SPIRITUAL FOOD IN THE CONCENTRATION CAMPS
During those years when the brothers, especially those in concentration camps, were “isolated” they had very little opportunity to obtain a Bible or other publications. Just that much more effort was put into recalling the contents of important Watchtower articles when they had to stand for hours in the courtyard, or evenings when they had a little quiet in their barracks. Their joy was especially great when it was possible in some way to obtain a Bible.
Jehovah sometimes used interesting ways to get a Bible into the hands of his servants. Franz Birk from Renchen (Black Forest) recalls that one day in Buchenwald he was asked by a worldly prisoner if he would like to have a Bible. He had found one in the paper factory where he worked. Of course Brother Birk accepted the offer thankfully.
Brother Franke also remembers how, in 1943, an aged SS man who had joined this organization only under the pressure of the times went to a number of clergymen on his day off asking for a Bible. All of them said they regretted not having a Bible anymore. It was evening when he finally found a clergyman who told him that he had one small Luther Bible that he had kept for special reasons. He was so happy that an SS man should manifest interest in the Bible, however, that he said the Bible should be his. The next morning this gray-haired SS man gave Brother Franke the Bible, obviously joyful that he could give this gift to a prisoner he was guarding.
With time it became possible to smuggle new Watchtower articles into the concentration camps. In the Birkenfeld concentration camp it was done in this way: Among the prisoners was a brother who, because of his knowledge of architecture, worked with a civilian friendly to Jehovah’s witnesses. Through this friendly man the brother made contact with brothers outside the camp who soon supplied him with the newest Watchtowers.
Our brothers in the Neuengamme camp had similar opportunities. Most of the approximately seventy brothers there were put to work cleaning up after the air raids in Hamburg. There in Hamburg they could obtain Bibles, once finding three in just a matter of minutes. Willi Karger, who experienced this personally, relates: “I would like to tell of additional spiritual food that a sister from Döbeln brought us. May this never be forgotten. Her brother, Hans Jäger, belonged to our work crew in Bergedorf near Hamburg, and was put to work in the Flunz Iron factory. Hard work and strict surveillance were our lot. Brother Jäger, nonetheless, succeeded in smuggling a letter out and notifying his sister where he would be during his noon hour. His sister took a train to Hamburg and ‘felt her way’ carefully out to the place where we were working. She succeeded in placing the requested magazines into our hands, so, despite the SS guards and due to Jehovah’s supervision, the valuable magazines were brought into the camp undetected.”
Everyone schemed up different ways, and with time there were a number of Bibles in the camp. A brother wrote to his wife in Danzig that he would enjoy eating some “Elberfelder gingerbread,” and with the next food package (which the brothers could receive in this camp at that time) he received an Elberfelder Bible carefully baked in gingerbread. Certain ones had contact with prisoners who worked at the crematorium. These related that many books and magazines were burned there, so the brothers made arrangements secretly to receive the Bibles and the magazines, in exchange for some of their food supplies.
In Sachsenhausen some Bibles got into the hands of the brothers while they were still in “isolation.” Strange as it may sound, isolation proved to be a certain protection in this case, since a brother not only was assigned to guard the door leading to the isolation area but also had the key and, therefore, had to lock and unlock the door. There were seven large tables in a room that seated fifty-six brothers. For quite a while a brother would give a fifteen-minute comment covering the text while the other brothers were eating their breakfast. This was rotated then among the tables as well as among the brothers sitting at them. This comment was then the subject of conversation when the brothers were forced to stand for hours in the courtyard.
During the severe 1939/1940 winter the Witnesses petitioned Jehovah in prayer on this matter of literature, and, look, a miracle! Jehovah placed his protecting hand over a brother who was able to smuggle three Watchtowers into “isolation” inside his wooden leg, and this despite careful examination. Even though the brothers had to crawl under their beds and read by the light of a flashlight while others stood guard to the right and the left, it was a proof of Jehovah’s wonderful direction. As a good Shepherd, he does not abandon his people.
In the winter of 1941/1942, when the brothers had been released from “isolation,” seven Watchtowers dealing with Daniel chapters 11 and 12, the first issue discussing Micah, a book entitled “Kreuzzug gegen das Christentum” (Crusade against Christianity) and a Bulletin (now Kingdom Ministry) all arrived at one time. This was truly a gift from heaven for, along with their brothers in other countries, they could now get a clear understanding of the “king of the south” and the “king of the north.”
Thanks to the fact that prisoners not in “isolation” had Sunday afternoons free and that the political block captain went to other barracks to see his friends that afternoon, it was possible for the brothers to conduct a Watchtower study every Sunday for several months. On the average, 220 to 250 brothers shared in this study, while 60 to 70 kept watch all the way up to the camp entrance, and whenever danger arose they would give a certain sign. So it was that they were never surprised by an SS man during their study. The study conducted in 1942 remains unforgettable for those in attendance. The brothers were so impressed by the wonderful explanations concerning the prophecy in Daniel chapters 11 and 12 that, in conclusion, in joyous march tempo, they sang folk songs interspersed with Kingdom songs, thus not giving the guard on duty a few meters away from the barracks on a tower cause for suspicion; rather, he enjoyed the beautiful singing. Just imagine: The voice of 250 men who, although imprisoned, were in reality free, whole-souled in singing songs to Jehovah’s praise. What a setting! Might the angels in heaven have sung along?
EASING OF PRESSURE ON THOSE IN CONCENTRATION CAMPS
Although the blood of faithful witnesses of Jehovah continued to flow at the Nazi executional centers right up until the regime’s complete collapse, yet the weapons of those who had time and again sworn that Jehovah’s witnesses would leave the concentration camps only through the crematorium chimneys began to weaken. There were also the problems that the war presented. So especially from 1942/1943 on, there were periods when Jehovah’s witnesses were left in comparative peace.
The war, which was now a total war, had changed to the point where all available forces were mobilized. For this reason, in 1942 they started including prisoners to the extent possible in projects productive to the economy. In this connection a comment made by SS leader Pohl to his boss, Himmler, concerning the “state of the concentration camps” is interesting:
“The war has brought about a visible change in the structure of the concentration camps and basically changed their function with regard to the use of prisoners.
“The incarceration of prisoners solely because of security, educational or preventative reasons no longer predominates [mass destruction is not even mentioned]. The emphasis has swung to the economic aspect of the matter. The mobilization of all prisoners, in the first place, for war-related jobs (increase of armament production) and, secondly, for peace-related matters becomes more and more the predominating factor.
“The necessary measures being taken result from this realization, requiring a gradual transfer of the concentration camps from their previous one-sided political design to an organization meeting the economic needs.”
This transformation, of course, required that the prisoners be fed better if they were to be used more for work. This brought further relief for the brothers. The officials were also judicious enough, with few exceptions, not to try to place the brothers in armament plants, but to use them in accord with their vocational abilities in the various shops.
In the meantime, Jehovah had done his part, for he can direct the hearts of humans—even those of his enemies—like streams of water. A striking example is Himmler. For years he believed that he alone could decide about the lives of Jehovah’s faithful servants, but he suddenly began to change his mind concerning the “Bible Students.” His personal doctor, a Finnish medical man named Kersten, played an important role.
The masseur Kersten began to have a strong influence on Himmler, who was always quite sickly. He heard about Jehovah’s witnesses’ being cruelly persecuted and one day asked Himmler to give him some of the women to work on his estate in Harzwalde, some seventy kilometers north of Berlin. After hesitation Himmler agreed, and later he granted Kersten’s additional request, releasing a sister from a concentration camp so that she could work in Kersten’s second home, in Sweden. It was first from these sisters that Kersten heard the truth about the conditions in the concentration camps and about the indescribable suffering that had been inflicted especially upon Jehovah’s witnesses for years. He was greatly dismayed, knowing that his massages repeatedly restored this fiend to sufficient health to carry on his murderous business. He, therefore, decided to use his influence to ease at least to some extent the suffering of all these prisoners. It can thus be attributed to his influence that tens of thousands of them, especially toward the end of the war, were not exterminated. Especially for Jehovah’s witnesses his influence proved to be very beneficial. This can be seen from a letter that Himmler wrote to his closest associates, the top SS leaders Pohl and Müller. This letter, stamped “Secret,” included the following passages:
“Enclosed is a report about the ten Bible Students that are working on my doctor’s farm. I had an opportunity to study the matter of the Earnest Bible Students from all angles. Mrs. Kersten made a very good suggestion. She said that she had never had such good, willing, faithful and obedient personnel as these ten women. These people do much out of love and kindness. . . . One of the women once received 5.00 RM as a tip from a guest. She accepted the money since she did not want to cast aspersions upon the home, and gave it to Mrs. Kersten, since it was prohibited to have money in the camp. The women voluntarily did any work required of them. Evenings they knitted, Sundays they were kept busy in some other way. During the summer they did not let the opportunity pass to get up two hours earlier and gather baskets full of mushrooms, even though they were required to work ten, eleven and twelve hours a day. These facts complete my picture of the Bible Students. They are incredibly fanatical, willing people, ready to sacrifice. If we could put their fanaticism to work for Germany or instill such fanaticism into our people, then we would be stronger than we are today. Of course, since they reject the war, their teaching is so detrimental that we cannot permit it lest we do Germany the greatest damage. . . .
“Nothing is accomplished by punishing them, since they only talk about it afterward with enthusiasm. . . . Each punishment serves as a merit for the other world. That is why every true Bible Student will let himself be executed without hesitation. . . . Every confinement in the dungeon, every pang of hunger, every period of freezing is a merit, every punishment, every blow is a merit with Jehovah.
“Should problems develop in camp in the future involving the Bible Students, then I prohibit the camp commander from pronouncing any punishment. Such cases should be reported to me with a brief description of the circumstances. From now on I plan on doing the opposite and telling the respective individual: ‘You are forbidden to work. You are to be better fed than the others and you do not have to do anything.’
“For according to the belief of these good-natured lunatics merit ceases then, yes, to the contrary, previous merits will be deducted by Jehovah.
“Now my suggestion is that all of the Bible Students be put in work—for example, farm work, which has nothing to do with war and all its madness. One can leave them unguarded if properly assigned; they will not run away. They can be given uncontrolled jobs, they will prove to be the best administrators and workers.
“Another use for them as suggested by Mrs. Kersten: We can employ the Bible Students in our ‘Lebensbornheime’ (homes erected to rear children fostered by SS men to produce a master race), not as nurses, but, rather, as cooks, housekeepers, or to do work in the laundry or similar jobs. In cases where we still have men serving as janitors we can use strong women Bible Students. I am convinced that, in most cases, we will have little difficulty with them.
“I am also in agreement with suggestions that Bible Students be assigned to large families. Qualified Bible Students who have the necessary ability should be found and reported to me. I will then personally distribute them among large families. In such households they are not to wear prison garb, however, but civilian clothes and their stay should be arranged in a similar way to the free and interned Bible Students in Harzwalde.
“In all these cases where prisoners are partially free and have been assigned to such work we want to avoid written records or signatures and make such agreements with just a handshake.
“Please send your recommendations for initiating this action and a report on it.”
So it was. Within a short time quite a few sisters were sent to work in SS households, truck gardens, estates and “Lebensbornheime.”
There were other reasons, however, why the SS were willing to take Jehovah’s witnesses into their homes. The SS felt the secret hate that was growing among the populace. They realized they were not just being joked about privately. Many did not even trust their maids anymore and were afraid that they might poison their food or kill them in some other way. With time, top SS officials dared not go to just any barber, for fear he might cut their throats. Max Schröer and Paul Wauer were assigned to shave top SS officials regularly, since they knew that Jehovah’s witnesses would never take revenge and kill their human enemies.
These brothers and sisters working outside the camps were even permitted visits from their relatives or could themselves visit their relatives at home. Some were given several weeks’ vacation for this purpose. This eventually meant that the brothers and sisters obtained more food, which resulted in rapid improvement of their health and reduced the number of deaths due to hunger and mistreatment.
To what extent the attitude in the concentration camps changed to the advantage of Jehovah’s witnesses can be seen by an experience that Reinhold Lühring had. In February 1944, he was suddenly called from his work crew and asked to report to the camp office. This was where so many had been mistreated and attempts had been made to persuade them to renounce their faith in Jehovah. How surprised Brother Lühring was when officers sitting opposite him asked if he would supervise an estate, properly directing the work and the workers. Answering all their questions in the affirmative, he was later taken to Czechoslovakia, together with fifteen other brothers, to take charge of Mrs. Heydrich’s estate.
Another work crew composed of forty-two brothers, all good craftsmen, was taken to Lake Wolfgang in Austria to build a house for a top SS official. Although the work on the mountainside was not easy, the brothers otherwise had it much better. For example, Erich Frost, who belonged to this group, was given permission to have his accordion sent from home. After receiving it he and the other brothers were often permitted to go out onto the lake evenings, where he would play folk songs and concert pieces, which were enjoyed, not only by his brothers, but also by those living along the lake, including the SS, under whose supervision they were working.
It also continued to become easier to supply the brothers in concentration camps with spiritual food. Dr. Kersten played no small part in this, since he often traveled between his home in Sweden and his estate in Harzwalde. He would always let the sisters that Himmler had given him to work at his estate and his home in Sweden pack his suitcases. A silent agreement had been made between them that the sister in Sweden would put a number of Watchtowers in Kersten’s suitcase when she packed it. Upon arriving in Harzwalde he would tell the sister working for him there that she should unpack his suitcase, which he always let her do alone. After the sisters had carefully studied these Watchtowers, they would pass them on to the nearby concentration camp.
Mr. Kersten’s estate in Harzwalde was ideally located, about thirty-five kilometers south of the women’s camp at Ravensbrück and about thirty kilometers north of the men’s camp at Sachsenhausen. Things were constantly being transported from Harzwalde to both camps, so it was not difficult to smuggle spiritual food into the camps to the brothers and sisters.
There was thus an ever-closer contact between the various camps and private homes where our sisters were assigned to work for SS families. Ilse Unterdörfer reports about this interesting time:
“Since we had considerable freedom where we worked, we succeeded in sending letters to our relatives without having them censored. We were also able to correspond with our brothers who were working outside or had trusted positions working for SS men, thereby enjoying more freedom. Yes, we even succeeded in getting in touch with brothers living in freedom and obtained Watchtowers. After many years of living on things previously learned and from new truths brought in by new arrivals it was wonderfully refreshing to be able personally to read The Watchtower again. I was assigned to an SS farm near Ravensbrück under the jurisdiction of SS officer Pohl. As supervisory prisoner I was responsible for our sisters’ work. Some of us even slept there and did not have to go to the camp at all anymore. It was thus possible for me, according to arrangements made in a letter delivered by a sister, to get in touch with Franz Fritsche from Berlin, whom I met one evening in a wooded section of the farm. He always supplied me with a number of Watchtowers. In addition to this we also received spiritual food in another way. Two sisters worked in a factory and they also brought copies of The Watchtower into the camp. In this way Jehovah lovingly cared for us at a time when it was most urgent.”
