“The Name of Jehovah Is a Strong Tower”
As told by Heinrich Dickmann
THE Gestapo arrested me in 1937, at my home in Dinslaken, Germany. They wanted me to betray my Christian brothers by informing against them. If I would “talk” it might go easier for me; if not, the Gestapo had ways to make me talk, so it was made known. I chose not to talk no matter what treatment the Gestapo would deal out, for I trusted in the name of Jehovah.
Yes, from experience during the last forty of the sixty-nine years of my life, I have come to know that “the name of Jehovah is a strong tower.”—Prov. 18:10.
As a youth I found neither security nor hope in the Lutheran Church. Though there was a song in the Lutheran hymnbook, “To You, Jehovah, I Will Sing,” this name was given no prominence. My wife and I had yet to come to know and appreciate the name Jehovah.
We had a discussion for several hours in 1931 with two of Jehovah’s witnesses. With their use of the Bible, the name of Jehovah came to the fore. The discussion resulted in our taking serious interest in the Bible. We would study until late into the night. It became clear to us that what Jehovah’s witnesses taught was indeed God’s truth. We soon started attending meetings of the Witnesses. In Dinslaken, our place of birth, these were held in a private home. After a few weeks of increased Bible knowledge, we left the church, and some months later symbolized by baptism our dedication to Jehovah.
Not all in our family were happy with our leaving the church. My father, who did not even weep when he was called for military service during World War I, now cried. But we continued to discuss the Bible, and two of my four brothers, Fritz and August, accepted the Bible’s truth. At my place of work, the August-Thyssen steel plant in Dinslaken, I was able regularly to leave the Golden Age (now Awake!) magazine with some of my workmates. This continued until 1933, when Hitler became dictator. How appropriate Proverbs 18:10 was as our year’s text for 1933: “The name of Jehovah is a strong tower. Into it the righteous runs and is given protection”!
LEARNING TO TRUST IN JEHOVAH’S NAME
Time and again during the dawning Nazi era I learned that the “name of Jehovah is a strong tower” in difficult situations. Despite Nazi opposition, we were able to distribute widely the Bible booklet entitled “Crisis.” Then in June 1933 Hitler’s government banned all activity of Jehovah’s witnesses as to meetings and distribution of literature.
November 12, 1933, was the first election day in the “Third Reich.” All political parties were consolidated, and the German people went to the polls, with the exception of Jehovah’s Christian witnesses. Aiding them to remain neutral with regard to worldly politics and to keep faithful to Jehovah’s kingdom was our Bible text for that day—yes, it was Proverbs 18:10: “The name of Jehovah is a strong tower.” Though the SS (Schutzstaffel or Elite Guard) called on me and told me to vote, I trusted in Jehovah’s name and did not succumb to SS urgings.
Time passed and opposition increased. Another election day came on August 19, 1934. I was again visited by the SS and told to vote. Three times they called and each time I was able to give them a witness about God’s kingdom. Finally, on October 7, the Witnesses sent a letter containing a resolution to the government. Simultaneously our Christian brothers from other countries sent 20,000 telegrams protesting Hitler’s ban on Jehovah’s witnesses.
At my place of work the situation became more tense. I was the only one of 2,000 workers who did not belong to the political party or to the German Workers Front, not to mention refusing to return the “German greeting” (Hitler salute).
In April 1935 I received a letter from the National Socialist German Workers Party and the German Workers Front, asking me to state my reason for not giving the “German greeting,” for not voting and for not joining the German Workers Front. I answered this letter, stating certain Bible principles and explaining that I was not an enemy of the state but rather a Christian. On April 30 I was arrested.
The Gestapo interrogated me for hours. Then they brought me before the court. One of the prosecutors told me he, too, was a Christian. To this I replied that a follower of Jesus would not seek to imprison his fellow Christians. Ten days later I was suddenly set free.
When I went back to work at the steel plant, the director said to me: “Dickmann, they already say I am sabotaging the development of the Fatherland because I didn’t dismiss you. Lift your hand in the ‘German greeting.’ I’ll pay the membership fees to the German Workers Front for you. Your means of living is at stake!” I was able to give him a good witness and declare that it was not just a matter of subsistence but rather a matter of living by Bible principles. So an order came from the German Workers Front, and I was dismissed.
PREACHING GOD’S TRUTH DESPITE OPPOSITION
I continued my house-to-house preaching work with the Bible until July 7, 1935, when I was arrested again. The following month I was transferred from the prison to the concentration camp in Esterwegen on the moor in Emsland. Four Witnesses from my home congregation soon followed me. One of these was my brother Fritz, who, years later, died due to injuries received in the camp. But he maintained his integrity to Jehovah till death.
