BELGIUM is situated at the crossroads between France, Germany, the Netherlands and England. Its history is closely linked with these nations, which many times settled their politico-religious differences here. During the domination of successive powers—Spanish, Austrian, French and Dutch—the Roman Catholic Church did not remain neutral. On the contrary, it distinguished itself, as history relates, by a barbarous slaughter of thousands of humans during the terrible Inquisition, supposedly in the name of God.
In 1830 Belgium declared independence, but this did not dispel the dense spiritual darkness. Charles Taze Russell, the first of Jehovah’s Witnesses to come to Belgium, visited the cities of Antwerp and Brussels in 1891 and perceived this religious darkness. As elsewhere, he found the people oppressed by apostate Christendom and deprived of Bible truths.
Fear of the clergy and of their unscriptural doctrine of a fiery hell kept the people from opening the pages of the Bible. They would say: “We are not allowed to read the Bible . . . This book is banned . . . It’s forbidden.” Some elderly people in small villages still remember the sinister prohibition of the Catholic Church against Bible reading.
But the claim that Belgium was a Catholic country could not prevent the carrying out of Christ’s command to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom. The message of God’s Kingdom that Brother Russell set out to spread was about to reach the hearts of sincere Catholics in this country, be they Dutch, French or German speaking.
The Flemings, who make up about 60 percent of the population, live in northern Belgium (called Flanders) and speak Dutch. The Walloons, who make up about 40 percent of the people, live in southern Belgium and speak French. Both ethnic groups also live in Brussels, the country’s capital. In addition, some 60,000 German-speaking people live in eastern Belgium near the German border.
THE FIRST SEEDS ARE PLANTED
One day in 1901 Jean-Baptiste Tilmant, Sr., of Jumet-Gohissart, a small coal-mining town on the outskirts of Charleroi, saw the books Millennial Dawn* advertised in a newspaper. He immediately ordered the first two volumes and began reading them. What a comfort! What a thrill for him to see the truth of the Gospel shining forth! How could he possibly refrain from speaking about these things to his friends? The following year, in 1902, he gathered his friends together in his home to study the Holy Scriptures, and each Sunday thereafter this small group continued holding such meetings.
At that time the light of the truth had already penetrated into other European countries, particularly Switzerland, where Brother Adolphe Weber was taking care of Kingdom interests for part of Europe. Brother Tilmant’s great thirst for the truth moved him to write to this brother for more information. In answer, Brother Weber extended his missionary tours to Charleroi to strengthen the faith of this small group.
The spiritual food that “the faithful and discreet slave” had been giving out in the English language was now to be dispensed to the French-speaking people as well. In 1903 Zion’s Watch Tower appeared for the first time in French. The light of truth was destined to shine very brightly in this coal-mining area. So, regularly each Sunday, this small group of Bible Students, as they were then called, would go into the “field,” distributing the seeds of truth contained in the eight pages of this magazine. The magazines were offered to those coming out of Christendom’s churches on Sunday morning. Thus the first two French issues of Zion’s Watch Tower were given a wide distribution.
Little by little the small group at Jumet-Gohissart extended its preaching activity to other sections of the country, especially in the southern part where French was spoken. It was only later on that the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium was to be reached with the truth of God’s Kingdom.
Then, in August of 1904, ten years before the first world war, these courageous bearers of good news were seen carrying on their activity as far as Denain, in France. There, in front of a Baptist church, they once again offered the magazines to those coming out of the building. What resulted? Two years later, in 1906, a congregation was formed in Denain.
Other study groups were formed, as Jean-Baptiste Tilmant and his fellow workers courageously spread Bible truths. Such expansion made the opening of a literature depot necessary, and this was arranged at Jumet-Gohissart in the home of Brother Tilmant.
FROM FRANCE TO BELGIUM
Belgium is, of course, a next-door neighbor to France, and from now on it would no longer be the Belgian brothers who would go to France but vice versa. The groups established in France grew to the point that in 1913 over a thousand people gathered together at Denain to hear a talk by Brother J. F. Rutherford.
François Caré, who learned the truth in France, came to Liège about the year 1910 to visit a Protestant friend named Edouard Verdière. Brother Caré, no longer able to keep this burning fire of truth to himself, wanted to help his friend to get out of false religion. However, Mr. Verdière’s reaction was one of opposition, so much so that Brother Caré finally said, “I don’t want to discuss this with you any longer. I’m not going to throw my pearls before swine.” And with that, Brother Caré went to bed.
During the night Mr. Verdière kept turning that phrase over and over in his mind and next morning he asked the brother what he had meant. The brother replied that he would no longer mention the truth, as it was apparent that the “pearls” were not accepted. The man became more conciliatory, and so, after he returned to France, Brother Caré began sending the magazines regularly to his friend who was working in a coal mine. He had also sent him several volumes of Studies in the Scriptures. Rapidly his friend Verdière accepted the truth and began giving public talks. In fact, he was one of the brothers who spoke at Brother Jean-Baptiste Tilmant’s funeral in 1911.
So it came about that in this other section of Belgium, in Liège, the light of truth began to penetrate the spiritual darkness.
In the same coal mine where Edouard Verdière worked was another sincere seeker of truth by the name of Leonard Smets. Leonard Smets was a very sincere Catholic, regularly attending religious services with his family. Even on his way to church he would pray, using his rosary. Of Flemish descent, he settled down in Heure-le-Romain, not far from Vivegnis, Liège. Then, in 1900, a Protestant offered him a Bible, saying, “I have God’s Book.”
One day while at confession, Leonard Smets confessed to the priest that he had been reading the Bible. The priest replied that if he wanted to be absolved of his sins, he would first have to bring the Bible to the priest. From that day on, Leonard Smets stopped attending the Catholic Church, thinking to himself: ‘If they are really sincere, they’ll come looking for me since it’s their duty to go out searching for the lost sheep.’ But the priest never came. So Leonard Smets started attending the Protestant religious services.
While at work in the coal mine, Smets would read his New Testament. Verdière noticed this one day, and wanting to know to which religion he belonged, he started singing a Protestant hymn. This caught the attention of Smets, who asked Verdière if he, too, was a Protestant. Verdière replied: “I used to be, but I have something better for you.” He then handed him a copy of Zion’s Watch Tower and gave him a thorough witness. That was in 1912.
In turn Leonard Smets did not keep this good news to himself but shared it with a Flemish fellow worker, Joseph Poelmans, a father of seven children. Disgusted with the teachings of Catholicism, this man had also turned to Protestantism. Upon reading the magazine that Smets gave him, however, he also recognized it as being the truth.
In due time these three miners, Verdière, Smets and Poelmans, decided to go and ask the Protestant minister of Herstal, Liège, about the teachings of the immortality of the human soul, the Trinity and hellfire. Instead of helping them, the pastor became very angry and chased them away! They discovered that he was no better than the Catholic priest. So the three of them started studying the Holy Scriptures regularly, using the magazines they had received from France.
Brother Smets’ wife, who could not read or write, opposed his stand for the truth to such a degree that she was ready to leave him, taking their eight children with her. One day, before her husband’s return from work, she gathered her children together to tell them of her intentions. Her 15-year-old son, Marcel, the eldest of the children, who later on became a Witness, asked his mother: “Does Daddy beat you? Is he a drunkard? Does he keep his pay for himself?” Mrs. Smets replied, “No.” Marcel then informed his mother that he would not leave. At this very moment the father arrived home from work and very calmly said to his family, “If you leave, I’ll still continue to help you with the garden and chop the wood.” After such an expression of love, this family stayed united.
GROWTH BY 1912
By 1912 there were seven groups that met for study and service. They were located at Haine St. Paul, Flémalle-Haute, Engis, Amay, Ampsin and Liège, and at Jumet-Gohissart where the first group had been formed in 1902. These study groups met together once a month, and periodically Brother Weber from the Swiss office paid them a visit.
THEIR FIRST ASSEMBLY STRENGTHENS FAITH
Toward the beginning of the following year, the Belgian brothers received a visit from Brother J. F. Rutherford and held their first assembly at Jumet-Gohissart. How greatly this assembly strengthened their faith in the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom then so near at hand!
THEIR FIRST INTERNATIONAL CONVENTION
Some months later, on August 31, 1913, these same brothers had the privilege of attending another assembly, not in Belgium this time, but in Paris, France. There they gathered together for a one-day international convention with other Bible Students who had come from Switzerland, Germany and France to listen to the Watch Tower Society’s president, C. T. Russell. Brother Russell had just come from a somewhat larger convention held in Southport, England, but he was greatly moved to see an attendance of 70 zealous brothers and sisters who had traveled long distances and had come from four different lands. Although unable to understand their language, he could detect their deep interest for the truth, which showed on their faces. With the help of an interpreter, they were strengthened by the announcement that 1914 would be a marked year. What a memorable day that turned out to be!
1914—A MARKED YEAR
Before the beginning of that marked year, or in the latter part of 1913, the average attendance at the study groups was 70. Then 1914 arrived, and the people had not forgotten what those faithful publishers had foretold for that year. While the brothers were busy digging up their potatoes in the garden, the people would make fun of them because in 1913 the brothers had said that when 1914 arrived, people would dig up their potatoes to the sound of cannons. Shortly thereafter, the first world war broke out in Europe, transforming Belgium into a battlefield. The evidence that the Gentile Times had indeed ended encouraged these Bible Students to continue in their preaching assignments.—Luke 21:24-26.
During the war these humble coal miners were also zealous assembly attenders. To get to an assembly they would walk 99 kilometers (62 mi) from Liège to Charleroi, alongside the railroad tracks.
The years that followed 1914 were going to test each one’s faith to the limit. (Rev. 2:10) While 1914 proved to be the marked year spoken of in the Bible, it was not yet time for the Christian congregation to be carried away to heaven, as many brothers had expected. An unprecedented witnessing work had yet to be accomplished. Who would prove himself obedient to Christ’s command to preach “this good news of the kingdom” before the end would come? (Matt. 24:14) There were several who lacked the zeal, as well as the desire, to preach God’s Kingdom publicly, and they disassociated themselves from Jehovah’s people. Pamphlets, putting more emphasis on personal opinions than on God’s revealed truths, started to circulate among the small groups.
A CLEANSING WORK TAKES PLACE
In 1918, after the cleansing, or weeding out of those opposed to the harvest work, only five faithful servants of Jehovah were left to announce God’s Kingdom. They included: the Tilmant family, Brother Fontaine of Haine St. Paul, and Brothers Smets and Poelmans of Liège. Even Edouard Verdière, who had been so zealous in giving public talks and in showing the Photo-Drama of Creation, was no longer among them. Tears fell from Brother Poelmans’ eyes as he saw so many brothers withdrawing from Jehovah’s organization. About 30 years later, or around 1950, Edouard Verdière came back to Jehovah’s organization, and he continued in association with the brothers until his death.
Pamphlets printed by the “evil slave” continued circulating among the study groups. Unwavering faith in Jehovah and his visible organization was essential for one to stand up against those hoping to subvert the faithful brothers. During a meeting Brother Poelmans gave a clear and enthusiastic talk designed to uphold the brothers’ confidence in Jehovah’s organization. The speaker to follow, however, withdrew himself as he had prepared a talk completely different from that of Brother Poelmans.
Those who remained faithful did not lose courage. As never before, and with increased zeal, they proclaimed the Messianic Kingdom throughout the country, announcing that “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” The result was that two years later, in 1920, the attendance at the Memorial was a total of 14 at Jumet-Gohissart and Charleroi and 40 at Liège. Those who stopped associating with Jehovah’s people in 1918, either because of fear of man or for refusing to cooperate with “the faithful and discreet slave,” sank into oblivion.
JEHOVAH BLESSES THE HUMBLE
The Dutch-speaking part of Belgium was not deprived of the Kingdom message for long. Brother J. Poelmans traveled the 120 kilometers (75 mi) by bicycle from Liège to Antwerp to spread the word of truth to the people there in Belgium’s largest city.
Brother Poelmans’ activity, however, was not limited to Antwerp. He and Brother L. Smets preached from door to door in Liège as well, although they were the only two who did. Neither of them could write very well, so they assigned the task of filling out their field service reports to those not participating in the house-to-house work. Their service reports were sent to the Swiss branch, which looked after the work in Belgium until 1929. The brothers at the office in Switzerland, however, insisted that these two brothers fill out their reports themselves, to the best of their ability.
Brother Smets had acquired a remarkable understanding of the Bible. In 1931 he quit his job at the coal mine and became an auxiliary, or auxiliary pioneer, as we would say today. Imitating the apostle Paul, he became a burden to no one but worked as a cobbler to feed and care for his family. Even while repairing shoes he managed to read his Bible, opened up in front of him. He preserved an extraordinary clearness of mind right up until his death in 1964 at the age of 95.
ADVERTISE THE KINGDOM!
