Sustained Through Terrible Trials
AS TOLD BY ÉVA JOSEFSSON
A small group of us had gathered in the Újpest district of Budapest, Hungary, for a brief meeting before going out in the Christian ministry. It was 1939, shortly before the beginning of World War II, and the preaching work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was under ban in Hungary. Those who shared in teaching the Bible publicly in those days were often arrested.
SINCE it was my first time to share in this activity, I must have looked a bit anxious and pale. An older Christian brother turned to me and said: “Éva, you never need to fear. Serving Jehovah is the greatest honor a human can have.” Those considerate and strengthening words helped to sustain me through many terrible trials.
A Jewish Background
I was the oldest child in a Jewish family of five children. Mother was not satisfied with Judaism, and she started to examine other religions. This was how she met Erzsébet Slézinger, another Jewish woman who too was searching for Bible truth. Erzsébet brought Mother into contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, and as a result, I also became deeply interested in Bible teachings. Soon I started sharing with others what I had learned.
When I turned 18 in the summer of 1941, I symbolized my dedication to Jehovah God by means of baptism in the Danube River. Mother was baptized at the same time, but Father did not share our newfound Christian faith. Soon after my baptism, I made plans to pioneer, that is, to share in the full-time ministry. I needed to obtain a bicycle, so I began to work in the laboratory of a large textile factory.
Beginning of Trials
The Nazis had taken over Hungary, and the factory where I worked had come under German management. One day all workers were called to appear before the supervisors to swear an oath of allegiance to the Nazis. We were told that failure to do this would have serious consequences. During the ceremony where we were required to heil Hitler, I stood respectfully but did not carry out the act required. I was called into the office that very day, given my salary, and dismissed. Since work was scarce, I wondered what would happen to my plans to pioneer. The next day, however, I got a new job with even better pay.
Now my desire to pioneer could be realized. I had several pioneer partners, and my last one was Juliska Asztalos. We used only our Bible in the ministry, having no literature to offer. When we found interested people, we made return visits and lent them literature.
Time and again, Juliska and I had to change the territory we were working. This was because a priest, upon learning we were calling on ‘his sheep,’ would announce in church that if Jehovah’s Witnesses visited them, they must report it to him or to the police. When friendly people told us of such an announcement, we would move to another territory.
One day Juliska and I called on a young boy who showed interest. We made an appointment for a return visit to lend him something to read. But when we returned, the police were there, and we were arrested and taken to the police station in Dunavecse. The boy had been used as a lure to catch us. When we arrived at the police station, we saw a priest there and knew that he too was involved.
My Worst Trial
There at the police station, all my hair was shaved off, and I had to stand naked in front of about a dozen policemen. They interrogated me, wanting to know who our leader in Hungary was. I explained that we had no leader other than Jesus Christ. They then beat me ruthlessly with their batons, but I did not betray my Christian brothers.
Afterward, they tied my feet together and held my hands over my head and also tied them together. Then, one after the other, they raped me, all except one policeman. I was tied so firmly that I still had marks on my wrists three years later. I was so brutalized that I was kept in the basement for two weeks until my most severe injuries were somewhat healed.
A Period of Relief
Later I was taken to a prison in Nagykanizsa, where there were many of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Two relatively happy years followed despite our imprisonment. We held all our meetings in secret, and we functioned more or less like a congregation. We also had many opportunities for informal witnessing. It was in this prison that I met Olga Slézinger, a fleshly sister of Erzsébet Slézinger, the woman who had introduced Bible truth to my mother and me.
By 1944 the Nazis in Hungary had determined to liquidate the Hungarian Jews, even as they had systematically been killing them in other occupied areas. One day they came for Olga and me. We were packed into railway cattle cars, and after a very difficult journey through Czechoslovakia, we reached our destination in southern Poland—the death camp Auschwitz.
Surviving in Auschwitz
I felt safe when I was with Olga. She could be humorous even in trying situations. When we arrived in Auschwitz, we appeared before the infamous Dr. Mengele, whose task it was to separate the new arrivals who were not fit for work from the able-bodied. The former were sent to gas chambers. When it was our turn, Mengele asked Olga, “How old are you?”
Boldly, and with a humorous twinkle in her eyes, she answered, “20.” In reality she was twice that age. But Mengele laughed and let her go to the right side and thus stay alive.
