“THE HEART OF EUROPE” is what Czechoslovakia has often been called. And if one took the trouble to determine the middle of Europe from a geometrical point of view, he would undoubtedly place it somewhere in this landlocked state.
Czechoslovakia consists of three historic parts: Bohemia in the west with the capital, Prague; Moravia, directly east of it; and still farther east, Slovakia. The entire state extends some 500 miles in an east-west direction, while the southern and northern boundaries are, on the average, about 150 miles apart. Besides the Czech, or Bohemian language, and the Slovak language, there are other languages spoken by minority groups, namely, German, Polish and Hungarian.
The visitor to Czechoslovakia would find a refreshing variety of landscape, including the Tatra Mountains climbing to 8,000 feet, the heavily wooded slopes of the Bohemian Forest, and the fruitful plains in southern Slovakia where tobacco and grapes are grown. It would also be discovered that this is an industrial land where coal is mined and steel is smelted and the famous Czech cut glass and artificial jewelry are made.
It was to this region that the Slavs came from the east sometime in the sixth century C.E., settling and populating even the westernmost areas of Bohemia. They were farmers, cattle and sheep raisers and collectors of wild honey. They worshiped the sun-god Svarog, the thunder-god Perun, as well as Radegast and Svantovít, and they believed in life after death.
A notable turning point in the lives of those settlers came in 863 C.E. when two men, Constantine and Method, arrived in Moravia from distant Thessalonica preaching the religious thoughts of Christendom. In Slovakia the first Catholic church had been built in 833 C.E., as a result of the activities of German-speaking proselytizers. But these newcomers were speaking a Slavonic language, one that the common people could understand. Soon the entire territory accepted the teaching of Christendom and became an integral part of the European community of nations.
In the fifteenth century the Reformation, with John Huss as its spokesman in Bohemia, challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church. When he was executed by burning at the stake, at the instigation of the vengeful minions of Rome, this shocked multitudes, even in those barbarous times. The Reformation in Czechoslovakia was totally defeated in 1620, and in that same year the kingdom of the Czechs lost its independence, becoming then a part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. By violence the population was converted to the Roman Catholic faith. Those were indeed “the dark times.”
BEGINNINGS OF THE PREACHING WORK
In 1912, the first seeds of accurate knowledge about the Bible were sown in the eastern part of the country. There a considerable number of the population speaks Hungarian. A short time earlier two Hungarian Bible Students (later known as Jehovah’s witnesses), Jozef Kiss and Karol Szabó, had been sent by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society from the United States to Erdel, Hungary, to undertake the preaching of the Kingdom. C. T. Russell, then president of the Society, commissioned them to make arrangements for printing there in the Hungarian language.
Brother Kiss was eventually expelled from Erdel and ended up in Oborín, inside the territory of modern Czechoslovakia. Here he preached throughout an extensive region for some eight months. At Oborín and Ladmovce, groups of interested ones gathered weekly to study the Bible with him, and that without the aid of other publications. Thus the preaching work got under way in this land as early as 1912.
Though Brother Kiss returned to Hungary in 1913, he kept in contact with the interested ones in Oborín by correspondence. Four brothers were later sent from Erdel to carry on the ministry in Oborín and neighboring villages. However, they met with severe opposition, having to hide during the day and meet with interested ones for Bible study only in the evenings. Chief among the opposers were the Roman Catholic priest and the local magistrate, who sought to have them arrested and thrown out of the country.
The brothers in Erdel continued to take a deep interest in the welfare of the Kingdom work at Oborín. In 1914 Brother Karol Szabó was sent, this time bearing with him a supply of literature in the Hungarian language. This served to strengthen the faith of the little group. Eventually, he baptized five sisters in the Ondava River.
That little flock of sheeplike ones at Oborín had to withstand the attacks of religious opposers from the very start, even as Jesus had said of his followers at Matthew 24:9. During one evening meeting, conducted by Brother Szabó, gendarmes broke into the room. The five baptized sisters and two interested persons were summoned to the district court at Michalovce. The judge, after examining the facts, found nothing objectionable in the activity of the Bible Students and rejected the accusations of the local priest who had instigated the whole proceedings. Furthermore, those summoned to court were reimbursed for their loss of that day’s earnings. This was a most unexpected victory.