In 1922 Brother Poelmans had the opportunity to attend an assembly held at Denain, France, where, as he explains, he saw a brother holding up a large banner and calling out with a loud voice: “The King is at hand. Advertise the King and his Kingdom.” That morning all those in attendance went from house to house announcing the establishment of God’s Kingdom.
INCREASED ACTIVITY IN LIÈGE
The work took on its greatest impetus in the district of Liège, where Brothers Smets and Poelmans used every opportunity to give a witness. Having noticed that Brother Poelmans was of Flemish descent, the people nicknamed him “the little Fleming.” Even during a parade in 1925 in honor of the then king of Belgium, Albert I, Brothers Smets and Poelmans sought to make good use of their time. Mingling in with the others marching in the parade, they held up a large sign with the words: “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” They followed the procession right to the end without being disturbed.
The small group of 13 at Liège kept growing as another valiant Kingdom publisher joined them in 1928. This was Ernest Heuse, Sr., and he is still pioneering at the age of 82. Today, his three children and their wives, as well as his three grandchildren and the wives of the two who are married, making a total of 12 in the family, are all serving full time. All together, at the end of 1982, they had spent 244 years in the full-time service. Most of them are special pioneers, some are in circuit and district work and one is serving on the Branch Committee.
While Brothers Poelmans, Smets and Heuse were busy going from house to house announcing God’s Kingdom, the other brothers criticized them, saying that they were incapable of doing such a work. These critics had forgotten that “God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame.” (1 Cor. 1:27) Those who were not progressive and who remained attached to their past way of living, influenced by false religious ideas, refused to put on the Christlike new personality. An example of this was seen in the attitude of the one presiding at the meetings of the small group in Liège. He preferred, as do the religious leaders, to call attention to himself as an elected elder instead of going in the field service. Before beginning the study of The Watch Tower, and since he was chairman, he was served with a cup of tea and a piece of cake, which he ate in front of the others who would sit there watching him. Then the meeting started.
Fear of man hindered still others from going from door to door with the publications during the day, so they waited until dusk. Then they would slip a few tracts under the doors or they would even pay a retired pensioner to do this for them. However, Jehovah proved to be with those who really loved him and who were not afraid of spreading his word of truth in broad daylight.
EXPANSION IN FLEMISH TERRITORY
Brother Poelmans continued visiting the Flemish territory, and in 1928 he made a return visit in Genk-Winterslag on a former coal miner who was Polish. This return visit on André Wozniak resulted in his coming into the truth. It was from this year onward that the Kingdom message made real progress in the Dutch-speaking part of the country. Up until then study groups existed only in the French-speaking part of Belgium.
Two years later, in 1930, Brother Wozniak started out in the colporteur work, or regular pioneer service as it is called today. He proved to be one of the most courageous colporteurs of the good news in the Flemish territory. He was a man of action, sincere and fully dedicated to the interests of God’s Kingdom. He served faithfully until his death at the age of 74, after spending 43 years in the full-time service, including the circuit and special pioneer activity.
BRANCH OFFICE ESTABLISHED
In 1929 it became appropriate for a branch office to be established in Belgium, and Brussels was chosen as the most suitable location. Brother Van Eijck of Holland served as branch overseer. This branch was still under the direct supervision of the Bern office, with Brother Martin Harbeck in charge, but as time went by, the Belgian branch came under the direct supervision of the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn.
For the first time, extensive records of service activity were kept, showing 28 publishers during 1929 busy helping others to get free from religious bondage. Included in this number were nine colporteurs, who, together with the publishers, or class workers as they were then called, distributed 41,358 books and booklets that year.
The harvest was great, but the Lord’s workers were few in Belgium in 1930. Out of the 46 brothers, only 27 went from house to house preaching God’s Kingdom to the then 7,000,000 inhabitants of this country.
Nevertheless, the brothers, and especially the newly formed Brussels group, were greatly uplifted at their assembly held in Brussels that year. Of the 100 persons in attendance 20 came from France, Switzerland and England. Although they spoke 12 different languages, the brothers could sense the deep unity existing among them. It was at this assembly that Brother Wozniak decided to enter the pioneer service. He obtained much literature, enabling him to witness in another Dutch-speaking province of Belgium, the Limburg.
In that same year several English pioneers settled down in Flanders. One of them, Sister Louie Berry, had the privilege of attending a meeting in Brussels where 13 Bible Students had gathered together in a kitchen to discuss the words of Isaiah 60:22: “The little one himself will become a thousand.” Those words would certainly come true in Belgium.
Their first large international convention, held in May 1931 with 3,000 brothers from 23 lands meeting together in Paris, gave the Belgian brothers the needed incentive and determination to move forward to the best of their ability in their divinely assigned work.
But how was a small group of 27 publishers going to spread the good news throughout the whole country in the face of repeated assaults from the Catholic Church, which continually stirred up the people against them and pressured the police into expelling the foreign pioneers? Jehovah’s hand was present to protect these fearless publishers who obeyed Christ’s command to preach this good news of the Kingdom.—Isa. 51:16; Matt. 24:14.
The majority of the pioneers in Belgium had come from England, France and Switzerland. Those who found it difficult to speak Dutch or French used the testimony card to give a witness. These foreign brothers achieved excellent results. For example, in 1931 one Polish brother placed 2,110 books and 10,338 booklets, and an English pioneer placed 15,000 booklets. But these results were not achieved without opposition. As soon as the pioneers arrived in a village the Catholic priests hastily ran to the police to instigate their arrest. But the pioneers persisted in preaching and proved themselves to be a real support and encouragement for the little groups.
LEGAL ORGANIZATION FORMED
Unquestionably, the opposers of the truth were not rejoicing, and they put forth vigorous efforts to get the publishers arrested and to expel the foreign pioneers. To give the organization a legal representation, a nonprofit corporation was established under the designation Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, and it was registered with legal statutes in the Belgian official journal, Le Moniteur Belge, on May 7, 1932.
It was in that same year, 1932, immediately preceding the declaring of 1933 to be a “holy year” by Pope Pius XI and the coming to power of the Nazi regime in Germany, that the Belgian brothers distributed over 196,000 books and booklets, more than double that of the preceding year.
The enemies continued their opposition without letup. Threats to expel the foreign pioneers and to arrest the publishers went hand in hand with the sermons of the Catholic priests, who stirred up their flocks against the proclaimers of God’s Kingdom. The people were struck with fear. In the Catholic province of Limburg the countryfolk even thought Brother Wozniak to be the Devil himself and whenever they met up with him they would make the sign of the cross. To overcome this obstacle Brother Wozniak bought himself a black bowler hat, which gave him a very distinguished appearance. Now the people looked upon him as being a respectable gentleman. With what result? He then distributed an average of 10 books and 100 booklets daily.
In the German-speaking part of Belgium, Nazi groups began forming and they started attacking Brothers Belflamme and Novak while these brothers were distributing magazines in the city of Eupen. One group of 12 young Nazis savagely tore away their magazine bags. The attacks became so ruthless and shameful that the police had to step in to protect the brothers.
Elsewhere the authorities forbade the foreign pioneers to preach the Kingdom, and several pioneers were even expelled from the country. Now only 6 of the 26 pioneers who had reported in 1933 were left in the country. During 1934 appeals were made to King Leopold III, to the prime minister and to the minister of justice, but all in vain. Brother Wozniak, although hunted by the police, escaped expulsion. After a change in government took place, the minister of justice was replaced by a more liberal-minded man who granted Brother Wozniak permission to remain in Belgium.
IN THE ARDENNES
One day in 1934, in a village in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, two fleshly brothers, both Catholics, were discussing religion. “If there is nothing more than what the priests taught us,” said one to the other, “we don’t know anything about God.” Then one of them added: “If only we had a Bible!” A few days later their wish was granted, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked at their door. These two sincere seekers of truth were now in possession of God’s Word.
Shortly thereafter one of them died, but the other one moved to Brussels and became another pillar for the Kingdom work in Belgium. This brother, Emile Schrantz, entered the pioneer service in 1936. Though patient and humble, he was dynamic in pursuing his ministerial career throughout the Dutch- and French-speaking parts of Belgium. During World War II, when the brothers were forced to go underground, he served as a zone servant, or circuit overseer as it is termed today. He was a man of faith and action, and today, in spite of his age, he still serves as a special pioneer.
He began his traveling pioneer work in a section of Belgium known as the Ardennes, where he would travel on bicycle through this sparsely populated land of scattered towns and villages perched on the wooded hillsides and where the people lived in a superstitious fear of the priests. The police often stopped him, but he would not comply with their orders to quit the Kingdom-preaching work. After having been stopped several times one week in Bastogne, he was finally taken to the police station and ordered by the chief of police to cease his preaching work immediately. Brother Schrantz simply replied, “No.” He never stopped preaching despite the many threats that reflected clergy opposition.
Encouragement was not easy to find. People would very rarely invite him indoors to listen to what he had to say. However, Jehovah proved to be his main source of encouragement. The only contact he had with the brothers was through letters he received from the Society, counseling him to follow the example of the prophets. When he felt discouraged, he would go to the edge of a wooded area and reread an article in The Golden Age on the prophets’ lot and then he would take to the road again.
Thanks to his teaching them the Bible, a few meek countryfolk in the Ardennes came to a knowledge of Jehovah and his truth. Today there are seven congregations serving the true God in this area.
THE “GREAT CROWD” BECOME MANIFEST
From 1935 onward, the “great crowd” started to make themselves manifest. These newly associated ones in Belgium showed the same zeal in Jehovah’s service as did the anointed ones. They were happy with their privileges. Thus Brother J. F. Rutherford, while at the 1935 Washington, D.C., convention, explained that the place to which Jehovah assigns us is, without any doubt, the best. This very important talk was transmitted to Brussels, and the continual applause from those in attendance at Washington made even the brothers in Brussels, who did not understand English, realize that an important message was being conveyed to the ends of the earth.
Of the 13 congregations in Belgium at that time, there were 3 Polish ones located at Liège, Charleroi and Beringen, and 3 others were made up of German brothers and were located at Genk, Eisden and Roux. Another congregation of ten publishers was formed at Ieper (Ypres), a Flemish city that had been completely destroyed during World War I. In this Catholic city an assembly was held in 1936. The 50 brothers who gathered together rejoiced when they saw 55 brothers from France arriving to join them in the door-to-door work. Brothers Harbeck and Gertz from Switzerland were among the speakers present. Now there are 15 congregations in the territory where those first ten Witnesses of the Ieper Congregation once worked.
THE 1935 BRUSSELS WORLD’S FAIR
The Brussels World’s Fair of 1935 helped tremendously to soften the attitude of the Belgian authorities toward the Kingdom work. Taking advantage of the World’s Fair, the brothers set up a literature stand there. A huge sign with the words “Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society” and “Jehovah’s Witnesses” attracted the attention of thousands of visitors. Many persons came back a second time for literature, while still others went directly to the branch office to procure a whole series of books. Thousands of catalogs were distributed to passersby, some of whom said: “This is the best thing we’ve found at the whole fair!”
The priests were furious when they saw the Society’s literature stand at the World’s Fair. One of them approached the brothers to ask if they had a license to sell their books there. Another one, taking the books in his hands, suddenly let them drop, as if he had been struck by lightning!
Books in 35 languages were also put on display in two large windows in the Graphic Arts Section. The Society was even awarded a silver medal in this section, but of great importance to the brothers was obtaining the legal right to preach the good news. Once again foreign pioneers could enter the country, and now their number increased to 14.
FEARLESS POLISH BROTHERS
At Charleroi courageous Polish brothers, who made a living by working in the coal mines, did much for the advancement of the work. Brothers François Brzoska, François Hankus, Albin Glowacz and Jean Radojewski, with the help of a German pioneer, did not hesitate to make known the Kingdom, in spite of their limited knowledge of the French language. Several courageous English pioneers, in particular Sisters Mona Pratt and Louie and Nancy Berry, Brother Ernest Senior and Brother and Sister Trinder, worked by their sides in accomplishing this most important Kingdom work.
CLERGY INFLUENCE LOSING ITS GRIP
After four years of legal struggles with the clergy-influenced police, the brothers noticed that the authorities adopted a more conciliatory attitude. For example, a pioneer, who had been accused by a Catholic mayor of going from door to door without a license, had to appear before the judge. A lively discussion ensued between the judge and the mayor. It ended when the judge furiously pounded on the table, declaring: “I’m the judge here; this man is free because he’s doing a good work. Or would you like me to take action against the Catholic nuns, too, when they go from door to door?”
TRANSCRIPTION MACHINES ON TRICYCLES
The brothers constructed two portable transcription machines. At Liège one of these machines, bought with the savings of Brothers Smets and Poelmans, was set up on a tricycle, which, with all its accessories and the battery, weighed 55 kilograms (120 lb). They would tour the marketplaces or stand in front of churches. The recorded talk could be heard several hundred feet away. Because of its weight, two brothers pulled the tricycle on which they would sometimes seat one or two of their children. They always kept an eye on the machine because at Visé some Catholic youths surrounded it, trying to topple it. In 1935 the brothers spent 27 days of 10 hours each doing this work. They distributed 369 booklets, 79 copies of The Golden Age, 7 books and one Bible among their 3,595 listeners.
