Praise Be to God, the Source of Life and Growth
As told by Eduard Warter
THE eyes feast on majestic mountain ridges interspersed with deep, narrow canyons and broad valleys. Torrents rush through gullies—watering gardens, vineyards, and fields on the fruitful plains. But does the onlooker consider the Source of life, who makes such growth possible, worthy of praise?—Psalm 36:9.
This sunny mountainous landscape is in the Kirghiz Republic—a populous Soviet republic in Central Asia. Tens of thousands of Soviet citizens of German origin live there. My family, too, lived in this fruitful place for a time, and we marveled at the God who brings about such wonderful growth. Yes, we praised him and talked openly to others about his grand deeds.
Obedient to the Source of Life
When I was born in 1901, my parents lived in Memelland (now Klaipėda), then part of East Prussia, on the Baltic coast, about ten kilometers (6 mi) from the Russian border. While I was going to school, the first world war broke out, and we became eyewitnesses to the horrors of mass murder. We German frontier dwellers had been on good terms with our Russian neighbors and wondered: ‘Whose fault was it? Whose side was God on?’ At school, however, slogans such as “For God, Emperor, and Country” stirred up patriotic feelings.
In time, after the war, I succumbed to this influence, volunteering for service in the frontier guard and later in the German Army in Königsberg, now Kaliningrad. Here I reached the conclusion that the ordinary soldier was simply a pawn, shunted around at the whim of others. Shortly after the annexation of Memelland by Lithuania in January 1923, my mother wrote to me: “You ought not to go to war, as the fifth commandment says, ‘You must not kill.’ The Bible Students [Jehovah’s Witnesses] do not go to war either.” I was puzzled. Who were these Bible Students? While home on leave, I learned of their basic Bible truths. It had a powerful effect on me—my whole religious and political outlook on life took a major turn.
Now I grasped that the end of the present wicked system of things was imminent, making way for God’s Kingdom. Why spend more time trying to help get Germany back on its feet again? Without delay I made arrangements to leave the service, and I returned to my hometown to learn more about these truths. Baptism followed in 1924, and one thing I understood clearly: This step meant serving God, not until a certain date, but forever and in every situation. My heart was full of joy. The highest privilege possible for us feeble humans—serving the Most High and carrying his message to others—had been granted to me.
I was determined to prove myself worthy. We had a large rural area with many scattered settlements and farmhouses to cover. On Sundays it was therefore not unusual for us to walk for from 10 to 12 hours visiting people with the message. Fellow believers having spacious homes offered them for our Christian meetings. There was no journey too far, or stormy weather too bad, to keep us away from these valuable gatherings. They strengthened us for the trialsome times ahead.
Praising Him Even Under Adversity
The Kingdom work began to grow in the Baltic countries, and it now came under the supervision of the Northern European Office of the Watch Tower Society in Denmark. In 1928 I married, and my wife Ruth and I associated with the Hydekrug Congregation. While our brothers in Nazi Germany suffered cruel persecution, we were spared this—until 1939. Early on the morning of March 22, the news broke: “Memelland liberated! The Führer is coming!”
The ominous droning of numerous aircraft overhead filled our ears all morning. Hitler’s occupation had begun. The very next day all of Jehovah’s Witnesses had their homes searched, and some Witnesses were arrested. Our literature, even Bibles, was confiscated and burned publicly in the marketplace. No sooner were our activities banned than we began to work underground, circulating literature and visiting interested ones secretly.
At the outbreak of World War II, I was called up for military service. I consistently refused, and the Military Court of the Reich in Berlin imposed the death sentence on April 10, 1940. My wife was fetched from home to persuade me to join the military. She, too, remained unmoved and earned the respect of an elderly officer, who remarked: “I must admit, your attitude is quite right. War is inhuman.” My wife was left without a breadwinner to support her, our four children, and her aging mother. Did Ruth ever complain? In the few letters she was allowed to write, she encouraged me to remain loyal and not to become weak because of the loved ones I was leaving behind.
In October 1940 my sentence was rescinded. However, I was still kept in custody in various detention centers, finally landing in the concentration camp at Stutthof, near Danzig (today Gdansk). Loyal Witnesses already in the camp, such as Joseph Scharner, Wilhelm Scheider, Herman Raböse, and Hermine Schmidt, were to become my close comrades, and they strengthened my faith.* There, in the midst of 30,000 internees, each doomed and robbed of hope, we were privileged to bring the comfort of Jehovah’s Kingdom.
Grateful for Jehovah’s Goodness
In January 1945, as war on the eastern front got nearer and nearer, the evacuation of the camp began. In Danzig harbor, the ship Wilhelm Gustloff was waiting to carry us westward. Arriving too late—our convoy had been bombarded by airplanes—we missed what turned out to be a voyage to disaster, as few survived the sinking of that ship.* We were then kept for a while in a fenced-in barn with about 200 other prisoners. Under unsanitary conditions, I contracted typhoid fever. Then came the order: “Return to the Stutthof camp!” Running a high temperature, I was hardly able to walk, and I made the long way back only with the help of a brother, Hans Deike. It took ten days in the camp’s infirmary for the fever to subside.