Jehovah blessed the brothers who had easier access to spiritual food and who endeavored to make it available to others, as can be seen from Frank Birk’s account. He was among those brought to the estate at Harzwalde. They soon heard that other imprisoned brothers, working under the supervision of a soldier, were putting up a building in the forest some ten kilometers away. Since the Harzwalde-estate brothers already enjoyed a measure of freedom, they looked for an opportunity to meet these brothers in the forest.
“One Sunday morning,” Brother Birk reports, “Brother Krämer and I took our bicycles and started out to find our brothers. As we rode into the woods we soon saw a cleared strip where a new building was going up. Seeing a prisoner come across the clearing, we waved at him, and he started toward us through the woods. As soon as we saw the lilac triangle on his clothes we knew that he was a brother. After we told him that we were from the Harzwalde crew he took us into the new building. Since we had new Watchtowers with us, we sat down and started to study. After that we visited our brothers every Sunday. They were under the surveillance of a sergeant major from Freiburg, who was kindly disposed toward the brothers. Shortly before Christmas I asked him: ‘How would it be if you and our brothers would make a visit to the Harzwalde estate during the holidays?’ He thoughtfully replied that he wanted some place to go with his men where they could get their hair cut. When he heard that we had a barber in Harzwalde he immediately agreed. And so early Christmas morning our brothers, accompanied by this officer, came to the farm. Sister Schulze from Berlin, who was working in the kitchen, took especially good care of the officer so that we might be undisturbed in our association with one another. That evening the brothers returned home, filled with joy over the blessed meeting they had had together. Just think, this had taken place in the midst of our enemies!”
In time there were increased possibilities of getting spiritual food in all the concentration camps. Gertrud Ott and eighteen other sisters incarcerated in Auschwitz were sent to work in a hotel where the families of SS men lived. Since other persons also came to eat and drink there, it was not long before sisters who were still free discovered their imprisoned sisters washing windows. “We are sisters, too.” they mumbled in passing, without looking up. Three weeks later they arranged to meet in the toilet. From then on, the sisters from outside regularly came and brought the sisters working in the hotel Watchtowers and other publications, which were then sent on to Ravensbrück.
At the beginning of December 1942 an especially wonderful opportunity came for about forty brothers left in Wewelsburg to care for special work there. Although still treated as inmates, they enjoyed a certain amount of freedom, for there was no longer any electric barbed wire or sentry to keep them within the camp.
Brother Engelhardt was still free at the time and had issued instructions to brothers living nearby to try to find a way of getting Watchtowers into the camp. After overcoming several problems, Sandor Beier from Herford and Martha Tünker from Lemgo investigated the situation by simply taking a walk through the section like a young couple might do. They soon made contact with the brothers and regularly provided them with Watchtowers thereafter. The first time, they met the brothers in a cemetery at a certain grave; the next time, they hid the magazines in a strawstack, or delivered them to the brothers personally at midnight at some predetermined place. A new meeting place was arranged for each delivery. After Brother Engelhardt and the sisters that had produced and distributed the magazines were arrested, the question arose as to how those still in freedom would be supplied with spiritual food.
This time the brothers in Wewelsburg tried to find a solution themselves. They were able to get a typewriter, which one of the brothers used to write up stencils. Another brother constructed a primitive mimeograph machine out of wood. Sisters outside, with whom they still had contact, brought the brothers the necessary supplies for mimeographing. So many copies of The Watchtower were finally being produced here that a large section of northern Germany could be supplied. Elisabeth Ernsting remembers that she always received fifty copies to supply the territory for which she cared. Thus for almost two years, until the collapse of the regime in 1945, it was possible to provide the brothers living in Westfalen and other districts with The Watchtower.
The supply of spiritual food for the brothers and sisters inside concentration camps improved so greatly that by 1942 in Sachsenhausen it could be compared to a small stream. Sentenced to death shortly before the collapse of the Nazi regime but not executed, Brother Fritsche from Berlin was able over a period of one and a half years to provide the brothers, not only with all the new magazines, but also with a number of older issues, as well as all the books and booklets that had been released in the meantime. It was as though the brothers had been led to rich pastures, for every brother had a copy of one of the Society’s publications for study every evening. What a change! But that is not all. The organization operated so well that Brother Fritsche was able to forward letters to the brothers’ relatives, or letters into other camps or to foreign branches. Thus it was possible within one and a half years to smuggle out 150 letters, and nearly as many into the camp. The letters sent out testified to the brothers’ fine spiritual condition. Understandably, many copies of these letters were made. Some were even mimeographed and served as an encouragement to the brothers outside and especially for the relatives of those who were imprisoned.
THEOCRATIC UNITY BOLDLY DECLARED WITHIN THE CAMPS
All went fine for about one and a half years, until the fall of 1943, when Brother Fritsche was arrested. Reports about Sachsenhausen had been found during house searches that directed attention to him. The police found, not only Watchtowers and other publications in his possession, but also some letters from brothers that he was to deliver. The police, discovering that correspondence was being carried on on a nearly international scale, became suspicious of the camp leaders’ ability or willingness to discharge their obligations. Himmler, therefore, ordered an immediate search to be made of all the concentration camps under suspicion.
The campaign began at the end of April. One morning some of the officials of the Secret Police came to Sachsenhausen. The surprise attack upon the brothers had been well planned. Those working inside the camp were called from their places of work and told to stand in the courtyard, where they were questioned about the daily texts and frisked. Some publications were found. This was all accompanied by the usual beatings. But the Gestapo failed to get the brothers to retract, for Jehovah had richly nourished them in the midst of their enemies. They had a clear vision of their commission and did not fear to take their stand unitedly for theocratic rulership.
Ernst Seliger was known to be the connecting link to Brother Fritsche, so he was given special “attention.” He had endeavored to bind, not only the fleshly wounds, but also the spiritual ones, and his humble fatherly manner had greatly contributed to the unity enjoyed in this camp. But he was very much disturbed about the outcome of his first interrogations and prayed to Jehovah that He might turn his “defeat,” as he considered it, into a victory. But this was not to be a test for just one individual. Wilhelm Röger from Hilden describes the situation as follows: “Now it had to be ‘One for all and all for one!’” All the brothers verified Brother Seliger’s statement that he had passed out daily texts for their encouragement. They confirmed the fact that they had read the literature that Brother Seliger had brought into the camp and that they would continue to encourage one another and to speak about their hope in the future.
Four days passed. Sunday morning Brother Seliger appeared before the camp administration so they could take down the protocol. He describes his experiences: “First, I witnessed in three hospital rooms [where he worked as an assistant] . . . Then full of joy I went into the lions’ den. A doctor and a druggist were studying the letters we had illegally sent out of the camp. Two hours of heated debate followed. When the protocol was to be concluded the questioning officer said: ‘Seliger, what are you going to do now? Do you intend to continue writing daily texts and encouraging your brothers? And do you intend to continue preaching the message here in the camp among other prisoners?’ ‘Yes, that is exactly what I am going to do, and not only I, but also all of my brothers!’ . . . At 2:00 o’clock the interrogation was over and the declaration made in the name of all the brothers was presented to them, whereupon they all joyfully went into the preaching work”—in the camp barracks.
The brothers recalled that it had been nearly ten years since October 7, 1934, when Hitler had been informed in a letter that Jehovah’s witnesses would not cease meeting together and preaching despite threats. Now after almost ten years the Gestapo realized that the fighting spirit of God’s people had still not been broken, regardless of whether inside or outside the concentration camps. The letters testified to this.
The Gestapo now checked the other concentration camps to see if the much proclaimed ‘theocratic unity’ prevailed there too. The next camp was Berlin-Lichterfelde, a branch camp of Sachsenhausen. Brother Paul Grossmann who served as contact man between Sachsenhausen and Lichterfelde later mentioned the investigation:
“On April 26, 1944, the Gestapo struck a new blow. At 10:00 o’clock that morning two Gestapo officers came to Lichterfelde to investigate me thoroughly as contact man between Sachsenhausen and Lichterfelde. They showed me two illegal letters I had written to brothers in Berlin. These letters clearly revealed our methods of operation. [We can see how unwise it is to write letters containing such information, because it is to be expected that sooner or later the officials will find them when making arrests or conducting searches.] The officials were thus informed about all organizational details and additionally that we had regularly received food from our ‘mother.’
“Despite turning everything upside down, all they found was a Watchtower. I had to stand at the gate while the other brothers were brought in from work. They were also searched and made to stand at the gate. This was a real sensation, since a big police raid like this had not been made for a long time. There were many beatings and abusive words during the questioning, and a few Watchtowers and texts were found. An extensive report about experiences in Sachsenhausen, a Bible and other papers were kept out of their hands. The brothers did not conceal the fact that they had been actively working for the interests of the Theocracy and had read The Watchtowers. We had to stand at the gate until 11:00 o’clock that night. In the meantime a police truck had arrived to transfer the twelve ringleaders to Sachsenhausen. This meant they were to be hanged. They had to turn in their spoons and dishes, and so forth. But the transfer did not materialize. Not on the following day either, although death announcements for the relatives had already been written up. There was a surprise on the third day. The twelve brothers were not executed, but were put back to work.”
The brothers in Lichterfelde were then required to sign a declaration stating: “I ------------, one of Jehovah’s witnesses, in the camp since ------------ profess belonging to the ‘theocratic unity’ that exists in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen. I have received daily texts and literature which I have read and passed on.” Everyone was more than happy to sign.
Similar police raids were carried on with the same results in other camps, one being conducted in Ravensbrück on May 4, 1944, because it was evident from the letters that contact was being made between Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrück. Severe measures were taken against the “ringleaders” in this camp. But before long the sisters were put back on their old jobs here, too, after requests had been made by the responsible heads of the departments. This was further proof that the tyrant’s power had by this time been fairly well broken.
Defeats suffered by the German army on the Eastern front in 1944 took so many lives that, not only old men and the Hitler youth were drawn into the war, but even prisoners were given an opportunity to prove themselves on the Eastern front. For this reason committees came to the camps and offered political prisoners the opportunity to join the demoted General Dirlewanger’s division. If they would prove themselves there, then they would be considered free Germans. It was interesting, however, that all the prisoners bearing a lilac triangle were always sent to their barracks before this offer was made to the others. They knew what answer they would receive from Jehovah’s witnesses and had, therefore, ceased asking them.
HURRIED EVACUATION OF THE CAMPS
In 1945, the unceasing rain of bombs from the American and English air forces by day and night and the retreat of the German army, which finally turned into open flight, indicated to everyone that the end of the second world war was near. The SS had quit displaying their lordship. That they were not in an enviable position can be appreciated when one remembers that hundreds of thousands in concentration camps were nervously awaiting liberation. These masses were unpredictable, yes, explosive material, which put many SS men in fear of the prisoners. But Himmler continued to follow his Führer’s commands and sent the following telegram to the commanders of Dachau and Flossenbürg: “Surrendering is out of the question. The camp is to be evacuated immediately. No prisoner is to fall into enemy hands alive. (Signed Heinrich Himmler)” Similar instructions were sent to the other camps.
This was the last devilish plan once again endangering the lives of God’s faithful servants held in the camps. But they were not overly worried. They rested their confidence in Jehovah, regardless of what the immediate outcome might be to them personally.
The SS officers who had the duty of liquidating the prisoners were faced with an unsolvable task. Brother Walter Hamann, who had been assigned to work in the SS canteen, overheard an interesting conversation among SS officers. He relates: “The officers spoke of gassing the prisoners, but the facilities were much too small, neither did they have enough gas. Then I overheard a telephone conversation about an oil shipment for the furnaces; but this could not be delivered. Mention was then made of blowing up the camps and their inmates. Boxes of dynamite had already been placed in the various barracks, especially in the hospital ward. But this plan was abandoned too. Finally, it was decided to evacuate the 30,000 prisoners; they were told that they would be sent to a larger camp—which did not exist—but in reality they were intending to provide us with a mass grave in Lübecker Bay. No gas, oil or dynamite would be needed for this.”
In the meantime the speed with which the Allied forces were approaching from east and west was increasing. The SS now began worrying about their own lives and became ever more confused, especially after the government’s decision to liquidate the camps had become known. Faced with insurmountable problems, they simply drove the prisoners out onto the roads and made them march off with very little food supplies. Anyone later following the route of these marches, which were correctly labeled “death marches,” would notice that all were directed to the same destination. Their goal was to get them to Lübecker Bay, or to the open sea in the north, where they could then be put on ships and sunk before the enemy forces arrived.
Soon there was no food left and, at times, not even a drop of water. Nonetheless, the starving prisoners were forced to march all day long for days on end in pouring rain with an average temperature of only 4 degrees Centigrade (40 degrees Fahrenheit). At night they were permitted to lie down in the woods on the rain-soaked ground. Those unable to keep up with the prescribed speed were mercilessly shot in the neck by the SS rear guard. The extent of the loss of life on these marches can be seen from the example of Sachsenhausen. Of 26,000 prisoners still alive at the time of evacuation, 10,700 were left lying along the road from Sachsenhausen to Schwerin, shot to death.
The few brothers left at Mauthausen were also in a dangerous position. Large tunnels had been dug into the mountain in which the feared “V-2” rockets were built. One day one of the tunnels was closed off and mines were placed in it. The plan was to fake an air raid, thereby driving the 18,000 prisoners into the tunnel, which could then be blown up. But the camp administration was taken by surprise by the rapid advance of the Russian tanks, and the SS preferred to leave the prisoners on their own and to try to save their own lives, if possible. But they did not make it very far. Only a few days later the camp commander, who was known for having said: ‘I only want to see death certificates,’ was recognized by prisoners and trampled to death. Political prisoners now sought revenge upon their fellow prisoners who, as camp elders, block elders and foremen, had brought much bloodguilt upon themselves.
The death march of the inmates from Dachau led through forests, and those unable to keep up were shot by the SS. Their goal was the Ötztaler Alps, where all who finally reached their destination were to have been shot anyhow. The brothers kept together and helped one another, thus keeping some from being killed until they reached Bad Tölz, where they were freed. Brother Ropelius remembers that they spent the last night under a blanket of snow in the forest of Waalkirchen. As day dawned the Bavarian State Police came and told them they were free and that the SS had fled. As they continued their journey they found weapons leaning up against the trees but no SS men.