A FAITHFUL EXAMPLE
During 1936 some new pioneers arrived in Belgium, one of whom was Werner Schutz from Switzerland. He had been assigned to France and served there until the police in Bar-le-Duc expelled him in 1935. He arrived at the Brussels office in January 1936. Now he had to learn a new language, Dutch, because he served in the Flemish city of Antwerp. At that time Brother Schutz was the only Witness in this city of more than 300,000 inhabitants, although this territory had already been partially worked by Brother Poelmans and the English sisters Nancy Berry and Jessie Whitmore.
The year 1936 was a noteworthy one for the Belgian brothers who were able to attend the convention in Lucerne, Switzerland, where Brother Rutherford gave a public talk in a hall protected by the police. Brother Schutz was in attendance at that convention but only after having traveled some 700 kilometers (430 mi) by bicycle from Antwerp to Lucerne.
Brother Schutz remained a valiant fighter for the Theocracy right up until his death in 1972, having served in the full-time ministry for 47 years. Even during the Nazi occupation he carried on his preaching activity and, along with Brothers Wozniak, Schrantz and Hartstang, proved to be one of the principal pillars in expanding the work during that period of time.
WAR CLOUDS GATHER
In 1937 the threat of a second world war became more ominous. Exasperating nationalism, exploited by Catholicism, once again pressured the police to arrest the brothers. However, seeds of truth were springing up not only in Antwerp but everywhere in Flemish territory. In Ghent, birthplace of the Spanish emperor Charles V, the pioneers busied themselves in waving the Kingdom “banner” to the more than 160,000 inhabitants of this city who had never heard of the Kingdom truth. By the end of the 1937 service year 16 congregations had been organized for further activity in the country.
THEOCRATIC ORDER RESTORED
There was much rejoicing in 1938 when theocratic order was restored in the Christian congregations. However, a few elective elders, excellent public speakers, did not readily accept this divine arrangement. In one congregation in the Limburg province, several brothers still continued with the democratic method of electing elders. Brother Wozniak, however, helped them to get the correct viewpoint. Visited by three circuit overseers, the 20 congregations flourished. The 22 pioneers serving at that time flooded the country with Kingdom literature, and the 135 publishers working with them were better organized.
A RENEWED OUTBREAK OF NATIONALISM
Belgium had mobilized all its troops against imminent Nazi aggression. Once again the clergy took advantage of the rising fever of nationalism to hinder the declaration of the Kingdom good news. More and more frequently brothers were called in for questioning by the military authorities or by the Belgian police.
One day, at Braine-le-Comte, a sister left the magazine Consolation with a lady whose husband was in the army. The illustration on the cover showed Hitler riding a wild beast and trampling on mankind. When the husband arrived home and saw the picture of Hitler, he grabbed the magazine and went back to the barracks to warn the officers that Jehovah’s Witnesses had passed by. That evening three officers arrested the brothers, accusing them of working as spies for Hitler. Though the brothers clearly explained matters, these military officers, blinded by Satan, refused to listen to them, telling them that they would be summoned before the court-martial for spying. The outbreak of war prevented these military authorities from carrying out their plans.
Despite clergy-instigated police threats, the work progressed well in the port city of Antwerp where Brothers Schrantz and Wozniak continued laying the foundation for the first congregation. Brother Schrantz was not intimidated by police superintendents who would say: “If you want to become a martyr, you’ll end up in the rue des Béguines [the prison in Antwerp].” But Brother Schrantz did not end his Christian career in the rue des Béguines. Thanks to Jehovah’s guidance and protection, he is still in the pioneer service, notwithstanding the fact that the Nazis took him to this prison in 1940 for refusing to give them the address of his pioneer partner, Brother Wozniak.
In the Limburg province, the brothers saw a Catholic priest indicating to a police officer the block where the Witnesses were busy preaching the good news. Brother Vincent Golic and his companions were stopped and threatened with long prison terms if they continued preaching from house to house.
In the French-speaking part of Belgium the same opposition came directly from the priests, who resented the pioneers’ intrusion into their “pastures.” They used every means at their disposal to get rid of them, such as warning their flocks, threatening the pioneers, calling out the State Police, sending children to pester the brothers, throwing stones or puncturing the tires on the brothers’ bicycles and going around after them to collect the literature they had distributed. Nevertheless, villagers would often say to them: “Give me several of your booklets; when the priest comes, I can give him one to satisfy him and keep the rest to read!”
At Ciney a Catholic monk of the Order of the White Fathers greatly opposed Mona Pratt and her partner, ordering them to cease their activity immediately. The two Witnesses replied that God had ordained them for this Kingdom work. “I am in holy orders,” retorted the monk, “and I can release you from that God-given ordination.”
The two pioneer sisters took their bicycles and courageously continued on to the next village, distributing copies of the booklet entitled Universal War Near to the people. The priest followed them, asking all the countryfolk to give him the booklets. He managed to gather a few because, in many places, where two booklets had been left, the people gave him back only one booklet. He then approached the sisters with the few booklets that he had recovered, telling them that now he was going to make a huge bonfire. This did not hinder the truth from taking root. Today there are thriving congregations in Dinant, Namur and Ciney, where these English pioneers had preached the Word of Jehovah.
UNPRECEDENTED PREWAR WITNESS
An unprecedented witness had been given before the Nazi invasion of Belgium. By 1939 a peak of 218 publishers and 33 pioneers had been progressively trained in the Kingdom ministry, and theocratic service arrangements had been restored. During the 11 years preceding World War II, they were able to cover a good portion of the country, distributing nearly 1,500,000 pieces of literature. Eleven new congregations had been formed in 1939, making a total of 31 congregations. But what would become of this well-planted field during the years of Nazi occupation?
BAN . . . WAR!
Even before the arrival of Hitler’s hordes, the first assaults against the Kingdom work began. On March 30, 1940, the Home Secretary announced that all the Society’s literature was banned. The pretext for this was that it had a disastrous effect upon the minds of the soldiers and of the population. The Belgian government, however, was never able to enforce that law because scarcely two months later the Nazis arrived, and they were the ones who enforced this decree.
On May 10, 1940, Belgium was once again transformed into a battlefield. The English pioneers wondered what they should do now. They awaited instructions from the branch office, but upon making inquiries they found that the new branch overseer had disappeared. Following the advice of their Consulate, they returned to England, with the exception of Sister Pratt. She carried on her preaching work underground, as did Brother François Brzoska who was of Polish descent and who later became her husband.
When witnessing during the war, Sister Brzoska once entered, unsuspectingly, the store of a Nazi agent. It was only when she noticed a huge portrait of Hitler that she realized the danger she was facing. It was too late to turn back now, for the Nazi was standing there in front of her. She offered him a New Testament, saying that it contained the hope of a new order of things where peace and everlasting life will reign.
“Oh, yes,” he replied, “I believe in a new order of things and I know,” pointing to the picture of Hitler, “that he’s busy establishing it to last for a thousand years. Of course, we don’t know how much time it will take to establish it because there is a brood that must be completely exterminated first.”
Sister Brzoska answered, saying he no doubt had the Jews in mind. “No,” he replied, “the English!” He had an intense hatred for the English, and while observing the sister, who had an accent since she was of English descent, he inquired: “What is your nationality?”
Sister Brzoska replied, “Polish.” (Obviously, by marriage.) “Good,” he said, “but you won’t get anywhere until all the English have been exterminated, and if I could only get hold of an Englishman, I’d take great delight in personally exterminating him for the good of all mankind.” One can imagine how our sister’s knees were knocking, but what a relief for her when this man accepted not only one but two New Testaments, one of which was for a friend. He never realized that he had perhaps been the closest ever to the opportunity of exterminating one of the ‘English brood.’
1940—UNDER NAZI OPPRESSION
Jehovah was preparing his people to face unrelenting oppression from the Nazi “king of the north.” (Dan. 11:40) Thus the brothers were strengthened in their exclusive devotion to Jehovah by the study of the article on neutrality, appearing in The Watchtower (French edition) of January 1940. This came in the nick of time, just before the Nazi invasion. The booklet Fascism or Freedom also had just been shipped out to the congregations.
Upon the arrival of Hitler’s troops, the brothers thought that the battle of Armageddon had begun. Fearing to be discovered by the Nazis as being in possession of these booklets, some brothers started distributing them. For example, in the region of Charleroi, Brother Albin Glowacz had received 20 cartons just 15 days before the outbreak of war, and he began distributing the booklets in the letter boxes. Others distributed them to refùgees fleeing toward France, while in Liège they were handed out to passersby on the street.
Since no instructions were forthcoming from the Society’s office in Brussels, Brother Wozniak made arrangements to keep the work alive. He got in touch with the brothers and reassured them that Armageddon had not yet begun and persuaded them to stop distributing the publications free of cost. “Keep them,” he said, “you will need them,” and he encouraged the brothers to hide the literature for the work yet to be done.
At the branch office the publications were sealed up in the walls or hidden under the floorboards. This was done so well that when Hitler’s soldiers came to search the office in October 1940, they found nothing. Later the publications were transferred to more secure hiding places. For example, Brother and Sister Coenen used a handcart, and with extreme caution they transported most of these publications without being intercepted, doing so on six separate trips. Brother Michiels helped Brother Floryn hide 500 books and 4,000 booklets on the ground floor of his house, which served as a store, all hidden from sight behind the shelves. Unfortunately, the Gestapo succeeded in discovering this stock when they arrested Brother Floryn in June 1941. He was subsequently deported to the Nazi concentration camps. In view of the scarcity of literature, the publications were no longer left for contributions but were loaned out, thus enabling a greater number to benefit from them.
Satan seemed to have considerably weakened the Kingdom work in Belgium. He was certainly displeased to see that in 1940 there was a peak of 275 publishers, including 34 pioneers, announcing the Kingdom. Taking advantage of the closing down of the branch and using his totalitarian hordes, he spread fear and panic among the congregations. In Brussels, for example, more than 50 percent of the brothers became inactive. Only a small nucleus of publishers continued to put the Kingdom first in their lives during this difficult period. In 1941 there were only 86 publishers still active, and 14 congregations were no longer functioning. But Satan’s jubilation was to be short-lived.
Jehovah’s spirit moved the brothers to see the need to reorganize in order to go ahead with the preaching work underground. Brother Wozniak, circuit overseer, spoke about this to the branch overseer, who took no initiative because he had been warned by the Gestapo and felt that he was being watched. The secret meeting of the overseers that he had planned did not take place, and so Brother Wozniak asked the brother directing the underground work in Holland to take over also in Belgium.
At that time it was Brother Winkler who was directing the work in Holland, and he appointed Brother Hartstang, a brother who had much experience in underground work, to go to Belgium in July 1941 to assume the weighty responsibility of reorganizing the work.
OBTAINING AND REPRODUCING THE WATCHTOWER
The brothers in Belgium, however, did not await the arrival of Brother Hartstang before making arrangements to obtain spiritual food. First of all, it was necessary to obtain a copy of each Watchtower in order to translate it and provide copies for the brothers. A brother volunteered to go regularly to Holland to procure a copy. He took the saddle off his bicycle and slipped a rolled-up Watchtower into the hollow frame, put the saddle back in place and crossed the border.
Once in possession of a manuscript, Brother Wozniak had it translated into Polish, German and French. To produce a sufficient number of Watchtower magazines, materials for mimeographing were needed. Even typewriters were scarce; indeed, they were precious. In Antwerp a spiritually weak brother possessed one that had been used for some time to type letters and other directions concerning the reorganization of the work. Since this brother kept up connections with a sect issuing from the “evil slave” class, it became necessary to avoid this person, but the typewriter was needed. What could be done?
Brothers Floryn and Wozniak went to this person and proposed buying the typewriter, but he refused. How could he be persuaded to sell it? Not being whole-souled for Jehovah and His organization, the man lacked the fearlessness and courage of His faithful servants. Thus Brother Floryn remarked that the typewriter had already been used to produce underground texts, and since each typewriter has its own particular form of characters, it would not be difficult for the Gestapo to identify this one as having been used to write these texts. So it would be a source of constant danger for the owner. Now he accepted the brothers’ offer to buy the typewriter, happy to get rid of it!
PRODUCING LITERATURE UNDERGROUND
In the mining district of Limburg there was a small group of foreign brothers. It became a center for producing printed matter underground. The Golic and Pajk families, among others, used their homes to that end. There they translated The Watchtower into German, Dutch, Italian, Polish and Slovenian. Then they made carbon copies with old typewriters. To muffle the sound of the typewriters, the Pajk family put heavy blankets over the windows, whereas the Golic family installed double windowpanes. This did not keep the neighbors from suspecting some underground activity, since the brothers were frequently coming to pick up literature. No one gave them away, however, because the Belgians considered everything that was underground to be hostile to the hated Nazi regime. These brothers even printed the book Children in Slovenian.
