THERE are few nations that must be constantly alert to keep the sea from overwhelming much of their land. But the Netherlands (meaning “Lowlands”) is such a place. To the west and the north beyond the natural dunes and man-made dikes lies the North Sea. Yet, on more than one occasion that sea covered large portions of what is now the most fertile land.
Another feature of this country is suggested by the name Holland. Because of the woods that once stretched behind the dunes in the west, that part of the country was known as Houtland (Timberland), which was changed to Holland. Although the Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, there are still some fairly large woodlands in central and eastern parts. There are also many lakes that are scattered over the western and northern parts of the country. Yes, there is water in abundance, and because of it Holland has always been associated with dikes, windmills, and wooden shoes.
For centuries the Netherlands has been prominently associated with shipping. During the 17th century, the Dutch became the major commercial and naval power on the seas. They had colonies around the globe. It was by way of the sea that the Dutch brought wealth from their colonies and then transported it by riverboat deep into Europe. As a result of war in the 18th century, the Dutch lost control of the seas to the British. However, toward the end of the following century, a new opportunity was opened up to the Dutch people.
A TIME OF SPIRITUAL AWAKENING
In 1891 Charles Taze Russell toured Europe to see what could be done “to forward the spread of the Truth” there. He visited Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and The Hague. What was in the offing for the Dutch was not some new commercial venture. It was an opportunity to learn the purposes of the Creator of heaven and earth along with the privilege of being his witnesses. But where would workers be found to give attention to this part of the field?
At the turn of the century a young Lutheran, Heinrich Brinkhoff, moved to the city of Haarlem, in the Netherlands, to do missionary work. He was zealous but lacked accurate knowledge. Before long he joined the Seventh-Day Baptists; yet, he was still searching. He also began to read Bible literature published by the Watch Tower Society and the International Bible Students Association. His interest in it grew to the point that the Baptists no longer wanted him. He was eager to share with others what he was learning. So, he translated and then personally distributed the first volume of Studies in the Scriptures as well as the small book Food for Thinking Christians and some tracts, all published by the Watch Tower Society. In time, those seeds of truth began to grow.
Soon he was joined by elderly Sister Kropff in Rotterdam and by Frits Peters, a young man in Amsterdam. Then Ruurd Hallema began to distribute some of this literature when visiting his parents in the province of Friesland. In that way J. Andringa obtained one of the books. What he read was music to his ears. He was already at odds with his church, and now when his minister, during Sunday services, prayed for the victory of the Allied armies in the world war then in progress, Andringa broke with the church and undertook a lifetime of service of the true God.
During the war years a small group of Bible Students developed in Rotterdam and another group in Amsterdam. In 1918 they even took the initiative to publish three issues of The Watch Tower in Dutch, but the interest shown at that time was evidently very limited.
BETTER ORGANIZATION STIMULATES GROWTH
In 1920, J. F. Rutherford, the then president of the Watch Tower Society, visited Europe and established the Central European Office of the Society in Switzerland. The Netherlands came under its supervision. Adriaan Block, who had a thriving dental practice in Mulhouse, France, was requested by Brother Rutherford to return to Holland to take oversight of the congregations there. This he did in 1921. Arrangements were made the next year for a branch office right in Amsterdam. There had been some disturbance among the brothers in the Netherlands, but, with improved organizational arrangements, progress became evident. Their energy was directed into the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom, and that message spread throughout the land as never before.
The Kingdom work here was given further impetus when Brother Rutherford personally visited Amsterdam in 1923. In the large hall at the Diamond Exchange he delivered the thrilling talk “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” With the cooperation of Dutch radio pioneer Willem Vogt, this discourse was broadcast live from the Diamond Exchange so it could be heard by people throughout the country. This was the first time that such a thing had been done in the Netherlands.
In the audience on that occasion was 19-year-old Arnold Werner. He had been making an earnest effort to get to know more about God by attending catechism in the Reformed Church. But he was not receiving satisfying answers to his questions. At the same time, his older brother, Tom, was getting answers right from the Bible as a result of his contact with the International Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. For Arnold, that talk at the Diamond Exchange was a major turning point in his life.
FULL-TIME WORKERS IN THE FIELD
The following year Tom Werner and Otto Lehmann began to devote their full time to the distribution of Bible literature. Brother Block, too, made many trips from the branch office to give talks that were very stimulating to the study groups. That year, at a one-day national assembly in April, Arnold Werner was among those presenting themselves for water baptism.
As a young man interested in sports, Arnold had invested in a fine sailboat. But shortly after his immersion he sold the boat and used much of the proceeds to finance trips to towns along the railroad network to distribute a resolution entitled “A Challenge to World Rulers.” This resolution called upon all people to recognize and accept God’s Kingdom, and it exposed the unfaithfulness of Christendom in endorsing a substitute, the League of Nations. Arnold personally distributed tens of thousands of copies of this resolution.
In time Arnold teamed up with his brother Tom, and as they moved about the country they lived in a mobile house that had been built on a Model T Ford truck. Together they distributed the biting exposé of Christendom that was set out in the resolution “Indictment.” Fearlessly they went into areas where the Roman Catholic Church had until then ruled supreme. In the town of Helmond, a group of hysterically shrieking women gathered in the middle of the street and cried out: “Our Holy Church is being accused!” But the brothers calmly went on with their work.
Shortly they were approached by a priest who said: “What that pamphlet contains is not the truth. You should immediately stop the distribution.” But the two brothers responded: “Sir, we are convinced that what this resolution contains is based on what the Bible teaches on this matter. We deem it our duty to make these truths known to the people. We will, however, instantly stop the distribution if you show us on the basis of the Bible that what this resolution contains is not true.” “Good,” he replied, quite relieved. “Come to me at the presbytery at about two o’clock this afternoon.” It was then about 11 o’clock in the morning. “OK,” said the brothers and they continued with their work.
But when the clergyman saw they were continuing the distribution he excitedly demanded: “Yes, but you are to stop this distribution immediately.” To this the brothers replied: “Sir, at this moment we are still convinced that what this resolution contains is the truth, and until the time the contrary is proved, we are going to do our duty.” To that the priest said: “Oh, then come along with me at once!” Of course, he could not refute anything in the resolution, so the brothers kept on in their work until the entire town had been covered.
TESTS OF LOYALTY RESULT IN A SIFTING
In a progressive manner Jehovah has enabled his servants to understand his purposes. As stated at Proverbs 4:18: “The path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.” Jehovah’s purpose does not change, but the understanding of his servants as to when and how it will come about may need adjustment as the light shines more brightly. Such changes can result in severe tests of loyalty. That was true in 1925. At that time some broke away from the congregation. They initially associated with one another as a loosely knit group and then went their separate ways. Others went so far as to say: “If what we expect does not come in 1925, then I will throw my Bible into the fire.” They obviously had lost sight of the real issues, were growing weary in God’s service, and were more concerned about getting their own reward right away than with helping others to benefit from God’s loving provisions.
