Patiently Waiting on Jehovah From My Youth On
AS TOLD BY RUDOLF GRAICHEN
Like a lightning bolt, tragedy struck my family when I was just 12 years old. First, my father was thrown into prison. Then, my sister and I were forcefully taken away from home and sent to live with strangers. Later, my mother and I were arrested by the Gestapo. I went to prison, and she ended up in a concentration camp.
THAT sequence of events marked only the beginning of a period of painful persecution I suffered in my youth as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The infamous Nazi Gestapo and then the East German Stasi tried to break my integrity to God. Now, after 50 years of dedicated service to him, I can say as did the psalmist: “Long enough they have shown hostility to me from my youth; yet they have not prevailed over me.” (Psalm 129:2) How thankful I am to Jehovah!
I was born on June 2, 1925, in the small town of Lucka near Leipzig, Germany. Even before I was born, my parents, Alfred and Teresa, recognized the ring of Bible truth in the publications of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. I remember every day looking at the pictures of Bible scenes hanging on the walls of our home. One picture showed the wolf and the lamb, the kid and the leopard, the calf and the lion—all in peace, being led by a little boy. (Isaiah 11:6-9) Such pictures made a lasting impression on me.
Whenever possible, my parents included me in congregation activities. For example, in February 1933, just a few days after Hitler took power, the “Photo-Drama of Creation”—with its slides, motion pictures, and recorded narration—was shown in our little town. How excited I was, a boy of merely seven years of age, riding through town in the back of a pickup truck as part of an advertising march for the “Photo-Drama”! On this and other occasions, the brothers made me feel like a useful member of the congregation despite my young age. So from a very early age, I was taught by Jehovah and influenced by his Word.
Trained to Trust in Jehovah
Because of strict Christian neutrality, Jehovah’s Witnesses did not get involved in Nazi politics. As a result, in 1933 the Nazis passed laws prohibiting us from preaching, meeting, and even reading our own Bible literature. In September 1937 all the brothers in our congregation, including my father, were arrested by the Gestapo. That made me very sad. My father was sentenced to five years in prison.
Things became very difficult for us at home. But we quickly learned to trust in Jehovah. One day when I came home from school, my mother was reading The Watchtower. She wanted to fix me a quick lunch, so she laid the magazine on top of a small cupboard. After lunch, while we were putting the dishes away, there was a loud knock at the door. It was a policeman who wanted to search our apartment for Bible literature. I got very scared.
It was an unusually hot day. So the first thing the policeman did was to take off his helmet and place it on top of a table. He then proceeded with his search. While he was looking under the table, his helmet began to slide off. So my mother quickly grabbed the helmet and placed it on the cupboard right on top of The Watchtower! The policeman ransacked our apartment but did not find any literature. Of course, he never thought of looking under his helmet. When he was ready to leave, he mumbled an apology to my mother while reaching behind his back to grab his helmet. What a relief I felt!
Experiences like that prepared me for more difficult tests. For example, in school I was pressured to join the Hitler Youth organization, in which children were trained in military discipline and indoctrinated with Nazi philosophy. Some teachers had the personal goal to achieve 100-percent student participation. My teacher, Herr Schneider, must have felt that he was a complete failure because, unlike all the other teachers in my school, he was one student short of 100-percent participation. I was that student.
One day Herr Schneider announced to the entire class: “Boys, tomorrow we will go on a class outing.” Everybody liked the idea. Then he added: “All of you should wear your Hitler Youth uniforms so that when we march through the streets, all can see that you are nice Hitler boys.” The next morning all the boys showed up in their uniforms except me. The teacher called me to the front of the classroom and asked me: “Look around at the other boys and then look at yourself.” He added: “I know that your parents are poor and cannot afford to buy you a uniform, but let me show you something.” He brought me to his desk, opened a drawer, and said: “I want to give you this brand-new uniform. Isn’t it beautiful?”
I would rather have died than put on a Nazi uniform. When my teacher saw that I had no intention of wearing it, he got angry, and the entire class booed me. Then he took us on the outing but tried to hide me by making me walk in the middle of all the other boys in their uniforms. However, many people in town could see me as I stood out among my classmates. Everybody knew that my parents and I were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I am thankful to Jehovah for giving me the needed spiritual strength when I was young.