One of the most important centers for producing literature underground was at Ougrée, near Liège, at the home of the Doyen family. One might say that it was the underground Bethel. The equipment consisted of two typewriters and a duplicator. The place hummed with activity. Brother and Sister Hartstang worked and lived there most of the time.
There was also Brother Fritz Schneider, of German nationality; he was the printer. At times Brother Werner Schutz was there, translating either from German to French or from Dutch to French. These two brothers were housed nearby. The Informant (now Our Kingdom Ministry) and even the book Children were printed in Polish here at the Doyen home.
Another fact worthy of mention concerning the Doyen family is that the father was not in the truth, and a son was a prisoner of war. Two other sons were designated to be deported to Germany as forced laborers. If they refused to be deported and went into hiding, the home would be continually watched by German soldiers and could no longer serve as underground headquarters for the production of Bible literature. Although only one was interested in the truth, the two sons agreed to be deported so that their home could continue to be used for the work.
One may wonder how such intense activity could possibly have gone unnoticed by the neighbors, for it was a beehive. Sometimes brothers arrived or left carrying as many as four suitcases or packages. However, as was the case at the other center in Limburg, there was complete silence among the neighbors; they also considered it a form of resistance to the Nazi invaders.
EVADING THE OPPOSERS
To throw the enemy off his trail, Brother Hartstang traveled around from time to time, visiting the brothers or even going to France. In fact, for a time, Brother Hartstang secretly crossed the French border every fortnight to get the English edition of The Watchtower, which reached France via Switzerland. Needless to say, these were trying times for Sister Hartstang who never knew if her husband would return.
WORLDLY PRINTERS COOPERATE
Sometimes Brother Hartstang stayed in Brussels at the home of Brother Ista. This brother was a great help in providing the brothers with spiritual food. He got in touch with a printer in Brussels, Mr. De Prince of the Erasme printing shop, and near the end of the Nazi occupation this man agreed to do underground printing for us. Not only was The Watchtower printed but so were 6,000 copies of the book Children.
Due to the fact that the preaching work was less developed in the Flemish territory than in the Walloon territory, there was a scarcity of literature in Dutch. Brother Wozniak succeeded in having 10,000 copies of the booklet Choosing printed in Dutch by a Charleroi printer who did the work, not because he favored the Witnesses, but because he was fiercely opposed to the Germans.
A RISKY OPERATION
Publications were even sent secretly by boat from Holland to Belgium. A Dutch brother owned a boat called Lichtdrager. He hid literature in his boat and unloaded it at Bree in Limburg and in the district of Kortrijk. Brothers went by bicycle to the place where the literature was unloaded and took the cartons to their homes.
All of this, of course, was not without great risk. One day a brother who was transporting a carton of the book Children was stopped by a German patrol tracking down black-market smugglers. Seeing the contents of the carton, the soldier cried out: “Oh, it’s for children!” and let the brother pass.
Another boat, Dolphijn, was also used, crossing the Belgo-Hollandish frontier five times with publications.
If the production of underground literature created a problem, getting it to all parts of the country created another. There was no thought of using railroads or the mail, for these were all under military control. Furthermore, the brothers could not use an automobile, since gasoline was scarce. There was the bicycle, and even then there was the problem of tires; they were simply not to be found. The brothers in Limburg became specialists in making bicycle tires out of old auto tires. They were not very flexible, but the main thing was being able to get about.
Brothers who transported literature were so heavily loaded that it was difficult to go unnoticed. Furthermore, they risked being taken for black-market smugglers. Yet they carried on courageously, Brothers Wozniak, Schrantz, Floryn and Schutz being especially used for this service.
One day near Mechelen, Brother Schrantz’ bicycle was so heavily loaded with literature that he lost his balance, falling over right in front of a German soldier. The soldier helped him get up and even put his literature back on the bicycle; then he wished him a pleasant journey. In order to furnish their brothers with publications, these brothers often traveled 110 or 160 kilometers (70 or 100 miles) heavily loaded and poorly fed.
Once Brother Schutz made a literature-carrying trip toward Charleroi, but he did not arrive at his destination. After several days Brother E. Heuse, Sr., and Brother Schrantz became worried and started looking for him. Finally, they found him in a nursing home in Liège. He had been wounded in a bombardment near Val St. Lambert. He did not seem to be affected by his experience; on the contrary, he had not been so well fed for a long time! There was only one thing that worried him: Where was his bicycle with the literature?
The brothers started hunting around and finally found the bicycle and its precious load in a Catholic institution. The nuns had taken good care of everything, and they handed it all back, without suspecting what was in the baggage!
Sometimes the weather was so bad that it was necessary to travel by train—despite the risk of inspections by the Feldgendarmes (German military police) and the Gestapo. One day Brother Schutz got caught in an inspection on the train. He was carrying two heavy suitcases. One was full of literature and the other was full of coal that the brothers working in the mines had given him. What a relief to the brother when the soldiers decided to look into the suitcase containing the coal! Upon seeing the contents, they burst out laughing and went on their way. Another time, a Gestapo agent had him open a suitcase containing literature. After glancing at the contents and seeing the expression “Adam and Eve,” the Gestapo agent exclaimed: “Go on your way with that rubbish!” He did. Brother Schutz who was of Swiss nationality was less likely to be suspected by the Germans.
The sisters were also less likely to be suspected than the brothers. It was for this reason that Sister Marie Smets served as liaison between Liège and Namur, traveling either by cycle or by train, according to the weather, but always heavily loaded. One day she got to the railroad station carrying heavy suitcases and with bicycle tires draped around her neck—but the train did not come. After she had waited for two hours the arrival of a German military train was announced, and civilians were authorized to get aboard. It was thus that she made the trip on a military train, loaded down with underground literature and arrived without mishap at the home of Brother Fevrier in Namur at five o’clock in the morning.
FEARLESS YOUNG BROTHERS
Young brothers were used too for transporting literature; they also displayed Christian courage. Brother Ernest Heuse, Jr., made a train trip from Liège to Verviers when he was about 16 years old. He tells of his experience: “Only a few minutes after departure, the Feldgendarmes boarded the train. There were six of them. They shouted, ‘Hands up!’ Everyone obeyed. They seemed to be looking for someone, and the first one pointed his finger at me. They ordered me to stand up; I thought that someone had denounced me. One of them was behind me with his pistol in my back, another in front of me and a third at my side. They asked for my identification papers, but as I made the move to take them out of my pocket, one of them hit my hand and took the wallet out himself. They searched me from head to toe. When they left I had the impression that they had forgotten something.
“An elderly man sitting across from me remarked that the police had forgotten to check my luggage. It was only then that I remembered that I had luggage along with me. If I had been thinking of the luggage while they were searching me, I might have become nervous, because I was transporting some duplicated copies of The Watchtower dealing with Daniel’s prophecy concerning the king of the north and the king of the south, as well as some booklets, one being entitled Fascism or Freedom. The elderly man thought that they did not check my baggage because the three who were checking all the luggage must have figured that the three checking my personal papers had already done so and thus just passed on. But I personally felt that it was Jehovah’s protection.”
CONTACT WITH THE BRANCH OFFICE
One may wonder how the publications were distributed to the congregations. Let us see how that took place in one of the centers, for example, at the home of Brother Fevrier. He received the literature wrapped up in small packages bearing no indication except a number. The congregation for which the package was intended sent a messenger to pick it up, this often being at night. The messenger simply said: “I want parcel number 22.” Once in possession of the package, the messenger left rapidly without saying another word.
Field service reports were collected in the following manner: Each congregation was identified by a letter whereas the individual publisher had a number. The congregation was divided up into study groups composed of from eight to ten persons who knew only the one responsible for the study, often not knowing even his name or his address. This brother collected the reports and transmitted them to the congregation’s presiding overseer, who was known only to those responsible for the study groups.
Once the total report was completed, it was a matter of waiting for the circuit overseer, who was the liaison between the congregations and the underground Bethel. He collected the reports as well as noting the congregation’s needs for copies of The Watchtower and the Informant (now Our Kingdom Ministry). He recorded the service report in a secret code, so that if he should be searched it would be impossible for an outsider to understand it.
MEETINGS DURING THE OCCUPATION
Each one understood the importance of meeting together for mutual encouragement. The brothers met in small groups in private homes. Many precautions had to be taken: (1) The brothers could not arrive together; the arrivals and departures were spaced out so as not to attract attention. (2) The meeting places were changed each week and, if possible, so were the day and time. Consequently it was necessary to be present at each meeting in order to know where the next meeting would be held. Needless to say, no one could take the initiative to bring someone along to the meeting for the first time; the person had to be tested first as to his sincerity. (3) In times of great danger, the meeting was held as though it were a family reunion. For example, the table was set for a family meal. If something unexpected happened, it was just a matter of getting the study material out of sight and staying at the table as if waiting for the meal. This arrangement dispelled any suspicions about a gathering of ten persons.
The study material was appropriate for the times. It consisted of Bible accounts having prophetic significance for God’s people of today. Among them can be mentioned the accounts concerning Ehud, Barak, Deborah, Jephthah and Daniel. Sometimes these studies, such as that of Micah’s prophecies, continued over a period of several months. This rich spiritual food was just what was needed to equip the brothers for their fight against the politico-religious elements that were trying to exterminate them, even as had been foretold by these historical and prophetic accounts.
THE GESTAPO SEARCHES FOR BROTHER WOZNIAK
Long before 1940 the Nazi regime had shown its ferocious opposition to Jehovah’s Witnesses in its efforts to destroy them. It is, therefore, easy to understand why these agents of death, as soon as they entered Belgium, began to try to destroy the work of the Witnesses. Their main targets were those who were fearless and very active. The man they particularly wanted to eliminate was Brother André Wozniak, who was pioneering in Antwerp at that time with Brother Schrantz.
One day while Brother Wozniak was away visiting the congregations, strengthening them and helping them to get organized, the Gestapo came to search his rooms. It was Brother Schrantz who was taken away to be questioned. During the interrogation, extreme caution had to be exercised so as not to betray his partner. For example, while being questioned, he was handed a list of names of brothers and he was asked if he knew them. He replied by saying he knew some, choosing those who were either dead or who had left the country. When asked where his friend was, he replied: “He has gone to visit his relatives, but we don’t interest ourselves in each other’s affairs; that is the only way to avoid problems between friends.” The Gestapo agent agreed, saying it was the best thing to do. The brother was released after 40 days in prison, the agents probably hoping that he would eventually lead them to Brother Wozniak. To put them off the track, however, Brother Schrantz changed his territory and went off to the Ardennes.
TRAPPED BY THE GESTAPO
Some time afterward Brother Wozniak lived through an unforgettable experience. Let him tell it himself: “It was the beginning of June 1941. To strengthen the brothers living near Charleroi, I went there by bicycle, arriving at the home of Brother Hankus at Couillet to stay for the night. It had been arranged that in case of danger I should go up to the attic and from there to the roof and escape by passing from one house to another.
“At seven the next morning I was awakened by the words, ‘Open up!’ I looked out the window and saw three men in civilian clothes—it was the Gestapo! Half dressed, trousers and jacket on my arm, I hurriedly climbed the stairway leading to the attic. I hid myself as best I could between the roof and the false ceiling of the attic. It was in the nick of time because the Gestapo agents were soon in the attic. Seeing nobody, they went downstairs and asked Brother Hankus where I was. As he gave no reply, they started to beat him. My heart was pounding so strongly that it seemed to me to be audible.
“I prayed to Jehovah for them to be blinded. Unbelievable but true, they searched the entire house from the cellar to the attic, accompanied by Brother Hankus, without their ever seeing me! Finally, they found my bicycle and my bag, and they gave Brother Hankus a terrible beating, but he stayed strong and did not give me away. Then two of the agents took the brother off to prison.
“The other agent stayed in the house, revolver at the ready, guarding Sister Hankus. Every two hours the guard was changed. As for me, I was under the tiles; it was hot and I was hungry and especially thirsty. Around midday I heard a voice saying softly: ‘Come down now, they’ve gone!’ I almost left my hideout to go downstairs, since everything was so quiet, but decided to stay put. Later on, the sister told me that it had been the voice of the agent, trying to trick me into giving myself away.”
ESCAPE AT LAST
Darkness fell, and Brother Wozniak became extremely thirsty. He relates: “I was also very tired and afraid of falling asleep because I was a heavy sleeper and often snored noisily. In my uncomfortable position, to go to sleep and snore would have led to my discovery. To keep awake, I kept pricking myself with a pin until I bled; but finally I felt my strength leaving me and I thought all was lost.