The priest then turned to lawless methods of interference with the Kingdom work. He would instigate others to commit violence against the Christian preachers. When he noted that some stranger entered the house of one of the Bible Students, he would post a man with a pitchfork to cut off escape and send a second man to fetch the gendarmes. His efforts to keep the people in his church were of no avail. Rather, more persons had their eyes opened to his evil attitude and came to enjoy freedom from fear in God’s congregation.
In 1914 The Watchtower appeared for the first time in the Hungarian language, published at Maros-Vásárhely and then later at Kolozsvár, Hungary. What a boon this was to the small group at Oborín!
Then came World War I exactly at the foretold season in the fall of 1914. Since 1879 the Bible Students had been telling about disasters that would engulf the earth in that year. The little group at Oborín shared in this warning proclamation, using the Bible, the book The Divine Plan of the Ages and The Watchtower. In 1915 Brother Jakab came to resume the group study with the sisters and interested ones and to spread some more seeds of Kingdom truth. At this time five more sisters were baptized in the Ondava River. Others besides Brother Jakab came, visiting and encouraging small study groups at other places such as Sirnek, Hraň, Ladmovce and Malčice.
When the war ended, the soldiers began returning home. Some, after having experienced firsthand the horrors and injustices of warfare, were glad to hear the hope offered by the Bible. Those sisters who had dedicated their lives to Jehovah God used all their Bible learning and experience to get new study groups started. When Brother Jakab came in 1921 to perform another baptism, this time at Hraň, what joy to find fifteen candidates awaiting him, and almost half of them men! In course of time some of those very men came to be the main supporters of a greatly expanded preaching activity. Indeed, three of them started out in the full-time preaching work one year later. Brother Lantos, baptized on that occasion, still lives and serves Jehovah in Oborín until this year 1971.
In those days Brother Kocis, who served in the Hungarian department of the Society’s office in Brooklyn, managed to have about 300 kilograms or some 660 pounds of Hungarian literature delivered to the brothers in Oborín. This 1923 shipment included the booklets Can the Living Talk with the Dead?, Millions Now Living Will Never Die, and other publications. The shipment was supplied free with the understanding that they would use the contributions received for the literature to further the Lord’s work. Following acceptance of that shipment from the Society’s headquarters, a literature depot was established in Oborín.
In nearby Carpatho-Ukraine or Ruthenia the seed of Kingdom truth was also sprouting healthily. A number of small groups took form—Russian, Hungarian and at least three Rumanian.
WITNESSING TO THE SLOVAK POPULATION
We have seen how the Kingdom work got under way among the Hungarian-speaking people of Czechoslovakia. Now, in 1922, several brothers returned to eastern Slovakia from America for the purpose of undertaking the preaching work among the Slovak-speaking population. Brother Michal Šalata was sent by the Brooklyn office of the Society to take the lead in this service. He settled in 1923 at Sečovce and worked as a colporteur. Later he also visited the western part of Slovakia, sowing the word of truth at Krajné, Kuchyňa and other places.
PREACHING IN BOHEMIA AND MORAVIA
Bohemia and Moravia occupy approximately two-thirds of the territory of Czechoslovakia and contain about 70 percent of the total population. Early traces of the preaching work here could be detected during the first world war. Brothers from Germany would visit friends and relatives in the boundary regions where the German-speaking population predominates, and there they talked the Kingdom message and distributed Watch Tower literature. In 1916 there were already regular study meetings being conducted in Most, not far from Bohemia’s northwest frontier. One of those baptized there in May 1916 was Sister Anna Riedler, who is now seventy-three and lives in Steinerkirchen, Austria. She relates that even in 1907, in the time of the old Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Brother Erler used to visit Bohemia, where he distributed the fourth volume of Brother Russell’s writings and warned about approaching catastrophe in 1914.