The Persecution Intensifies
One day early in 1938, my sister and I were taken from school and transported by police car to a reform school in Stadtroda, about 50 miles [80 km] away. Why? The courts had decided to remove us from the influence of our parents and turn us into Nazi children. Soon the personnel in charge of the reformatory noticed that my sister and I were respectful and obedient, although firm in our Christian neutrality. The director was so impressed that she wanted to meet my mother personally. An exception was made, and my mother was allowed to visit us. My sister, my mother, and I were so happy and thankful to Jehovah for granting us the opportunity to be together for mutual encouragement for an entire day. We really needed it.
We remained in the reformatory for about four months. Then we were sent to live with a family in Pahna. They were instructed to keep us away from our relatives. My mother was not even allowed to visit. Yet, on a couple of occasions, she found a way to contact us. Seizing those rare opportunities, my mother did the best she could to instill in us a determination to remain faithful to Jehovah, whatever tests and circumstances he would permit.—1 Corinthians 10:13.
And the tests did come. On December 15, 1942, when I was only 17 years old, I was picked up by the Gestapo and put in a detention center in Gera. About a week later, my mother too was arrested and joined me in the same prison. Since I was still a minor, the courts could not try me. So my mother and I spent six months in detention while the courts waited for my 18th birthday. On the very day I turned 18, my mother and I were brought to trial.
Before I realized it, it was all over. Little did I know that I would not see my mother again. My last memory of her is seeing her sitting in court on a dark wooden bench right next to me. We were both pronounced guilty. I was sentenced to four years in prison and my mother to one and a half years.
In those days there were thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses held in prisons and camps. However, I was sent to a prison in Stollberg, where I was the only Witness. I spent over a year in solitary confinement, yet Jehovah was with me. The love I had cultivated for him in my youth was the key to my spiritual survival.
On May 9, 1945, after I had been in prison for two and a half years, we received good news—the war was over! On that day I was released. After a 70-mile [110 km] walk, I arrived home, literally sick from exhaustion and starvation. It took me several months to regain my health.
As soon as I arrived, I was hit with much distressing news. First about my mother. After she had been in prison for one and a half years, the Nazis asked her to sign a document renouncing her faith in Jehovah. She refused. So the Gestapo took her to a women’s concentration camp, in Ravensbrück. There she died of typhus just before the war ended. She was a very courageous Christian—a hard fighter who never gave up. May Jehovah remember her kindly.
There was also news about my older brother, Werner, who never made a dedication to Jehovah. He had joined the German army and was killed in Russia. My father? He did come home, but sadly, he was one of the very few Witnesses who signed that infamous document renouncing their faith. When I got to see him, he appeared sullen and mentally disturbed.—2 Peter 2:20.
A Brief Period of Zealous Spiritual Activity
On March 10, 1946, I attended my first postwar assembly in Leipzig. What a thrill when it was announced that a baptism was to take place that same day! Although I had dedicated my life to Jehovah many years before, this was my first opportunity to get baptized. I will never forget that day.
On March 1, 1947, after pioneering for one month, I was invited to Bethel in Magdeburg. The Society’s offices were quite damaged from the bombing. What a privilege to help with the repair work! After that summer I was assigned to the city of Wittenberge as a special pioneer. Some months I spent more than 200 hours preaching to others about the good news of God’s Kingdom. How glad I was to be free again—no war, no persecution, no prisons!
Sad to say, that freedom did not last long. After the war Germany was divided, and the area where I lived fell under the control of the Communists. In September 1950 the East Germany secret police, known as the Stasi, began to arrest the brothers systematically. The charges against me were ridiculous. I was accused of being a spy for the American government. They sent me to the worst Stasi prison in the country, in Brandenburg.
Support From My Spiritual Brothers
There the Stasi did not let me sleep during the day. Then they would interrogate me all night long. After I was subjected to this torture for a few days, things got worse. One morning, instead of returning me to my cell, they took me to one of their infamous U-Boot Zellen (known as submarine cells because of their location deep in a cellar). They opened an old, rusty iron door and asked me to step in. I had to step over a high threshold. When I put my foot down, I realized that the floor was entirely covered with water. The door was slammed closed with an awful squealing noise. There was no light and no window. It was pitch black.
Because of the several inches of water on the floor, I could not sit, lie down, or sleep. After waiting for what seemed an eternity, I was taken back for further interrogation under powerful lights. I do not know what was worse—to stand in water all day long in nearly complete darkness or to endure the painfully bright floodlights directed straight at me all night long.