“Around midnight the sister was allowed to go to bed. She managed to bring me some bread and water, and I told her of my plan to escape. From her bedroom window I got onto the flat roof and then let myself slide down the drainpipe. Finally, after a 12-foot jump, I landed in the garden. It was impossible to go any farther then, because I would have been stopped by a patrol. So I hid while awaiting daybreak.
“In the morning I saw a woman in her garden. As I asked her for some water I could see fear written all over her face. However, she got me some water, some soap and a razor. As I was barefoot, I asked her to buy me a pair of slippers. Next, an interested person came and informed me that the Gestapo had finally left that morning at seven, taking my bicycle with them. But I was given Brother Hankus’ cycle in place of mine, and off I went like a shot to Brother Brzoska’s home, where I received a book bag and a Bible. After sleeping a day and a night, off I went to the next congregation.”
SUDDEN CHANGE IN PLANS
When Brother Wozniak arrived there, he went to the home of Brother Albin Glowacz to stay during the visit. “It had been arranged that I stay a week with him,” said Brother Wozniak, “but I couldn’t get to sleep that night; I just tossed and turned.” A change in plans came to mind, as he relates: “At breakfast, I told the brother that I intended leaving that same day for Carnières, the next congregation to be visited. He tried to get me to change my mind, even mentioning the good food available, wheat bread and butter, something really inviting at the time. However, nothing could make me change my mind, and I left for Carnières.
“The next day I was horrified to learn that the Gestapo had arrived that same morning at the home of Brother Glowacz and had taken him off to prison, with the concentration camps as the final destination! How glad I was that I had not allowed myself to be tempted with the good bread and butter! One thing was certain: Gestapo agents were at my heels. I would have to try to put them off the track.
“I returned to Antwerp, but there I learned that our room had been put under seal, that the homeowner’s wife, interested in the truth, had been taken away by the Gestapo and that the proprietor was obliged to denounce me to the Gestapo as soon as I arrived. Things were getting worse there too; it was necessary to leave Antwerp immediately.
“So I left for Limburg to visit the congregations. Two hours after my departure from Waterschei where I had stayed, the Gestapo broke into the house and searched everywhere. The situation was worsening fast. They were out to get me, apparently guided by the demons.”
BROTHER FLORYN FALLS INTO A TRAP
The same day that Brother Wozniak left, after Brother Hankus’ arrest, Brother Floryn, who was the contact man, arrived by bicycle at Brother Hankus’ home with 400 booklets and 24 books. It was June 7, 1941. Because her husband had just been arrested, Sister Hankus begged the brother to leave as soon as possible. He left, taking Brother Wozniak’s shoes with him to leave them elsewhere. He should have continued on to Brother Glowacz’ home, but, in view of these events, he returned to his home in Brussels the same day, tired out.
Arriving home, he learned that the Gestapo had searched the house and had taken away all the publications that had been hidden: 20 Bibles, 500 books and 4,000 booklets. His wife and parents-in-law had been kept under guard all day. He had fallen into the trap. At five the next morning the Gestapo turned up and took him away, handcuffed. He went off to prison and then on to the German concentration camps until the end of the war. His wife was to join him a year later, having to leave their two small children in the care of her parents.
INTENSIFIED GESTAPO ACTIVITY
It was at this time that a Gestapo chief, who had arrested many Witnesses in Germany, took up his duties in Belgium. It was soon after his arrival in Brussels that these arrests took place and the search for Brother Wozniak intensified. Among those arrested were Brothers Midi, Schockaert, Michiels, Coenen and Martin (the previous branch overseer), and Sisters Michiels and Coenen.
As for Brother Hankus, after his arrest by the Gestapo for concealing Brother Wozniak in his home, he was beaten and knocked unconscious by Hitler’s agents because he refused to disclose the names of the brothers. On July 6, 1941, he was transferred to St. Gilles Prison in Brussels. In spite of enduring torture, Brother Hankus refused to divulge names. He was then taken to Louvain Central Prison, and from there the Nazis led him to their extermination camps. When, at the end of the war, he was released from the concentration camp, he served as congregation overseer for many years.
BRANCH REORGANIZATION DESPITE DANGERS
A month after that series of arrests, Brother Hartstang arrived secretly from Holland in order to reorganize the preaching work. At the home of a sister in Antwerp, he held a private meeting with the three circuit overseers and two brothers who looked after the contacts. This sister lived alone on the ground floor, and on this occasion these six brothers came to within a hairbreadth of being arrested by the Gestapo. How was that?
During the meeting the bell rang, and who stood there? Three Gestapo agents! They inquired about a Jew and his son who were supposed to be living on the second floor. The sister told them that the Jews had fled at the outbreak of war. One of the agents now stood guard at the entrance while the other two searched every corner of the upstairs and attic.
Meanwhile, the brothers prayed that Jehovah might blind the eyes of the enemy. Had they been discovered it would have meant that all the principal overseers in Belgium would have been arrested in one swoop. But Jehovah did not permit that. The Gestapo departed, and so did the brothers, one by one, never to return to that home. Two weeks later the Gestapo returned unexpectedly, and this time they searched the entire house.
ENEMY EFFORTS TO HUNT DOWN BROTHER HARTSTANG
Although Brother Hartstang came alone at the outset of his stay in Belgium, his wife joined him six months later. She arrived in the same manner: by cycle along the unbeaten country roads of the Belgo-Hollandish border. She was by his side all through the war, except when he had to make especially dangerous trips.
In no time at all, the Gestapo found out about Brother Hartstang’s presence in Belgium and started to hunt him down. The enemy had obtained information about the general whereabouts of the brother and his wife through a confiscated letter. Equipped with large photographs of the couple, the Gestapo searched everywhere, just as is done when trying to capture a dangerous criminal. But the brother and his wife always escaped the traps set for them, sometimes only in the nick of time. Yes, somehow they were kept safe.
Interestingly, the chief of the Gestapo who was previously mentioned as initiating heavy persecution of the Witnesses, and who was determined to trap Brother Hartstang, was sitting by the window of his office one day and heard the drone of an airplane engine. Thinking it was a German plane, he took no precautions. Suddenly the plane’s machine guns opened fire and the Gestapo chief was hit and killed. The airplane happened to be British, piloted by a Belgian.
THE ENEMY IS BLINDED
Many experiences show that the enemy can be blinded by Jehovah’s angels. For example, Sisters Michelic and Golic had been entrusted with the job of delivering a letter from Limburg to Holland, destined for the brother in charge of the work in that land. This had to be done under cover. Sister Golic put the letter inside her purse and off they went to Holland, taking the country roads. They were intercepted by customs officers and searched. First of all, they searched Sister Michelic, and, among other things, they looked through her purse. It just so happened that Sisters Golic and Michelic had identical purses. When it was Sister Golic’s turn, the officer took her purse. Returning it to her immediately, he said: “Oh, I have already looked at that!” Thus she got back her purse, which contained the precious letter!
On another occasion, at Namur, Brother Fevrier was helping Brother Schutz carry his heavy baggage to the station. At Montagne-Sainte-Barbe they were stopped by a German control. It was impossible to turn back. Brother Schutz said to Brother Fevrier: “Make believe that we are not together; perhaps one of us will escape!”
Brother Fevrier lagged behind. Brother Schutz went through the control without difficulty, probably because of his Swiss passport. Then it was Brother Fevrier’s turn, and he handed over his identity papers. He was carrying an Ausweis (free pass for after dark) delivered by the occupational forces to the railroad staff. The soldier was satisfied. However, he asked the brother to open his baggage, in which there was a Watchtower study article about the war between the Nazi king of the north and the democratic king of the south, of Daniel’s prophecy. As Nehemiah had done, the brother prayed in silence. (Neh. 2:4) He bent over to open up the baggage. At that very moment a truck arrived; the soldier rushed over to bar its passage, forgetting the brother, who quietly slipped away, heaving a sigh of relief.
At Ougrée, Brother Armand Hebrant came back from a visit made at the home of Brother Heuse. In his pocket he was carrying three identification cards with false names. One card was for Brother Hartstang, who was working underground, and another for Brother Schrantz, circuit overseer. Brother Hebrant was stopped by a patrol on the bridge that crosses the Meuse, and there he was systematically searched, even down to his socks.
All his jacket pockets were searched, as well as an inside pocket of his overcoat. Each time the soldier felt on the side where the cards were located, by error he took the jacket and the overcoat together and plunged his hand into the inside pocket of the jacket. However, when the soldier went over the brother’s clothing outside the overcoat, the brother himself could very clearly feel the documents. Many times the soldier repeated the same movements and each time he forgot that pocket, as if some unseen hand was holding him back. The three cards bore the pictures of three brothers, but with false names, of course, and the brother would have been unable to justify having these identification cards on him.
Brother Gheys tells how he had to use strategy to forestall the enemy. After visiting some interested people, he was stopped during the night by a German patrol. A soldier stuck his rifle in the brother’s back while another shone his flashlight right in his face. They asked for his identification papers. To get them, he had to hold his briefcase between his knees. Then they started to search him. To facilitate their job, but also by strategy, he raised his arms in the air, holding his briefcase in one hand. The soldier carefully examined his clothing but forgot to look in his briefcase that contained literature!
UNDER ANGELS’ WINGS
At times it was evident that events were being directed in order to protect the brothers. One day Brother Hartstang was returning to his secret lodgings at Ougrée by trolley, which he normally took right to the terminus. Suddenly he thought of getting off before reaching the terminus so that he could stretch his legs since he was often confined indoors. Arriving at his destination, he found everyone as white as a sheet. The German soldiers had organized a strict control at the terminus and the family feared the worst as regards the brother. Unwittingly, he had escaped the trap.
At his lodgings, in addition to secret printing materials, there were publications in the process of being printed. A neighbor lived in the same courtyard. He was elderly and deaf and never got up before eight or nine. One morning he got up at about four. No one ever found out why. Anyway, he went out into the courtyard to get a breath of fresh air. At that time a German patrol arrived, brandishing revolvers.
It was a raid following a sudden strike by the workers at the Cockerill factory. The strike was precipitated by the deportation of 500 workmen. The Germans had the address of one of the leaders of the strike, and they were looking for him. They asked the old man where this person lived. As unbelievable as it may seem, this deaf old man understood what the soldiers were asking and pointed out the place where the hunted man lived on the next road. If that man had not been there at that unusual hour, the soldiers would have penetrated farther into the courtyard, and, as was their custom, would have pounded on the door. It is easy to imagine what would have then gone on inside, the search that the soldiers would have made, discovering this “jackpot.” But Jehovah was watching.
The place used for printing the publications was also Brother and Sister Hartstang’s bedroom. Previously it had been a pigsty, and from the outside it still looked like one. Usually Brother and Sister Hartstang got up between six-thirty and seven and then studied the daily text. But one particular day they had difficulty in waking up, and this fact worked for their protection. What was going on outside?
In the early morning the German soldiers had encircled the whole area and were systematically searching every home, looking perhaps for Brother Hartstang. On this second occasion, they knocked at the door of the elderly deaf man mentioned previously, shouting loudly as they usually did, and this only about two meters (6.5 ft) away from Brother and Sister Hartstang! But the soldiers did not knock at the “pigsty” door nor did the couple wake up, in spite of all the noise outside. If they had awakened, it probably would have led to their arrest. It is easy to imagine what their instinctive reaction would have been: They would have tried to escape by another door and would have been caught in the trap. Happily, Jehovah’s angels caused them to keep on sleeping soundly, and they avoided any spontaneous and perhaps disastrous consequences. It was only after the departure of the soldiers that they learned what had taken place.
Brother Schutz had another typical experience. At Tournai he was arrested by the Walloon Guard, that is to say, Belgians working for the Gestapo. His identity papers were not in order, so he was taken to headquarters to be examined and then on to the Tournai prison. After being questioned, he was told to go home and have his papers put in order by the local authorities. His suitcase, which contained a quantity of the booklet Fascism or Freedom, had to be left behind at headquarters.
He went to Kortrijk, put his papers in order and then returned to Tournai to show them and pick up his suitcase. Courage was needed to do that when one thinks what could have happened in the meantime in view of what the suitcase contained. All went well and his case was returned to him. It certainly appeared to be angelic intervention that the enemy did not open the suitcase.
ENDURANCE TO THE END
Not all the brothers escaped from the clutches of the Nazis. Fourteen brothers and sisters were arrested and underwent severe treatment while being questioned in true Gestapo style. Some were released after a few weeks or a few months. Seven, including two sisters, were deported and sent to concentration camps or prison. Brother Alphonse Midi died in prison, and Brother Lodewijk Schockaert was killed.
Brother Midi had been sentenced to 55 months in prison because of so-called propaganda against Germany, having been found possessing copies of the booklets Fascism or Freedom. He died in 1943 in the prison of Hagen, as a result of gangrene that set in because of a neglected injury. He died in his cell, abandoned by his jailers who brought him no medical aid.