All prisoners in Auschwitz were marked with symbols on their prison garb—Jews had the Star of David, and Jehovah’s Witnesses had the purple triangle. When they wanted to sew the Star of David on our clothes, we explained that we were Jehovah’s Witnesses and wanted the purple triangle. This was not because we were ashamed of our Jewish heritage, but we were now Jehovah’s Witnesses. They tried to force us to accept the Jewish emblem by kicking and beating us. But we stood firm until they admitted us as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In time, I met up with my sister Elvira, who was three years younger than me. Our whole family of seven had been taken to Auschwitz. Only Elvira and I had been approved as fit for work. Father, Mother, and our three siblings died in the gas chambers. Elvira was not a Witness then, and we did not stay in the same part of the camp. She survived, immigrated to the United States, became a Witness in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and later died there in 1973.
Surviving in Other Camps
In the winter of 1944/45, the Germans decided to evacuate Auschwitz, since the Russians were approaching. So we were moved to Bergen-Belsen in the northern part of Germany. Soon after our arrival, Olga and I were sent to Braunschweig. Here we were supposed to help clear debris after the intense bombings by the Allied forces. Olga and I discussed the matter. Since we were not certain if doing this work would violate our neutrality, we both decided not to share in it.
Our decision caused quite a stir. We were beaten with leather whips and then taken before a firing squad. We were given one minute to think the matter over, and we were told that if we did not change our minds, we would be shot. We said we did not need any time to think about it because we had made up our minds. However, since the camp commander was not present and he was the only one with authority to give an execution order, our execution had to be delayed.
In the meantime we were forced to stand in the camp yard all day long. Two armed soldiers, who were replaced every two hours, guarded us. We were not given any food, and we suffered terribly from the cold, since it was February. A week of this treatment passed, but the commander did not show up. So we were put on the back of a truck, and to our surprise, we found ourselves back in Bergen-Belsen.
By then Olga and I were in terrible condition. I had lost most of my hair and had a high fever. It was only with the greatest effort that I could work some. The thin cabbage soup and small piece of bread each day were not enough. But it was necessary that we work because those who could not were executed. German sisters who worked with me in the kitchen helped me to get some rest. When guards making an inspection were on the way, the sisters warned me, so that I could stand at the workbench, appearing to be hard at work.
One day Olga just did not have the strength to go to her place of work, and after that we saw her no more. I lost a brave friend and companion, one who had been of great help to me during those difficult months in the camps. As an anointed follower of our Lord Jesus Christ, she must immediately have received her heavenly reward.—Revelation 14:13.
Release and Life Afterward
When the war ended in May 1945 and liberation came, I was so weak that I could not rejoice that the yoke of the oppressors had at last been crushed; nor could I join the convoys taking the liberated ones to countries willing to receive them. I remained for three months in a hospital in order to regain strength. Afterward I was taken to Sweden, which became my new home. At once, I got in touch with my Christian brothers and sisters and in time took up the precious treasure of the field ministry.
In 1949, I married Lennart Josefsson, who had for years served as a traveling overseer of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He too had been imprisoned during World War II as a result of maintaining his faith. We began our life together as pioneers on September 1, 1949, and were assigned to serve in the town of Borås. During our first years there, we regularly conducted ten Bible studies each week with interested ones. We had the joy of seeing the congregation in Borås become three within nine years, and now there are five.
I was not able to remain a pioneer for long because in 1950 we became parents to a daughter, and two years later, to a son. Thus I had the delightful privilege of teaching our children the precious truth that the dear brother in Hungary taught me when I was only 16, namely: “Serving Jehovah is the greatest honor a human can have.”
Looking back on my life, I realize that I have experienced the truth of what the disciple James wrote when reminding us of Job’s endurance: “Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful.” (James 5:11) Although I too suffered terrible trials, I have been richly blessed with two children, their mates, and six grandchildren—all of whom are worshipers of Jehovah. Besides that, I have many, many spiritual children and grandchildren, some of whom are serving as pioneers and missionaries. Now my great hope is to meet dear ones who are sleeping in death and to embrace them when they rise from their memorial tombs.—John 5:28, 29.
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In the ministry in Sweden following World War II
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With my husband