Stand Complete and With Firm Conviction
Courageous Integrity Keepers Triumph Over Nazi Persecution
“BE WISE, my son, and make my heart rejoice, that I may make a reply to him that is taunting me.” (Proverbs 27:11) This warm appeal reveals that God’s intelligent creatures are able to make Jehovah’s heart glad because they are faithful and loyal to him. (Zephaniah 3:17) However, Satan, the taunter, is determined to break the integrity of those who serve Jehovah.—Job 1:10, 11.
Especially since the early part of the 20th century when he was hurled out of heaven to the vicinity of the earth, has Satan displayed great anger toward Jehovah’s people. (Revelation 12:10, 12) Nevertheless, true Christians have stood “complete and with firm conviction” and have kept their integrity to God. (Colossians 4:12) Let us briefly consider one outstanding example of such integrity keeping—that of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany before and during World War II.
Zealous Activity Leads to Tests of Integrity
In the 1920’s and early 1930’s, the Bibelforscher, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known in Germany, distributed large amounts of Bible literature. Between 1919 and 1933, they placed on an average eight books, booklets, or magazines with each family in Germany.
At that time, Germany had one of the largest concentrations of anointed followers of Christ. In fact, of the 83,941 persons worldwide who partook of the Lord’s Evening Meal in 1933, nearly 30 percent lived in Germany. Before long, these German Witnesses experienced grueling tests of integrity. (Revelation 12:17; 14:12) Dismissals from jobs, raids on homes, and expulsions from schools quickly escalated into beatings, arrests, and imprisonment. (Picture 1) Consequently, in the years leading up to World War II, Jehovah’s Witnesses made up 5 to 10 percent of all those held in concentration camps.
Why the Nazis Persecuted the Witnesses
Why, though, did Jehovah’s Witnesses provoke the fury of the Nazi regime? In his book Hitler—1889-1936: Hubris, professor of history Ian Kershaw notes that the Witnesses became a target of persecution because they refused “to yield to the total claim of the Nazi state.”
The book Betrayal—German Churches and the Holocaust, edited by professor of history Robert P. Ericksen and professor of Jewish studies Susannah Heschel, explained that the Witnesses “refused to participate in violence or the use of military force. . . . Witnesses believed in political neutrality, which meant they would not vote for Hitler nor give the Hitler salute.” This, adds the same source, provoked the anger of the Nazis and put the Witnesses in harm’s way because “National Socialism would not tolerate such a refusal.”
A Worldwide Protest and an All-Out Attack
By special messenger, on February 9, 1934, Joseph F. Rutherford, who was at the forefront of the work at that time, sent Hitler a letter of protest in response to Nazi intolerance. (Picture 2) On October 7, 1934, Rutherford’s letter was followed by some 20,000 letters and telegrams of protest sent to Hitler by Jehovah’s Witnesses in 50 countries, including Germany.
The Nazis responded by stepping up their persecution. On April 1, 1935, the Witnesses were banned nationwide. And on August 28, 1936, the Gestapo launched an all-out attack against them. Yet, the Witnesses “continued to distribute pamphlets and otherwise maintain their faith,” notes Betrayal—German Churches and the Holocaust.
Right under the nose of the Gestapo, for instance, on December 12, 1936, some 3,500 Witnesses distributed tens of thousands of copies of a printed resolution regarding the ill-treatment that they were suffering. Respecting this campaign, The Watchtower reported: “It was a great victory and a sharp stab at the enemy, to the indescribable joy of the faithful workers.”—Romans 9:17.
The Nazi search for Jehovah’s Witnesses continued. By 1939, six thousand of them had been imprisoned, and thousands had been sent to concentration camps. (Picture 3) What was the situation by the end of World War II? Some 2,000 imprisoned Witnesses had died, over 250 by execution. Nonetheless, wrote Professors Ericksen and Heschel, “Jehovah’s Witnesses largely held to their faith in the face of trouble.” As a result, when Hitler’s regime fell, over a thousand Witnesses emerged victorious from the camps.—Picture 4; Acts 5:38, 39; Romans 8:35-37.
What gave Jehovah’s people the strength to endure persecution? Concentration camp survivor Adolphe Arnold explained: “Even if you are at the lowest, Jehovah sees you, knows what you are going through, and he will impart to you the needed strength to overcome the situation and stay faithful. His hand is not too short.”
How well the words of the prophet Zephaniah apply to those faithful Christians! He declared: “Jehovah your God is in the midst of you. As a mighty One, he will save. He will exult over you with rejoicing.” (Zephaniah 3:17) May all worshipers of the true God today imitate the faith of those loyal Witnesses who maintained integrity in the face of Nazi persecution and likewise make Jehovah’s heart rejoice.—Philippians 1:12-14.
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Państwowe Muzeum Oświȩcim-Brzezinka, courtesy of the USHMM Photo Archives