The SS took seriously the government’s orders to liquidate all prisoners. Just a few days before the capitulation, groups were put together in Neuengamme and put aboard a freighter that was to take them out to the ‘Cap Arcona,’ a luxury steamship, which was lying anchored in Neustadter Bay. Some 7,000 prisoners were already on this 200-meter-long ship. The SS planned on sailing the ‘Cap Arcona’ out into the open sea where they could then sink it with the prisoners. But the ship was still flying its flag and was therefore sunk on May 3, 1945, by English fighter planes. The freighter ‘Thielbeck,’ with between 2,000 and 3,000 prisoners on board, also went under. Some 9,000 prisoners went into a wet grave in Neustadter Bay. It is understandable why survivors shudder when recalling this event. To this day twelve to seventeen skeletons of these drowned prisoners are found yearly at the Neustadter beach by bathers and during digging operations.
The same fate had been determined for the prisoners in Sachsenhausen, including 220 brothers. In a murderous march they covered approximately 200 kilometers in two weeks.
The Witnesses had early recognized the danger that was threatening, so they had repaired their shoes and gathered together a few small carts to transport the meager belongings of the weakest ones, whom they then placed on top. Otherwise these brothers, had they had to walk the entire way, would have been among the more than 10,000 dead. But in this way the brothers who were physically not quite as bad off could pull them along. On the way others were put on the carts when their strength gave out. After a few days of rest, when they had regained enough strength, they would take their turn at pulling the carts again. Thus even during this death march they all remained together as a large family, enjoying Jehovah’s protection down to the end.
Then one afternoon when this group of fleeing prisoners was only three days’ journey from Lübeck, the SS ordered everyone to set up camp in a forest near Schwerin. During the trek the brothers had formed small groups and made makeshift tents out of their blankets. The floor they had covered with small branches so as to ward off the coolness of the night. That night while Russian bullets whistled over their heads and the Americans continued to advance, this part of the German front collapsed. It was an indescribable feeling for those present when suddenly in the midst of the night a call rang out, reechoed thousands of times: “WE ARE FREE!” The approximately 2,000 SS men who until then had been in command of the prisoners had secretly doffed their uniforms so as to appear to be civilians, some even putting on prisoner uniforms to conceal their identity. A few hours later some of them were recognized, however, and mercilessly slaughtered.
Should the brothers accept the offer of the American officers who had now reached them, and break camp in the middle of the night? After prayerfully considering the matter, they decided to wait until sunrise. But even then they stayed a few more hours, since a farmer among the refugees had given the brothers two hundred pounds of peas. A wonderful meal was cooked and eaten. Oh, how appreciative the brothers were! For nearly two weeks they had had practically nothing except a little tea, which they gathered along the way and made in the evenings in the woods when water was available.
How thankful they were when they discovered that not one of them was missing! But, as they later realized, they had still another reason to be thankful to Jehovah, for during their march toward the north they had once been detained by the SS in a forest for several days since they were unsure as to just where the front was. These few days were just the amount of time they would have needed to reach Lübeck before the front finally collapsed.
Now they were no longer in any great hurry to continue on. Right there in this forest near Schwerin they began to write up a report of their experiences on a typewriter that soldiers had thrown out of a mobile office. This report included a resolution written up with the indescribable feeling of having been free for several hours, but also with appreciation for Jehovah’s protection during the many years of their stay in the “lions’ den” deeply impressed upon their minds. This is the resolution:
“May 3, 1945
“The resolution of 230 of Jehovah’s witnesses from six nationalities, gathered in a forest near Schwerin in Mecklenburg.
“We witnesses of Jehovah gathered here, send heartfelt greetings to the faithful covenant people of Jehovah and their companions throughout the entire world in the words of Psalm 33:1-4 and Ps 37:9. Let it be known that our great God, whose name is Jehovah, has fulfilled his word to his people, especially in the territory of the King of the North. A long hard period of testing lies behind us and those who have been preserved, snatched as it were from the fiery furnace, do not even have the smell of fire on them. (See Daniel 3:27.) To the contrary, they are full of strength and power from Jehovah and are eagerly awaiting new commands from the King to further Theocratic interests. Our resolve and our willingness to work are expressed in Isaiah 6:8 and Jeremiah 20:11 (Menge translation). Thanks to the Lord’s assistance and his gracious support, the enemy’s designs to cause us to break our integrity have failed, even though he attempted this by employing innumerable violent devilish schemes as well as thousands of inquisitional practices right out of the Middle Ages, both physical and mental, and many flatteries and enticements. All of these varied experiences that would fill many volumes are briefly described in the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 2 Corinthians 11:26, 27 and, above all, in Psalm 124 (Elberfelder translation). Satan and his demonized agents have once again been marked as liars. (John 8:44) The great issue has once again been decided in Jehovah’s favor to his honor.—Job 1:9-11.
“To our and your joy may you know that the Lord, Jehovah, has blessed us with rich spoils, thirty-six men of goodwill, who upon our leaving Sachsenhausen . . . voluntarily declared: ‘We will go with you people, for we have heard that God is with you people.’ Zechariah 8:23 has been fulfilled! Because of our hurried exit, many friends of the Theocracy were unable to join us, but Jehovah will direct matters so that they will soon find their way back to us.
“We, Jehovah’s witnesses, declare anew our complete faith in Jehovah and our complete dedication to his Theocracy.
“We solemnly promise that we have only one desire, namely, in view of our deep appreciation for the endless chain of evidences of his marvelous preservation and his deliverances of us from the thousands of difficulties, conflicts and afflictions during our stay in the lions’ den, that we be permitted to serve Jehovah and his great King, Christ Jesus, with willing and joyful hearts for all eternity. That would be in itself our greatest reward.
“We conclude our resolution with the words of Psalm 48 in the joyful conviction of an early reunion.
“Your fellow servants for Jehovah’s holy name.”
Thus, after first expressing their thankfulness to Jehovah for his undeserved kindness, for his protection and now also for their restored freedom, the brothers broke camp. Although between 900 and 1,000 prisoners had died on that first night of freedom, the brothers reached Schwerin completely unscathed. Since the bridges across the Elbe River had been destroyed, however, they were unable to leave for two to three months. They found accommodations in the stables of an army barracks where they were able to mimeograph Watchtowers and have a Watchtower study every morning to prepare themselves spiritually for the work ahead. At the same time they took up the field ministry again, although circumstances forced them to do so in their prison uniforms. Finally they were able to continue their travels westward, once again to get in touch with relatives and to see what could be done in reorganizing the Kingdom work.
A RECORD OF INTEGRITY
This report has endeavored to reconstruct an important phase in the modern-day history of Jehovah’s people. But only a small portion of the interesting things that brothers and sisters in Germany experienced during the National Socialistic rule of terror could be related. Many, many books would be necessary to report on everything that happened because the Witnesses held fast to true worship and upheld Jehovah’s name. May the individual experiences that have been related speak for the many that would also have been worthy of mention, not that humans, but, rather, Jehovah, should be praised and honored thereby. He it was who took steps at the right time to deliver his people as a group, even though he permitted many of them to lay down their lives for his holy name.
Anyone who spoke with those freed from tyranny in 1945 recalls how often they unitedly praised Jehovah in the words of Psalm 124. They reflected on the wonderful Watchtower articles that had appeared at the outset of the persecution, with which Jehovah had prepared them for that difficult time. Now they understood what Jesus meant when he said they should not fear those who can destroy the body. They knew what it meant to be thrown into a fiery furnace or, like Daniel, into a lions’ den. But they also realized that Jehovah is mightier, making their foreheads harder than those of their enemies. Even outsiders recognize this and it is often emphasized when historians speak of this part of Germany’s history. For example, Michael H. Kater in his Zeitgeschichte (History Quarterly), 1969, pamphlet 2:
“The ‘Third Reich’ knew how to deal with internal resistance only with brutal force and even then was unable to overcome the forces of rebellion among the German people, and was unable to master the problem of the Earnest Bible Students from 1933 to 1945. The witnesses of Jehovah emerged from their period of persecution in 1945 weakened but not broken in spirit.”
Also in a review of the book Kirchenkampf in Deutschland (Fight of the Churches in Germany), by Friedrich Zipfel, we read:
“Hardly an analysis has been made or a book of memoirs written about the concentration camps in which there is not a description of the strong faith, the diligence, helpfulness and the fanatical martyrdom of the Earnest Bible Students. This in contrast to opposition literature in general which was written before the fight Jehovah’s witnesses had before their imprisonment and which mentions them not at all or just in passing. The activity and persecution of the Bible Students is, however, a very strange case. Ninety-seven percent of the members of this small religious group were victims of National Socialistic persecution. One third of them were killed, either by execution, other violent acts, hunger, sickness or slave labor. The severity of this subjection was without precedent and was the result of uncompromising faith which could not be harmonized with National Socialistic ideology.”
How humiliated now was the Führer of the defeated German Reich! Göbbels had said of him on December 31, 1944: “If the world really knew what he would like to tell and give it and how deep his love is for his own people and for all of mankind, then it would immediately leave its false gods and praise him . . . a man whose purpose it has been to deliver his people. . . . Never has a false word or a debased thought passed his lips. He is truth itself.” But this man who sought to be a god committed suicide.
How humiliated too were those who had put their trust in him—for example, Himmler, who also considered Hitler to be a divinity and who was unscrupulous in carrying out his commands. It was Himmler who had made life for Jehovah’s faithful servants so very difficult for many years. For how much spilled blood must he take the responsibility? In 1937 he braggingly told our sisters in Lichtenburg: “You too will capitulate, we will cut you down to size, we will hold out longer than you!” And how depressed he was after the collapse of the Nazi regime when he was fleeing and met Brother Lübke at Harzwalde and asked him: “Well, Bible Student, what happens now?” Brother Lübke gave him a thorough witness and showed that Jehovah’s witnesses had always reckoned with the collapse of the Nazi regime and with their deliverance. Himmler turned away without a word, and shortly thereafter poisoned himself.
But despite the hard conditions, how those who worshiped Jehovah rejoiced! They had been privileged to prove their integrity to the Sovereign Ruler of the universe. During Hitler’s rule 1,687 of them had lost their jobs, 284 their businesses, 735 their homes and 457 were not allowed to carry on their trade. In 129 cases their property had been confiscated, 826 pensioners had been refused their pensions and 329 others had suffered other personal loss. There were 860 children who had been taken away from their parents. In 30 cases marriages had been dissolved due to pressure by political officials, and in 108 cases divorces had been granted when requested by mates opposed to the truth. A total of 6,019 had been arrested, several two, three or even more times, so that, all together, 8,917 arrests were registered. All together they had been sentenced to serve 13,924 years and two months in prison, two and a quarter times as long as the period since Adam’s creation. A total of 2,000 brothers and sisters had been put into concentration camps, where they had spent 8,078 years and six months, an average of four years. A total of 635 had died in prison, 253 had been sentenced to death and 203 of these had actually been executed. What a record of integrity!
Immediately after the war, the brothers in the Swiss Bethel were the only ones who had contact with the German brothers. They, having heard of certain undesirable tendencies that existed in many congregations even after the release of the brothers from the camps, sent the following circular to the congregations.
“To all our beloved fellow servants in Germany
Dear Brethren in Christ,
“At last you are free from the Nazi yoke!—Some of you have suffered for years, either in prison or in concentration camps or by other types of persecution. . . .
“No one, however, who was considered worthy of special suffering for the Lord’s name will become conceited about this and wear a martyr’s halo or exalt himself above others who were not in prison or concentration camps. No one should brag to his fellow humans about his sufferings. Do not forget that many of the brethren who remained at home also had many problems and were under severe pressures. A Christian cannot choose his sufferings. The Lord determines or, rather, permits them.
“For this reason, dear brethren, let us not be unfair and take sides nor let us condemn anyone, who, according to our way of thinking, has compromised or was willing to do so. The Lord judges our hearts. Before him we are like an open book. . . .
“Brother Erich Frost from Leipzig is authorized to take over the direction of things in your territory. This arrangement is, however, according to the president’s instructions, only of a temporary nature. Brother Frost will, as far as possible, regularly report to the president about the progress of the publishing work.
“The preaching work under the direction of the new president of the Society, Brother Nathan Homer Knorr, has been more thoroughly organized than ever and is making great progress! . . .
“Bible House Family in Bern signed Fr. Zürcher”
Brothers Frost, Schwafert, Wauer, Seliger, Heinicke and others, immediately after their release, began trying to regain possession of the Society’s property with the thought of having the work once again directed from there. This later proved impossible because of the hostile attitude of the Russian authorities.
Brother Frost, who in the meantime had been appointed branch overseer, asked Willi Macco from Saarbrücken, Hermann Schlömer and Albert Wandres from Wiesbaden, and Brother Franke from Mainz to organize and take care of the congregations in those sections of West Germany where they had been regional service directors during the ban.
At the same time Brother Franke was endeavoring, in the vicinity of Stuttgart, to purchase paper that could be used for printing small editions of The Watchtower. Arrangements were also made for talks to be given over the radio from Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Saarbrücken, thereby calling the public’s attention to the Kingdom message. Finally, Brother Franke rented two office rooms in Wiesbaden, and one week later a small room in the same house for living quarters.
At the end of 1945 Brother Frost went to Stuttgart from Magdeburg and discussed organizational questions with faithful brothers who were willing to take up full-time service as traveling servants or to work in Bethel. Since the Society was registered in Magdeburg in East Germany, it seemed to be necessary to open up a branch office in Stuttgart, in West Germany.
Soon Brother Frost headed for the Netherlands to meet Brother Knorr and to speak personally to him for the first time. He stopped off in Wiesbaden on his way and, after Brother Franke had shown him the two rented office rooms, he immediately decided to cancel the plans for Stuttgart and to open the office in Wiesbaden. That meant that the two office rooms and Brother Franke’s small living quarters were to become the Bethel home, where soon twenty brothers and sisters were working and eating.
Approximately one year later Brother Franke, because of his internment under the ban, was offered a two-room apartment at Wilhelminen Strasse 42, by the city of Wiesbaden, so not only did Brother Franke move but Bethel did also. The larger of the two rooms was the Bethel home. By Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, it was possible to rent another room in the same house, which was owned by a sister, and this served as an office. It was here that Brother Knorr made his first visit to the brothers in Germany.
The brothers had repeatedly called on the mayor, and although he had promised them rooms, yes, even an entire house, yet nothing had ever come of it. Now they took advantage of the visit of the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, announcing it with emphasis to all the proper officials, especially, however, to the mayor, asking him what he thought they should tell the Society’s president, who was an American, when he asked them what office space had been offered them for carrying out their responsibilities. They took advantage of Hitler’s ban and their long years of imprisonment, pointing out to the officials the responsibility they had voluntarily taken on to make reparations for the injustices that had been forced upon the Witnesses. How surprised the brothers were when the mayor said: “Then why don’t you take the west wing of the building in Kohlheck?” It had been constructed for use as an air force barracks, but it had not been finished and used before the war ended. That was just the building they had their eye on and had tried several times to get, but without success.
Happy over this information, they excitedly looked forward to Brother Knorr’s visit, during which the contract could be drawn up and legally signed by him as president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society.