The crucial question facing each of the brothers in the Netherlands, as it did Jehovah’s servants earth wide, was: Who will honor Jehovah? Responding to that question in a personal and positive way proved to be a vital factor in demonstrating loyalty to Jehovah and to his visible organization.
In 1927, Arnold Werner was appointed to be the branch servant, replacing Adriaan Block. Such a change can be a test for a person. For a number of years, however, Brother Block evidently gave loyal cooperation to the man who replaced him. But in time Brother Block’s loyalty waned. As a result, the congregation where he presided collapsed, and many who had been associated with it actually became opposers of Jehovah’s people during the second world war.
WILLING WORKERS RESPOND TO THE CALL
Early in 1927, a call went out for more full-time proclaimers of the good news—colporteurs, as they were called then. Soon there were eight in the Netherlands. And how the distribution of Bible literature increased! It doubled that year, and doubled again in 1928. Many seeds of Kingdom truth were being planted.
Some of those zealous workers came from France. At a convention there, the Polish-speaking brothers were told of the need for volunteers to carry the good news to Polish-speaking mine workers in the southern part of the Netherlands. André Kowalski and his companion packed their belongings and moved to the province of Limburg late in 1927. Not only did they find many interested ones, but André was rewarded with a fine wife, a zealous pioneer sister who had come to help them in their assignment.
This territory had long been in complete servitude to the Roman Catholic Church. So, as interest in the good news increased, opposition did too. Almost daily the brothers were ordered to stop their work, and they were often hauled off to police stations and detained for hours. One Sunday morning when they were making calls in a village, the populace informed the clergy. The police, led by the burgomaster, surrounded the brothers, arrested them, and led them off to the Town Hall. Of course, the brothers had not violated the law, so they were soon released. Meanwhile, a large crowd of curious townsfolk had gathered to see what the outcome would be. As the brothers emerged from the building they called out to the crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are still here.” Then they offered them Bible literature and quickly placed everything they had.
TAKING A STAND FOR THE TRUTH
Return visits and home Bible studies were rare in those days. So anyone who embraced true worship had to show personal initiative and be a real searcher for truth. Ulrich Kress, a mine worker, was such a man. In the spring of 1930, after a brief conversation in a doctor’s waiting room, August Lach invited Ulrich to visit him in his home. Ulrich did, and after reading a copy of the magazine The Golden Age (now known as Awake!), he was back the following night, this time with plenty of questions. He was amazed at the answers he received from the Bible. Before Ulrich left he asked: “What do you do on Sunday?” August answered: “I have no time on Sunday. In the morning I go from house to house to distribute The Golden Age and in the afternoon I attend a Bible meeting.” Ulrich wanted to go with him.
The instructions he was given on Sunday morning went something like this: ‘Here you have a few magazines and booklets, and the price is so much. You work the left side of the street, and I’ll take the right side. If you reach the end before I do, then work back on my side. If the door has no bell, just knock.’ That was it.
After working for a couple of hours the group met on a street corner and exchanged experiences. They seemed to be having a great time. One related that he had been whacked with a broomstick. Ulrich could not figure out how such experiences could make them happy. But their joy infused him with courage.—Matt. 5:10-12.
Assemblies in those days were small when compared to those we have today. Seventy attended in The Hague in 1929. During Brother Rutherford’s visit in 1933, there were only 165 present. But each assembly was keenly anticipated by the brothers.
HOUSING FOR THE PIONEERS
In the early 1930’s, the Central European Office urged young men and women throughout Europe to put their faith to the test by moving into lands where the need was greater. The Netherlands was a hard nut to crack, religiously speaking. But the Dutch had a reputation for hospitality to refugees and to strangers, so pioneers from nearby countries took up service in the Netherlands. Many were from Germany. A number from Holland joined them in full-time service. Some left behind comfortable homes and jobs that paid well. A few were quite new in Jehovah’s service. Max Henning, from Germany, was not yet baptized when he responded to that call for workers. But they were all willing to work hard as pioneers.
To assist these full-time workers, the branch office rented locations that could be used as pioneer homes. Six pioneers shared a home in Tilburg; nine, in Amsterdam. Later, pioneer homes were established in Eindhoven, Heemstede, and Leersum. It was understood that each pioneer would deposit in the common fund his full proceeds from literature placements. They all shared the duties that go with keeping up a home. A brother who knew how to repair shoes did this, another one cut hair, and so forth. If there was any money left over at the end of the month after all the home expenses had been covered, it was divided among the pioneers. Usually, it was no more than a few cents.
Toward the end of 1931, a boat that had been rented by the Society was put to use to further the preaching work. It bore the name Almina and was tied up along the canal in the city of Zwolle. This movable home could nicely provide housing for the pioneers as they worked the cities and towns along the waterways. But there was a problem: The pioneers assigned to the boat knew as much about operating boats as about flying to the moon. So, when Ferdinand Holtorf made it known that he used to be a sailor, he was promptly assigned to the Almina and was hustled off to Zwolle.
The Almina was a good boat, but it had its drawbacks. It had no motor, and there was no sail. How could they get the thing to move? ‘Well, is there a strong brother on board?’ Then the problem was solved. He would be the “horse,” and with a rope he would pull it as he walked along the bank of the canal. So they set off! Good work was done by the group working from that boat as they witnessed inland to the northeast. Emmen was one of the towns in which they preached. No one at that time had any idea that some 50 years later this town would house a modern branch office and printery of the Watch Tower Society!
RAPID PROGRESS BRINGS LEGAL ACTION
As the intensity of the preaching work increased, so did clergy opposition in some areas. This was the case in the environs of Tilburg. When a locality was worked two days in a row, the publishers would be driven out by mobs hurling rocks and wielding pitchforks. In order to meet expenses so they could stay in that area and give a thorough witness, it was frequently necessary for the pioneers to move to more friendly territory in another part of the country, where they could place much literature for a month or so before continuing their work around Tilburg.
So intense was the pressure brought to bear upon those in the pioneer home at Tilburg that their lights, water, and gas were cut off. There were even attempts to burn the house down. And the threat was made that if the work of the Witnesses continued in that part of the country, all who had come from foreign countries to preach would be deported. In fact, one evening Brother Sonnenschein, Sr., did not come home as usual. When an appeal was made to the police in Tilburg, they replied that the Witnesses were causing unrest among the populace and that likely the one who was missing had been kicked out of the country. And so it proved to be. Local authorities had decided that our brother should be handed over to the Nazi authorities in Germany. As a result he was sent to a concentration camp. The same action was taken against Brothers Lange, Gädeke, and Backes. Finally, the home in Tilburg was abandoned, and the pioneers were moved to other assignments.