In 1923 Brother and Sister Gleissner were sent out from Magdeburg as full-time ministers to give special care to the spread of the work among Czech-speaking people. A literature depot was established at Most with Brother Gleissner in charge. From there Czech and German literature was widely distributed.
District and one-day assemblies were held regularly from 1923 onward. Older brothers remember some of them: One at the home of Brother Petrik in Krasnovce with about thirty in attendance. There was one in 1924 in Sečovce, where fifty persons of Slovak and Hungarian nationality joyfully shared. Another such assembly was held in Zahor in 1925. That same year assemblies were held in Garaň and Sečovce. Inhabitants of the latter town were invited to hear the special talk “Consolation for the Jews” delivered by Brother M. Harbeck from Switzerland. Still another assembly was organized in May 1926 at Velké Lúčky, attracting interested ones to the number of 150. Twenty persons were baptized here. Two hundred persons attended an assembly arranged in 1927 at Užhorod (now in the Soviet Union). Many other locations had assemblies also, not excepting Prague and Brno.
ORGANIZATION GETS UNDER WAY
Until 1927, though there had been assemblies, conducting of study groups and considerable distribution of literature, there had been little organization. The brothers in various parts of the land were working quite independently of one another. Service reports were not collected and records were not kept. But in 1927 the groups were reorganized. Publishers began to work systematically from house to house. Literature was obtained from the depot that had been transferred from Oborín to Pincesorska Street, Užhorod. That same year the Society purchased a house in Brno-Julianov, and the depot at Most, Bohemia, was transferred there, with Brother Gleissner still in charge.
Improvement in the organization of the work came in 1928 when J. F. Rutherford, president of the Society at that time, arranged for the activities in Czechoslovakia to be supervised by the Magdeburg, Germany, branch. Pioneers or full-time ministers and groups were allotted specific territory that could be covered once in six months. There were six pioneers in all, and 25 small groups having a total of some 106 publishers. In 1928 there was a distribution of 64,484 books and booklets and about 25,000 magazines.
At an assembly in Prague in 1930 two corporations were organized to assume the legal responsibilities relative to the Kingdom-preaching work. Both corporations, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society and International Bible Students Association, Czechoslovak branch, had their headquarters in Prague. Brother Balzereit, the German branch servant, and Brother Karel Kopetzky of Prague were officers in both of these corporations. At the same time three subbranches of the International Bible Students Association were founded, these to take responsibility for the Kingdom activities in relation to the local divisions of the land: one for Moravia and Silesia with its office in Brno; one in Slovakia with an office in Košice; and one for Carpatho-Ukraine (Ruthenia).
GROWTH IN THE EARLY THIRTIES
In full harmony with their brothers in other lands the brothers in Czechoslovakia joyfully accepted the new name “Jehovah’s witnesses” and the obligations accompanying that name. In August 1931 this matter was featured at an assembly in Berehov (now in the Soviet Union) with 300 persons present, and the following year at an assembly attended by 100 persons at Pozdišovce.
A high point came in 1932 when an international convention was arranged in Prague, using the Variete-Theatre in Karlín. The theme of the public lecture “Europe Before Destruction” caught the attention of the people, and about 1,500 attended the assembly. There were 6,174 bound books and 15,597 booklets put in the hands of Prague citizens.
Meantime the number of pioneers kept increasing. From 32 in 1931 it rose to 84 in 1932; 34 of them from Germany. But the clergy, taking advantage of their foreign citizenship and using false accusations, managed to have some of our brothers arrested and expelled from the country.
The Photo-Drama of Creation proved to be a marvelous aid in the preaching of the good news. It had been first introduced here in 1927 and 1928, when it was shown to crowds in Prague, Brno and other district towns such as Most and Chomutov. But now in 1931-35 it truly fulfilled its mission. It took time to translate its message into the main languages used in this country, but by 1934 the Drama was traversing the whole land, with showings in all the larger towns.
The enthusiasm of the brothers participating in distribution of the invitation leaflets, in the organizing of the meetings and in other auxiliary services was amazing. Here are some records of that Photo-Drama activity that have been preserved:
The magazine The Golden Age (now Awake!) was another effective means of increasing the witness to the public. It was first published in the Czech language in 1932, and that year 71,200 copies were placed in the hands of the people.