CONVENTION IN NÜRNBERG
While the brothers were busy trying to reorganize the congregations and provide them with spiritual food despite the scarcity of paper, their desire to have a large assembly grew. But organizing such an assembly at that time entailed solving many problems, not only in connection with the shortage of food and the lack of sleeping accommodations, but also in connection with the fact that Germany was divided into four military zones, and it was extremely difficult to travel from one zone to another. Despite this, Brother Frost asked Brother Franke to make arrangements for at least one district assembly in each zone of occupation and, if possible, to have one of them in Nürnberg in the American zone.
After the first attempts had failed, a brother personally went to the officials in Nürnberg and determined that there was a possibility of having an assembly there after all. Arrangements were made for the 28th and 29th of September. Suspense among the brothers grew ever greater when it was announced that the military government had finally offered us the use of the Zeppelinwiese in Nürnberg.
At this time the trial of the so-called “war criminals” was in process in Nürnberg and they were to be sentenced on September 23. This date had been set weeks ahead of time, and the world had been notified.
After it became possible to hold an assembly in Nürnberg, the brothers decided at the last minute to extend it by one day so that it would conclude on Monday, September 30. After reorganizing the special trains and making all other arrangements for this third assembly day, the radios and newspapers suddenly announced to the world that the sentences handed down at the war-crimes trial in Nürnberg would not be made public until September 30. This raised problems, since the American military government was afraid there might be demonstrations in Nürnberg and therefore called a curfew. This meant that no one from the city would be able to attend the public talk on Monday. So it was rescheduled for Sunday evening at 7:30, with Brother Frost speaking on the subject “Christians in the Crucible.” Indescribable was the joy of the 6,000 brothers present when they heard that an additional 3,000 persons from Nürnberg were present to hear this talk.
Although officials of the American military government at first tried to disrupt the third day of our assembly due to the sentencing of the war criminals on that same day, the brothers won out. After prolonged negotiations the military officials retracted their request. How could they prohibit Jehovah’s witnesses, who for so many years had resisted those now standing trial, from concluding their assembly in peace and without disturbance?
Thus on Monday morning the brothers at the assembly, which bore the motto “Stronghearted for the Postwar Period,” experienced another highlight when the talk “Fearless Despite World Conspiracy” was delivered.
Who can describe how the 6,000 assembled brothers felt when they realized how Jehovah had maneuvered matters? Think of it, after the collapse of the Nazi regime, Jehovah’s witnesses, who have a true message of peace for mankind, were the first ones permitted to assemble together on this field that had once been Hitler’s parade grounds. And can we imagine their reactions when they thought of the fact that on this very third day of their assembly death sentences were pronounced on those representing that murderous system that had tried to stamp out Jehovah’s witnesses? Said the chairman at the assembly: “Just being able to experience this day, which is just a preview of the triumph of God’s people over their enemies at the battle of Armageddon, was worth nine years in concentration camp.” His statement was picked up by the press and carried all over the world.
RELIEF MEASURES FROM ABROAD
In 1947 Brothers Knorr, Henschel and Covington were able to visit the brothers in Germany. During their visit arrangements were made for an assembly to be held in Stuttgart, on Saturday and Sunday, May 31 and June 1. Since there were no halls available in the city, as everything was bombed out, a place for the assembly was arranged for in an adjoining suburb. There were approximately 7,000 present.
During this visit of Brother Knorr it became apparent to him that the Society’s relief shipments of food and clothing should be continued. The brothers in Switzerland had contributed many gifts in the form of foodstuffs and clothing to relieve the German brothers in their dire straits, thus showing their brotherly love. But Brother Knorr felt so sorry for them that he decided to tell the brothers who would be assembling at the convention in Los Angeles in just a few weeks of their plight and to encourage them to contribute food and clothing. The German brothers, however, were not especially conscious of their plight, so happy and appreciative were they that Jehovah had prepared this spiritual feast for them, climaxed by Brother Knorr’s being in their midst.
When he told the brothers in the United States of his observations in Germany and encouraged them to contribute foodstuffs, the brothers spontaneously responded with $140,000.00, a sum used to buy 22,000 large food packages from the CARE organization to be sent to Germany. Additionally, they contributed 220 tons of clothing—suits, dresses, underwear and shoes, for men, women and children.
As soon as announcement was made that the shipment was on its way, preparations were made in Bethel for fast and smooth distribution. In a suburb of Wiesbaden they rented a room in a Gasthaus (an inn) where they sorted and distributed the clothing. Every publisher who had been active in the field ministry for six months—in other words, who had not reported just to get a CARE package—was registered, for there was a large and valuable food package awaiting each of them.
The distribution had hardly begun when mountains of letters poured into the branch office in which the brothers expressed their appreciation. It was touching to see with what appreciation the brothers accepted these gifts and how they felt called on to thank both Jehovah and the contributors, their brothers in America. Quite often someone would stop work to dry away the tears that these letters brought to his eyes. As an example, a father, after opening the package and seeing its contents, kneeled down with his twelve-year-old son and thanked Jehovah in prayer for this loving gift from his brothers.
Brother Knorr also made arrangements for nearly one and a half million copies of the books “Let God Be True,” The New World and “The Truth Shall Make You Free” to be sent to Germany as a gift. With the monies collected from the distribution of these books a foundation was to be laid, from which the branch office could work. Thus Jehovah took care of everything necessary that the work might get under way anew in Germany.
FORWARD DESPITE POSTWAR HARDSHIP
The year 1948 began with a series of strikes in southern Germany and in the Ruhr territory protesting the poor food situation. Meat and fat rations had been further reduced. Whereas the UNO had declared a ration of 2,620 calories a day to be necessary, what could be obtained was far below this in some places—only 1,000 or perhaps as low as 700 calories. Nearly everyone was hungry, and it was getting worse, resulting in a general feeling of bitterness.
Nevertheless, Jehovah’s people began the new year full of zeal and enthusiasm. A special meeting in each congregation was held on January 1 with a total of 38,682 in attendance, and during the same month 27,056 publishers, 2,183 more than in the month before, reported field service. It was the time for the annual Watchtower campaign to begin, but what we here in Germany really needed were personal copies of The Watchtower for ourselves. It was a problem, especially in view of the distressing conditions brought on by the paper shortage plus all the other difficulties. Brother Knorr made arrangements whereby a sufficiently large amount of Watchtowers were printed in Switzerland and sent to Germany so that during January, not only did every publisher have his own Watchtower, but every congregation was supplied a number above this amount, permitting many in regular attendance at the Watchtower study to obtain their own personal copy. So we were being provided with spiritual food.
At this time most German cities were nothing more than piles of rubble. This was the case with Cassel; it had been almost completely destroyed and the first estimates made by the planning commission, which was set up to take care of the clearing-off work, were that it would take twenty-three years just to get rid of the rubble in the city. It was here that we planned to have an assembly. The city could give us nothing else for our assembly than the large Karlswiese, a meadow that had more than fifty large bomb craters. But the brothers with their concentration camp experience happily went to work, despite the oft-repeated skeptical comments of the officials. Using primitive methods, they carted some 10,000 cubic meters of stones and rubble from the destroyed houses in the neighborhood and filled the bomb craters. This took nearly four weeks.
These weeks proved to be a test, for hardly had the brothers begun to work when rain began to fall, and it never stopped until the assembly commenced. Although drenched, they did not allow either the hard work or the rain to dampen their spirits. When people told them it would be impossible to hold such an assembly on the Karlswiese in this kind of weather, they optimistically answered that once the assembly began they would have nice weather.
Right in the midst of the rapidly progressing preparatory work a currency reform was announced. Inconveniences of the most unpleasant kind were to be expected. On June 21 the new currency went into circulation, each citizen of the three western zones receiving for sixty old Reichsmarks forty Marks in the new currency. A month later they received an additional twenty Deutsche Marks. Bank accounts were reduced to a tenth of the old amount in Reichsmarks and were, in most cases, frozen for the moment.
The value of the new currency soon became apparent. Horded supplies suddenly became available for sale, and many necessary things that one had been without for years could now be bought in the stores. But our brothers were conscious of their spiritual needs and were willing to invest their D-Marks to attend the assembly. Many sold such valuable items as cameras, and so forth, to cover expenses. Jehovah’s hand was not too short to help those putting Kingdom interests first. As an example, Sister Neupert from Munich reports: “My colony of bees was endangered since I had no sugar and could not afford to buy any, but to me Cassel was more important. And I was not disappointed. Upon my return I found that my bees had worked so zealously that I was able to harvest some 2,200 lbs. of honey that year.”
When the responsible brothers from the branch office arrived in Cassel they were greeted with the words from Isaiah 12:3: ‘With joy you . . . will draw water.’ The brothers had written these words on a banner and hung it over the entrance to the meadows. Others, still busy drawing water out of the remaining bomb craters so that the ground would dry up more quickly, greeted them with their version of the scripture: ‘With tubs you . . . will draw water.’
Seventeen special trains converged upon Cassel, and on Friday morning, after weeks of pouring rain, the sun beamed down from a clear blue sky upon more than 15,000 in attendance. Attendance reached 17,000 on the second day and climaxed at the public talk when the attendants counted 23,150 persons, not including the swarms of Cassel citizens standing in the streets around the assembly grounds. The Cassel newspapers spoke of “25,000 to 30,000 people at Karl’s Meadow.”
Even the mayor was present and gave a short speech to the brothers, whose work had greatly impressed him. The good weather prevailed and the Catholic police chief told the brothers, during a visit to the assembly site on the second day: “You seem to have a good number with that man upstairs!” Then after a pause he added: “A better one than we do.”
One of the many highlights of this assembly was when each in attendance received a free copy of the book “The Truth Shall Make You Free” and two copies of the booklet The Joy of All the People. Another highlight was the field service. The brothers were taken by special trains to work all the towns in the vicinity, even as far as Paderborn, so that this bishop’s city was completely worked in one day. At this assembly 1,200 new brothers and sisters were baptized.
The result of the willingness of Jehovah’s people to put spiritual interests first was peace, unity and increase. During the convention month of July, 33,741 publishers reported service, and this rose in August to 36,526. The service year closed with an 83-percent increase. The number of congregations grew, and on October 15 a new division of circuits was made, there now being seventy.
It was also in 1948 that the first flatbed presses were set up in the Wiesbaden Bethel. Since a large shipment of paper had arrived at the same time as a gift from Brooklyn, it was possible to begin printing on a large scale. Two machines ran day and night for a long time. But many outsiders were curious as to how it was possible for us to get these two machines, since no firm was able to produce them at that time. They were presses that had belonged to a former millionaire and had been badly damaged in a bombing raid on Darmstadt. After 1945 the iron parts were dug out of the rubble by this man and his office manager, and taken to the factory in Johannisberg on the Rhine where they had originally been made. Happy to have something for their workers to do, they completely restored these machines. Meanwhile, the secretary of this once rich printer, who soon became his wife, learned the truth and used her influence so that this man sold the Society the machines at an unbelievably low price.
Even before this the brothers had been able to produce some four to six thousand magazines monthly for nearly one and a half years in a small printing establishment in Karlsruhe. It had been a National Socialistic plant and was taken over by the American occupational forces to be put at the disposal of persons persecuted by the Nazi regime. Since Bethel members belonged to this group, this small printing establishment was turned over for their use on the condition that they would take over the management themselves. Erwin Schwafert was given the responsibility of managing and seeing to it that Watchtowers were printed there until we could continue the work in our own plant.
One special problem was distribution. Although the number of publishers grew monthly, the military government was unable to give us more paper. So we had to draw up a new distribution plan each month, whereby one Watchtower was available for every six or seven publishers. That was also one of the reasons why Brother Knorr put forth every effort to get the Society legally established in Wiesbaden as a branch organization of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Thus it would be possible quickly to supply paper from outside Germany to meet the brothers’ ever-growing demand for study material. But they also needed literature for working from house to house. There had been but few publications available for the brothers up till 1948, mainly booklets, and these were being loaned out for one or two weeks.
In 1949, increasing paper supplies made it possible to step up the amount of printing considerably. There were 40,000 copies of the January 1, 1949, Watchtower printed and this figure grew, reaching 80,000 copies for the April 15 issue, 100,000 for the May 1 issue and 150,000 for the May 15 issue.
Whereas there were 35,840 present at the 1947 Memorial celebration in all four zones of Germany, one year later there were 48,120, and in 1949 the number in attendance at the Memorial had risen to 64,537 persons. Here too there were sometimes problems to be solved. For example, in Holzheim near Göppingen the 1948 Memorial celebration was held under police “protection.” How did this come about? Brother Eugen Mühleis explains: “The minister had been forbidden to celebrate the evening meal in the Evangelical Church because of an outbreak of typhus in the community. The director of the school where we had planned on holding our Memorial celebration now attempted to prevent us from doing so. The health department had granted us permission, but had laid down several restrictions to be met in order to prevent the spread of the contagious disease. A policeman was sent to attend our Memorial celebration to make sure that these restrictions were observed.”
At the beginning of 1949 the Wiesbaden printery was enlarged; eight presses were at work, two of them running day and night. During the course of the year some one and a half million bound books were sent from Brooklyn, distribution of which created a broader basis for new return visits and Bible studies. The publisher ranks grew from month to month, with 43,820 reporting in August 1949. a 33-percent increase in publishers was achieved for the service year.
OPPOSITION IN COMMUNIST EAST GERMANY
Quite different was the development of the work in East Germany and the Eastern sector of the city of Berlin, which, at the end of World War II, were occupied by Soviet Russia and governed by the Soviet military administration. Many of its military officers did not know much about Jehovah’s witnesses, except that they had withstood brutal persecution by the Nazis. There was comparatively little interference in the beginning, but, as the congregations started to prosper and many people began to show interest in the Kingdom message, the Soviet military administration became distrustful of our work, as it seemed to be beyond their control. Often there were greater crowds at our public meetings than the attendance at the political meetings of the Communist party, which were fostered by the military government.
Local Soviet officers started openly to curtail the activities of the congregations and of individual publishers. Some of the clergy of Christendom saw their chance to show themselves good friends of the Communists. They lyingly slandered the brothers as being opposed to the authorities and as influencing the people to a kind of passive resistance to the recovery effort of the military government for East Germany’s desolated economy, by preaching God’s kingdom as the only hope for mankind.
These interferences prompted the brothers working in the Society’s office in Magdeburg to approach the headquarters of the Soviet military administration located in East Berlin. At first, their efforts were dealt with according to the generally practiced principle of “nothing forbidden, nothing allowed.” But the brothers finally succeeded in obtaining a certificate from the headquarters confirming that Jehovah’s witnesses were operating legally. Presenting this document at places where interferences occurred helped in some instances, but other officials seemed to feel that the headquarters was far away and that they were their own lords.