There was a sharp reaction from jurists in the country and from the press. Het Volk of April 10, 1934, quoted the opinion of a number of jurists on this matter. Said one lawyer: “The situation of complete lack of rights on the part of the foreigner . . . brings the honored tradition of the Netherlands’ right of asylum into disrepute in other lands.” In Parliament, the Minister of Justice was urged to use his influence to have local police authorities divested of the authority of expulsion.
During this time the Shop Closing Law was also applied to Jehovah’s Witnesses, so they were forbidden to offer Bible literature for a contribution in public places on Sundays. An appeal to the Ministry of Economic Affairs brought no relief. In spite of such blows, the Kingdom message continued to spread.
‘SEND OUT YOUR BREAD UPON THE WATERS’
In the summer of 1934, pioneers left four booklets with a woman near Rotterdam. Later that day her son Jan found them on the table when he came in from a game of soccer. Though his parents were devoutly religious, Jan was losing interest in religion. He had even begun to dabble in communism. But when he read those booklets, he knew that they contained the truth. The pioneers did not return. In those days a principle applied to the preaching work was: “Send out your bread upon the surface of the waters, for in the course of many days you will find it again.” (Eccl. 11:1) They generously spread the Kingdom message, even though results were not immediately evident. But Jan did not wait for “many days” to act on what he was learning. He spoke to all who would listen. His girl friend joined him in preaching, and together they are still serving Jehovah.
Up north in Groningen, Ferdinand Holtorf was notified by the branch office that he ought to get in touch with a certain man in the rurals who had been ordering large quantities of booklets to place. After a thorough search Tjeerd de Bruijn was located. As it turned out, he had obtained three booklets from Ferdinand’s own wife a year earlier but had then moved. He felt impelled to share with others the wonderful truths he had learned. Tjeerd was doing hard work on a dike, in addition to which he had to ride for two hours on his bicycle to get to work and another two hours to return in the evening. He also had work to do in the garden after he came home. But appreciation for the truth moved him to join Ferdinand in the preaching work after that, sometimes till midnight.
Particularly in rural areas where the Calvinistic Reformed Church had a strong grip, the pioneers had to give special attention to their dress in order to be able to witness effectively. These people deemed it a great virtue to be clothed in black, and they thought that it should cover as much of the body as possible. The pioneer sisters from Germany were accustomed to dressing in a style that was not appreciated by such folks. Often they would be rebuffed with remarks such as: ‘You with the light-colored clothing and stockings, and with your short hair, are you going to tell us anything about God?’ But the pioneers noticed that Jopie de Jong, a local pioneer who used to belong to the Calvinistic Reformed Church and who understood them, had much success. Ah, yes, but he wore a fine pair of striped trousers and a distinguished bowler hat when in the field ministry! So, they began to dress in a manner that would be more acceptable to the public.
HARDSHIPS DO NOT IMPEDE THE WORK
The pioneers did not shy away from a life of hardship. During special witnessing periods it was not uncommon for them to devote as many as 100 hours a week to the field ministry. In late spring and into the early fall, they would start witnessing in the rurals at 7:00 a.m. and eat breakfast on the go. Instead of stopping for lunch, they had a bite to eat as they traveled between houses. Finally, at 9:00 p.m. they would head for home, after 14 hours of preaching. It was not unusual for them to distribute 400, even up to 800, booklets during such a week.
But the economic situation in the country worsened in the mid-1930’s. There was much unemployment, and it was more difficult for people to contribute for the literature.
Events in Germany were also having an effect—indirectly at first. When Arthur Winkler and his wife, Käthe, came across the border from Germany to pioneer in the Netherlands, they brought news of the horrors of the concentration camps. This made the Dutch brothers think seriously about the possibility that they too might someday undergo such trials.
The Dutch authorities were being very careful not to offend Adolf Hitler. In October 1934, when the Witnesses in 50 countries sent telegrams protesting Hitler’s inhuman treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, many post office officials in the Netherlands refused to accept such telegrams. Nevertheless, people continued to embrace the truth, and some became true spiritual pillars.
BOLDLY WITNESSING WITH PHONOGRAPHS
Soon another instrument was introduced for use in the preaching work—the phonograph. All the publishers were eager to use it. Kasper Keim, a German pioneer working in Enschede in 1938, was happy to have an “Aaron” to speak for him because he was “slow of mouth and slow of tongue” when trying to speak Dutch. (Compare Exodus 4:10, 14-16.) He asked Sister Albrecht for advice on how to introduce his “Aaron,” and she suggested: ‘When you come to a door, ask the one who comes out, “Madam or Sir, do you have five minutes?” If they say yes, then play the records.’ The next morning Kasper confidently rang his first bell. When a lady appeared, he said resolutely: “Madam, you have five minutes!” Door after door, flabbergasted householders just stood there and listened.
Despite the difficult economic situation, the publishers wanted to have phonographs to use. In the northern part of the country, Tjeerd de Bruijn promptly sold his goat in order to buy a phonograph. Then he would wait at church exits and treat the parishioners to another sermon as they came out.
In Soest, Sister J. de Bree would take her phonograph to some busy intersection, set it down, and play the records, often to as many as 30 people. When the pioneers working out of Deventer witnessed in the ports along the IJssel River, they would eat lunch where groups would gather. As they ate they played the records so that others could hear. Sometimes as many as 25 would listen and then ask questions. A specially constructed house-car with a retractable loudspeaker was also put to use. Thus the preaching activity moved ahead with growing intensity.
INCREASED PRESSURE ON GERMAN PIONEERS
As persecution of the Witnesses increased in Germany, more crossed the border into the Netherlands. The Dutch brothers helped to provide housing but were careful not to divulge information about them to strangers.
However, some officials were pro-Nazi. So, in October of 1937, shortly after Karl Kemena crossed the border, he was arrested in Ootmarsum at the instance of the burgomaster. For three months Karl was confined in the Almelo jail, until more friendly officials intervened. But he used the time well to study the Dutch language and so was equipped to share in the preaching work when he was released. The following year he was arrested in another location but, after some months in jail, was again released.
The country feared war. On March 15, 1938, Prime Minister Dr. H. Colijn spoke about it over the radio, saying: “I will conclude with the entreaty that the Almighty God protect our part of the world and thus also our fatherland from a new Armageddon.” Just then the brothers were distributing the booklet Armageddon, which explained what the Bible says on that subject. In some areas the pioneers could not keep up with the demand.
But the German Gestapo sought to lay hands on German Witnesses who were in the Netherlands. They infiltrated an agent named Hilgers into the ranks of the brothers. However, his disposition soon betrayed him as not being a Witness, and he was not able to do much harm.
