We Made a Firm Decision for God’s Rulership
AS TOLD BY MICHAL ŽOBRÁK
After spending a month in solitary confinement, I was dragged to an interrogator. Before long, he turned red and shouted: “You spies! American spies!” What made him so angry? He had just asked me what my religion was, and I had answered: “I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
THIS happened more than half a century ago. At that time, the country where I lived was under Communist rule. Long before that, however, we had already experienced fiery opposition to our Christian educational work.
We Feel the Painful Sting of War
When World War I started in 1914, I was eight years old. At that time, my village, Zálužice, was subject to the monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The war not only upset the world scene but also ended my childhood abruptly. My father, who was a soldier, died in the very first year of hostilities. This left my mother, my two younger sisters, and me in abject poverty. As the oldest male in the house, I soon found myself shouldering many responsibilities on our small farm and around the house. From an early age, I was very religious. The minister of our Reformed (Calvinist) Church even asked me to substitute for him and teach my schoolmates during his absence.
In 1918 the Great War ended, and we heaved a sigh of relief. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had been overthrown, and we became citizens of the Republic of Czechoslovakia. Soon, many from our area who had immigrated to the United States returned home. Among them was Michal Petrík, who came to our village in 1922. When he visited a family in our neighborhood, my mother and I were also invited.
God’s Rulership Becomes Real to Us
Michal was a Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, and he talked about important Bible issues that intrigued me. Foremost among these was the coming of Jehovah’s Kingdom. (Daniel 2:44) When he said that there would be a Christian meeting in the village of Záhor the next Sunday, I was determined to go. I got up at 4:00 a.m. and walked some five miles [8 km] to my cousin’s place to borrow a bicycle. After repairing a flat tire, I continued another 15 miles [24 km] to Záhor. I did not know where the meeting would take place, so I proceeded slowly along one of the streets. Then I recognized a Kingdom song being sung in one of the houses. My heart leaped with joy. I entered the house and explained why I was there. I was invited to join the family for breakfast, and then they took me to the meeting. Although I had to ride and walk 20 more miles [32 km] to get back home, I did not feel tired at all.—Isaiah 40:31.
I was fascinated by the clear, Bible-based explanations provided by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The prospect of enjoying a full and satisfying life under God’s rulership touched my heart. (Psalm 104:28) My mother and I both decided to submit a letter of resignation to our church. This caused quite a stir in our village. Some people would not even speak to us for a while, yet we had good association with the many Witnesses in our area. (Matthew 5:11, 12) It was not long before I was baptized in the Uh River.
The Ministry Becomes Our Way of Life
We used every opportunity to preach about Jehovah’s Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) We particularly focused on well-organized preaching campaigns on Sundays. As a rule, people back then got up early, so we could start preaching quite early. Later in the day, a public meeting was scheduled. The Bible teachers spoke mostly extemporaneously. They took into consideration the number of interested people, their religious background, and issues that concerned them.
The Bible truths we preached opened the eyes of many honesthearted people. Soon after I was baptized, I worked in the village of Trhovište. At one house, I talked to a very kind and friendly woman, Mrs. Zuzana Moskal. She and her family were Calvinists, as I had been. Despite her familiarity with the Bible, she had many unanswered Bible questions. We had an hour-long discussion, and I placed the book The Harp of God with her.*
The Moskals immediately included the reading of the Harp book in their regular Bible-reading sessions. More families in that village showed interest and started to attend our meetings. Their Calvinist minister sounded a strong warning against us and our literature. Then some of the interested ones suggested to the minister that he come to our meeting and disprove our teachings during an open debate.
The minister came, but he was not able to present a single argument from the Bible to support his teachings. To defend himself, he stated: “We cannot believe everything in the Bible. It was written by humans, and religious questions can be explained in different ways.” This was a turning point for many. Some told the minister that if he did not believe the Bible, they would not come and listen to his sermons anymore. Thus, they broke their ties with the Calvinist Church, and some 30 people from that village took a firm stand for Bible truth.
Preaching the good news of the Kingdom became our way of life, so naturally I was looking for a companion from a spiritually strong family. One of my coworkers in the ministry was Ján Petruška, who had learned the truth in the United States. His daughter Mária impressed me with her readiness to give a witness to everyone, just like her father. In 1936 we were married, and Mária would be my faithful companion for 50 years, until her death in 1986. In 1938 our only son, Eduard, was born. But at that time, another war in Europe seemed imminent. How would it affect our work?
Our Christian Neutrality Is Put to the Test
When World War II began, Slovakia, which became a separate country, was under Nazi influence. Yet, no specific governmental action was taken against Jehovah’s Witnesses as an organization. Of course, we had to work in secret, and our literature was censored. Nevertheless, we discreetly continued with our activities.—Matthew 10:16.
As the war intensified, I was drafted into the army, although I was over the age of 35. Because of my Christian neutrality, I refused to participate in war. (Isaiah 2:2-4) Happily, before the authorities figured out what to do with me, all those belonging to my age group were released.
We realized that it was far more challenging for our brothers in the cities to sustain themselves than it was for us who lived in rural areas. We wanted to share what we had. (2 Corinthians 8:14) Thus, we would take as many food products as we could carry and travel over 300 miles [500 km] across the country to Bratislava. The bonds of Christian friendship and love that we forged during the war years sustained us in the hard years that lay ahead.
Getting Needed Encouragement
After World War II, Slovakia once again became a part of Czechoslovakia. From 1946 to 1948, nationwide conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses were held either in Brno or in Prague. We from eastern Slovakia traveled by special trains arranged for the convention delegates. You might call the trains the singing trains, as we sang all the way.—Acts 16:25.