After the war, Berlin, the previous capital of the German Reich, was divided by the four allied victors into four sectors with partially independent and partially mutual government administration. Dissension became vehement when the Russians enforced a blockade on the Western sectors of Berlin after the economic reform that was initiated in 1948. The Western allies broke through the blockade by using their right to the air corridors that were not subject to controls, thus supplying the population in the three sectors with the necessities of life by building an “air bridge.” By the time an agreement was reached and the Russians lifted the blockade, Berlin was definitely a divided city, East Berlin under Communist rule and West Berlin with certain ties to the Federal Republic of Germany.
A district assembly was scheduled to be held in Leipzig in 1948, but the Russian military officials refused to give permission. Plans were then made to use the beautifully situated Waldbühne (Forest Stage) located in the British sector of Berlin. There was no end to the difficulties involved. Not merely the currency reform and the bad weather; the most important question was, How will the thousands of persons from all over East Germany get into the blockaded city of Berlin? Finally we received permission to run special trains into the city, so, despite the critical political situation, almost 14,000 were assembled on the first day. On the third day over 16,000 were present, and the public lecture on Sunday afternoon was attended by more than 25,000. New publishers who symbolized their dedication by baptism numbered 1,069. Jehovah proved to be a gracious host who prepared a table of fat things for his people at the very focal point of the struggle between two blocs of nations.
How was the Society’s property in Magdeburg in Communist East Germany faring? The buildings at Wachtturmstrasse 17-19 had been returned in 1945 right after the end of the war and were already 95 percent restored, whereas about 90 percent of the one located at Leipziger Strasse 16 had been repaired. Our brothers had rebuilt the destroyed property, volunteering their services without pay. The Saxony State government’s decision of June 24, 1949, returned the rest of the property, located at Fuchsberg 5-7 and Wachtturmstrasse 1-3, to the Society. That month the total number of publishers in East Germany being cared for by the branch office in Magdeburg reached 16,960.
There was a great demand for Biblical truth. Traveling overseers report that often 100 to 150 persons were present at public meetings in congregations numbering only 30 to 40 publishers. In large cities the attendance at the talks often reached upward of a thousand persons. Many Bible studies were started; in one congregation the publishers averaged 3.8. The traveling overseers did not always have an easy time of it. Some of them got around by means of old borrowed bicycles, some of which had no rubber tires, but only metal rims. They had long distances to travel. Then, too, there was the problem of ration cards. One circuit overseer reports that the certificate issued by the labor office designating him as a “preacher” was not extended, which meant he was without a ration card.
Another circuit overseer reports: “There were several spies in attendance at every talk. Once the brothers were not quite sure about a man who appeared in civilian clothes. Before the talk started I approached him and asked: ‘Excuse me, officer, could you give me the correct time?’ He did, and because he did not seem surprised at what I had called him we knew he was a policeman in civilian clothes.”
The enmity of the Russian and German Communist officials continued to increase. A district assembly for the brothers living in East Germany was once again planned to be held in Berlin in the Waldbühne, from July 29 to 31, 1949. This convention was held under the shadow of gathering clouds of persecution, but it showed the determination of our brothers to continue serving Jehovah with a complete heart. Preparations were made as quietly and with as little fanfare as possible. There had already been a number of Communist attacks against religious freedom in East Germany. For example, a circuit assembly in Saxony was canceled at the last minute and violence left some of the Witnesses injured.
We were able to arrange for eight special trains. Some 8,000 persons had already paid more than 100,000 D-Marks for tickets, when, just a few hours before departure, the trains were canceled. The railway refused to refund the ticket money before two weeks had elapsed. Thousands of Witnesses were waiting at the stations for the special trains, only to hear that they had been canceled. The police blockaded all the roads leading into Berlin and searched all the autos, buses and trucks for anyone going to the convention. But on the evening of the first day of the assembly there were at least 16,000 persons in attendance. The public talk on Sunday was attended by more than 33,000. The enemy’s wicked attacks and efforts had worked out only to be a gigantic witness against them.
The dictatorial measures directed against us soon became known and, although the press was issued no invitation, numerous reporters showed up to write sensational stories about the Communists’ attempts to keep the Witnesses from getting to Berlin. On Saturday evening the branch overseer, Erich Frost, read a resolution to the assembled thousands, and it was reported on that same evening over RIAS, the American radio station in Berlin. Brother Frost outlined their courageous stand with the words: “Is Bolshevism better than other systems? Do the Communists believe they must finish what Hitler started? We are just as unafraid of the Communists as we were of the Nazis!”
The resolution passed at the Berlin district assembly included a sharp protest against the undemocratic and unconstitutional bans and the limitation of religious services in Saxony and the confiscation of rooms used for such. This resolution was sent with an accompanying letter, dated August 3, to the top Soviet military administration of Germany in Berlin. Copies were also sent to 4,176 prominent public officials or those having to do with daily newspapers, radio stations, news agencies, and so forth, both in Berlin and in West and East Germany. So everyone’s attention was called to the Communists’ drive and to the steadfastness of true Christians. In August, a month after the convention, Jehovah’s witnesses in East Germany reached a new peak of publishers, 568 more than had ever reported before!
The kindling of a campaign against Jehovah’s witnesses continued to take on ever greater scope. Freedom of religion was restricted more and more. Bans against conducting Bible studies were issued, policemen broke up religious services, brothers were fired from their civil service or municipal jobs because of their religion. A petition pleading for a guarantee of true religious liberty was presented to the government of the German Democratic Republic on February 18, 1950. The result was more cases of unconstitutional breaking up of religious services, confiscation of literature and arrests of several leading ministers. On June 27, 1950, another petition from Jehovah’s witnesses in East Germany was sent to the government, being directed to the Minister President Otto Grotewohl. Then the cruel hand of Communism struck hard.
Early on the morning of August 30, 1950, Communistic police forces under the command of two Russian officers stormed into our Magdeburg Bethel. They arrested all the brothers except one, whom they kept as “caretaker.” The letter from the Ministry of the Interior notifying the Watch Tower Society in Magdeburg of the ban was dated August 31. But not until September 3 did the police present this letter to the lone brother left behind, the “caretaker.”
Eyewitness reports from sisters in Bethel describe what happened on that morning of August 30: “Around 5:00 o’clock in the morning the alarm signal sounded. I dressed quickly. . . . As I opened the door to run downstairs, I was confronted by two policemen who said I should remain in my room. Then one of the officers came in and told me to open the wardrobe. I refused until he showed me his identification. They tore everything apart. . . .” How had the police got into the Bethel home? Another sister tells us: “I looked out the window in room 23 and noticed a policeman climbing over the gate. Others were already inside. The night watchman had refused to open the gate for them. I estimate that there were at least 25 to 30 policemen in the group, none of them in uniform.”
Sister Bender, who served in the Magdeburg Bethel at that time and is still faithfully serving in Wiesbaden Bethel, relates her experience: “On August 30, 1950, between 4 and 5 in the morning the East German police came to the Bethel home. Everyone had to stay in their room, but toward 10 a.m. I slipped out of Bethel unnoticed by the police by going down the fire escape from the balcony of the first story and climbing through the fence between our’s and the neighbor’s property. Although I saw police on the street, I came out of the neighbor’s property casually and went to a brother’s home where some of the Society’s documents were kept. I picked these up and a brother drove me to Berlin.” In this way it was possible to save some of the records.
All the literature was confiscated and taken away along with the Society’s truck. The same thing was true of the foodstuffs stored in the kitchen. Only the sisters were allowed to keep their ration cards. An eyewitness reports: “In the meantime they had—as we observed—quietly taken away the brothers two by two. . . .”
A wave of persecution had set in. Upon coming to arrest one brother, the police were greeted by him dressed in the striped “Zebra clothes” he had been forced to wear in a Nazi concentration camp! Farce trials were conducted and once again the work of Jehovah’s witnesses retreated underground.
Lothar Wagner was one of the brothers who was sentenced to a long prison term in 1950. He vividly describes how he was able to maintain his integrity during seven years of solitary confinement:
“August 30, 1950, I was arrested in Plau, Mecklenburg, and on October 4, 1950, sentenced to fifteen years in a penitentiary by the high court of the DDR in Berlin. Due to the unrest in Hungary in 1956 the sentence was reduced to ten years.
“These ten years (and six weeks of detention pending investigation, which were not deducted from the sentence) I spent in the penitentiary in Brandenburg-Görden. There I was released on October 3, 1960.
“During this time I spent seven years in solitary confinement. In the first three years the only contact I had with the outside world was one letter, the size of a half sheet of typing paper, consisting of fifteen lines, which I was allowed to write and receive each month—depending on whether the contents were approved by the police or not. Until 1958 work was considered a privilege—therefore I was not allowed to work. From 1958 it was considered a punishment—then I had to work.
“When one is in solitary confinement for so many years there is one main enemy, among many other vexations, against which one has to fight—the time. Time has to be conquered.
“I solved this problem of time in the following manner: Unity strengthens, this is also true of time. If the entire period of imprisonment totaling fifteen years is considered in one unit, one is nearly crushed by this volume of time, because it is simply beyond our imagination and this immense span of time confronts one like a monster. One has to try to gain the upper hand and make time submissive. When rulers of this world try to rule a large number of people they cannot master, they often follow the principle: divide and rule!
“With regard to time I applied this principle; I divided the time. I reckoned not with years or months, yes, not even with weeks or days, but, rather, at the most, with hours. In the morning at say 7:00 o’clock I didn’t ask myself: What shall I do today? but, What shall I do until 9:00 o’clock?
“Suddenly everything looked different. One or two hours were not fear inspiring, I could easily keep the upper hand that long. But there was still another problem: With what should one fill out the time? Paper and pencil could not be obtained. The only real occupation was keeping the cell clean and eating. Even if one did both of these thoroughly and as slowly as possible still one could not fill out the entire day with them. Naturally all branches of Theocratic service, from personal study to international conventions, house-to-house service to public lectures, were shared in to the extent possible in thoughts. But despite everything there were often one or two hours of the day where there was nothing to do, and these were the most dangerous because, due to carelessness, despondency or dejection one could easily demolish all that one had laboriously built up the entire day.
“One day I discovered a ‘clock,’ which was a help to me for many years, in applying this dangerous, unproductive time in a useful way. I discovered that there were still two hours until dinner time. I walked back and forth in my cell, five steps forward and five steps back and while doing so I sang Kingdom songs. When I finished the 30th song the door opened and dinner was served. I had concentrated on the text of the songs and did not even notice that time had slipped by. That was a discovery that saved me from experiencing monotony and dejection for many years. For several weeks I concentrated on completing my storehouse of Kingdom songs. When I did not know the text exactly I simply made up one or two stanzas. I used melodies of worldly songs that I liked to make Kingdom songs by thinking up a theocratic text. Thus I finally had 100 Kingdom songs in my collection, all numbered, which I could sing. One song lasted exactly four minutes, so I could figure out exactly how many songs I had to sing to span a certain amount of time. Throughout the years I sang at least two hours daily, that would be thirty Kingdom songs. I thus once had the possibility to sing the whole day from morning until evening when I didn’t feel like doing anything else. What an abundance of encouraging and upbuilding thoughts our Kingdom songs contain! When one uses the text of each song as an outline one can easily make a talk from each song—a further possibility to fill out time without suffering spiritually. One can truly say our Kingdom songs are food at the proper time.
“I am very thankful to Jehovah that with the help of his spirit I was able to remain spiritually strong these ten years of being cut off from his organization. I would like to encourage everyone to show proper appreciation for all spiritual food that is given us since we do not know just how it will be of value to us at some time. If we regularly consume the spiritual food at the proper time, it will help us in times of special difficulties, in which we stand alone, to put our trust in Jehovah and endure steadfast on his side.”
From September 1, 1955, to August 31, 1961, the Society maintained a beautiful branch office in West Berlin, which made it possible to give better attention to the special circumstances of this divided city. It also proved to be a good arrangement to have close organizational ties between West Berlin and East Germany.
These ties between Jehovah’s witnesses living in East Germany and East Berlin and the West were adversely affected by a turn of events in 1961 over which the Witnesses personally had no control. Shortly after the war, an ever-growing stream of refugees left East Germany and went to West Berlin and West Germany, generally out of dissatisfaction with the regime’s policies. Since the East German authorities did not permit their citizens to travel out of the country, they crossed the “green border” secretly as refugees. The authorities tried to counteract this flow of refugees by increasing border controls, checking persons in trains and on the streets as well as through stricter laws against “fleeing the republic.” A comparatively convenient way to cross into the West was through the Eastern sector of Berlin. By the first half of 1961 the flow of refugees had increased to 20,000 persons a month; in July it surpassed 30,000. A total of more than three million residents, one sixth of the total population, had left their property and possessions in East Germany and fled as refugees to West Berlin and West Germany.
To prevent a further deserting of their territory the Communist authorities took rigorous action. Early on the morning of August 13, 1961, they began to build a wall of cement and barbed wire, with a leveled-off “death strip” and automatic alarm systems and guards, ready to shoot, along the 50-kilometer-long border between the Eastern and Western sectors of the city as well as along the 120-kilometer-long border between the three Western sectors and East Germany. This tightened the noose around West Berlin and suddenly stopped the heavy traffic that, despite controls, was still moving between the two sections of the city. Jehovah’s witnesses living in East Germany could no longer obtain literature by traveling to West Berlin or Communicate with the branch office there, nor could they attend assemblies held in West Germany.
Of course, obtaining literature had not been easy even before. Taking literature into eastern Germany was prohibited by the Communist authorities, and was therefore punishable. When the Society’s Biblical literature was found on brothers during checks made at the border, they had to reckon with long prison terms. Such trips, therefore, required strong faith and a complete trust in Jehovah.
From the start of persecution in 1950 until the “Berlin Wall” was built in 1961, East German authorities arrested 2,897 of Jehovah’s witnesses; 2,202 of them, including 674 sisters, were haled before courts and sentenced to a total of 12,013 years in prison or an average of five and a half years apiece. During their imprisonment thirty-seven brothers and thirteen sisters died due to maltreatment, sickness, malnutrition and old age. Twelve brothers were originally sentenced to life imprisonment, but this was later reduced to fifteen years.
The East German brothers quickly adjusted to the new situation brought about by the “Berlin Wall.” Other means were employed to supply them with the necessary spiritual food and they continued their Christian ministry with great zeal. Obviously the Communist authorities had not expected this. They tried to infiltrate the organization with spies who visited persons known to be Jehovah’s witnesses and claimed they were brothers sent by the Society to help adjust the work to the changed circumstances. But the brothers were well trained; they immediately recognized the individuals as spies.