April 25, 1945, saw us on our way back to the coast. I was still seriously ill, and the sisters had a struggle to keep me on my feet. Nevertheless, some of them were singing our songs. We were loaded onto a simple river barge to begin our perilous voyage. With over 400 people on board, the vessel was rocking severely. In order to keep the barge in trim, prisoners were beaten and forced into the lower cargo-hold. There, people were literally lying on top of one another. The dead were thrown overboard. It was a blessing that our small group of 12 Witnesses was allowed to stay on deck, and we thanked God for that.
Frozen stiff, we landed next morning at Sassnitz on the island of Rügen. Unwilling to receive us, the locals gave us only some fresh water. In the night of April 29/30, our barge grounded on one of the many underwater reefs near the island of Eulenbruch. The towboat had cast our vessel loose in an area infested with mines and had vanished. Was this a way to get rid of us? Hearing the underwater reefs scraping the barge hull, we trusted in God not to desert us.
The coast guard brought us to land in rubber dinghies. Our crew was forced at gunpoint to proceed with the journey on another vessel. All German ports were occupied by Allied troops, so we bypassed them and finally made land on the Danish island of Møn. Free at last, we asked the onlookers if there were any of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the island. Within two hours we were being warmly embraced by two sisters. How the ones standing around were amazed. Once the Watch Tower Society’s branch office heard of our arrival, Filip Hoffmann was dispatched to arrange for loving care and attention to be given us. How grateful we were to Jehovah!
God Gives Life and Growth
We quickly recovered from the ordeal and in September were delighted to attend an assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Copenhagen. Two young women, a Lett and a Ukrainian, who had learned the truth in the Stutthof camp were baptized. They both returned to the Soviet Union as our spiritual sisters. And God was to give us still further growth!
Memelland was now part of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania. Contrary to the urgings of Russian refugees, I made my way eastward in June 1946 to rejoin my family. I took with me a heavy bundle of Bible literature. When I crossed the border, the patrols ignored my bundle, paying more attention to the generous quantity of garlic I was carrying. How delighted the local brothers were to receive the precious spiritual food!
I was filled with gratitude to Jehovah for his wonderfully preserving my family through the war and the difficult times afterward so that we could continue our work. We have never ceased praising God!
A Crushing Blow
However, in September 1950 all Witnesses in our area were arrested and transported elsewhere. A number of us were sentenced to between 10 and 25 years in a labor camp. All our family members were banished to Siberia for life.*
This was a crushing blow to us, but we quickly came to realize that the Kingdom message had to be spread in this huge country also. It was my privilege, along with about 30 other Witnesses, to preach to the 3,000 internees of the Vorkuta camp in the north of European Russia. Many accepted the truth, were baptized, and continued the work in virgin territories after their release.
After about five years, in the spring of 1957, I was granted permission to move to the Tomsk area, and this reunited our family. Our brothers in Siberia had to work from morning till evening, with no day off. Finally, almost all those banished ones were released, and a large southward migration of German nationals followed. As mentioned in the beginning, we settled in the Central Asian Republic of Kirghiz in 1960. Here, in the town of Kant near Frunze, we found several families of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had arrived ahead of us.
The first few years passed peacefully enough. As the waters of truth took effect, a spiritual paradise started to grow here and in other parts of the country. Our active praising of Jehovah, however, did not go unnoticed. The press published libelous articles about us. Leaders of officially registered religions forbade us to visit their “sheep,” threatening to take action against us. In 1963 five brothers were suddenly grasped from our midst and sentenced to from seven to ten years in labor camps. The fearless and uncompromising stand of our brothers in court amazed the public. They saw that there were people who were determined to ‘obey God rather than men.’—Acts 5:29.
When I reached the age of retirement, we were told that we would be allowed to emigrate to the Federal Republic of Germany. Before our departure, the brothers and sisters in Kirghiz and South Kazakhstan impressed upon us that we should pass on their tender love and greetings, with Job 32:19-22 and Jeremiah 20:9, 10, to all of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. Ruth and I have now lived in Bremerhaven since 1969. Despite advancing age, we continue to praise Jehovah, the Source of life and growth, for his goodness. We confidently look forward to the day when the whole earth will be a literal paradise, and every breathing thing will praise him!—Psalm 150:6.
[Picture on page 23]
Eduard and Ruth Warter today
[Picture on page 24]
The group of Witnesses from Stutthof concentration camp after arrival in Denmark in 1945, with Eduard Warter on extreme left, being welcomed by a local brother