BRANCH OFFICE ESTABLISHED
Most of our literature for distribution in those days was printed in Magdeburg, and the branch there continued to supervise the work in all Czechoslovakia. But in 1933 Hitler grabbed power in Germany, and severe persecution and confiscation of the branch printing facilities soon followed. It therefore became necessary to open a branch office in Prague. Brother Edgar Merk from Magdeburg was appointed branch servant and Brother Karel Kopetzky served as Bethel servant. The new branch proved to be a boon to the pioneers and groups all over the country. Also, many pioneers, driven out of Germany by the worsening conditions, came to help us.
In 1934 tightening regulations came into force in Czechoslovakia, and the majority of the brothers with foreign citizenship were forced to leave the country. Since then the work has been carried mainly by native residents. The whole country was divided into 124 territories, assigned either to congregations or pioneers. That year 110 of those territories were witnessed to in whole or in part, some of them twice during the year.
In the spring of 1934 the Society moved to more spacious premises, on Tylova Street 16, Smíchov, Prague. From Magdeburg we received considerable equipment for printing, so that we were able during the following years to print our own leaflets, monthly editions of The Watchtower and The Golden Age both in Czech and Hungarian, as well as booklets in Czech, Slovak, German, Hungarian, Polish and Rumanian.
The growth of the Kingdom work in this period is revealed by the following figures, representing the results from international service periods:
As was to be expected, the expansion of the Kingdom activities roused opposition and a fierce resistance on the part of the clergy to the spread of Bible truth. The 1935 Yearbook (in German) tells what followed:
“At the start of the service year a great persecution of Jehovah’s witnesses commenced in this country. The Witnesses were accused of espionage, the Society’s office was searched and the greater number of the pioneers were taken into custody. Eventually all the accusations brought against the Society and instigated by the clergy were proved false, and when the government was convinced about this state of affairs the persecution was stopped during the second half of the service year. The work may continue now with no legal obstructions. However, the pioneers had to fight against the resistance and persecution of the clergymen in the whole country. At the start of the year there were 281 trials involving the Witnesses under way. In the course of the year 109 more trials turned up. Of these, 182 were settled so that by the close of the service year 208 open cases remained. In 142 settled cases the defendants were acquitted of the charges.”
UNDER THE CENTRAL EUROPEAN OFFICE
In the spring of 1936 Brother Rutherford decided to place the branch at Prague under the supervision of the Central European Office of the Society in Bern, Switzerland. Brother M. Harbeck was in charge of that office. This came because of persistent dissension among certain responsible brothers. A new branch servant was appointed, Brother Heinerich Dwenger, who had formerly served in the Magdeburg branch and since 1933 had served as a traveling representative of the Society in other countries.
Meantime the Society had arranged for an international convention in Lucerne, Switzerland, in August of that year 1936. Ninety persons from Czechoslovakia enjoyed that wonderful occasion. However, the Roman Catholic bishop of Lucerne did his very best to prevent the public from hearing Brother Rutherford’s lecture on “Armageddon.” Despite this and the fact that the police surrounded the assembly site and prevented those who could not show a convention badge from entering, Brother Rutherford gave his timely lecture.
One year later, August 28 to 30, another international convention was arranged, this time in Prague. In the main hall the program was presented in the Czech and German languages, while in two other halls the Hungarian and Polish brothers could hear it in their respective languages. The main feature was the public lecture on “Intolerance,” presented in English by Brother M. Harbeck and rendered in Czech by Brother Bahner. There were delegates from Austria, Poland, Denmark and Switzerland in the audience, which topped 1,500. For the first time in this country’s history the radio broadcast on shortwave the speeches of the Society’s representatives, including that given in English by Brother W. Dey from the Denmark branch.