Yet, more trouble was brewing. On July 23, the burgomaster of Leersum notified the Society’s branch office: “Pursuant to the letter I received today from the Attorney-General, serving as the Chief of Police in Amsterdam, it is my duty to inform you, that you and all your co-members of the Watch Tower Society must desist from any colportage in the future, otherwise foreigners will be deported.” It turned out that this was meant to apply to all who were “not of Netherlandish nationality,” and not only in Leersum but throughout the country. The result was only temporary uncertainty among the German pioneers, however. Deprived of the privilege of preaching from house to house, they concentrated on return visits, and thus the curse was turned into a blessing.
MEETINGS THEN WERE VERY DIFFERENT
The congregation meetings have always been strengthening to Jehovah’s people. But at times there were practices that indicated the need for better organization and further spiritual growth. For example, sometimes during the Watchtower Study coffee would be served. And the atmosphere was not always free from tobacco smoke.
Regarding the first Memorial that he attended, Cornelis Dortland recalls that a table was spread with 50 plates, each with its own piece of bread, and 50 full wine glasses. He says: “Patiently and in faith I have, from the time of that first Memorial, seen how Jehovah has taught his people. I have seen many who have permitted themselves to be purified and disciplined by him; and those who esteemed themselves too important vanished.”
Of interest too is the balanced comment of Ferdinand Holtorf, who now has 54 years of theocratic service behind him: “Whenever we older ones are together and talk about our experiences of times past, we are very much moved by the wonderful way that Jehovah has led his people, in preparation for greater blessings to come. We are proud that in spite of our errors and shortcomings, Jehovah has used us anyway to serve his purpose and has permitted us to have wonderful experiences. These we can pass on to others in order to encourage one and all to meet the much greater fiery trials to come.”
THEOCRATIC ORDER STRENGTHENS THE ORGANIZATION
When the 1939 service year began, the brothers in the Netherlands, as in many other lands, were studying the Watchtower articles on theocratic organization. This study helped them to appreciate more clearly their relationship to Jehovah God and Jesus Christ. It made clear how the theocratic arrangement should affect the operation of the congregations. It acknowledged that in some congregations there had been strife and contention but then pointed out that fulfillment of Isaiah 60:17 “must mean that the time comes when there is peace in the organization of the Lord all over the earth.” Those who were inclined otherwise, the ones more interested in their own name than in honoring the name of God, soon made themselves manifest.
In Eindhoven, the congregation was disbanded. In South Limburg, the group of 17 publishers was reduced to 10. But the ones remaining were loyal. Diny Langenberg, who was associated with the Deventer Congregation, recalls that locally they had voted for Willy Martens to be their congregation servant. But they were notified by the Society that Albert van Duren was being appointed. Wisely, Brother Martens counseled: “What the Society does is good; we will obey and give Brother van Duren our full support.” Doing so worked out to the blessing of the group.
The restoration of theocratic order united the brothers. Until 1939, the pioneers had been doing the lion’s share of the preaching work. But now, as the number of congregation publishers increased, the publishers were doing about half of the work. By learning to cooperate with theocratic arrangements, the brothers were being fortified for the turbulent years just ahead.
CLOUDS OF WAR GATHER
When Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, some people were inclined to think that this was his big aim in life and that now he would be satisfied. But he did not stop there. On March 15, 1939, Hitler’s troops marched into Prague, Czechoslovakia. Realizing that the Gestapo would soon be at their door, the brothers in Prague immediately began to dismantle their printing equipment. When the Gestapo arrived on March 30, that equipment was all out of the country. Eventually three presses found their way to the Netherlands.
Communication with the printery in Switzerland was becoming more difficult, so the arrival of printing equipment was most timely. Arrangements were promptly made to set up our own printery in a rented location in the city of Haarlem. The brothers were eager to give the Kingdom message as wide a distribution as possible.
At this time, information marching was introduced. Publishers wore signs on the front and back and carried others overhead. On them appeared pointed questions, such as: “Fascism or Freedom—Which Do You Choose?” To passersby the booklet Fascism or Freedom was offered. Other publishers put illuminated signs in the windows of their homes, with such slogans as: “God’s Kingdom Rules—Is the End of the World at Hand?” and “Which Do You Choose—Theocracy or Dictatorship?”
The war scare was making everyone jittery. The authorities were concerned lest they offend Hitler. But when his armies marched into Poland and when France and England were drawn into the war, more people began to listen to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The message contained in the book Enemies and the booklet Fascism or Freedom, which were then being distributed, was trenchant. As a result, literature was confiscated, and its distributors were imprisoned. Often the charge was that they had ‘insulted a “friendly statesman,”’ meaning Hitler, who had instilled great fear into the hearts of many in responsible positions.
CATHOLIC ACTION BOOMERANGS
Catholic Action took advantage of this period of public jitters to try to deal a staggering blow to Jehovah’s Witnesses. Distribution of the booklets Face the Facts and Cure, with their powerful exposés of the Catholic hierarchy, stirred up the ire of the clergy. Arnold Werner, the branch servant, was summoned to appear in court in Haarlem to answer the charge of insulting a group of the Dutch populace. The summons contained an impressive list of quotations from these booklets that were alleged to be criminal in nature. Special prominence was given to excerpts that charged the Roman Catholic hierarchy with fraudulently extracting money from the people by claiming to free the dead from a place where they are not—from purgatory, the existence of which, it was said, the Church could not prove.
For the trial on October 5, 1939, Catholic Action sent in its heavyweight, “Father” Henri de Greeve. He was to appear in court as star witness for the hierarchy. On the stand he declared that he was present as representative of the Dutch Catholic priesthood and that all priests and other clergy were much insulted by the contents of the booklet Cure. He wailed: “My biggest grievance is that an outsider could get the impression that we priests are just a bunch of villains and swindlers.” The State Attorney demanded a fine of 300 guilders or three weeks in jail for Werner.
Arnold Werner then took the stand. Using the Catholic Petrus Canisius translation, he proved that what the booklet said about Catholic teachings was in accord with the Catholics’ own Bible. When he further stated that Jehovah’s Witnesses were friends of sincere Catholics, de Greeve hissed with rage. The Society’s attorney then asked de Greeve if he was a member of the hierarchy. He replied that he was not. When asked if he could prove the doctrines of hellfire and purgatory, he answered: “I cannot prove it; I only believe it.” Since the booklet had said that they fraudulently obtain money for things they cannot prove, the charge against our brother was dropped. De Greeve rushed out of the courthouse in a rage, a beaten man. For the brothers, it was a day of victory and rejoicing.