When one was brought into this notorious camp, interrogation proceedings lasted from morning until late in the afternoon. Everything possible in the way of maltreatment was tried out here. “Sport” was what they called it.
For my trial in October I was transferred from the concentration camp to the court prison in Duisburg. Here I was able to give a witness to God’s truth for about one hour. A newspaper wrote about it: “He even wanted to convert the judge.”
Suddenly on January 1, 1936, I was released for no apparent reason. Since I had no means of livelihood I received unemployment compensation for myself, my wife and our eight-year-old daughter. Then came another election day, on March 29, 1936. The Nazi Party speakers declared that the Witnesses had been cured and would go to the polls. What a big disappointment for them! All of us who had been in the concentration camp in Esterwegen gathered with our families in the early morning in the forest. It was a lovely assembly for one day and it strengthened us spiritually to endure.
We continued preaching God’s truths by underground means, and in December 1936 we distributed an important resolution. I had the privilege of asking my Christian brothers in other congregations if they wanted to have a part in the work. Then the territories were handed out.
GESTAPO EFFORTS TO GET ME TO “TALK”
On June 20, 1937, came the day for distributing an “open letter” that contained a documented report on the persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses. Not one of the Witnesses who was still free knew who else was taking part in the campaign. This was to avoid putting anyone in danger of unintentionally revealing the names of others. At noon the distribution began. Two Witnesses who had received territory from me were arrested. Under the pressure of interrogation they revealed my name and that of my wife. So on June 30 I was arrested for the third time.
The Gestapo picked me up at my home and took me to the police station in Duisburg. The next morning my hearing began; the Gestapo wanted to know the identities of other Witnesses taking part in the distribution work. Because I refused to talk I was beaten. Then I was put in solitary confinement with my hands bound behind my back. Several times each day the Gestapo officials came and asked if I was going to talk. After eight days I was put in a special interrogation cell.
First the Gestapo officials removed their jackets and watches. Then the “hearing” began. In answer to their questions I replied that in the name of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ I refused to make any statement. Then I was knocked from one corner into the other. A wool blanket was put over my head and my shoes and stockings were removed. Then I received lashes with a leather strap on the soles of my feet. (After fourteen days I still had blood clots under my toenails.) But not one cry of pain did I let out. Truly the name of Jehovah is a strong tower.
As the Gestapo saw that this method was not bringing the desired results they threatened me with worse treatment. From the questions and comments made by the Gestapo I learned that they did not know who had taken part in the resolution distribution. They threatened to arrest my wife if I did not reveal any names.
Every day there was questioning, accompanied by blows. On one day there was a “meeting by chance” with the two persons who had revealed my name. These pleaded with me and tried to persuade me to admit that they had received the “open letters” from me as well as the territory where they were distributed.
In the middle of the night the Gestapo officials came to check whether my handcuffs were still fastened tightly enough. After being in those rusty handcuffs for ten days, my wrists were festering. On the eleventh day, despite my request, they were not removed even once in twenty-four hours, even when I went to the toilet.
When they finally took the handcuffs off at breakfast, my arms seemed paralyzed. A note pad and pencil were brought to me so that I could write down that which I refused to say. The pad remained blank. The handcuffs were put back on.
At noon when we went to get our meal, several officers stood around in the corridor to watch a drama staged by them, for as I went from the elevator to my cell my wife was brought up the stairs. She did not see me and so went quietly on her way. The officials were disappointed when I admitted having seen my wife without having spoken to her. Now I knew that they had also arrested her.
TO THE CONCENTRATION CAMP
At the beginning of September several other Witnesses and I were arraigned before a special court in Duesseldorf, where I was sentenced to from one to one and a half years in prison. My wife remained in custody and was finally taken to Ravensbrueck and Sachsenhausen, where she remained until 1945.
In March 1939 I was taken to Sachsenhausen, where I was viewed as being “incorrigible” and received the usual tortures. My brother August, who had been arrested in October 1936, had been in Sachsenhausen since October 1937. Now we had the opportunity of strengthening each other in association with our Christian brothers. For a time all Witnesses were refused permission to receive or send mail, so their relatives knew little, if anything, about them. When this restriction was lifted we were allowed to write five lines in a month.
In September 1939 my brother August was called to the “political section.” He was determined to remain faithful to Jehovah under all circumstances. Two other Witnesses, who had also been called up, related to me that evening that my brother had been beaten and kicked because of refusing military service.
On September 15, 1939, we quit work early. The camp elder—a political prisoner—told me that my brother was to be shot on that same day.