The Kingdom work was truly prospering now despite problems that began to arise for the brothers in connection with military service. There were fourteen brothers and sisters serving in the branch office and its printing department, but space was very limited, so the Society rented another house, at Podvinní Street 89, Vysočany, Prague, and all the branch operations were moved to it. The preaching activity was penetrating the whole country, large cities, hamlets, even isolated homes in the mountains. The 1938 Yearbook (German) had this to say about the effective spread of the good news: “In a Hungarian village, Serna, with approximately 2,000 inhabitants, there were about fifty Witnesses and their influence on the people was so strong that they did not attend church. Since he could not cope with the situation the clergyman left the village. The magistrate was reluctant to accept a replacement for the vacancy; he himself had not been going to church, and he declared that he would rather go to Jehovah’s witnesses in case he wanted to learn more about the Bible.”
But clouds of oncoming trouble were massing. Germany had resigned from the League of Nations and was totally militarized. For the majority of the German inhabitants in the Czech and Moravian boundary regions the Nazi system was attractive. Most of them were Roman Catholic and their Church was no obstacle to national socialism. In this area the brothers had to meet the sharp opposition and political influence of Henlein’s Party, mouthpiece for Nazi Germany.
It was only the Czech regions that offered a comparatively undisturbed field for the activity of the Witnesses. The Czechs were not unduly influenced by Roman Catholic propaganda. They felt greater liberty to read and examine the Kingdom message for themselves. Thus the first part of 1938 passed. Then in the summer Hitler declared his territorial demands as to Czechoslovakia. The rapid succession of political events brought grave difficulties. Already in August that year all meetings were prohibited, so the brothers were assembling in small groups for studies and service meetings.
Soon after, Hitler’s forces occupied the boundary regions of Bohemia and Moravia, with the approval of the Roman Catholic Church. The houses of Jehovah’s witnesses were closely watched, many brothers were beaten and held in prisons and some were sent to German concentration camps, not excepting some very elderly persons. The Kingdom work in the area was completely paralyzed.
THE OCCUPATION AND THE WAR
In the first half of the 1939 service year only a small remnant of publishers, those living outside the zone of German influence, reported to the Prague branch. But these continued on loyally.
Hitler lost no time in carrying out his expansionist aims. On March 15, 1939, his armies crossed the frontier and marched on Prague. Bohemia and Moravia, not merely the German-populated areas, were declared a protectorate of the German Reich. Hungary meantime occupied a large part of Slovakia, and the remainder became an independent state under the Roman Catholic prelate, Tiso. Immediately the Society’s branch office was directed to dismantle all printing machinery and get it out of the country. Within two weeks all machines were ready for exportation to the Netherlands, and in the following days all typesetting materials followed. The Czech authorities issued permission for the exportation and waived all formalities.
On March 30 Gestapo agents visited the Prague office for the first time and seized a small quantity of German literature and Bibles. One brother who had earlier been arrested in Germany was again arrested on this occasion. Since brothers of Czech nationality were not yet being disturbed, it was possible for three brothers, František Kapinus, Bohumil Müller and Vojtech Matejka, to stay and wind up things at the branch.
Brother Müller recalls some of the experiences of that spring: “At that time the Gestapo knew only of Brother Kapinus. Early in April Brother Kapinus suggested that it would be best for me not to be seen by them at all. He advised that the main entrance to Bethel should be permanently locked, so that when the Gestapo would come they would have to ring the bell. Brother Kapinus would then lean out of the window on the second floor, and in case of need give me a warning signal to run across the Bethel courtyard and hide in a large garden adjacent to our property. Thus when the Gestapo visited, as they often did thereafter, I was always hidden in the shrubs. Concerning the Czech literature on hand, the Gestapo on their first visit had remarked, ‘You may give the Czechs whatever you wish.’ However, when they came in April and found not one booklet left they were surprised and angry. All of the stock had been taken to the vacant flat of an elderly sister for storage, but it was soon distributed to the homes of publishers throughout the city.”