RELEASED FROM BONDAGE
Amid the increasing pressure, the preaching of the Kingdom message continued, and people were being set free from spiritual bondage. Henk Toonstra was in the medical corps when he received some of the Society’s booklets from his brother-in-law. Upon realizing what the Bible teaches, he found it difficult to continue to pursue the life of a soldier. He sent some of the literature to his older brother Oeds, saying: “I know that you have a clear mind and a good knowledge of the Bible. Now don’t begin by compassionately laughing, but read these booklets attentively and especially critically.” This Oeds did. Then he let his wife read them. They both fervently thanked God for this newly found truth.
Meanwhile, in The Hague there was a young man who was in constant contact with the spirit world. He could read letters in closed envelopes, and much more. What he was to do and what he was to say were always whispered into his ear. When he learned that these were the voices of demons, troubles seemed to intensify for him. He had to make a decision. For the first time in his life he prayed aloud to Jehovah, asking forgiveness for having served the demons and promising now to do the will of Jehovah. Brother van de Eijkhoff recalls: “I had made my decision, and from that moment the whispering voices vanished. Everything was now quiet and peaceful and I was myself again.” But tension on the international scene was at the breaking point.
In January of 1940, The Watchtower in Dutch carried study material on Christian neutrality. How timely it was!
Although war appeared to be imminent, the people seemed to be getting used to living with that danger. May 9 seemed to be just another spring day, and people went about their activities as usual. But at 8:45 p.m. the General Headquarters sent out a telex alert to all military units. By 3:55 a.m. on May 10, there was all-out war along the eastern frontier. But the ability of the Dutch army to resist the German forces was limited, and in four days the last pocket of resistance was broken. An era of oppressive occupation began; and for our brothers, a time of intense persecution.
BETHEL AND A PIONEER HOME RAIDED
Early on May 10, as the war got under way, the army ordered the arrest of all German nationals in the Netherlands. That evening Dutch soldiers entered the Bethel Home in Heemstede with fixed bayonets. They were embarrassed by the calmness and friendliness of the brothers and sisters, who invited the soldiers to join them for a cup of coffee. Nevertheless, the German brothers present were taken into custody. Earlier in the year Arnold Werner had been relieved of his duties as branch servant due to domestic circumstances, and Arthur Winkler had been appointed. Now both Brother Winkler and Fritz Hartstang were taken away, though only for a relatively short time.
The next morning precautionary measures were taken by those left behind in the office. Names and addresses, along with other information that the enemy might use to hinder the Kingdom work, were tucked away in a carefully selected hiding place. As much literature as possible was shipped out to the congregations that could still be reached. A new bookkeeping system, using numbers instead of names, was put into operation.
That same morning a detachment of soldiers swooped down on the pioneer home in Leersum. Although there were only Dutch pioneers and no longer German nationals in the home, they were all loaded into an army truck and taken away for questioning. After the burgomaster obligingly identified the pioneers that evening, they were returned to the pioneer home, much to the chagrin of neighbors who had been gleeful about their departure.
SPIRITUAL FOOD PROTECTED
Just before the war broke out, a shipment of 100,000 booklets, along with an issue of Consolation magazine (successor to The Golden Age), arrived at the freight station in Rotterdam. When the city was bombed on May 14, the freight station was gutted. But when the flames subsided, the entire consignment lay undamaged amid the rubble. Later, the carrier loaded it all onto a truck and headed for the Society’s branch office. On arrival he was visibly pale and shaken as he asked: “Whatever is it that these cartons contain? The freight station in Rotterdam burned, but these were all saved in spite of it! On top of that, I have just now come from Rotterdam without being stopped a single time by the military patrols. Yet, in front of me and behind me throughout the journey all cars, vehicles, and pedestrians were stopped. But I passed right through.” The brother’s conclusion was simple: “It is a message the people must receive.” The driver gladly accepted personal copies. Then, as quickly as possible, the rest of the shipment was dispersed to the congregations.
Another shipment caught in the maelstrom of the war was deposited in a storage bin in Papendrecht, situated on waterlocked Alblasserwaard. Every route out of there involved crossing some bridge or using a ferry, all of which were checked by the SS. Paul Jansen and a couple of other brothers set out to get the cartons. They loaded the literature onto a hired cart. As they tied down the tarpaulin, Paul’s heart pounded wildly. Fear? Sure they were afraid. But they also had faith—just a little more than the fear they felt. As they approached the ferry, the group became less and less talkative. Then the cart was pushed onto the ferry. They all realized that the only way to get through was to depend fully on Jehovah. Each one prayed silently but fervently to Jehovah. The literature was soon safely in the hands of the congregations. This was a new lesson for the brothers—one involving faith, trust in Jehovah—a lesson in the power of prayer, a lesson in Christian courage. Such evidences of Jehovah’s care, along with the fact that the spiritual food contained in The Watchtower continued to reach the brothers on time, were faith strengthening indeed.
MEETINGS AND PREACHING CONTINUE IN WARTIME
The war disrupted all sorts of activities of daily life. At first there was some confusion among the Witnesses. But the congregation meetings were one of the first things reorganized. The brothers needed spiritual food on a regular basis. Meeting in large groups was now unwise, so the congregations were broken up into groups of no more than ten persons meeting in private homes. And meeting places were shifted from one place to another to keep the enemy off the track. Now, with just a little encouragement, the preaching work moved ahead again.
The brothers worked courageously. The pioneer homes, both on land and on the Society’s boats, continued to function. During the summer of 1940 people all over the country were reached with the Kingdom message, and much literature was placed. At this time when entire populations were being driven from their homes by the effect of war, how timely it was to be distributing the heart-cheering message contained in the booklet Refugees!
After the initial precautionary measures, the branch office continued to function. The brothers who had been interned at the start of the war were soon released. The occupation forces were still too busy with other problems to interfere. But that did not last for long.
THE NOOSE TIGHTENS
On May 29, 1940, Reichs Commissioner Seyss-Inquart proclaimed that the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses was banned. However, only a brief notice of this appeared in the press. For a time, nothing was done to enforce that proclamation. Nevertheless, it seemed certain that the Society’s offices would soon be raided.
The brothers urged Arthur Winkler to go underground so he would not fall into the hands of the Gestapo any earlier than necessary. Discreetly he changed his lodging from one place to another during the months to come—frequently not far ahead of Nazi agents.
Before the end of June, three Gestapo agents visited the branch. When Helen Hartstang came down the stairs at 9:00 a.m. she saw them talking to Arnold Werner, who was then doing translation work. “Good morning, gentlemen,” she said, and, trying to act as normal as possible, she walked through the kitchen to the garage. Then she grabbed her bicycle and raced several miles (over 4 km) to the printery to warn the German brothers who were working there.
Meanwhile, the Gestapo searched the office. They also asked where R. A. Winkler was. But it was plain that everything they wanted was gone. In the hearing of Brother Werner, they mumbled, “We have come too late!” After a while they drove to the printery. But the German brothers had already cleared out. Although the October issue of Consolation was being printed, the Gestapo left without closing the plant. However, in three days they were back at the Society’s office.