On several occasions they threatened to shoot me. After some nights of interrogation, I was visited one morning by a high Russian military officer. I had the opportunity to tell him that the German Stasi was treating me even worse than the Nazi Gestapo had. I told him that Jehovah’s Witnesses were neutral under the Nazi government and were also neutral under the Communist government and that we did not meddle in politics anywhere in the world. In contrast, I said, many who were now Stasi officers had been members of the Hitler Youth organization, where they likely learned how to persecute innocent people brutally. As I was talking, my body was shivering from the cold, hunger, and exhaustion.
Surprisingly, the Russian officer did not get angry with me. On the contrary, he placed a blanket on me and treated me in a kind way. Shortly after his visit, I was returned to a more comfortable cell. A few days later, I was handed over to the German courts. While my case was still pending, I enjoyed the fine privilege of sharing a cell with five other Witnesses. After enduring much cruel treatment, how refreshing I found it to have the association of my spiritual brothers!—Psalm 133:1.
In court I was pronounced guilty of espionage and sentenced to four years in a penitentiary. That was considered a light sentence. Some of the brothers were sentenced to more than ten years. I was sent to a maximum security penitentiary. I think that not even a mouse was able to crawl in or out of that prison—so tight was the security. Yet, with Jehovah’s help some brave brothers were able to smuggle in an entire Bible. It was taken apart and divided into individual books and circulated among the brothers who were prisoners.
How did we do it? It was very difficult. The only time we came in contact with one another was when we were taken to the showers every two weeks. On one occasion, while I was taking a shower, a brother whispered in my ear that he had concealed some Bible pages in his towel. After my shower I was to grab his towel instead of mine.
One of the guards saw the brother whispering to me and beat him pretty badly with a billy club. I had to grab the towel quickly and mingle with the other prisoners. Thankfully I was not caught with the Bible pages. Otherwise our spiritual feeding program would have been jeopardized. We went through many similar experiences. Our Bible reading was always done in hiding and at great risk. The words of the apostle Peter, “Keep your senses, be watchful,” were indeed very appropriate.—1 Peter 5:8.
For some reason, the authorities decided to transfer some of us repeatedly from one penitentiary to another. Over a period of four years, I was transferred to about ten different penitentiaries. Yet, I was always able to find brothers. I grew to love all these brothers deeply, and it was with great sadness in my heart that I left them every time I was transferred.
Finally I was sent to Leipzig, and there I was released from prison. The prison guard that set me free did not say good-bye but, rather, “We will soon see you again.” His wicked mind wanted me back behind bars. I often think of Psalm 124:2, 3, where it says: “Had it not been that Jehovah proved to be for us when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up even alive, when their anger was burning against us.”
Jehovah Delivers His Loyal Servants
Now I was a free man again. My twin sister, Ruth, and Sister Herta Schlensog were there at the gate waiting for me. During all these prison years, Herta had sent me a small package with food every month. I truly believe that without those little packages, I would have died in prison. May Jehovah remember her kindly.
Since my release, Jehovah has blessed me with many privileges of service. I served again as a special pioneer, in Gronau, Germany, and as a circuit overseer in the German Alps. Later I was invited to enroll in the 31st class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead for missionaries. Our graduation took place at Yankee Stadium during the international assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1958. I had the privilege of addressing the big crowd of brothers and sisters and relating some of my experiences.
After the graduation I traveled to Chile to serve as a missionary. There I served again as a circuit overseer, in the southernmost part of Chile—I was literally sent to the ends of the earth. In 1962, I married Patsy Beutnagel, a lovely missionary from San Antonio, Texas, U.S.A. I enjoyed many wonderful years of service to Jehovah with her by my side.
In my more than 70 years of life, I have experienced many happy moments and many calamities. The psalmist said: “Many are the calamities of the righteous one, but out of them all Jehovah delivers him.” (Psalm 34:19) In 1963, while still in Chile, Patsy and I experienced the tragic death of our baby girl. Later, Patsy got very sick, and we moved to Texas. When she was only 43 years old, she died, also under tragic circumstances. I often pray that Jehovah will kindly remember my lovely wife.
Now, although sickly and old, I enjoy the privilege of serving as a regular pioneer and an elder in Brady, Texas. True, life has not always been easy, and there may be other tests I am still to face. However, like the psalmist I can say: “O God, you have taught me from my youth on, and until now I keep telling about your wonderful works.”—Psalm 71:17.
[Pictures on page 23]
(1) Serving today as an elder and pioneer, (2) with Patsy, just before our wedding, (3) in Herr Schneider’s classroom, (4) my mother, Teresa, who died in Ravensbrück