In May 1939 the three brothers determined to leave the branch and go underground. Brother Müller would continue in Prague to reorganize matters, Brother Kapinus would go to his hometown in Moravia and give some time to translation work, and Brother Matejka would return to Slovakia, with which area there were already difficulties of communication. This decision soon proved to be the wise one, for in the years 1940-1945 the brothers in Bohemia and Moravia were the objects of bitter persecution by the Gestapo, some of them even suffering death for their faith. In Slovakia, after surviving the initial difficulties, the work proceeded smoothly, though underground. Brother Kapinus was eventually arrested in 1940 and Brother Müller in 1941, both suffering in several Nazi prisons and concentration camps before the war’s end. From 1943 on, the arrests increased, and soon half of Jehovah’s witnesses in Bohemia and Moravia were imprisoned.
Those who still were free did not cease witnessing for Jehovah and his kingdom, despite the lack of literature. With Bible in hand they went to the people to teach them about God’s will. Some persons came to know Jehovah God and his way of salvation even under these trying conditions. Others learned the truth about God’s Word while in the concentration camps, and after the war they returned home utterly changed. They left home as political prisoners and came back as witnesses of the Supreme God. Those of the faithful who survived the horrors of the Nazi camps came back, weakened perhaps in body, but strengthened by the trials they had undergone. The enemy had been unable to shatter their faith and loyalty to God.
After capitulation of the Nazi armies in May 1945, the survivors of concentration camp imprisonment gradually came home. There was a joyful welcome for many as they began again to meet with their congregations and study groups. But there was also heartache. Homes had been destroyed; dear ones were no more. In some instances families still awaited the return of some member. Perhaps they had been notified that he had perished, but they still hoped against hope.
The first stage in theocratic reconstruction was to find all the congregations and isolated groups and publishers and put them in contact with the branch office that was once again operating. This was no easy task, for many addresses were now useless; people had died or moved or the homes had been demolished. The work was more successful in the region of the former Slovak State where there was not such bitter persecution and where the organization had functioned and grown even during the war. Then there were many of our brothers and sisters of the German-speaking population of Bohemia and Moravia who had suffered much persecution, and though they had never committed any offense against the Czechoslovak Republic, they were forced to leave their homes and emigrate to Germany with the general German-speaking population.
Due to the fact that the war conditions had disrupted most of the means of communication and transport, it was very difficult at first to get in touch with other branches of the Society or with the Brooklyn office. But as soon as contact was resumed, Brother Bohumil Müller was appointed branch servant. That was in the fall of 1945. Already, however, the Ministry of Interior Affairs was notified of the resumption of activity by our legal corporations. The Ministry acknowledged this notice. Also, steps were taken to revive the subbranch of the International Bible Students Association in Bratislava, Slovakia.
The shortage of housing in Prague rendered it almost impossible for a time to obtain suitable branch headquarters. But finally in early 1946 two and a half rooms were rented for an office, and a salesroom on Mladoňovicova Street, at Žižkov, was hired and converted into a literature depot. At the year’s end we were happy to be able to buy and move into a rather new house with three stories in Suchdol near Prague.
In the face of postwar problems, including the rationing of paper and control by the Ministry of Information, it was possible for us to print large quantities of booklets as well as The Watchtower in the Czech language, tracts, invitation leaflets for use in our public meeting campaign and other printed material. We also received gift shipments of literature from Brooklyn, one consignment alone representing a whole carload.
Something that touched the hearts of the brothers and sisters in Czechoslovakia was the material help extended to them by the brothers in the United States and Canada. Two large shipments of clothing and footwear and another large shipment of foodstuffs were distributed to needy ones among the pioneers and in our congregations. During the reconstruction period those wonderful gifts were priceless and most timely.
In 1946 an average of 974 publishers were active each month, the peak reaching as high as 1,209. There were 159 congregations, mostly quite small. A number of brothers were brought to Bethel for training for several months and then sent out to visit the congregations and strengthen them. The prospering work of Jehovah’s people was well known to the opposers of God and righteousness. Not atheists, but leaders in the Roman Catholic and Protestant religions, were the ones who hated the spread of Bible truth. Attempts were made to put the Witnesses in a bad light through prejudiced statements in the press. In the Catholic regions of Slovakia the clergy went farther. Their favorite method was to arouse fanatical parishioners and use them to vent their hatred violently on Jehovah’s people.
