Insight on the News
● When millions of Germans recently viewed “Holocaust,” a fictional television account of Hitler’s extermination of the Jews, many were horrified. “Young people were appalled to be reminded that many of their elders had not protested the slaughter,” reports “Newsweek” magazine. “‘How and why could this sort of thing happen?’ asked one horrified young viewer. ‘Where were the churches?’”
Canadian historian J. S. Conway raised the same question in his book “The Nazi Persecution of the Churches 1933-1945.” He asked: “How could so many reputable and responsible churchmen have lent their support, even if only passively, to the perpetration of such crimes as genocide? What fever seized so many millions of German Christians, both Evangelical [Lutheran] and Catholic, in those few short years of Nazi tyranny?” Conway’s conclusion? “The Church was unprepared and totally unsuited to cope with the situation.”
On the other hand, he reported: “In contrast with the compliance of the larger churches, the Jehovah’s Witnesses maintained their doctrinal opposition to the point of fanaticism. . . . The resistance of the Witnesses was centered chiefly against any form of collaboration with the Nazis.” What gave them such strength before Hitler’s machine? Answers Historian Conway: “Basing their case on biblical commandment, they refused to take up arms . . . they were thus all practically brought under sentence of death. Many in fact paid the penalty; . . . large numbers were transported to Dachau [concentration camp].” Hence, they became victims rather than becoming accomplices with Hitler in the “Holocaust.”
● The Greek “Athens News” reports that two of Jehovah’s Witnesses recently have been imprisoned for 10 and 18 years, respectively, “for refusing to serve in the military.” “Athens News” called the latter “the worst such sentence in the recent history of the persecuted Christian sect here,” and noted that such sentences were given “despite a 4-year maximum jail term for the offense recently established by the Greek government to pacify protests from the Council of Europe, various European Parliaments and Amnesty International.”
How can such intolerance still exist despite international pressure for humane treatment of those imprisoned because of conscience? Indicating the answer, “The Word,” a Greek Orthodox periodical published in the United States, recently reported: “ATHENS—The Hierarchy of the Orthodox Church of Greece issued a decree in which it termed the Jehovah’s Witnesses sect as ‘anti-religious, anti-national and subversive.’ The Hierarchy also requested Defense Minister Evangelos Averof to suspend the law which provides for the exemption of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the Army on the grounds that they are conscientious objectors.” In view of these developments one wonders whether Greece will maintain its fine progress toward religious tolerance as one of Europe’s freer societies, or whether it will yield to the pressures of religious bigots. Time will tell.