Brother Schockaert had been a communist before accepting the truth. The Nazis arrested him, accusing him of being a communist. As soon as he arrived at the Sachsenhausen camp in Germany he went to the SS camp commander to tell him that he was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, not a communist. He received a purple triangle, the identification mark of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the camp. In 1943, while being transferred to another camp, this brother was shot by SS soldiers.
As for Brother Hankus, he died in 1954 as a result of the bad treatment he had received during the war. His wife endured faithfully and remained active during all those war years and until her death on May 16, 1982.
SS EFFORTS TO BREAK CHRISTIAN INTEGRITY
When a Witness was arrested, the scenario was always the same. First of all there was a questioning in SS style. By temptation, by cunning or by brutality the SS tried to make the Witness divulge the names of other Witnesses and then to deny his faith.
Brother Glowacz had the following experience. After his arrest he was questioned in the office of the SS. Before him on a table were a nice loaf of white bread, some sausage and pears. If the Witness was ready to talk, he would be able to eat to his heart’s content. If not, the worst treatment would be inflicted on him. When Brother Glowacz told the questioner that he would act according to the principle stated by the apostle Peter in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men,” the Nazi became white with rage and shouted, “All right, you will go to prison until your beard is as long as that of the apostle Peter!” And that is what happened. The brother stayed in prison for nine months, without being allowed to shave.
LIFE IN THE CONCENTRATION CAMPS
Brothers Hankus, Michiels, Floryn and Glowacz were taken to different prisons and concentration camps, one of which was situated near Strasbourg. There, for the least little thing they were beaten incessantly, either with a stick or with a whip. The SS called the Witnesses dogs from heaven. Food was reduced to a strict minimum. Yet they were required to do the strenuous work of widening roads, using the most primitive tools. Included in this work was the loading of small wagons with stones and then pushing the wagons along the rails to the required position. Sometimes a wagon went off the rails and the Kommando-Führer (chief of a group of guards) would keep the other prisoners at a distance while forcing just the four brothers to put the wagon back on the rails—that in spite of the fact that it weighed more than a ton!
One day a brother heard a corporal say to the Kommando-Führer: “They really are a strange people, those Bibelforscher [Bible Students]; the other prisoners, physically stronger, die like flies, while they carry on, full of strength. I think Jehovah helps them!”
TESTED REGARDING NEUTRALITY EVEN IN THE CAMPS
Brother Glowacz relates an experience that he lived through while at Buchenwald: “As a test on the Witnesses, we were ordered to report to the weapons factory Kommando (working group) to be put to work in the manufacture of arms. After roll call the next morning all the brothers refused to join themselves to the Kommando. Appearing before the camp commandant, a brother explained that they would accept any work in the camp except that of making arms. In a violent rage the commandant ordered the SS to take all of us to the execution site and to place the machine guns in firing position. This was done.
“Then the commandant said: ‘Think carefully and then tell me whether you accept this task, yes or no. If you refuse, I will give the order for all of you to be shot.’ He repeated his threat, but all of us stayed unperturbed, without moving, not saying a word. Seeing that he would get nothing from us, he changed his tactics and said: ‘Hitler is a very compassionate man; he does not want you to be shot. Each one of you will continue with his former work.’”
HELPING ONE ANOTHER DURING THE OCCUPATION
The brothers overseeing the underground work of producing Bible publications did not receive any salary, not even any ration stamps needed to buy food. The purchasing of materials such as paper had to be done on the black market. How could all this work be carried on?
In each congregation, gifts and ration stamps, sacrificed by the brothers from their already meager means, were collected and given to the circuit overseer with the service reports. This enabled the hunted brothers to obtain the necessary supplies so that they could keep on providing the needed spiritual food.
Even the children did their part. For example, one evening two brothers arrived unexpectedly at the home of the Golic family. It was Brother Hartstang and a companion. The table was set for supper. The two children, Antoine and Ann-Marie, seemed to have already eaten and they went off to bed. It was only after the war that Brother Hartstang learned that they had eaten the ration intended for the two children. There was nothing else to eat in the house, and the children had spontaneously volunteered to give their meal to the brothers and to go to bed without eating, thus setting a good example of deep consideration for the theocratic organization.
HOW THE PREACHING WORK WAS UNDERTAKEN
As soon as the witness work was organized underground, the brothers no longer were content to do only informal witnessing. They undertook a more systematic activity, although being very cautious. Only the Bible was used from house to house. The brothers also offered copies of the New Testament or the Gospels, according to the possibilities of buying such publications from the Protestant bookstores. This was not done without difficulties. Indeed, the Protestant pastors were grinding their teeth because of the Witnesses’ activity and refused to furnish Bibles when they knew for what purpose they were being used.
So it was necessary to use strategy to obtain Bibles from the Protestants. Efforts were not always successful. Brother Jules Ista relates that one day he went to the Evangelist Mission in Brussels to obtain some New Testaments. The one in charge asked the brother for what church they were destined. The brother tried to get around the question, but when the pastor learned who he was, he spit in his face, called him a dirty Bible Student and refused to sell him the books.
Some of the Society’s publications, such as the booklets Uncovered and Refugees, were available for the brothers. They were used with great care. A lending service was organized, the same publication being used for many different people. Further, the brothers remembered the names of people who had taken books before the war. They visited these people to encourage them to read the publication and thus arouse their interest. If the people showed no interest, the brothers suggested that the publication be returned, to enable someone else to benefit from it. Sometimes the person gave it back. At times the householder refused to give it back and out of curiosity started to read it himself, becoming interested in the Kingdom message. In this way some even came into the truth.
HOUSE TO HOUSE—WITH CAUTION
With the house-to-house work under way again, instructions were given to work with extreme caution. For example, it was essential to work alone, preaching at a house here and then at another one there, farther along the street so as not to attract attention. If the brothers were suspicious of certain houses, they would pass them by. If a publisher saw a uniform inside the house, he was not to give a witness but simply to ask an everyday question.
One day a brother inadvertently called at a house occupied by a Gestapo agent. The agent invited him inside, asked for his identity papers, locked the door and then went off to telephone for the Witness to be picked up. In the meantime the agent’s wife came in and told him to escape in a hurry, which, of course, the brother did not fail to do!
When someone became interested, a series of visits were made with the help of prepared subjects to facilitate discussion of the basic doctrines of the Bible. Booklets, such as Uncovered and Refugees, were also used to undertake what constituted a forerunner of the modern-day home Bible studies.
In those days people with whom studies were conducted were not invited to meetings as promptly as is done today. Generally, it was not until the person had begun to preach that he was introduced to a study group, just in case he might turn out to be an informer.
BAPTISMS AT HOMES
Baptisms took place secretly at homes. On one occasion, at Sclessin near Liège, about 40 people were baptized in a very small house, the home of Brother Heuse. On another occasion 27 were baptized at the home of Brother Wladek at Waterschei. The activity did not always go unnoticed. Children playing outside were heard to say: “It’s a Protestant Mass.”
In 1941 it looked as if the enemy had gained the victory—the number of publishers had dwindled from 275 to 86. But by 1942 the number of Kingdom warriors was up again to 253, including 8 pioneers. During that war-torn year, they had printed 10,000 copies of the booklet Choosing, Riches or Ruin? in Dutch, and 7,455 Watchtower magazines. During 1943 Jehovah increased the number of Kingdom preachers in Belgium to 396. These worked more than 46,000 hours while distributing 7,868 books, 17,106 booklets and 2,234 magazines. The number of congregations rose to 19. The underground printing plant produced 11,000 booklets and 14,500 magazines.
The next year was even more blessed. Now the number of ministers rose to 545. What a victory for Jehovah over false religion and her despotic allies! The Memorial attendance was 609, and 6,000 copies of the book Children were printed with the cooperation of a printer in Brussels.
From 1942 to 1944 the brothers accomplished a tremendous work. They printed more than 64,000 books, booklets and magazines. This, together with the stock that had been hidden at the time of the Nazi invasion, enabled them to distribute 107,587 pieces of literature during the war. The Nazis never did succeed in destroying the work, nor did they ever find Bethel, where five members were working by the end of the war.
INSTRUCTIONS SCRUPULOUSLY FOLLOWED
The brothers scrupulously heeded the instructions coming from the Society and did not try to know more than what was necessary. Even the children carefully obeyed instructions. For example, one day Brother Schrantz arrived at Waterschei and left a carton of publications at the home of Brother Golic. Only little Ann-Marie, nine years old, was at home. Brother Schrantz gave her the carton, telling her not to mention anything to anyone, except to her father.
She hid the carton underneath the bed. When her mother came home she did not say a word about Brother Schrantz’ visit. Bedtime came but she refused to go to bed. She just had to wait and see her father. Sister Golic thought this was all very mysterious. Ann-Marie stayed up until her father came home, and it was only then, and only to her father, that she mentioned the visit and revealed that there was a carton of literature underneath the bed.
1944—THE WAR DRAWS TO A CLOSE
The country was jubilant when the Allies progressively pushed the German armies back into their own country. The Gestapo and its agents were gone! So the brothers had only one thought: Get together in an assembly as soon as possible. Meetings were hurriedly organized; the desire to get together was strong. On December 23, 1944, an assembly, with 70 in attendance, was held at Waterschei in a windowless and unheated hall.
At the same time another assembly was organized in Liège in a hall that carried the scars of a war, as yet unended. Assemblies were later organized in Brussels and then in Charleroi. Brother Hartstang was present at each assembly, now using his real name.
THE FLYING-BOMB THREAT
But Hitler would not admit defeat. During 1944 he began to use his new weapon, the flying bomb, which the Germans called Vengeance Weapon One. After his armies had been pushed back, he used it first against England and then against Belgium. This guided missile, known as V-1, carried about a ton of explosives. The V-1 began to fall on the industrial centers and ports of Liège and Antwerp, causing great destruction and loss of life. It was under such conditions, in the early part of 1945, that a more widely advertised assembly was organized in Liège in the Hall of the Home des Invalides. The threat of the V-1 missiles was keenly felt in the town.
The Hall, with a capacity of 500 people, was full. While the assembly was in progress, a flying bomb was heard approaching. The loud stuttering sound of its motor was characteristic. As long as the noise of the engine could be heard, there was nothing to fear. If the motor stopped, the bomb was going no farther and would plunge to earth. This particular bomb was now flying over the town. Suddenly the motor stopped, and the bomb plunged to earth. Where would it fall?
In the Hall the brothers happened to be singing a song, and no one moved from his place. In contrast with this all the staff of the Home, including the director, fled to the shelters. The V-1 exploded not far from the Hall. The next day when Brothers E. Heuse, Sr., and M. Smets returned to pay the booking fee, the director asked them: “But whatever kind of people are you? Yesterday no one in the Hall moved when the V-1 fell!” It was an occasion to give him a good witness.
EMERGING FROM UNDERGROUND ACTIVITY
As soon as the German troops left, Bethel was established in Brussels, in the home of Brother Notebaert. Then Brother Hartstang rented two rooms in rue Rubens at Schaerbeek, one room being used as bedroom and office and the other as kitchen and dispatch. It was wintertime and coal was scarce and rationed. It was so cold that Brother and Sister Hartstang had to work sitting up in bed.
At that time an assembly was held at La Cour de Tilmont. Brothers coming from the mining regions of Limburg and Liège were seen arriving, carrying heavy suitcases and packages, calling at the Bethel home before continuing their journey to the assembly. What were they carrying that was so heavy? Coal? Yes, these coal-mining brothers were more favored as regards heating material, and they wanted their less favored Bethel brothers to benefit from this. Thus the Bethel coal cellar was filled up.
Workers were needed in order to reorganize Bethel. An appeal was made, and a young brother, José Nicolas Minet, came to Bethel. As there was no place for him to live at rue Rubens, he worked there during the day and slept at Brother Notebaert’s home. It was necessary to find a larger place, but there was a scarcity of living quarters in the city. After much searching, a house was finally rented at Ixelles, 47 rue Wayenberg. However, because the staff had increased in number, Brother and Sister Hartstang were not able to live at this address.
REORGANIZING THE WORK
The brothers were rather like someone who has difficulty in getting readjusted to daylight after having been a long time in darkness. The congregations were now invited to send their reports on a specially prepared postcard. The card was used, but it was slipped into an envelope to keep the information secret! Initials continued to be used to indicate the sender’s name, and the congregation was identified by the code used during the war and not by the name of the locality as had now been suggested.
The aftereffects of the Nazi secret police activity continued with the brothers to such an extent that about a year and a half after the departure of the SS the Society had to remind the brothers that they were no longer working underground and that it was possible again to work in the open.
One reason for this slowness to adapt to the new situation was that the majority of the brothers in Belgium had never known what it was like to be able to preach freely. The 86 publishers at the beginning of the war had now grown to 747 in August 1945. They had much to learn as regards preaching and organizational methods in order to be on a par with their brothers in other countries where the work had not been banned.