This time they stayed for three days, answering the phone and opening the door for all visitors. Whenever the brothers who were in hiding would phone the office, it was evident to them that the coast was not clear. The smell of tobacco smoke alerted visitors to danger, and they quickly excused themselves after asking for someone that they knew did not live there. Finally, on July 6 both the office and the printery were sealed. The printing equipment that had come from Czechoslovakia had been in use for less than a year, but it had been used well to build up a good stock of literature.
TIMELY DIRECTION FOR BROTHERS IN THE FIELD
To fortify the brothers for what might come, the June 1940 issue of The Watchtower in Dutch had reported on the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, the torture used, and the death sentences handed down. On June 15, before the branch office was sealed, a circular letter to all publishers had discussed the caution that Jesus used under various circumstances. It recommended refraining from further house-to-house distribution of the book Enemies and the booklet Warning, while continuing to use other publications freely.
Ten days later another letter had been sent out, this one to all circuit and congregation servants. It had announced a precautionary measure in handling future issues of the Informant (now Our Kingdom Ministry) to minimize the danger that any of these might fall into the hands of the enemy. Henceforth all copies would be collected at the end of each meeting where they were used. When everything in the issue had been studied, the congregation servant would put one into his file and destroy the rest.
To care for the spiritual needs of the brothers, commercial printers were now engaged. The brothers did not go without. Henk Toonstra reminisces: “We still think back on those days with deep feeling. How we would rejoice as The Watchtower would always appear on time, even if it was in a new cloak! How intensely we relished the explanations of prophecy and its application to our time!”
UNDERGROUND ARRANGEMENTS GO INTO EFFECT
During the summer of 1940, further steps were taken to fortify the organization. In August a letter to the congregations made clear that no more correspondence was to be sent to the office by regular mail. Congregation servants would see to it that mail reached the responsible brothers.
From now on, publishers would know the identity of only the study servant who served their little group. Addresses of other servants in the congregation were unknown to them. And these other brothers they knew only by their nicknames. All sorts of cover names were invented—“Tall Bep,” “Black Koos,” “Blond Gerrit,” “Remie,” and “Old Truus.”
Bible studies continued to be started with interested persons. But, in order to provide a safeguard against infiltration by spies, no one was to bring a newly interested person to a congregation study without approval of the congregation servant. During the following months, the wisdom of this arrangement was proved repeatedly. It was imperative that publishers attend only their own study and not even try to find out where any other group was meeting. None were to divulge the address of their study, even to the most trusted friend. Any who broke this rule could lose the privilege of attending meetings.
As publishers shared in the field ministry, careful note was made of all persons who showed hostility toward the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Those names and addresses were kept with territory cards, and special precautions were taken when calling on such persons in the future, if they were visited at all.
Instead of there being a slowdown in the work, Jehovah’s spirit upon his servants resulted in outstanding increase. The report for the service year ending in August 1940 showed 501 publishers, an increase of 58 percent! Literature placements were up nearly 100 percent, and hours devoted to the field ministry rose 77 percent. The course of action being pursued by the Witnesses was truly bringing honor to Jehovah’s name.
By September 1940 it was found necessary to institute courier service to move literature and correspondence throughout the country. Wilhelmina Bakker, immersed only three months previously, was one of the first to share in this work. (She is still a pioneer, now married to Max Henning.) Her first assignment was to take a suitcase of literature to the crew of the Lichtdrager (a houseboat on which pioneers lived) in the city of Sneek. But upon arrival in the city, she found that the crew had been forced to flee, and the boat was no longer there. It was too late to return to Amsterdam that night, and there were no Witnesses in the city, so she had to stay in a hotel. “I can still see the astonished face of the doorman as he obligingly brought the suitcase to my room, since it was heavy as lead,” Wilhelmina recently said.
A WAVE OF ARRESTS AND INTERROGATIONS
In September a wave of arrests began. On September 12, 1940, Arnold Werner was taken into custody by two SS officers and transported directly to the Scheveningen prison. He was given a pencil and paper and told to ‘write down everything about the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the congregations in the Netherlands, their leaders, and especially the literature supplies.’ ‘Then you can go home,’ they added. Brother Werner revealed nothing that would hurt the work of Jehovah’s people, and he was not sent home.
A few days later Herman Tollenaar was arrested by the Gestapo when he went to collect the final payment on the Leersum pioneer home, which had been sold. Several of the pioneers from that home were also seized. In October a circuit overseer, Eliza de Vries, was arrested while serving a congregation in Friesland. In the province of Groningen, Evert Dost, who slept like a log, found two of the Gestapo at his bedside when he awoke one morning. They suggested that he get dressed and go with them. Soon all the prisoners in the north were loaded into a bus and taken to the Scheveningen prison, where a number of the other brothers were.
Now came the questioning—sometimes for hours on end, but with no physical mistreatment at this point. It seems that they were just trying to gather information so they could fold up the organization. However, other tactics were soon employed.
THE TREATMENT GETS ROUGHER
On October 18, the home of Steve Heiwegen in the town of Harskamp was searched by the Gestapo. Steve was a hard worker who looked well to the interests of the Kingdom and of his young family. That night they returned, arrested him, and transported him to Arnhem. He was treated more roughly than those in Scheveningen. The Gestapo threatened: “If you do not tell us where Winkler is, then we will have your wife and children brought here and have them torn apart before your own eyes, and you we will beat to death. Dirty Bible Student, where are the others? If you do not tell us, we will shoot you dead.” These threats were accompanied by blows. He was set upon a coffin and made to stay there for a day and a night with nothing to eat or drink. He was also forced to perform hundreds of knee bends.
When this did not produce the desired results, a man who seemed to be very kind was brought in. He almost seemed to weep with compassion as he said: “Tell everything. Those Germans are apt to do almost anything. What’s the use. We have had more of your kind here. They told us all they knew, and now they are all back with their families, their wives and children. Come with me. I know the Germans well; I will put in a good word for you.” Steve did not answer. “Hereupon he became so furious,” Steve recalls, “that he suddenly let go with a blow square to my face, kicked me several times, whipped a revolver out of his coat pocket, and began to curse like a madman in German. He gave me ten seconds, pressed the gun against my temple, and said that if I had said nothing by the time that he had counted to ten he would pull the trigger. He began counting very slowly—one, two, three, four, . . . five, . . . six, . . . s e v e n, . . . e i g h t, . . . n i n e . . . He paused (just enough for me to utter a prayer), gave me a hard blow, and then flung me into a dark, small room.” Steve was flustered by this experience, but for a time nothing else happened.
