Trust in Jehovah—He Will Really Help You
As told by Edmund Schmidt
As I was about to appear before a court in New York in October 1943, the above advice came to mind. By the time I turned 25, I had spent nearly four years in prison because of Christian neutrality. Like Jesus’ early followers, I had resolved to “obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) But before I tell you about that, let me explain how I came to believe so firmly in God.
I WAS born on April 23, 1922, in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A., in our apartment one floor above my father’s bakery. Four months later, my father, Edmund, attended a convention of the Bible Students (as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called) at Cedar Point, near Sandusky, about a hundred miles [160 km] from our home.
At that convention, the delegates were urged to “advertise, advertise, advertise [God’s] King and his kingdom.” The following Sunday, Father began sharing in that work. He kept on doing so for the next 66 years, until his death on July 4, 1988. My mother, Mary, died faithful to God in 1981.
Joining My Parents in Worship
Our family attended the Polish-language congregation in Cleveland. On Saturday afternoons, many of us children, accompanied by adults, shared in preaching the good news from house to house. On Sundays, our parents enjoyed a Bible talk in the main auditorium of our meeting place. At the same time, an experienced Bible teacher conducted a Bible study with about 30 of us young ones, using the Bible study aid The Harp of God.* Soon I was conducting Bible studies myself, with good results.
In July 1931, our family, which now included my brother Frank, attended another Bible Students’ convention, this time in Columbus, about one hundred miles [160 km] south. That was when the Bible Students wholeheartedly adopted the Bible-based name Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Isaiah 43:10-12) On that occasion, I shared in the public ministry, inviting people to hear the featured talk by J. F. Rutherford, who was then taking the lead in the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. For more than 79 years since, my life has revolved around serving Jehovah God with his people.
Hard Times and a Rewarding Ministry
By 1933 the Great Depression was being felt worldwide. In the United States, over 15 million people, or one quarter of the workforce, were unemployed. Cities went bankrupt, and there was no provision of social security or welfare for the poor. Yet, our Christian brothers and sisters helped one another. On Sundays, our family took bread and pastries from our bakery to the meeting place to share with others. Any funds Father had after expenses were paid at the end of the month, he sent to the headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York. He knew that this money would be used to help finance the printing of Bible literature.
During those years, radio broadcasts played a major part in our ministry. Over 400 stations carried Bible talks delivered at our conventions. In the 1930’s, the Witnesses also produced phonographs and records at their Brooklyn factory. We used them in our ministry and reported how many times we played Bible talks to non-Witnesses and how many people listened to them.
In 1933, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party came to power in Germany. Jehovah’s Witnesses there were subjected to fierce persecution because of their Christian neutrality. (John 15:19; 17:14) For refusing to participate in political activities or to heil Hitler, a large percentage of the Witnesses in Germany were sent to prisons or concentration camps. Many were executed; others were worked to death. Because of the brutal treatment, many died shortly after their release. Not so well-known is the mistreatment suffered by Jehovah’s Witnesses in other lands, including the United States.
In 1940, we attended a convention in Detroit, Michigan. There, on July 28, I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah God. The month before that convention, the Supreme Court of the United States had ruled that refusal to salute the flag was a federal offense, punishable by expulsion from school. How did the Witnesses deal with this decision? Many of them operated their own schools in order to provide education for their children. These were called Kingdom Schools.
World War II had begun in September 1939 in Europe, and war hysteria swept through the United States. Young Witnesses suffered harassment and beatings by misguided youths and adults alike. It was reported that from 1940 to 1944, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States suffered more than 2,500 violent mob assaults. The persecution increased when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A few weeks earlier, I had begun serving as a pioneer, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called. I saved money and bought a 22-foot [7 m] house trailer, and several of us moved to Louisiana to serve there.
Persecution in the South
We received permission from local residents to park our trailer in a pecan orchard near the city of Jeanerette. One Saturday we decided to do public preaching on the street, but the chief of police summoned his men and took us as prisoners to city hall. A mob of about 200 formed outside, and the police sent us out to them without any offer of protection. To our relief, the mob parted and allowed us to pass. The next day, we went to Baton Rouge, a large city nearby, to tell fellow Witnesses about what had happened.