In December 1945 the Society’s president, N. H. Knorr, accompanied by Brother M. G. Henschel, stopped in Brussels to see what could be done to expedite the reorganization of the witness work. Then on January 15, 1946, the first Gilead-trained missionary arrived in Belgium. This was Brother Calvin Holmes, who was going to be a great help in reorganizing the work. He landed at Ostend and was met at the Brussels railroad station by the entire Bethel family. It was quite an event!
Brother Holmes was appointed as branch overseer. It was with joy that Brother Hartstang accepted these new arrangements—he who had done all he could during those difficult war years. Brother Hartstang was known as a very humble brother and also as an ardent and determined worker in Jehovah’s service. He served faithfully until he fell asleep in death on April 5, 1964. Sister Hartstang, now 81 years of age, is still serving Jehovah, working in the Bethel home in Holland.
PURIFYING THE CONGREGATIONS
In some congregations there was a purifying work to be done, and Brother Holmes got down to the work, not always an easy task for him because he knew neither French nor Dutch. In some cases, as in Brussels and Ieper, this cleansing had to be accomplished with much severity in order to remove immoral persons who were causing unrest and discord. Brother Holmes visited a congregation each weekend, in that way establishing a closer link with the Society.
PURCHASE OF A BETHEL HOME
The rented house that was used as the Bethel home became too small. After much searching, a house with a large workshop in the rear was bought. It was located at Schaerbeek, 28 Avenue General Eisenhower, in the suburbs of Brussels. Compared to what the family had known up until then, this house was a palace. Larger quantities of publications could be stocked here to take care of the ever-increasing needs. Furniture was scarce. Fortunately the Swiss branch had just sold an old farm, and the furniture was sent as a gift to Belgium, which was very much appreciated.
A call for pioneers went out in 1945, and by October that year there were 18 pioneers in Belgium. By December the number had grown to 24, and 3 special pioneers were appointed. Pioneer life was not easy in those days. One of the pioneers related that he slept on a mattress on the floor. All he had as kitchen equipment was one cooking pot and a pan, serving for all purposes. In any case, the meals were not complicated, and Jehovah never abandoned his servants.
ASSISTANCE FROM AMERICAN BROTHERS
One brother, whose parents were not Witnesses, left a well-paying job to pioneer. He said that when he left, his sobbing mother told him: “Who will take care of you? How will you be able to buy clothes for yourself?” He replied: “The birds do not sow and yet they stay alive and have what is necessary to eat!”
A few months later this pioneer was invited to make a visit to the Brussels Bethel. The brothers in the United States had got together a large amount of clothing, and the Society had sent some to Belgium to help the brothers who had suffered because of the war. The pioneers were the first to benefit from the clothing gift, and this brother received two suits, an overcoat, some shirts and two pairs of shoes. Soon afterward he went to visit his mother, who, upon seeing him, cried out: “How well dressed you are! Wherever did you get all that good clothing?” The brother smilingly replied: “From heaven!”
This clothing shipment, which weighed a total of 10,500 kilograms (23,000 lb), in addition to 1,550 kilograms (3,400 lb) of shoes, was sent by the American brothers during the years 1946 and 1947. It was distributed among 1,431 brothers, and this enabled them to be well dressed as they preached the good news of the Kingdom.
It was at that time that a large postwar assembly was held. This was at the Cirque Royal in Brussels, from October 4 to 6, 1946, the program being presented in two languages. About 2,000 people came to hear the public talk “The Prince of Peace.”
NATIONALISTIC OPPRESSION RESURGES
The Nazi regime had been defeated, but the nationalistic spirit became more virulent than ever before. Satan began using this as a new weapon against those who represented God’s Kingdom. As they no longer needed to work underground, the foreign brothers who had escaped being tracked down by the Nazis made their presence known to the Belgian and American authorities. Brother and Sister Hartstang requested a resident’s permit from the authorities. Not only was it refused but on June 4, 1947, the minister of justice gave them eight days to get out of the country! All appeals against this unjust decision proved to be useless.
Pioneers Fritz Schneider, Erwin Klose and Willy Klopper were imprisoned and accused of being Nazi agents. That was really the last straw—the ones who had been tracked down like wild beasts by the Gestapo! Brother Schneider was imprisoned and afterward went back to Germany, a sick man suffering from a lung condition. He died a few years later. Brother Klose was imprisoned for 11 months along with Nazi agents in spite of petitions made by hundreds of brothers and even by local authorities. The American and British military authorities tried, though in vain, to prove that he was a Nazi agent!
VISITORS FROM BROOKLYN HEADQUARTERS
Despite opposition from nationalistic elements, for the first time the number of publishers passed the thousand mark. There were 57 pioneers. In June 1947 Brothers F. W. Franz and Grant Suiter visited Belgium. On this occasion two assemblies were held simultaneously, one in the Dutch language and the other in French. The visitors from the Society’s headquarters helped the branch to become more efficiently organized and strengthened the organization in its theocratic structure.
A few months later the first postwar circuit assembly was held at La Louvière. There were 295 publishers in the circuit, but an enthusiastic crowd of 485 attended the public talk. That year the Memorial attendance was 1,525 compared with 1,099 the previous year.
MORE MISSIONARIES ARRIVE
The Society tried to send more missionaries to help the brothers, but opposition from the nationalistic elements delayed their arrival. Toward the end of 1947 Brother and Sister Buisset arrived and stayed many years as missionaries in Belgium. They were followed by five other missionaries during 1948, among whom was Elmer Johnston who served faithfully in his missionary assignment until his death in 1972.
In 1949 ten other missionaries arrived, including Allan Coville and Gijsbertus van der Bijl, followed by Markus Hartlief in 1955 and Aalzen Wiegersma in 1965, all four of whom are still here, serving as traveling overseers.
PRIESTS EXERT PRESSURE
As the name Jehovah became more familiar to the public, the clergy opposed the Witnesses in countless ways. For example, at the instigation of the priest, opposers chased the brothers out of Lantin by hurling firecrackers at them. At Bolland, a small village near Herve, the priest distributed a pamphlet to his parishioners. It told them what to do when the Witnesses call: “(1) Close your door to these peddlers of the Devil; (2) if they enter unawares, turn your radio up loud or, if that is not possible, two saucepan lids banged together will do the trick.”
It was very difficult to rent a hall to give talks because of clergy pressure. At Tervueren the priest told the owner of a hall that he would rather see it ‘rented to the communists than to the propagandists of this new god.’ In another village the priest mobilized all the children and sent them to the hall, where they made such a noise with saucepan lids that the talk could not be given. On another occasion the priest threatened the owner of a hall that if he rented it to the Witnesses his business would be ruined. The priest would see to it that none of his parishioners would patronize that man’s shop.
The mental attitude of village people toward the Witnesses at that time is well illustrated by the following experience. Brother Schrantz had to visit a brother, but he did not know his address. So he simply asked the first one he met in the village: “Do you know where a man who has a strange religion lives?” He was immediately directed to the house without even mentioning his name!
BAN ON TRANSPORTING BIBLE LITERATURE
In 1950 Belgium was in a state of turmoil because of the return of King Leopold III. Upon the king’s return from exile, demonstrations, strikes and threats of civil war disunited the Belgian people over the royalty question. The Witnesses, now numbering 2,462 ministers, took a neutral stand amid such restlessness. During this time of national tumult and only two days after a new Catholic government came to power, Satan again tried to cripple the Kingdom work.
On June 6, 1950, without any advance notice, the minister of transport prohibited the transportation of the Society’s publications by the Belgian railroad and postal systems. The government ignored all letters that the branch sent in about the matter. How would the brothers and subscribers now receive spiritual food?
The Society organized magazine and literature delivery by truck to all the congregations. Then the publishers delivered the magazines to the subscribers. Jehovah richly blessed this arrangement, which gave the brothers an opportunity to make regular calls on the subscribers.
After repeated requests throughout the 31 years, it was not until October 30, 1981, that the Belgian government removed the ban on the transportation of the Society’s literature!
IN THE ARDENNES AND FLEMISH TERRITORY
In 1951 the number of publishers exceeded the three thousand mark. The prosperity of the 80 congregations greatly alarmed the clergy, who lamented that congregations of Witnesses were springing up even in the extremely Catholic villages of the Ardennes. The Belgian Catholic journal, L’Avenir du Luxembourg (the Belgian province of Luxembourg) of December 2, 1950, showed its concern, saying: “We do not know what is going on . . . but we notice that in several villages in the vicinity of Neufchâteau and Bertrix, Jehovah’s witnesses have taken root.”
Though the clergy’s influence on the people had diminished in the larger cities and towns, the priests still tried to maintain a tight grip in the villages. In Erps Kwerps (Flemish territory) a priest ordered a pioneer to leave the village, but the brother refused. The next day the priest again ordered the brother to leave the village. Since the brother still refused, the priest began to accompany him from door to door, accusing him of being a Protestant and of selling Bibles, which the people were forbidden to read. At each door the pioneer refuted the priest’s accusations. This continued for three hours. Finally, the priest stopped going to the doors. He stood in the middle of the street and loudly spoke to the people, all the while following the brother. On the third day the priest again followed the pioneer, but this time the brother called the police and the priest disappeared. The police no longer were at the beck and call of the clergy.
THE AUTHORITIES SHOW MISTRUST
Because of the Witnesses’ stand for Christian neutrality the authorities did not seem to trust the organization’s peaceable, educational work. Two plainclothes policemen attended almost all the public talks. They would take notes during the talk. As soon as a public talk was advertised, two policemen could be seen in the audience even in small congregations of about 15 publishers. The policemen would often have to sit in a brother’s small kitchen that had been transformed into a Kingdom Hall. In view of the situation at that time, it was deemed advisable that the foreign brothers, including the traveling overseers, not give public talks.
PRIESTS RESUME FORMER WAYS
The brothers were able now to give the unassigned territory more attention. During 1952 the publishers worked 591 towns and villages despite strong opposition from the priests who thought that the Witnesses would never come back, at least not to the remote territories. This time the priests resumed their former ways of doing things, but without police support. They incited the people to chase the Witnesses out of town. During a circuit assembly in Bastogne, the priest tore a handful of pages from the Catholic Bible that a sister was using in the witness work, and another sister was beaten by a fanatical woman who had been egged on by the priest.
In Antwerp other false shepherds tried to prevent an invalid sister from doing street work, which she did in her wheelchair at a location near a store. The storekeeper tried to get rid of her. First he called the police, but the policeman said she was within her rights. Then he enlisted two priests who tried to persuade the sister to leave the place, but to no avail. So the priests decided to push her wheelchair down the street. At this, some taxi drivers from across the street who had been observing the proceedings quickly ran over and told the priests that unless they wanted trouble they had better get on the move. Needless to say, they scurried off.
PROGRESS WITH HELP OF MISSIONARIES
Despite the opposition, the number of publishers increased to 3,623. The Gilead graduates continued to strengthen the brothers and help them to take on added responsibilities. Very soon Belgium was no longer considered a missionary field, so the majority of the missionaries were used in a supervisory capacity, serving at Bethel or as traveling overseers. At that time all the district and circuit overseers were foreigners, and at the branch office there were only three Belgian brothers.
BRANCH OVERSEER EXPELLED
Once again the representatives of the Catholic government expressed their hatred by attacking the brothers who were taking the lead. On April 11, 1953, Brother Calvin Holmes, the branch overseer, received notice that he was being expelled from the country even though he was married to a Belgian sister. Brother G. van der Bijl was appointed as branch overseer in his place.
And what about Brother André Wozniak, whom the Gestapo had been unable to catch and whom a former Catholic government had tried in vain to expel in 1934? This brother was requested to appear before a committee, which decided on his expulsion from the country. But before this could take place there was a change of government. The new minister of justice, not a Catholic, decided not to enforce the decision to expel Brother Wozniak. As in 1934, he again escaped from his persecutors.
The new government, more liberal than the previous one, proved to be somewhat favorable toward the Kingdom work. In fact, on July 28, 1954, one of the government ministers wrote a letter to the Society, saying that the placing of Bibles and Bible literature would not be considered peddling but rather a charitable and nonprofit work.
The location of Belgium, at the crossroads between London, Nuremberg, Paris and The Hague, made it easy for the Belgian brothers to attend the international Triumphant Kingdom Conventions in 1955. Two special trains were used. French authorities stopped one of the trains on its arrival at the French border. Using loudspeakers, the French State Police called out the names of several brothers, forbidding their entry into France for “security reasons”! The brothers whose names had been called out left the train but reached the convention by taking regular trains after a roundabout through the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
THE AUTHORITIES ACT FAVORABLY
As clergy opposition waned, the authorities gained greater respect for the Kingdom work. In fact, they went as far as making unilateral decisions in favor of the brothers to guarantee their constitutional rights of worship. Thus a royal decree of January 8, 1958, published in the March 14, 1958, issue of the Official Journal, canceled all action taken by the mayor and aldermen of the town of Anvaing on June 8, 1957, forbidding public talks in the open air. The royal decree accused the Council of Aldermen of having exceeded its powers in imposing this ban.