In one community in eastern Slovakia a few Witnesses were busy preaching the Kingdom from house to house. When the Greek Catholic priest learned about it he got very angry and set men and women on the peaceful preachers. Not content with that, he went to the local school and urged the teacher to instruct about 300 schoolchildren to go and throw stones at the Witnesses. The publishers were taken to the police station and questioned. The police, however, treated them kindly, accepted literature, shook hands with them and released them. But the mob, now more infuriated, chased them out of the village with sticks and stones.
In Klenová, again in eastern Slovakia, a priest instigated the population against the Witnesses. The riotous mob maltreated the Witnesses until they were rescued by a frontier patrol. How hypocritical those clergymen were! In the war years they tried to convince the Nazi rulers that the Witnesses were Communists, and now they were accusing the same Witnesses of opposition to the Communist regime and to the liberty of the Republic!
There were many evidences of Jehovah’s loving care for his people here during that period 1945-48. The Theocratic Ministry School was a wonderful provision for improving our field ministry and preparing public speakers. A vigorous public meeting campaign was conducted, so much so that during those three years 1,885 public lectures were given. Pioneers and special pioneers served in the field in increasing numbers. Large conventions also were held. Some 1,400 participated in the one held in Brno in 1946. Almost 1,700 persons listened to the public lecture on “The Prince of Peace” and 131 new publishers symbolized their dedication to God.
Then in 1947 Brothers Knorr and Henschel came from Brooklyn headquarters to share in another grand assembly in Brno. This time some 2,300 persons listened attentively and appreciatively to the featured lecture by Brother Knorr on “The Joy of All the People.” There were 173 candidates for baptism this time. Those were surely three unforgettable days of happy association.
Our best convention, however, was held in the beautiful Lucerna Hall in Prague, September 10 to 12, 1948. There can be no doubt that the whole program was designed to prepare the brothers for trials ahead. The high point was the public lecture on “The Kingdom Hope of All Mankind” delivered by Brother Müller and attentively heard by an audience of 2,862. Other features of the assembly were the baptism of 254 new brothers and sisters and the passage of a Resolution, unanimously adopted by all 2,135 present, expressing determination to remain faithful to our commission as Jehovah’s witnesses whether in favorable season or in troublesome season.
Within the short space of eleven weeks many of Jehovah’s people throughout Czechoslovakia had to prove the strength of that determination expressed in their Resolution.
ONCE MORE UNDERGROUND
Early Monday morning, November 29, 1948, secret police bore down upon the branch office and the Bethel home as well as the homes of many congregation overseers and other servants throughout the country. The branch was sealed up and much literature in the congregations was confiscated. Three days later all ten members of the Bethel family and three servants of the Prague congregation were arrested. Following two weeks of interrogation they were handed over to the State Lawcourt in Prague for further investigation. In April the notice of ban on the activities and confiscation of all property of the Society was served on Brother Kapinus. However, since he was already in prison at Pankrác, there was little he could do.
In July 1949, when the activities of the Society and its officials were fully investigated and nothing objectionable was found, the trial against them was stopped due to lack of evidence. However, none of the imprisoned brothers and sisters were set at liberty. Instead, on July 22 they were transferred to various camps for hard labor, the brothers to work in coal mines and stone pits and the sisters to work in agriculture. Not until much later did they receive notification of their sentences to two years at hard labor.
The brothers who were at liberty continued underground in the preaching work. The Watchtower and the Informant were once more cyclostyled in the Czech, Slovak, German and Hungarian languages. The circuit service was adjusted so that it might be conducted part time, for otherwise the brothers would be in constant danger of arrest. Small private meetings for study of The Watchtower were conducted in the homes of the brothers.
Early in 1950, quite at variance with the sentences and contrary to all expectations, the brothers in hard-labor camps were gradually set at liberty. Since there was no Bethel home to go back to, they joined in the underground work, encouraging their fellow publishers and helping wherever necessary in the organization. The effect of their imprisonment at first was adverse, so that in the service year 1949 the number of publishers decreased by some 17 percent. But the following years were abundant with Jehovah’s blessing so that the decrease of 1949 was wiped out. The year 1950 witnessed an increase of 86 percent in the Kingdom activity, and in 1951 followed an increase of 38 percent.