In the course of the years the number of brothers arrested and sentenced dropped sharply. Only fifteen new arrests of Jehovah’s witnesses occurred in 1963 and nine in 1964, whereas during the same two years ninety-six and forty-eight brothers were released after long prison terms. In the summer of 1964 four brothers who had been imprisoned for many years had an unexpected surprise. Originally sentenced to life imprisonment, they were suddenly released and sent to West Germany. They arrived just in time for an assembly. They felt they were dreaming. Just a few days before, they had been in the bleak penitentiaries of East Germany where one only dreamed of being able to assemble with the brothers in freedom. And now they were experiencing the sudden fulfillment of this desire hidden in their hearts. Two of the brothers, Friedrich Adler and Wilhelm Engel, were members of the Bethel family in Magdeburg. Friedrich Adler was arrested and imprisoned in 1950, two months before the work was banned, whereas Wilhelm Engel was one of those arrested when Bethel was seized on August 30, 1950. Brother Engel was turned over to the Red Cross on the Berlin Sector border due to his poor health. He was immediately taken to a hospital where he died a few weeks later. These brothers had already been in prison up to nine years under Hitler’s regime and had thus endured all together twenty-three years’ imprisonment because of their faith. Friedrich Adler again took up Bethel service, this time in Wiesbaden. He was able to look back over a long and eventful life in full-time service, having already served back in the 1920’s as a pilgrim brother. Weakened by his long imprisonment, he ended his earthly course in December 1970.
In November 1964 the Communist Authorities delivered the brothers in East Germany a new blow. Military conscription had been introduced for all citizens some time previous to this. The young brothers had refused military service, but they were generally handled with consideration and their attitude was respected. But now suddenly, under cover of early morning darkness, 142 brothers were arrested. This unexpected change in the handling of their cases constituted a test of faith for these young brothers. They were put into a work camp. First, an attempt was made to get them to work as “construction soldiers,” a type of substitute military service, but this they unitedly refused. Despite punishment they remained steadfast, and such coercion attempts were dropped. They had to perform hard work in railroad construction, working from four in the morning until nine at night. When not working they received instruction intended to convince them that the responsible men among Jehovah’s witnesses were Western agents. Most of the young brothers had become acquainted with the truth after the work had already been banned and the authorities were astounded that they would find young people fearlessly standing up for the principles of true Christianity despite the massive indoctrination of youths with Communistic, atheistic ideas.
During 1965 the watching and molesting of our brothers by spies and secret agents of the ministry for state security increased sharply. Many homes were searched, brothers were stopped on the streets and interrogated. Secret bugging systems were installed in automobiles and homes, yes, even in the brothers’ bedrooms. The authorities endeavored to give the brothers the impression that every move they made was known to the authorities.
Of course, the authorities were successful in gleaning many a detail by “listening” to the guileless conversations of the brothers. When hearings were conducted the secret police tried to make it appear that the information they had gathered about the work had been received from the “capitalistic world,” thus inferring a certain thoughtlessness among the brothers there. They were thereby trying to sow seeds of doubt and mistrust concerning the Governing Body and the brothers in the Society’s offices. But the brothers did not let themselves be disturbed by this and, in the course of time, they began to realize ever better how tight the spy net was that had been drawn around them.
This became especially apparent when one November day in 1965, early in the morning, the homes of brothers all over the country were occupied by groups of eight officers and searched for several hours. Fifteen brothers who were considered “ringleaders” were arrested and kept in jail for between nine and thirteen months until they were charged and brought up for trial. In 1966 they received sentences of up to twelve years, the average being more than seven years.
While these brothers were being treated like desperate criminals, the secret police were hunting down others who had been preaching the good news and gathering together to worship Jehovah in small groups just as the brothers sentenced had been doing. They made them the offer that if they would file a report on their activity and submit the names of those participating in the ministry—this for the purpose of state security—they could continue to meet together in small groups, have their Bible literature and keep in touch with their brothers in other countries. But the brothers rejected the authorities’ insincere offer. One of the officers moaned: “We thought that we had taken away your leaders, but now we have only succeeded in losing sight of your work.”
In the course of 1969, after approximately four years of imprisonment, fourteen of the fifteen brothers arrested in the 1965 campaign were suddenly released. The majority were sent to West Germany. The last one of the group was arbitrarily kept in prison for another year, until September 1970.
Since then the secret police have changed their tactics, and presently they are making use of the regular police forces and other state agencies to make trouble for the brothers. In some areas the police have sentenced the brothers to pay high fines for supposedly disturbing the peace when they preached or met together. A number of brothers were successful in having these fines suspended by appealing to the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom and demanding to be able to face the witnesses whose peace had been disturbed. Such witnesses of course did not exist.
In other localities the authorities have tried to put pressure on the brothers by evicting them from their homes and putting them in substandard housing, giving them low-paid secular work and denying younger brothers specialized training for various jobs.
Since the work in East Germany was sealed off from the outside world when the “Berlin Wall” was built in 1961, many thousands have heard the good news, learned the truth, dedicated themselves and have been baptized. They are a living proof of the fact that Jehovah’s spirit cannot be restrained, even by human-built walls and fortresses. Thus Jehovah’s witnesses in East Germany who have been working and living under ban and great difficulty for more than twenty-three years now can say along with King David: “And by my God I can climb a wall.”—Ps. 18:29.
SUCCESSFUL PREACHING CAMPAIGNS
In West Germany, during this time, the Kingdom message was being brought prominently to the attention of the public again and again. The Watchtower campaign in 1949 laid a foundation for getting spiritual food into the homes of tens of thousands of persons on a regular basis. Everyone attending the Watchtower study and all interested persons should be offered The Watchtower on a subscription basis. Did we reach our goal? In the 1949 service year 59,475 subscriptions were obtained, a figure we have never attained since then!
Street work with the magazines was another means by which the vital message of God’s kingdom was kept before the public eye. This activity was also a thorn in the eyes of the clergy. In Catholic Bavaria attempts were made to prevent magazine street work by passing laws and traffic regulations. It was claimed that certain religious groups felt themselves molested. But they were silenced when the states of Bavaria and Hesse released a statement to all police officials in 1954, that the ministry as carried on by Jehovah’s witnesses is not subject to legal restrictions.
A special campaign to carry the Kingdom message into all unassigned territory was planned for the summer months of July and August 1956. The brothers worked with unprecedented enthusiasm, covering at least 80 percent of all unassigned territory. There were very few persons in West Germany that year who were not visited by a minister of the good news. However, there was often opposition, especially in rural areas, as we can see from the following report: “The entire village was in an uproar. Young people followed us from house to house and introduced us with the goal in mind of causing the people to dismiss us at once. It was impossible to place even one single book in the whole village.”
A week later the same congregation worked another village in the same territory. The publishers met at the railroad station, discussed the daily text together and then discussed introductions to be used in their witnessing. A man joined the publishers and began to listen. He was given a witness as one of Jehovah’s witnesses would have done at the door. When the brother finished, the stranger pulled out his wallet and said: “I would like to have those books.” As it turned out, this man lived in the village where a week before not a single book had been placed. Despite the opposition in rural areas where the clergy still had a certain influence on the village folk, 166 percent more books and 60 percent more magazines were placed during these two months than during the same months of the year previous.
Besides such campaigns there were others featuring tracts and booklets. At the 1958 “Divine Will” international convention in New York an impressive resolution was adopted. Plans were made to distribute it world wide in December and seventy million copies were printed in fifty languages; seven million were printed in German. These tracts were handed to the householder personally, with just a few short words of introduction. When priests in Catholic areas realized what was being distributed they would warn the villagers. But after four weeks of zealous activity there was reason for being joyful and rejoicing because, since this was a good opportunity to introduce new ones to the field ministry, most of the congregations had been able to report an increase in publishers of from 10 to 50 percent and an 11.6-percent increase was reached throughout the entire country.
GIVEN “THE TONGUE OF THE TAUGHT ONES”
As the number of willing workers continued to pour into Jehovah’s organization, he made provision through his ‘faithful slave’ class to give them all, young and old, the needed training. The result has been that his servants have come to have “the tongue of the taught ones.” (Isa. 50:4) This has contributed to the increase. The world has also taken note of the effect this training has had on the Witnesses. A newspaper reported, for example, that eleven-year-old Ingo Rücker had won a reading contest in Recklinghausen. “Only outsiders would be surprised, for basically there was no way of preventing his victory. Eleven-year-old Ingo Rücker had been gathering plus points for the contest for three years: In the ministry school of Jehovah’s witnesses . . . He was the best reader at the Josef School, although it was a close contest right down to the finish line between him and a young girl who also attends the ministry school.” A circuit overseer wrote after visiting the congregation in Lörrach: “Something special happened Tuesday evening. As the assignments for the sisters were being presented an elderly sister suddenly went to the stage. She not only carried on a fluent discussion, without any notes but just her Bible in the hand; she also observed all the rules of speaking. When we asked the sister her age, she told us that she had turned ninety just a few weeks before.”
As an important provision in this progressive training the first class of the Kingdom Ministry School was started on November 13, 1960, to provide advanced training for overseers of the congregations. This has now been expanded to three schools, in Wiesbaden, Hamburg and Munich.
1948—AND TWENTY YEARS THEREAFTER
There were years of sizable increase in the number of proclaimers of the good news, but also some years with no increase. The 1948 service year ended with an 83-percent increase. The monthly average of hours was sixteen per publisher. The increase held on during the following years; in 1949 a 33-percent increase, in 1950 a 23-percent increase, and in 1951 a 26-percent increase.
Meanwhile the economic tension and difficulties continued and the number of unemployed climbed to more than two million at the middle of February 1950. At the end of September 1952 the number unemployed was still 1,249,000. From then on, unemployment began to decrease, slowly at first, then more rapidly.
Another change also became evident. The number of active congregation publishers continued to grow from year to year, but the number of full-time preachers of the good news did not keep pace. To the contrary, in 1955 there were 200 fewer pioneers than in 1950, whereas there were 21,641 more publishers, almost twice as many as in 1950. The low point in this trend was reached in 1956; whereas in 1950 4.4 percent of all publishers were in full-time service, it had now dropped to 1.6 percent.
In time Germany became a nation of plenty. There was full employment and the widely acclaimed “economic miracle.” This affected the thinking of some who were associated with Jehovah’s witnesses. From April to July of 1963 there was a decrease in the number of publishers and in hours spent in the field ministry. In July there were 6,000 fewer publishers active and over 40,000 fewer hours were spent in the preaching work than in April.
The majority of the brothers, of course, persevered in the ministry and enjoyed the blessing of their work. From 1965 to 1967 there were 9,325 persons baptized, but still the average number of publishers in 1967 was only 400 more than in 1965, whereas the peak in publishers was 437 fewer! It was apparent that some publishers had slacked their hands in their desire for material things and had slowed up in zeal, having given room to desire for what the world could offer. Others even became inactive. Then, too, in the 1964 service year, for example, 569 persons were disfellowshiped, most for immorality. Only 95 persons asked to be reinstated.
The service year 1968 began to see a change. The hard fight being waged against materialism was keeping the losses from being as high as previously. Good increase was made on all fronts. We now had 466 special pioneers, the number of regular pioneers had risen to 2,651 and we reached a peak of 7,163 serving in the full-time preaching work sometime during the year. The service year ended with a 3-percent increase after three service years with no increase at all. Things were once again beginning to move ahead.
From July 4 to August 11, 1968, we had eleven district assemblies. The book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life was released. Thanks to the help of the Brooklyn office, we were able to present each publisher with his own personal copy plus five additional copies for distribution. In an August campaign 139,471 books were placed, a new peak. The demand was great. Up until the end of March 1973 in our factory in Wiesbaden we have printed 2,900,115 copies in German and 1,715,338 in four additional languages. Because of its effect and its blue color the book was soon dubbed “the blue bomb” by many.
Interesting experiences in connection with the effectiveness of this book could already be heard at the next circuit assemblies. One sister related: “When we received our Truth books, little did I suspect what a valuable Bible study aid was being placed in our hands. I at once began to ask the people in my hometown during my house-to-house service if they would be interested in learning within a short time the principles of the Bible with the help of this book. How astonished I was when a very religious lady, of whom I knew that she and her sister led the church choir, said: ‘It has always been my desire to get acquainted with the Bible. I never had an opportunity to do so and I am happy that you are willing to help me.’ I could hardly believe it. Now she has been studying regularly for two months and is making wonderful progress. . . . A quite prominent and well-to-do lady was likewise willing to study the Bible with me. Last week she told me: ‘This book really speaks for itself. I have never read such an understandable book.’ Now a regular chain reaction has set in. Full of zeal I went to my neighbor to help her too. A woman has started to study this month and no fewer than four persons are waiting until a new shipment of books gets here and we can make arrangements for a convenient time . . . I can tell you, in our town it is going the rounds that the fashionable thing to do nowadays is to study the Bible with Jehovah’s witnesses.”
It became easier to start Bible studies with this new book, as seen by the fact that in 1969 the number of Bible studies increased to 47,691. During the year 6,678 persons were baptized, the best figure since 1955. In May of 1970 we reached 86,222 publishers, which was not only the fifth peak of publishers in a row but also the first time that we had ever had more publishers in May than in the preceding month of April. In October of that year we reached another peak, this time 86,489 publishers. This meant an increase of 7,718 publishers in comparison to the publisher figure for 1968. This fast increase mirrored Jehovah’s blessing upon his earthly servants. Certainly the Truth book has played not a small part in bringing about this increase.
CONVENTIONS SHARE PROMINENTLY IN GIVING THE WITNESS
Conventions have played an important part in making known Jehovah’s name and in increasing the number of Kingdom publishers in Germany. From the first convention after the war, held in Nürnberg with 9,000 in attendance, and the 1948 Cassel assembly, down to the conventions of modern days with over 100,000 persons in attendance, many organizational changes have been made, problems have been solved and new ideas developed.
In Frankfurt/Main from August 24 to 26, 1951, delegates from twenty-four nations gathered for the “Clean Worship” assembly. But before 34,542 delegates could assemble on Friday morning many a nervous hour was spent solving problems. Of what nature? A large kitchen in the city had promised to cook our meals, but as convention time drew ever nearer they became ever more unwilling to do so. What could be done? The Society bought 51 large gas, coal and steam kettles, each holding 300 liters, and built their own kitchen. Since necessary material was not available to convert all the kettles to gas, however, they all had to be converted to steam. Days of welding were necessary to hook up the pipes, which had been bought from junk dealers with the greatest of difficulties. Some of the kettle walls were paper thin and had to be patched. The next big question was where to get the necessary steam. We negotiated with the railroad company in Frankfurt and were able to obtain usage of a locomotive that was parked on an unused siding. This locomotive could not produce low-pressure steam, however, and so we had to find a way to reduce the steam pressure to one twenty-fourth of what it was. The problem was finally solved, the steam was turned on and within fifteen minutes the steam kettles were ready to be used. The press was amazed at what we had done. Its reports plus the zealous preaching activity of our brothers contributed to having 47,432 persons in attendance to hear Brother Knorr’s public talk “Will Religion Meet the World Crisis?”
