“I Admired His Incredible Determination”
GÜNTER GRASS, German author and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999, published his autobiography in 2006. In it he describes the time when he was drafted into the German civil defense. In the same book, he tells of a man who made such an impression on him that it has stayed with him for over 60 years. That was a solitary figure who stood up for his faith under persecution.
In an interview published in the daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Grass recalled this extraordinary person, who refused to take up arms. Grass said that the man “did not subscribe to any of the prevailing ideologies, being neither a Nazi, a Communist, nor a Socialist. He was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Grass does not remember the name of the Witness, whom he dubbed We-don’t-do-such-things. Researchers of Jehovah’s Witnesses identify the man as Joachim Alfermann. He was repeatedly beaten and humiliated, and then he was placed in solitary confinement. But Alfermann remained steadfast and refused to bear arms.
“I admired his incredible determination,” Grass noted. “I asked myself: How can he put up with it all? How does he do it?” After enduring prolonged efforts to break his integrity to God, Alfermann was finally sent to the Stutthof concentration camp in February 1944. Liberated in April 1945, he survived the war and remained a loyal Witness of Jehovah until his death in 1998.
Alfermann was one of some 13,400 Witnesses—in Germany and in countries occupied by the Nazis—who suffered reprisals because of their faith. They followed the direction of the Bible, remaining politically neutral and refusing to take up arms. (Matthew 26:52; John 18:36) Some 4,200 Witnesses were interned in concentration camps, and 1,490 lost their lives. Even today, the stand they took impresses many who do not share their faith but admire their steadfastness.
[Picture on page 32]