I especially remember the 1947 convention in Brno, where three Christian overseers from the world headquarters, including Brother Nathan H. Knorr, were present. To advertise the public talk, many of us walked through the city with sandwich signs announcing the theme. Our son, Eduard, who was then only nine years old, was very unhappy that he did not get one. So the brothers made smaller signs not only for him but also for many other children. This younger group did a fine job of advertising the talk!
In February 1948 the Communists came to power. We knew that it was only a matter of time before the government would take steps to restrain our ministry. A convention was held in Prague in September 1948, and we had strong emotions as we anticipated another ban on our public gatherings, after just three years of freedom of assembly. Before leaving the convention, we adopted a resolution that, in part, stated: “We, Jehovah’s Witnesses, who have assembled ourselves together . . . , are determined to increase this blessed service still more, and, by the Lord’s grace, to persevere therein in season and in times of trial, and to publish the gospel of God’s kingdom with yet greater zeal.”
“Enemies of the State”
Only two months after the Prague convention, the secret police raided the Bethel home near Prague. They seized the property, confiscated any literature they could find, and arrested all the Bethelites and some other brothers. But more was to come.
During the night of February 3-4, 1952, security forces swept the country and arrested over 100 Witnesses. I was one of them. At about three in the morning, the police woke up my whole family. Without any explanation, they asked me to go with them. I was shackled and blindfolded and along with several others thrown onto the back of a truck. I ended up in solitary confinement.
A whole month passed without anybody talking to me. The only person I saw was the guard who shoved a meager meal through an opening in the door. Then I was summoned by the interrogator mentioned at the outset. After he called me a spy, he continued: “Religion is ignorance. There is no God! We cannot allow you to fool our working class. Either a hangman will kick the stool out from beneath your feet or you will rot in prison. And if your God were to come here, we would kill him as well!”
Since the authorities knew that there was no specific law forbidding our Christian activities, they wanted to redefine our activities to fit existing laws by portraying us as “enemies of the State” and as foreign spies. To do that, they needed to break our willpower and have us “confess” to trumped-up charges. After the interrogation that night, I was not permitted to sleep. Within a few hours, I was interrogated again. This time the interrogator wanted me to sign a statement that read: “I as an enemy of the People’s Democratic Czechoslovakia did not join the [collective farm] because I was awaiting the Americans.” When I refused to sign such a lie, I was sent to a correction cell.
I was forbidden to sleep, lie down, or even sit down. I could only stand or walk about. When I became exhausted, I lay down on the concrete floor. Then the guards took me back to the interrogator’s office. “Will you sign now?” the interrogator asked. When I refused again, he hit me in the face. I started bleeding. He then growled to the guards: “He wants to kill himself. Put him on suicide watch!” I was sent back to solitary confinement. For six months these interrogation tactics were repeated on numerous occasions. No ideological persuasion or attempts to make me acknowledge that I was an enemy of the State diminished my resolve to keep my integrity to Jehovah.
A month before I was due to go on trial, a prosecutor came from Prague and interrogated each one of our group of 12 brothers. He asked me: “What will you do if Western imperialists attack our country?” “What I did when this country along with Hitler attacked the USSR. I did not fight then, and I would not fight now because I am a Christian and I am neutral.” Then he told me: “We cannot tolerate Jehovah’s Witnesses. We need soldiers in case the Western imperialists attack us, and we need soldiers to free our working class in the West.”
On July 24, 1953, we were ushered into the courtroom. One after another, the 12 of us were called before the panel of judges. We seized the opportunity to give a witness about our faith. After our responses to the false charges hurled against us, a counsel stood up and said: “I have been in this courtroom many times. Usually, there is a lot of confession, repentance, and even tears. But these men will leave stronger than when they came.” Afterward, all 12 of us were declared guilty of conspiring against the State. I was sentenced to three years and forfeiture of all my property to the State.
Old Age Has Not Stopped Me
After coming home, I was still under surveillance by the secret police. Despite that, I resumed my theocratic activities and was entrusted with spiritual oversight in our congregation. Although we were allowed to live in our confiscated house, it was legally returned to us only some 40 years later, after the fall of Communism.
My prison experience was not the last one in my family. I had been home only three years when Eduard was drafted for service in the army. Because of his Bible-trained conscience, he refused and was imprisoned. Years later, even my grandson, Peter, went through the same experience, in spite of his poor health.
In 1989 the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia collapsed. How happy I was when after four decades of ban, I could freely preach from house to house! (Acts 20:20) As long as my health allowed, I enjoyed this kind of service. Now that I am 98, my health is not what it used to be, but I am glad that I can still witness to people about Jehovah’s glorious promises for the future.
I can count 12 heads of five different countries that ruled over my hometown. They included dictators, presidents, and a king. None of them provided any lasting solution for the ills that troubled people under their rule. (Psalm 146:3, 4) I am grateful to Jehovah that he allowed me to get to know him early in life. Thus, I was able to appreciate his solution by means of the Messianic Kingdom and avoid the vanity of life without God. I have actively preached the best news for over 75 years, and it has given me a purpose in life, satisfaction, and a bright hope of everlasting life on earth. What else could I ask for?*
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.
Sadly, Brother Michal Žobrák’s strength finally gave out. He died faithful, with confidence in the resurrection hope, while this article was being prepared for publication.
[Picture on page 26]
Shortly after our wedding
[Picture on page 26]
With Eduard in the early 1940’s
[Picture on page 27]
Advertising the convention in Brno, 1947