The big event of 1953 was undoubtedly the “New World Society” assembly in New York. How enthusiastic the 284 brothers who were able to attend from Germany were! The New York convention found its counterpart in Germany in the two assemblies held in Nürnberg for West Germany, and one week later in Berlin for the brothers there and those from East Germany. In Nürnberg thirty-eight tents were provided for mass accommodations and more than a thousand private tents. Attempts were also made to obtain private rooms, which created problems for the city’s clergymen. The Nürnberger Evangelischen Gemeindeblatt printed an article entitled “Caution with the Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” It read in part: “A special problem has arisen in that some Evangelical church members have in good faith provided free accommodations for visiting Jehovah’s witnesses. Those who have done so have in most cases been asked by church officials to cancel their invitations.” But this turned out to be a boomerang; because of this many persons became even more willing to offer us accommodations. The clergy truly did have a problem!
Two years later the large “Triumphant Kingdom” international convention was held in the same city on the same grounds at the Zeppelin Meadows. It was a very impressive convention; sixty-two nations were represented. An extraordinary stage dominated the tremendous Zeppelin Meadows. The stone tribune was 300 meters long and a stairway of 75 steps across this long tribune led up to a hall of 144 pillars running along the entire length of 300 meters.
Besides the accommodations obtained in hotels and in private homes there was a giant tent city providing mass accommodations for 37,000 persons. Large tents, each capable of sleeping 600 persons, were set up. Sacks filled with straw served as mattresses.
On Friday morning a large baptism was held with 4,333 persons symbolizing their dedication by water immersion. Among these new brothers were some from East Germany, for more than 4,000 had come from there. On Friday evening those in attendance heard a Communist-controlled radio program threaten all of Jehovah’s witnesses from the east, attending the Nürnberg or Berlin assemblies, with arrest upon their return. But thousands refused to let themselves be intimidated.
How many attended Brother Knorr’s widely advertised talk? The magazine Neue Illustrierte, dated August 20, wrote: “The ‘Zeppelin Meadows,’ upon which Hitler once declared he would wipe out ‘Jehovah’s witnesses,’ was packed out.” And it was, for 107,423 persons listened attentively to the subject “World Conquest Soon—by God’s Kingdom.” More than twenty thousand inhabitants of Nürnberg had come. Just as the president started his concluding comments it began to rain—to pour—but the audience stayed in their seats, and by the time Brother Knorr had finished it had stopped raining. Then something happened that those present will never forget. A tremendous rainbow appeared in the heavens. What a stirring sight! In farewell Brother Knorr waved his handkerchief, and in answer the entire field was transferred into what appeared to be a field of waving white flowers. Many had tears in their eyes. Strengthened in faith and better equipped for their further service, the thousands in attendance began their trip home.
The next large international assembly was held in 1961 in Hamburg, Germany’s largest port. Not a few headaches were involved. The main problem was the convention grounds, which was nothing more than a large plot of lawn (80,000 square meters) located in Hamburg’s largest city park. The convention began to the accompaniment of falling rain, and the meadows soon turned into fields of mud. And it continued to rain, from the very first right up to the last day! It was inspiring to see tens of thousands streaming onto the convention grounds every day and listening to the program under a canopy of umbrellas. Indeed, to the astonishment of the newspaper reporters and cameramen present, the convention was not seriously affected by the rain and mud. The newspaper Hamburger Morgenpost wrote: “Almost all of them look happy, even in mud and rain, this a person must grant them. They are colorfully dressed. There is an astonishingly large number of young people among them. . . .” A police official told a representative from the convention office: “Even though it is the largest convention ever held in Hamburg, we are not at all worried about everything going off smoothly. We know you could easily get along without us, but we think it is good training for our officers and we hope you have no objections to our being among you.”
This was the last opportunity for our East German brothers to attend a convention, several thousand being in attendance. Several days later the “Berlin Wall” was built and the Iron Curtain was drawn even tighter.
The rains played havoc with the park’s lawns, but after the convention was over, the entire area was covered with new topsoil by the brothers and the lawn was replanted. Now the park was even more beautiful than before, and this to the benefit of the officials and populace of Hamburg. The way their park meadow was replanted and the way our brothers persevered during the rain made a deep impression upon Hamburg’s inhabitants.
In 1963 the “Everlasting Good News” convention went around the world, touching down in Germany in Munich, the capital of Bavaria. The Theresian Meadows served as our “Kingdom Hall.”
The preparatory work, as well as the convention itself, made a deep impression on Munich, including its businessmen and officials. A policeman assigned to work at the convention grounds told a brother: “You know, I like being here. I feel at ease. I like your people’s sincerity and their straightforwardness. It’s just the opposite to the Eucharistical convention held here two years ago.” Comparisons of this nature were often made by honest observers who were frank in their observations. Such impressions last. Three years later a Munich businessman told a brother that his fellow workers in a large Munich department store noticed that whenever large conventions were held in Munich there was always an increase in shoplifting. During our convention they were prepared for such an increase and were astonished when the convention had no effect upon this at all. They were thoroughly puzzled. So it was that this “Everlasting Good News” convention, like all the earlier conventions, helped make known Jehovah’s name, his purpose and his people.
TO PEOPLE OF ALL NATIONS THE GOOD NEWS MUST BE PREACHED
Germany is only a part of the worldwide field in which the good news must be preached. (Mark 13:10) The Watchtower Bible School of Gilead has been very successful in training missionaries and sending them out to various parts of this worldwide field. The first Gilead graduate sent to Germany, Filip Hoffmann, arrived in 1949.
Four more followed in 1951. In looking back now they often amuse themselves as to how Brother Frost must have felt when they showed up in Bethel. He had asked Brother Knorr to send some of the graduates to Germany in order to help with the work. But when he saw those four, they must have looked like youngsters to him, all of them being in their early twenties. In the years that followed, a total of thirteen foreign missionaries finally received assignments to Germany. Eleven of these are still in the full-time ministry in various countries (one died in her assignment in 1972 after twenty years of faithful service) and nine of these eleven are still busy at work in Germany, either in Bethel or in the traveling ministry. Three of them came from Switzerland in 1956 when the translation department was transferred from Bern to Wiesbaden, and they are still serving in this capacity.
Alice Berner belongs to this group of long-time servants. Let us hear briefly what an interesting career she has had: “I started my full-time service in Switzerland in January 1924 as a pioneer. But after about six months I was called to Bethel in Zurich. We soon were transferred to the new Bethel home in Bern. There in the course of the years I was occupied in many different departments. In 1932 a new assignment brought me to Paris, from where I had an interrupted service, as sometimes I had to leave the country and do some pioneer service in Belgium because the authorities in France would not give me a permanent visa. In this way I remained about three years in Paris. In 1935 the Society took part in the International Exhibition in Brussels where I had the privilege of serving at the literature stand. From there I was called back to Bern, where I worked again for ten years until I received the great call in 1946 to attend the 8th class of Gilead. Afterward again back to Switzerland for another ten years of joyful service, whereupon three of us received a new assignment to Germany. I wish to thank Jehovah for all his goodness toward me, letting me spend a happy and rich life filled with wonderful opportunities in his service.” Sister Berner is still an encouragement to the members of the Bethel family as she daily carries on her work of translating.
The missionaries that were sent to Germany proved to be an incentive for many German brothers to want to attend Gilead School and go into missionary work. Until now 183 graduates of Gilead have been provided by Germany. Of these, twenty-nine returned to their home country as special pioneers, traveling ministers or members of the Bethel family, whereas the others have been sent to new homes scattered around the entire earth.
For those interested in attending Gilead School, a special arrangement was made to help them improve their knowledge of English. By the spring of 1973 there were sixteen English-speaking congregations in Germany, numbering 450 publishers and 130 full-time servants. Those preparing for Gilead are assigned to these congregations where they can participate in the meetings and go into the field ministry in English-speaking territory. Since the formation of the first English congregation in Wiesbaden in 1967 some 250 persons have been baptized.
During the past few years some ninety-five special pioneers from Germany have been sent into European or African countries to continue their special pioneer work there. Some were willing to serve in foreign fields, although having no knowledge of the foreign language they would need. They were willing, however, to put forth special efforts to learn a new language that they might serve in countries where their help was needed. Four special pioneers, for example, received a one-week crash course in French at the Wiesbaden Bethel before being sent to Tchad, Africa. They naturally had to continue studying the language there, but they were soon able to make themselves understood and could continue their ministry under the glaring African sun.
In recent years there have also been large numbers of persons from other lands that have moved into Germany. Because of the booming economy, the government decided to bring in foreign workers, and the good wages offered enticed many a “guest worker” to come. In 1962 there were already 700,000 persons from Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Spain and Portugal, employed here, in most of which countries the preaching work had been carried on only under the greatest of difficulties. This was a new field of activity for us and it continued to expand. The statistics for September of 1972 showed 2,352,392 foreigners employed in Germany. Of these, for example, 474,934 are from Yugoslavia and 511,104 from Turkey.
Many brothers were willing to learn foreign languages so as to be able to help these people to hear and understand the Kingdom message. The hunger for truth was truly great among these guest workers and many interesting experiences were had. A circuit overseer reported obtaining some Spanish literature, and placing over a hundred booklets and six books in a comparatively short time. He said: “The majority of the Spaniards to whom I offered the booklets took all fifteen different ones I had available.”
Foreign-language congregations were soon formed, the first one being a Greek congregation in Munich on May 1, 1962. By May 1973 there were 1,560 Greek-speaking publishers divided into two circuits. The first Spanish congregation was formed in Frankfurt in 1964, and the first Italian congregation in Cologne. By the summer of 1973 the Spanish circuit had 660 publishers and the Italian circuit reported 1,000 publishers plus 45 full-time servants. We also have Turkish and Yugoslavian groups. For many the “economic paradise” they were seeking in Germany has turned out to be a much more valuable “spiritual paradise.”
After learning the truth many of our new brothers return to their native lands filled with the desire to take the truth to their relatives and neighbors. For example, a brother from Sicily was baptized in Cologne in October 1965. In December he went to visit his family and naturally spoke to them and to all his relatives and acquaintances about the truth. At the end of April 1966 he had to return to Germany to have his passport stamped. But he reported that he had found four persons so deeply interested in the truth that he must return home immediately to continue studying with them. His goal was to start a congregation book study there. No preaching had ever been done in that village. The nearest one of Jehovah’s witnesses lived some one hundred kilometers away.
EXPANSION—AS VIEWED BY THE BETHEL FAMILY
The Watch Tower Society’s branch office in Wiesbaden has been kept busy as a result of the work done by Jehovah’s witnesses throughout Germany. Since it is from here that their literature supplies come, the brothers are keenly interested in it, and large numbers come to tour the Bethel home and factory. The brother who works at the reception desk can tell you how, especially on holidays, thousands of visitors are taken on tours through the Bethel home and factory. Once over 4,000 came. There were fifty-one buses standing out front! Brothers from foreign countries also enjoy stopping in to visit us. Some years ago a gentleman took a tour of Bethel and was afterward encouraged to start a Bible study. Correspondence developed between a brother in Bethel and this certain gentleman, who later accepted the truth, was baptized, went into full-time service and today serves as a circuit overseer.
Those who actually live and work at Bethel have enjoyed many blessings over the years. They have seen the Society’s facilities enlarged, new work undertaken, special activities prepared for—and it has been their privilege to be at the hub of all this activity. At times others too have been asked to help out.
In the winter of 1951/52, for example, construction was started on a new addition to enlarge the branch facilities. This kept the brothers busy all day and sometimes up into the night, in snow, rain and wind. About twenty brothers were called into Bethel to help out. Evenings, after their regular working hours, many members of the Bethel family also shared in the construction work.
There was real rejoicing then when a rotary press arrived from the Swiss branch office in Bern. But this was not just any rotary press! It was the first press used for printing books back in the Magdeburg branch office in 1928. After the Nazi ban it was taken to Prague, Czechoslovakia, from where it was taken a few years later to Bern so as not to fall into the hands of the Nazis. Now it was once again back in a German branch office and today, despite its age, it is still busy printing books or up to 7,000 magazines an hour.
Another cause for joy was the appearance of the German Awake! magazine in its 32-page edition on January 8, 1953. Starting with this issue, distribution of this magazine began in Germany. It did much to increase the brothers’ zeal for magazine work.
The Bethel home in Wiesbaden kept expanding. In 1956 there was a peak of 50,530 publishers and they distributed some 1.3 million pieces of literature. The next service year the peak was 56,883. Brother Knorr arrived in Wiesbaden at the end of November 1956 on a flying visit of less than twenty-four hours. The reason? He himself explains in his published report in the English Watchtower of May 1, 1957. “Here too the purpose of the visit was to work on the expansion problem. Our Bethel home and present factory are too small and we called in an architect, a brother. With him we worked all day in designing a larger factory and Bethel home. The Society was able to purchase some property from the city of Wiesbaden, and after considerable discussion the city authorities consented to our changing the location of a street, thus making it possible for us to put our new structure right up against our present one, relocating the street beyond our new building. . . . The building will be sufficiently large to take in some new presses, now being built, its high ceiling giving us plenty of headroom.”
Instead of having the traditional “Richtfest” with its drinking (held after the framework of a building is completed), a tasty meal was prepared for the workers and the building officials and served in the dining room of the Bethel home. They were waited on by our brothers and seated at tables covered with white tablecloths. They heard a talk in explanation of the purpose of the building, Jehovah’s witnesses’ activity in general, and how the financial end of the building project had been handled. Members of the Bethel family presented a musical program. Most of the guests got an altogether different opinion of Jehovah’s witnesses and their activity. The delicious food served and the way all were treated as equals was a matter of discussion among construction workers in Wiesbaden for years thereafter. At the conclusion each of them was given a book and a booklet as a gift. Some of the workers who due to prejudice had not attended the supper came the next day and asked if they might at least have the gift book. That they had missed the meal was their own fault; now it was up to them to take in spiritual food with the help of the gift publication.
In January 1959 the various departments began moving into the new building.
Meanwhile, as Günter Künz, the factory overseer, relates, “we continued to receive better equipment for producing books, magazines and other printed material. In 1958 we received the bindery machines that formerly had been used in Bern, Switzerland. It was possible to bind up to 5,000 books per day. In the course of the years Brother Knorr gave permission to replace most of these machines, which had already been in use for about forty years.” In that way by 1973 it was possible to increase the book production greatly.
The brothers in the production office once figured out that in the last months of 1966, when 61,622 copies of the Babylon book, 500,796 copies of “Things in Which It Is Impossible for God to Lie” and 98,885 Yearbooks were printed, if stacked on top of one another these would have made a tower reaching fifteen kilometers skyward. That was a thrilling accomplishment. Production often ran at top speed to provide the congregations with the necessary literature. In the spring of 1968, twenty-two additional workers were temporarily called into Bethel to help finish the book Did Man Get Here by Evolution or by Creation? The bookbindery worked in two shifts and 10,000 books were produced daily. They were at once sent to the congregations so that this new book might be used during the May campaign to let the people know the truth on this subject. The hard work paid off, as we placed 136,525 books, the highest figure since 1963.
