception that we would not wait so long before starting. By taking up the joys and responsibilities of the full-time ministry at an early age, one can experience so much more Jehovah’s guiding hand, his direction over one’s life. By readily responding to Jehovah’s invitation with “Here I am! Send me,” we can enjoy many blessings not only now, but in that new order just ahead, when we will be able to reminisce happily over all the way in which Jehovah has guided our steps.