All of us prisoners had to stand at attention. We were about 350 to 400 Witnesses. As we were brought out into the main camp, opposite the main entrance, we saw a mound of earth to catch the bullets and a few piles of sand in front of it. Next to it stood a black box. The helmeted SS were carrying machine guns. Then my brother was brought with hands manacled and placed in front of the mound of earth.
Now the camp commander spoke over the loudspeaker: “The prisoner, August Dickmann from Dinslaken, born January 7, 1910, refuses military service because he is a citizen of the kingdom of God. He says: ‘He who sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.’ Thus he has set himself apart from the community and is to be shot as ordered by the Reichsfuehrer SS Himmler.”
Turning to my brother, he screamed: “Turn around, you pig!” Then he gave the command to fire. My brother, with his face to the mound of earth, was shot by three SS officers. After he collapsed, the camp official, a higher SS officer, went to him and put a bullet through his head. Now the handcuffs were taken off him and four of his Christian brothers laid him in the black box.
Two days later I was called to the “political section.” On this cold, rainy day I stood outside for hours. The camp commander and the camp leader watched me from their window. Then came the interrogation. The Gestapo chief propounded many questions, suddenly asking: “Did you see how your brother was shot? What lesson did you learn from that?”
My answer was: “I am a witness for Jehovah and will remain such.”
“Then you are the next one to be shot,” he threatened.
Soon it became known all over the camp that the camp commander was afflicted with a terrible disease. He died in February 1940. The SS said: “The Bible Students [Jehovah’s witnesses] prayed him to death.”
We were exposed to worse treatment after the shooting of my brother. For example, we were given little to eat, and during the winter they refused us warm clothing. Then a change came.
PROVISION FOR SPIRITUAL FOOD
In February 1940, a group of us Witnesses were transported to the Wewelsburg concentration camp. There I arrived completely exhausted. My name was well known due to my brother’s execution. Some time later this camp was dissolved and I was sent, in April 1943, to Buchenwald. Three months later I was transferred to Ravensbrueck. Here I was assigned to a labor group outside the camp. In the forest we were to make a villa for a general of the tank division.
On this labor crew it was possible for us to get in touch with our Christian brothers who were working on a farm belonging to Dr. Felix Kersten, personal physician to Himmler, the SS chief. Dr. Kersten interceded with Himmler and was able to take several Witnesses, both men and women, out of the concentration camp, to work on his farm in Harzwalde.
Later, with Himmler’s permission, Dr. Kersten took one of the Witnesses along when he went to Sweden. There she worked as a servant for his family. Since Dr. Kersten flew back and forth quite often, this Witness made sure that there was always a copy of The Watchtower in the doctor’s suitcase, which was then unpacked by a Witness in Harzwalde. This was then given to the Witnesses who were working on the farm; from there The Watchtower eventually came to our work crew. Despite barbed wire and our being under strict guard, Jehovah provided the necessary spiritual food.
RELEASE FROM PERSECUTORS
As the Allied troops approached in 1945, we were supposed to be transferred to another camp. About May 1 we were on the road. On one side of us were the American troops, on the other were Russians. Because of the precarious situation in which the SS guards found themselves, we were freed. The Russians kept us for a few days, but then let us go.
I arrived at my parents’ home in Dinslaken the middle of May, accompanied by two other Witnesses from the concentration camp. Two weeks later our daughter, who had been taken away from us, also returned home. She was now nearly eighteen years old and had been without her parents for eight years. Now every day from early in the morning till late at night we were together. We visited relatives and friends to tell them of the wonderful deliverance that Jehovah provided. My wife returned home from the concentration camp in August.
With eight Witnesses we started reorganizing the Christian congregation in Dinslaken. In a short time it was so large that we had to rent a room in the school.
In 1945 I was appointed presiding minister of our congregation. Despite enticing offers, I did not take up secular work again. For my wife and me there was just one interest now: the preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom! Special privileges followed. For example, I had the privilege of helping to prepare the Watch Tower Society’s Roeder Strasse office in Wiesbaden. Then in 1946 I was appointed to be a special full-time minister.
There were further special privileges: An invitation to Magdeburg for additional training in the ministry. And in March 1947 I began visiting congregations as a circuit servant, to encourage and upbuild congregations. Thanks to Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, I am able to enjoy this wonderful privilege right up to this day.
Our joy has increased from year to year as we continue to learn and experience new things that deepen our relationship with Jehovah, our strong tower. All problems, whether financial or physical, have been solved by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness. It has been proved for me that in all situations trust in the name of Jehovah truly provides security.