Catholic and non-Catholic religionists kept trying hard to instigate further harsh measures against the Witnesses. Religious dignitaries were accusing Jehovah’s people both by letter and by personal interviews of subversive activities, slandering God’s servants in their magazines. The Evangelic Messenger from Tatra Mountains backed the assault on the Witnesses by a series of abusive and defamatory articles. The Synod of the Lutheran Church in Slovakia recommended that all its clergy speak out against the Witnesses from their pulpits at every opportunity in the course of several weeks. “Babylon the Great,” of Bible infamy, was surely fighting hard to maintain her position.
On February 4, 1952, the branch servant and other brothers were again arrested and their homes searched. During the following months 104 brothers and five sisters were arrested and held for many months in detention by the State Security. After thirteen months’ detention some of the responsible servants of the organization at last were brought to court in Prague. The sessions lasted three days and then, on March 31, 1953, sentence was handed down: the branch servant to eighteen years, and other servants to ten to fifteen years’ imprisonment, with confiscation of property and loss of civil rights.
Naturally, less experienced men were then left to carry on the work. They did their best to advance the Kingdom interests, and there is no doubt that Jehovah aided their earnest efforts. It is true that in 1952 and 1953 the Kingdom work in the country fell off sharply, but though there was a decrease of 23 percent in 1953, that was offset by an increase of 23 percent in 1954. Brother Konstantin Paukert was appointed in charge of the work in 1952, and then, when he was arrested in 1954, he was replaced by Vladimir Matejka. At the close of 1957 a committee was organized to have overall responsibility for the Kingdom activities in the country.
Considerable improvement in conditions came about in 1960 when a general amnesty brought liberation to most of the brothers who had been in prison. Since that time there has been action by the police against single publishers here and there, but, though the ban is still in force, no serious difficulties have been experienced up to this year 1971. Of course, the brothers have to be always conscious of the fine counsel offered by Christ Jesus, our Leader, when he said: “Prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves.” (Matt. 10:16) The outlawing of the work of the Society has not stopped the proclamation of the good news!
During the past ten years there has been opportunity to help congregations to grow and individual publishers to gain maturity. Efforts have been made to improve the field ministry through more effective home Bible studies. Increasing numbers of interested ones are acquiring a better understanding of Jehovah’s purposes and principles. Since the spring of 1961 the Kingdom Ministry School has been aiding overseers to realize more fully their obligations and to discharge them faithfully and with Christian mildness. Altogether, thus far some 574 servants have received training, some for a period of four weeks and others for twelve days.
In 1969 Brother Müller had the great joy of visiting the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, and while there he participated in a special training course for branch servants. On that occasion, too, he attended the “Peace on Earth” Assembly at Yankee Stadium. Other brothers from Czechoslovakia were happy to attend the Nuremberg assembly.
Looking back over all the way that Jehovah has led us, we cannot but be grateful to him for his protecting care over his loyal servants. In spite of attacks motivated by religious hatred, and all the multiplying difficulties that accompanied the ban, it is truly encouraging to note that from 1948 to 1960 the number of publishers increased by 261 percent. During the past ten years, 1960 to 1970, we have had an increase of 76 percent. All of us in Czechoslovakia are thankful to Jehovah for the many evidences of his loving-kindness, and pray that he will continue to use us in his service forever.
[Chart on page 131]
SERVICE NO. OF NO. OF BOOKS BOOKLETS ADDRESSES
YEAR PERFORMANCES VIEWERS DISTRIB. DISTRIB. HANDED IN
1932 13 59,480 2,872 4,390
1934 41 25,305 10,664 4,738
[Chart on page 132]
BOOKS BOOKLETS WORKERS HOURS TESTIMONIES
9/30-10/8 745 26,464 655 8,130 75,393
3/24-4/2 673 32,961 1,019 11,713 95,605
[Map on page 129]
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