Meanwhile, the brothers who were still free found that they had to be more cautious. The enemy knew that the Witnesses were willing and eager to help anyone to learn the teachings of the Bible, even doing so at the risk of personal safety. Some opposers feigned interest in an effort to slip into the organization. Discernment was needed in order to identify those who really wanted to learn the truth. The arrangements that had already been instituted to prevent the infiltration of spies into the congregation study groups proved to be a real safeguard.
A MEASURE OF RELIEF COMES FOR SOME
During the month of December no new arrests occurred, and most of the Witnesses who had been arrested were released. The majority quickly got busy in the public ministry again. But for Arnold Werner it took a little longer before he returned to full association and activity with the congregation.
Back in Scheveningen Prison, Carl Hultman was left by himself when the others were freed. And Herman Tollenaar was hauled off to the concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, never to return alive.
THE NAZI MONSTER LASHES OUT
January 1941 was a bitter-cold month, and it seemed as if the Nazi monster had fallen into a deep winter sleep. But during a mild spell in February, the monster woke up and lashed out to seize prey. The brothers were keeping busy in the field service, but it was not usually there that they were arrested. The Nazis had obtained names and addresses, evidently as a result of betrayal.
On February 10, Wim Laros was at home in Delft with his four-year-old daughter while his wife was in the field service. She was not the one arrested; he was. When he was taken away by the police, he left his daughter with neighbors. On arrival at the prison in The Hague, Wim learned that at least ten others in the area had also been seized.
At about the same moment, 155 miles (250 km) to the northeast, in the little town of Dronrijp the Gestapo swooped down on the place there where literature was hidden, confiscating it all. Gosse Wulder just barely escaped their claws and headed east to the city of Groningen. En route he met Klaas de Vries, the congregation servant of Groningen, traveling by bicycle with a load of literature. Together they went to the home of Tjeerd de Bruijn, who, they learned, had just been arrested. Shortly after their arrival, the local policeman was at the back door, and now these two brothers also were arrested. Later that evening when the Gestapo were about to release them, the arresting officer, eager to please the Nazis, spoke up, saying: “This one witness of Jehovah is Klaas de Vries, from the boat Lichtdrager, the one you have been looking for for such a long time.” At that the Gestapo officer turned into a virtual demon.
Gestapo chief Könings was called, and the interrogation began. But with Jehovah’s help Klaas betrayed nothing. Finally he was led away to solitary confinement for 12 days with bread and water. When that ended, he was brought in for more questioning. With a revolver pointed at him and under threat of death, he was given two minutes to divulge the whereabouts of Arthur Winkler, of the printery, and of the Lichtdrager, as well as other vital information. The only thing Klaas would say was: “You will hear nothing more from me. I have signed all I have to say and if you want to know more you will have to try it with someone else, as I will not become a traitor.” Three times he was threatened with the revolver, but his “No!” remained “No!” Finally the Gestapo gave up, and Klaas was taken to the Leeuwarden prison, where he again met Gosse Wulder.
Even subscribers for the Society’s magazines were taken in for questioning. In many instances both husband and wife were interrogated.
The tactic of the enemy was to cut off all spiritual food, if possible. Thus, Witnesses being detained in prison were refused copies of the Bible. The only literature permitted was what prison authorities approved. So the brothers had to live on what they could remember from their previous personal and congregational studies. The value of good study habits was clearly evident under such trying circumstances. But what the brothers were then experiencing was only the beginning.
BAREFOOT INTO THE SNOW
An all-out battle against the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses was being waged by the Gestapo. They were in hot pursuit of brothers who were taking the lead. In the north, Eliza de Vries, a circuit overseer who had already been in prison once, was arrested again. In The Hague, the enemy was hard on the trail of Erwin Klose. One day in February they came very close.
He tells us: “Before I went to bed that night I laid out my clothing in such a way that I could dress in two minutes in case of emergency. I used to talk to the children each night, practicing for an emergency. Then the moment came. The Gestapo had planned a raid on all known brothers. At five in the morning a persistent, heavy hammering was heard at the door. The sister came to my bedroom to warn me. Now all the training paid off. I took one child, the nine-year-old, and put him in my ‘warm’ bed. I didn’t have time to dress. I grabbed my briefcase, stuffed all the clothing in, put on my hat and my overcoat, and jumped out the back window into the snow. No time for putting on shoes. Happily, Jehovah had dulled them not to think of stationing a guard in the back yard. I ran to the house of some people with whom I had studied—mind you, this was around 5:30 a.m. in the dark winter. When I knocked at the door, the husband looked out, didn’t say a word, came downstairs, and took me into their home. All three in that household in time became Witnesses.”
DIVINE HELP TO ENDURE CRUEL TORTURE
In their determined efforts to wring information from the Witnesses, the Gestapo often resorted to cruel torture. For example, at Gestapo headquarters in Groningen, Cor de Vreede was subjected to merciless brutality at the instance of Gestapo Chief Könings. Cor was determined not to say anything that would be detrimental to the organization. “They beat me, kicked me with their boots—in my stomach, legs, and knees,” he recalls. “Mainly it was Könings who did this. He maintained that I knew the ones he was after but that I refused to tell. Jehovah gave me strength. I did not feel any pain; only my head was badly swollen and my legs showed many a blue mark.” Finally they gave up. Cor and three other brothers arrested at the same time were held in the Assen prison.
Arrests now took place with increased frequency. From March 18 to 21, a large number were seized. Twenty-two of these eventually were sent to concentration camps or spent long periods in other places of detention. Some did not return alive.
PREACHING CONTINUES UNDER DANGEROUS CIRCUMSTANCES
In the face of the intensified opposition, the Witnesses took even more stringent safety precautions. During National Socialist holidays and on other occasions when members of the Nazi Party would exhibit the Nazi flag, publishers wrote down the addresses of all of these and added them to their list of hostile ones. License numbers of cars belonging to the Gestapo and other police were also noted, and publishers would not call at any home with such a car parked in front.
Despite such care, the brothers frequently found themselves face to face with a householder who would be only too glad to betray a Witness. If the situation was detected in time, the publisher used a convenient story, such as: ‘I’m looking for one Mr. Bartels. I was certain he lived somewhere near here. I have an urgent message for him.’ Or, the publisher might have with him some worldly magazines and offer subscriptions for these. Often it worked. Also, when making calls in buildings of several stories, publishers worked from the top floor down. Thus, if they met someone violently opposed, the person could not easily block the publishers’ route of escape.
When interested persons were located, addresses were carefully recorded, but using a code system known only to the study group. For instance, one group might add 11 to each house number; thus 43 would become 54.
To safeguard others in the study group, smokers were not allowed to attend meetings, though they could have studies and could even have other smokers present. It was reasoned that those who were not faithful in applying Bible principles that showed smoking to be unchristian could not be trusted with information on which the lives of other people depended.