When we returned to Jeanerette, we found a message attached to our trailer door: “Please see me at the oil camp.” It was signed “E. M. Vaughn.” We found Mr. Vaughn, and he invited us to a meal with him and his wife. He said that he and his men were among the crowd on Saturday, and had it been necessary, he would have defended us from the mob. We appreciated his encouragement and support.
The following day, gun-toting deputy sheriffs arrested us and confiscated our literature. They took the keys to my house trailer and jailed me for 17 days in solitary confinement with next to nothing to eat. Mr. Vaughn made efforts to help us, but without much success. During our confinement, the mob robbed us and burned everything we owned, including my trailer. At the time, I did not realize that Jehovah was preparing me for what I was soon to face.
Imprisonment in the North
A month after returning to the north, I was appointed as a special pioneer to serve in Olean, New York, along with other Witnesses. While there, the government required me to register for the draft, and I was given conscientious objector status. After I passed the physical and a mental test, my paper was stamped “Candidate for Officers Training Academy.”
I was able to continue in the pioneer work for another year or so. Then, in 1943, because I refused to discontinue my ministry and report for military training, the FBI arrested me and instructed me to report to the federal court in Syracuse, New York, the following week for trial. I was indicted, and my trial was scheduled for two days later.
I represented myself. At our Christian meetings, we young Witnesses received instruction on how to defend our constitutional rights in court and how to conduct ourselves properly there. I remembered well the advice mentioned at the outset of this article. Some prosecutors even complained that the Witnesses knew more about the law than they did! The jury, nevertheless, found me guilty. When the judge asked if I had anything further to say, I simply replied, “Today the nation is on trial before God as to how it treats those who serve him.”
I received a sentence of four years in the federal prison in Chillicothe, Ohio. There I was assigned to work as secretary to an officer of the prison’s selective service department. After a few weeks, a special investigator from Washington, D.C., came to our office and said that they were investigating Hayden Covington. He was a defense lawyer for Jehovah’s Witnesses and was widely recognized as one of the best constitutional lawyers in America.
The investigator said that he wanted the complete files on two inmates—Danny Hurtado and Edmund Schmidt. “What a coincidence,” my supervisor responded, “this is Mr. Schmidt.” The investigator had come on a secret mission, but he suddenly realized that we had become aware of it all. Soon I was given a job change to the kitchen.
Pioneering, Bethel, and Marriage
On September 26, 1946, I was released on parole, and I resumed pioneering, this time with the Highland Park Congregation in California. Later, in September 1948, I realized my long-hoped-for goal. I was invited to serve as the baker at headquarters (Bethel) in Brooklyn, where Bible literature is produced for use in our worldwide preaching work. I immediately quit my job as pastry chef at a restaurant in Glendale and moved to Bethel.
Seven years later, in 1955, several international conventions were to be held in Europe. My family provided funds for me to attend. I enjoyed the conventions in London, Paris, Rome, and especially the one in Nuremberg, Germany, where more than 107,000 were present in the huge stadium where Hitler had once proudly reviewed his troops. Among those at the convention were Witnesses whom Hitler had vowed to exterminate. What a thrilling experience to be with them!
At the Nuremberg convention, I met and fell in love with a young German Witness—Brigitte Gerwien. We were married less than a year later and returned to Glendale to live near my parents. Our first son, Tom, was born in 1957, our second, Don, in 1958, and our daughter, Sabena, in 1960.
A Full, Satisfying Life
Some have asked if I ever regretted the mobbings and imprisonments that I suffered for serving God. On the contrary, I thank Jehovah that I have had the privilege to serve him along with so many of his faithful ones. And I hope that my experiences encourage others to draw closer to God and never leave him.
Many servants of God have suffered terribly for serving him. But is that not what we were told to expect? “All those desiring to live with godly devotion in association with Christ Jesus will also be persecuted,” the Bible says. (2 Timothy 3:12) Yet, how true the words of Psalm 34:19 have proved to be: “Many are the calamities of the righteous one, but out of them all Jehovah delivers him”!
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.
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Preaching in Louisiana in the early 1940’s
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Serving as a baker for the headquarters staff
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With my wife, Brigitte