In 1968 Brother Knorr visited Wiesbaden twice. His first visit was in June, and, to the joy of the family, he announced that a new rotary press and three new machines for the bookbindery were being purchased for our factory. Shortly thereafter two of these machines were installed and put into operation. During his November visit Brother Knorr made extensive arrangements to increase the amount of work we were doing in the factory. The brothers began to work in two shifts, some fifteen to twenty working at night. Brother Knorr had called to our attention the importance of keeping up spirituality, so a special congregation was formed for the benefit of the brothers on the night shift, who otherwise could not have attended the meetings. Their meetings were held during the day. Book production picked up and we were able to take over the production of books for the Dutch, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish brothers. With additional new machines some 20,000 books could be produced daily in two shifts. The year 1969 was to be another busy and productive year, with production running at top speed and reaching peaks never before attained.
“It Is Later than You Think” was the title of the special German Awake! dated April 8, 1969. Orders constantly poured in from the congregations, and more and more magazines had to be printed. In fact, our factory printed 10,241,250 copies. The brothers on both shifts were even willing to work overtime, for besides the magazines a large number of books had to be produced (by the end of the 1969 service year 3,343,304 books, six times as many as in 1966). Our machines ran practically around the clock. For several months we worked in two shifts, ate in two shifts and slept in two shifts. It was a very busy, but also very gratifying and happy time.
The brother at the pioneer desk was very happy when he discovered that 11,454 temporary pioneers had been active in April, besides 1,959 regular pioneers.
During the 1969 service year about forty million pieces of literature—magazines, books and booklets—were produced. Shipping some 2,000 tons of magazines and books, besides other pieces of literature, was, of course, expensive. To cut down on these expenses we began delivering literature with our own trucks on December 3, 1959. Albert Kamm, who has been in this department from the very beginning, relates: “People everywhere are interested in knowing what we have in our trucks: The police, filling-station attendants, customs officials, even persons we stop to ask directions of. They are always astonished when we tell them the truck is full of Watchtower and Awake! magazines. When you tell them in the course of conversation that we have five of these large trucks and two somewhat smaller ones, and that they are all full of magazines, then you can see the amazement on their faces. A person can often give a good witness. When we return two weeks later, many still cannot completely grasp the fact that The Watchtower is already back again.”
Wiesbaden is centrally located and so our trucks have eleven routes in Germany. The long trips cover some 750 to 950 miles. Each truck travels about 70,000 to 80,000 kilometers yearly. Books printed in Wiesbaden are also delivered to Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria.
While the factory was running at top speed, additional construction work was done during 1969. The attic section of the older part of the building was converted into thirteen new rooms. The work was done by brothers happy to spend their time, strength and abilities at Bethel on a temporary basis. Furniture for the rooms, such as beds, cabinets, and so forth, was built in our carpenter shop.
Despite this construction work the Bethel home was still too small. In May of 1970 Brother Knorr and Brother Larson, the factory overseer in Brooklyn, visited us for about a week. While checking through the home and factory Brother Knorr decided that it would be in the best interests of the work to enlarge. This meant a great deal of work for Richard Kelsey, who had started serving as the new branch overseer in the fall of 1969. A contract was made with a firm to do the main construction work, whereas interior work was to be done by the brothers. In the carpenter shop Ferdinand Reiter readied everything for making furniture to furnish the new rooms. This was nothing new for him, for away back in 1947 he had already helped out in providing the naked skeleton of the present old building with windows and doors. Meanwhile, he has got somewhat older but, despite his eighty years (the next to the oldest member of the family), he is still quite robust and works every day, setting a good example. Young brothers even say, “It’s hard to keep up with Ferdinand.”
This expansion was truly necessary. In April 1971 a new peak of 89,706 publishers was reached, with 145,419 present at the Memorial. In June we had the best average in hours since 1954. Up until the end of the 1971 service year we had placed nineteen million Bibles, books, booklets and magazines. That meant, on an average, one Bible study help for each family in West Germany and West Berlin.
February 11, 1972, was a memorable day. Why? At 10:00 o’clock in the morning the first copies of the German edition of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures arrived from Brooklyn. How great our joy! Arrangements were at once made to have a Bible campaign during May and June. News releases were handed to the newspapers by the congregations in their territories. These articles helped to call everyone’s attention to the New World Translation. Some headlines read “Rush to Obtain New Bible Translation,” “96,000 Ministers to Carry on ‘Bible Campaign,’” “Jehovah’s Witnesses Bringing Every Family a Bible.” Even religious newspapers and magazines reacted and helped, in their own way, to call the attention of their church members to this Bible. The Evangelische Gemeindeblatt for Württemberg, for example, wrote: “The first edition of the German translation has been printed in the unusual quantity of 1 million copies. The demand for Luther Bibles here in Germany runs at some 500,000 copies a year. Jehovah’s witnesses certainly have not planned on taking care of their needs for Bibles for years to come. With their usual industriousness it is to be expected that they will use this new publication for an extensive campaign. . . . In addition to the Bible, which only costs 5 D-Marks, . . . the buyers are encouraged to have a Bible study and the sellers offer to conduct such a study in the home of the buyer.” The Katholische Sonntagsblatt published the same article. The release of the New World Translation and its distribution was truly a highlight in the 1972 service year.
By the beginning of the 1973 service year there were 95,975 proclaimers of the good news in West Germany and West Berlin, and production of literature to supply their needs reached new peaks. During the service year seventeen new books were printed and bound in the Wiesbaden factory; some of them were for Germany, and others were for the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. You can imagine the thrill that the Bethel family felt when the production was totaled up—more than 3,500,000 books in just one year!
And good results have been seen in the lives of those who received these publications. A twelve-year-old lad, for instance, was so moved by what he learned that he asked the Witness who was studying with his mother and him to take him along in the field ministry. The Witness explained, of course, that first he would have to get out of Babylon the Great, having his name removed from the list of church members. The very next day during school recess the boy, feeling the urgency of the matter, went to the city office to fill out the required form. The official said that the boy should come back another time, since he could not attend to the matter then. That afternoon when school was out he went back to the office. Again the official tried to put him off, saying that his mother must sign the form, so he would have to come some other time. The boy urgently requested the official to call his mother on the phone and ask her to come now. The official made the call, but simply suggested that she come at some convenient time with the boy to see about the matter. At that the lad protested loudly into the phone: “No, mother, come down right away!” She did, bringing along her younger son. The forms were filled out and signed. Then she said: “Well, since we are here, we may as well get out too.”
In the Society’s office the brothers watched with keen interest the reports that came in during the year. There were 150,313 present for the Memorial in West Germany and 7,911 in West Berlin. Month by month there was a marked increase in the number baptized. By July there were 5,209, to compare with 3,812 for the same time the previous year. At the end of the 1973 service year, this had reached the grand total of 6,472 more persons who had taken their stand on Jehovah’s side. By that time, 98,551 persons in West Germany and West Berlin were sharing in publicly proclaiming God’s kingdom as the hope of mankind.
PEACE ON EARTH—BUT ONLY BY GOD’S KINGDOM
Back in 1939 Adolf Hitler had chosen “Peace” as the motto for his annual Reich’s party day. Memorial coins and special stamps were issued for this “Reich’s Party Day of Peace.” But the celebration was canceled because of the outbreak of war. Thirty years later, in August of 1969, on the Zeppelin Meadows in Nürnberg, that is to say, on the same grounds where the “Reich’s Party Day of Peace” was to have been celebrated thirty years previously, the “Peace on Earth” International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses was held.
A grand total of 130,000 delegates was provided some kind of lodging at this assembly. To make this possible, a year ahead of time the Witnesses rented over 60,000 square meters of tent, so they could erect forty-eight large tents. About a year and a half ahead of time they had also asked the city of Nürnberg to rent them all the schools and athletic halls in the city to use as dormitories. During the early autumn of the previous year preparatory work was also undertaken for the cafeteria.
When the assembly got under way, there were delegates on hand from seventy-eight different countries. The convention program itself was presented, not only in German, but also in Greek, Croatian, Dutch, Slovenian and Turkish. Here people had met together from all parts of the globe and they were dwelling together in peace, enjoying the warm bonds of Christian brotherhood.
From the gigantic stone tribune, where Nazi Party leaders had once dreamed of a “thousand-year reign,” Brother Knorr delivered to 150,645 listeners the public talk “The Approaching Peace of a Thousand Years.” But he was not encouraging his audience to dream about what men might claim that they could do. He was pointing to the only means by which lasting peace will ever come to mankind, namely, the kingdom of God in the hands of his Son Jesus Christ. And he showed from the Scriptures that the incoming of that era of peace is near at hand!
PREPARATION FOR DIVINE VICTORY
With firm conviction that the time is immediately ahead of us when God will be victorious over all his enemies, Jehovah’s witnesses planned a series of international assemblies for 1973 featuring the theme “Divine Victory.” Two of these assemblies were held in Germany, with delegates present from at least seventy-five lands. On the final day, when the discourse “Divine Victory—Its Meaning for Distressed Humanity” was delivered at the Rhine Stadium in Düsseldorf, there were 67,950 in the audience. For the same talk at the five-day assembly in Olympia Park in Munich, there were 78,792 on hand. A total attendance of 146,742!
It was in Munich fifty years earlier that Hitler had made a bid for power in his “Beer Hall putsch.” Now he and his Nazi regime are gone, but Jehovah’s witnesses, in ever-increasing numbers, continue to point confidently to the triumph of God’s kingdom.
It was also in Munich that athletes from many lands had competed in the Olympic Games in 1972. The event was called a “Peace Festival,” but, as the world looks back, what many recall most vividly is the bloodshed that took place, reflecting the world’s nationalistic strife. Calling this to mind, a reporter wrote in the Münchner Anzeiger: “As I stood on the empty tier of the stadium one day before the beginning of the ‘Divine Victory’ assembly and was impressed by the willingness of helpers working here (altogether there were 7,000) I automatically had to think of September 5, 1972. At that time violence and murder slipped into the grounds. In these days it is the faithful, who, according to their conviction, try to arouse that which is good and noble in their fellowman.” Jehovah’s witnesses were not there in Olympia Park to compete, each one trying to prove that he or his nation was better than the others. Rather, they “walk in the name of Jehovah” the “God who gives peace.” Love for him is what brought them from many nations to this assembly, and it is that same love that moves them unitedly to magnify God’s name and to look forward to the day when it will be vindicated of all reproach.—Mic. 4:5; Rom. 15:33.
It was emphasized at these assemblies that it is vital for each one to ‘keep close in mind the presence of the day of Jehovah,’ the “day” when God will execute judgment on the wicked and reward his servants, the “day” of divine victory. (2 Pet. 3:11, 12) They were reminded that, in imitation of Jesus Christ, they must individually prove themselves victors over the world if they are to enjoy divine favor when that “day of Jehovah” arrives. (John 16:33) They must not allow themselves to be cast into the mold of the world, doing things in its way, nor may they allow personal indifference or fear of the world’s reaction to cause them to hold back from doing the will of God.
Jehovah’s witnesses did not leave the assembly feeling that this is a time to slow down in their preaching, since the Divine Victory is now so near. To the contrary, they were encouraged to make full use of the remaining time, and they were supplied with equipment with which to work. A program was outlined for intensive international distribution of a tract bearing the headline “Is Time Running Out for Mankind?” They were provided with a new book bearing the stirring title “God’s Kingdom of a Thousand Years Has Approached.” They also received the book True Peace and Security—From What Source?. which focuses attention on the great issue of universal sovereignty, an issue that confronts every intelligent creature. Already they are sharing this information with other people. Regardless of what conditions may develop in this troubled world before the end comes, Jehovah’s witnesses have made it their resolve to press on in their God-given work, preaching the good news of His kingdom.
Over the years, Jehovah’s witnesses in Germany, as elsewhere, have been put to the test. It has come as no surprise to them. They know that their Lord and Master Jesus Christ suffered persecution at the hands of wicked men, and they expect the same. (John 15:20) Jehovah’s witnesses clearly understand the issue. They know that Satan the Devil has challenged the rightfulness of Jehovah’s sovereignty. He has openly charged that those who serve Jehovah do so, not because of any love for God, but selfishly, with a view to personal gain. Satan has inferred that, when put under pressure no one will prove to be a loyal supporter of Jehovah’s sovereignty, and that adversary of God and of man uses humans who yield themselves to him to try to prove his side of the issue.—Luke 22:31.
In contrast, Jehovah’s witnesses appreciate that everything that they have and all their hopes for the future are because of Jehovah’s undeserved kindness. Moved by genuine love for their Creator, they count it a privilege to prove their integrity to him, regardless of the personal cost. Because they refuse to compromise with an ungodly world, many have experienced the loss of employment and their homes. Some have endured the loss of their children and their marriage mates. Others have been beaten into unconsciousness with steel whips, starved to death or executed by firing squads.
But in all of this, who has come off the victor? Not the Devil. Nor the world that lies in his power. Instead, it is Jehovah’s Christian witnesses, who have put their faith in the only true God and in his Son. As the apostle John wrote: “Every child of God is victor over the godless world. The victory that defeats the world is our faith, for who is victor over the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4, 5, The New English Bible) True, some of them died at the hands of the enemies of God, but, having the hope of being joint heirs with Christ in his heavenly kingdom and living during the time of his presence, they were, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” resurrected to immortal heavenly life—victorious over the world. (1 Cor. 15:51, 52) Others, with hope of earthly life in God’s new order, were temporarily laid to rest, with the conviction that God, who cannot lie, will restore them to life under the righteous rule of his kingdom. Thousands more, with the help of God, have survived the cruel onslaughts of Satan and his visible agents. Many of these are still alive, still preaching the good news, still proving their loyalty to Jehovah. And it is their determination to continue in that faithful course no matter what tests they may face in the days ahead.
May all who read this report be encouraged thereby to faithful endurance. Keep in mind these inspired words of the apostle Paul: “Let us exult while in tribulations, since we know that tribulation produces endurance; endurance, in turn, an approved condition; the approved condition, in turn, hope, and the hope does not lead to disappointment; because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy spirit, which was given us.” (Rom. 5:3-5) May your response to God’s love move you to make the doing of God’s will the most important thing in your life, having full confidence in the Divine Victory now so near at hand.
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Concentration Camp Sachsenhausen
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Place of Execution
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Building obtained by the Watch Tower Society in Wiesbaden
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Watch Tower Society’s Bethel home and printery in Wiesbaden, in 1973.
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“Divine Victory” assembly in Düsseldorf (above) was attended by 67,950; the one in Munich (below), by 78,792