The only places where clergy pressure was felt now were in the rural territories, such as Orp-le-Grand. Arrangements had been made for many brothers to stay in a large house in this town during a circuit assembly to be held May 23-25, 1958. Just before the assembly the parish priest brought about the cancellation of these accommodations. He also forced the local baker to revoke his agreement to supply bread for the Sunday noon meal at the cafeteria. But this did not prevent the brothers from getting the needed food and rest. A large dormitory was set up in the assembly hall itself, and large straw-filled sacks were used as beds. Despite the opposition, 532 attended the assembly.
NO LANGUAGE BARRIERS
A highlight of the 1959 service year was the Awake Ministers National Assembly held at the Brussels Sports Palace, where 6,896 persons heard the public talk given simultaneously in French and Dutch. During this five-day convention, 378 new Witnesses were baptized. What made this convention so outstanding was the unity between the Flemish (Dutch-speaking) and Walloon (French-speaking) brothers, who assembled in the same auditorium, side by side. The sound system had been set up so that each one could hear his own language spoken. To make this possible, the audience was divided into two sections. Such a bilingual spectacle did not go unnoticed, and the gathering was given wide publicity.
Moreover, this convention proved that difference in language does not cause division among true Christians. In contrast, Belgium is greatly divided by language disputes; in certain Catholic churches in Antwerp and Vilvoorde, the police have had to intervene to separate Flemish Catholics from Walloon Catholics. The reason? Some Flemish Catholics could not bear having their priests officiate at Mass in French!
PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION
In 1960 an important step forward was made in legally defending and establishing the good news in this country. That year there were over 7,000 publishers in the country and 10,237 persons were present at the Memorial. The Kingdom Halls were becoming too small, and several congregations had begun to enlarge their halls or build new ones. The congregations owning Kingdom Halls requested the same tax exemption that the churches have. Their request was refused on the grounds that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not constitute a religion. Moreover, the Tax Office claimed that there was no public worship going on in the Kingdom Halls. Of course, such claims were absolutely false.
The Court of Appeals in Liège rejected the claims of the State in its decision of June 29, 1960. Now Kingdom Halls could benefit from property tax exemption. Furthermore, the court decided that the State must reimburse the brothers for taxes that had been paid on the halls.
In this small country of 30,513 square kilometers (11,781 sq mi), the major part of the population live in cities and towns. Since industry is the major means of employment, it is easy to understand why there are so many foreign workers in the country. In fact, about 10 percent of the population are of foreign origin, of whom a third are Italians.
Upon arrival, they worked chiefly in the coal mines. Thus it was once again in the Charleroi, Liège and Limburg areas that the truth spread among the foreign population. Bible studies were started immediately, and to help these sincere people more fully, some of the Belgian brothers even learned the Italian language.
The 1962 report showed that about 40 percent of the publishers were foreigners and were unable to express themselves clearly in either French or Dutch. To overcome this problem, the February 1962 Kingdom Ministry announced the establishment of a new school to help these brothers get a better knowledge of the local language. Instead of attending the Theocratic Ministry School, these publishers learned how to read and speak the local tongue with the help of the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained. This greatly helped them to become teachers of the Word. They now were able to discuss Bible subjects instead of offering the magazines only. Today several of them are elders and ministerial servants in the congregations.
CONGREGATIONS CONSISTING OF PEOPLE FROM OTHER COUNTRIES
A very special event, the first of its kind in Belgium, took place on July 7-11, 1965. A large international convention was held in Charleroi, where 63 years previously the truth had begun to take root. Brothers from northern France and Paris were present with their Belgian brothers, and on Sunday there was a peak attendance of 11,710.
Italian sessions were also held at this convention, as had been the case for some years. But the Italian brothers were no longer a handful, for 725 attended this “Word of Truth” Assembly. How grateful they were when Brother Knorr announced that ten Italian congregations would be formed in Belgium. The news was greeted with much applause. Great increases followed. At the time of this writing there are over 2,500 Italian publishers in 32 congregations, forming 3 circuits.
More sheeplike people were found among the Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish and English populations. Among the new congregations formed were one Portuguese, three English, seven Spanish and eight Greek. These brothers from other countries are full of zeal for Jehovah, and their endurance is exemplary. Consider the Greek congregation in Brussels: All 47 baptized publishers were auxiliary pioneers at least once during the service year!
NEW BETHEL HOME
Over a 20-year period, the Bethel home located at 28 Avenue General Eisenhower, Schaerbeek-Brussels, had amply filled the needs of the Kingdom work here. But there was not enough room for literature or for all the members of the Bethel family to live under one roof. In 1966 Brother Marcel Gillet, then serving as branch overseer and at present the Branch Committee coordinator, was informed by Brother Knorr that a new Bethel home would be built. In November 1966 construction began. In February 1968 a fine, spacious Bethel home, in the Brussels suburb of Kraainem, was ready for use. What a difference from the place that had been rented in 1945!
CONFUSION IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
While over 10,000 Kingdom publishers were warmly united in the Dutch- and French-speaking sections of Belgium, confusion, hatred and anarchy broke out in the Catholic Church. This time the newspapers did not spare the church but even went as far as ridiculing it. Many Catholics confided to the brothers: “Nothing is going right in our church,” “This is the end of the Catholic Church,” and “We don’t know how to pray anymore.”
Rioting between Catholics broke out in the churches themselves. In Antwerp, Vilvoorde and elsewhere, Flemish Catholics attacked the churches because Mass was said in French for French-speaking audiences living in those cities. Police had to be called in to break up the rioting. Times had changed since the Catholic priest called the police to have the brothers chased out of town! In Antwerp, Catholic extremists wrote on the walls: “Stop saying Mass in French in Vilvoorde!” This is the city where the clergy had the Bible translator William Tyndale strangled and burned, and where today there exists a congregation of 70 Bible-loving publishers of Jehovah’s Kingdom. In Louvain, famous for its Catholic university, young priests shouted in the streets: “Down with the bishop!” It finally became necessary for the government to intervene and maintain order.
IMPRISONED BECAUSE OF CHRISTIAN NEUTRALITY
Over the years hundreds of our young brothers were imprisoned because of the issue of Christian neutrality. Up until the present time our brothers are sentenced to two years in prison because they refuse to violate their Christian neutrality. For nearly 40 years any brothers in prison were not allowed to meet together or receive the visit of congregation elders. Not until August 5, 1976, did a more broadminded minister of justice give permission for accredited elders to visit them.
AN UNFORGETTABLE EVENT
The “Divine Victory” International Assembly, held in Brussels, August 8 to 12, 1973, was an unforgettable event. This convention was memorable not only because of the record attendance but also because this time our Spanish and Portuguese brothers were invited to join us in Brussels. They had not yet been granted the right to meet together freely in their own countries, so they came in large numbers. The peak attendance at the Spanish session was 19,687; at the French session it was 14,625; our Flemish brothers had 11,101 and our Portuguese brothers 8,152, making a grand total of 53,565.
Being conscious of the persecutions that the Spanish and Portuguese brothers had encountered over many years, the Belgian brothers made preparations to receive them hospitably, expressing the depth of their love toward them. The Spanish and Portuguese brothers and sisters, already known for their hospitality, were also determined to give proof of their deep love and overwhelming gratitude in being able to meet together with their brothers in Belgium. Countless were the expressions of love and the exchange of presents during that joyous occasion!
FOREIGN PUBLISHERS RETURN HOME
Many organizations have their centers here in Belgium, such as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), EC (European Communities) and SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe). This brings many people of different nationalities into the country. Thus, many learn the truth here in Belgium and then return to their country of origin as Jehovah’s Witnesses. During the course of the years, this has been true of many Italians, Spaniards and Greeks who initially came here to work in the coal mines. Then after varied periods of stay in Belgium they returned home and contributed enormously to the preaching work in their native lands. Because of the difficult economic times, these homeward treks have increased in number.
PRESENT SPIRITUAL PROSPERITY
Today the message of the “good news of the kingdom” has been spread throughout Belgium. There are no longer any unassigned territories. The entire country is apportioned out among the 288 congregations. In April 1983 the peak number of publishers in Belgium reached 20,018.
What is the present situation in the country? How do the people in general react to the preaching work? The influence once exerted by the Catholic religion has greatly diminished. Even if many Catholics still claim to be religious, it is obvious that material comforts have induced many to develop a materialistic outlook. This, coupled with a total lack of interest in religious matters on the part of others, has created an enormous indifference among the people. It is thus hard to speak to them about God and his purposes. This attitude poses a challenge to the publishers, and it encourages them to try using striking introductions in an endeavor to arouse some interest in the Kingdom message.
The renting of halls for circuit assemblies was quite often very expensive, and many of them did not meet our needs. So the circuits arranged to acquire halls of their own. In 1980 two such halls were purchased, one at Bioul and the other at Bornem. Enthusiastically the brothers and sisters contributed both money and time so as to adapt these halls to the needs of the assemblies. Since these Assembly Halls are always kept clean, the brothers no longer have to undertake enormous cleanup operations before using a hall.
JEHOVAH’S LOVING-KINDNESS—A CROWN
In 1902 Brother Tilmant, as the very first Kingdom publisher in Belgium, may have asked himself: “How . . . will they hear without someone to preach?” (Rom. 10:14) Who would have thought that the first seeds of truth this faithful brother sowed away back then would produce, 80 years later, more than 19,000 courageous witnesses for Jehovah?
One can appreciate how thrilled Brothers Smets and Poelmans must have been when, in 1952, they saw that the five persons who had stayed faithful to Jehovah after the test of 1918 had grown to more than 3,500!
Those courageous Christians died, having in mind that Jesus said: “Rejoice and leap for joy, since your reward is great in the heavens.” (Matt. 5:12) Now that they are joint heirs with Christ in the heavens, one can imagine their joy at seeing the abundant blessings of Jehovah upon his people.
May Jehovah be praised for his loving-kindness! We thank him for having raised up so many faithful Witnesses in these modern times. In fact, while compiling this report, we had just one regret: The lack of space prevents us from mentioning hundreds of other brothers and sisters who, as Andronicus and Junias, although being less known, were like pillars and “men of note,” and have labored faithfully in the work of the Lord.—Rom. 16:7.
The magnificent examples of endurance on the part of these faithful brothers, as well as the direction given by Jehovah to his people here in Belgium through “the faithful and discreet slave,” constitute a powerful source of encouragement to all of us. This stimulates us to continue “the fine fight of the faith” until the day when Jehovah will say, through his King Jesus Christ: “Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.”—1 Tim. 6:12; Matt. 25:34.
When that glorious day dawns, no longer will the fields and pastures of Belgium be in danger of being transformed into battlefields, as has twice been the case since 1914. No; these fields, as well as the rest of Europe and, indeed, the whole earth, will be transformed into a worldwide Paradise, cleared of all war and oppression. Until then all lovers of righteousness in Belgium and elsewhere echo the words of the apostle John, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”—Rev. 22:20.
Later this series was referred to as Studies in the Scriptures.
[Map on page 39]
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Val St. Lambert
Haine St. Paul
[Picture on page 47]
Brother Ernest Heuse, Sr., and family—all in the full-time service
[Picture on page 48]
At an assembly in Liège in 1952 Brothers Poelmans and Smets rejoice that the 5 publishers had grown to more than 3,000
[Picture on page 55]
Brother Emile Schrantz, along with his wife, while in the circuit work (Brother Fevrier is on the right). Moving to the next congregation was done by bicycle
[Picture on page 58]
Werner Schutz, a valiant fighter for the Theocracy. Up to his death in 1972, he had been in the full-time service for 47 years
[Picture on page 81]
André Wozniak, a keyman in carrying on the Kingdom work underground during World War II, was sought—but never caught—by the Gestapo
[Picture on page 89]
Brother and Sister Hartstang arrived secretly from Holland. He served as branch overseer during those difficult times and eluded being captured by a determined Gestapo chief
[Pictures on page 90]
François Hankus, among the 14 brothers and sisters taken to different prisons and concentration camps in Germany
Sister Hankus endured faithfully and remained active during the detention of her husband and afterward, serving until her death in 1982
[Picture on page 92]
Brother and Sister Floryn after they returned from the concentration camps
[Picture on page 95]
Brother Glowacz, one of the Witnesses threatened with execution while in Buchenwald for refusing to work in the manufacture of arms
[Picture on page 118]
The Belgian branch building in the Brussels suburb of Kraainem
[Pictures on page 123]
View of the Bioul Assembly Hall, one of the two buildings purchased in 1980
Inside view of the Bornem Assembly Hall