A special vocabulary was developed among the brothers so they could communicate without alerting the enemy. The Society came to be known as “Mother.” A booklet was “milk food”; The Watchtower, “brown bread”; a hard-hitting resolution, “rye bread.” When a wife wanted to inform her husband in a concentration camp that Johnny had been baptized and was now sharing in the field service, she wrote: “Johnny has received his swimming diploma and is now a member of the hiking club.” Such safety measures were taken in order to avoid unnecessary arrests and to carry on the ministry with the least possible hindrance.
SATAN ATTACKS IN UNANTICIPATED WAYS
The brothers expected arrest and interrogation. But tests of integrity confronted them in other ways too. “Once you are arrested, there is nothing more you can do about it,” says Jan ter Schegget, who had the experience. “Apart from the food situation, interrogations, and once in a while the beatings and torture, it is all quite bearable. But when you are released, then comes the great test of getting going again and keeping on serving Jehovah. For many this proved to be the difficult point. In prison they remained faithful, but afterwards . . . ? Of that Satan is aware.”
Thus when Steve Heiwegen was released from prison, other tests were waiting on his doorstep. He had endured the threats and blows of the Gestapo. But it took a lot of faith and courage for him to get started again in the field ministry, especially when he found that others had become fearful. He won this battle. Yet, more was to come.
One day he was visited by a brother, a longtime friend for whom Steve had a lot of respect. As the brother spoke, he was tense and nervous. Steve could hardly believe his ears! Misusing quotations from the Society’s publications, the man was arguing that the preaching work was finished and that the Society served no useful function anymore and could just as well be disbanded. He slandered the brothers in the Society’s office and said that those who urged the publishers to preach were misleading them, while they themselves stayed well out of the danger zone. When he saw that Steve did not accept the slander, he sent a former pioneer sister to see him. Using feminine wile and a lot of flattery, she did her best to break Steve’s faith and loyalty. But that too failed.
The next blow came when the congregation servant went bad. He indulged in immorality, got involved in stealing and cheating, and began to vex the faithful ones. Happily, the angels saw that he was removed. At about the same time, a circuit overseer proved disloyal. Put under pressure by the Gestapo, he betrayed a great portion of his small circuit. Thus the Devil brought one blow after another upon the Lord’s people. How vital that the brothers have a strong personal relationship with Jehovah, that they appreciate his visible organization, and that they not allow the wrong conduct and sour attitude of disloyal ones to turn them aside from the truth!
SONGS FROM THE PRISON
The alarming cry, “Wim, the police!” woke up Willem Kettelarij. As the police searched one of the rooms below, Willem dressed, grabbed two cartons of books, slipped out the window, and made his way to the home of another brother. In that raid, 17 throughout the city were arrested and stuffed into the local jail. When the dust of the fray had settled, Willem hired a transport bike and proceeded to move the literature supplies from the home of a Witness family to a safer location.
His route took him right past the prison where the 17 Witnesses were being held. As he neared the prison he could hear singing, singing done with real fervor. Then he recognized the melody. Chills ran down his spine. The 17 imprisoned brothers and sisters were joyfully singing Kingdom songs, as if urging him to keep up the fight and not slacken his hand! Those songs still bring tears of joy rolling down Willem’s cheeks as he thinks of that eventful Saturday, 44 years ago.
THEIR CONSCIENCES DID NOT SPEAK OUT
Most of the arrests of Witnesses in the Netherlands were carried out, not by the Gestapo, but by the Dutch police. As the persecution intensified, the Society printed a pamphlet explaining the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the light of the Bible. This was sent to all police stations being manned by the Dutch police. But, as a whole, their consciences did not respond. Their hearts did not move them to do good to the spirit-anointed brothers of Christ and their companions. (Matt. 25:42-45) A later historical work commenting on the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses during that time period said: “It is incomprehensible that Dutch policemen repeatedly ran these people in and delivered them over to the Germans like cattle for the slaughter.” What became of them?
By way of example, on Tuesday, July 8, the railroad station at Utrecht was the scene of a heart-gripping spectacle. From all parts of the country small groups of brothers were shipped in. Early in the morning they were brought in open trucks to the railroad station. Forty-four Witnesses, along with other prisoners, were loaded into a railroad car and were soon on their way to Sachsenhausen, the Nazi concentration camp near Berlin.
Yet, while that train thundered on to the east, a small group were already gathered in a tent on Scheveningen beach. Inconspicuously, they considered the subject of Christian baptism, and then under the camouflage of ball playing, they moved out into the water and were immersed. Despite the fierceness of enemy attacks, the number of Kingdom publishers increased 27 percent that year.
THE STRENGTH THAT MADE IT POSSIBLE TO ENDURE
When the 1942 service year began, the branch office was in Amsterdam, and printing was done there too. The branch servant, Brother Winkler, had till now been able to elude the Gestapo, but they had viciously beaten brothers in their determined efforts to track him down. On October 21 the Gestapo made a routine check at the Eikelenboom printery in the old section of Amsterdam when The Watchtower was on the presses. Here they must have learned where the literature was stored. Moments later they barged into the building being used by the brothers. And there they found Brother Winkler.
They danced with glee and exulted: “Ha! Ha! We’ve caught Winkler.” With him were Alois Stuhlmiller and courier Wilhelmina Bakker. All were arrested, and everything was confiscated.
For over a week the Gestapo tried to get Brother Winkler to cooperate with them by divulging information. They told him it was useless to fight for a bankrupt cause. They assured him that the ones betrayed would not be told who had done it, and that they would not be beaten but would be given a stiff warning to mend their ways and work for the cause of the führer. They promised that he could better his lot in life. But on November 1, when brought in for questioning again, Brother Winkler squarely told them that they should not expect him to cooperate. At that, one of them pulled the curtains shut and turned the radio on full blast. Then the merciless beating began.
Brother Winkler was beaten into unconsciousness. When he revived, they sneered: “So, we did not expect you to be so unreasonable. One who has proved to be a good organizer and intelligent, one who was such a good fighter for a bankrupt cause, should have more sense. We need people like you. Just think how you could improve your lot in life. Tell us where your wife is, and we give you our word of honor she will not be beaten. If you are smart and go along with us, you can exchange your prison for a villa and your condition of shame and revilement for one of honor, money, and prestige.” Brother Winkler gave no reply. Then the second round began.
First it was the Obersturmführer Barbie, and when he was tired Oberscharführer Engelsman took over. Finally Brother Winkler lost consciousness again. This continued from one o’clock in the afternoon till midnight. Calling to mind Jehovah’s promises to help his servants gave Brother Winkler strength to endure. At 1:00 a.m. he was handed over to the prison guard. Teeth knocked out, lower jaw dislocated, and body beaten raw, he was taken to a dark cell. ‘Do you know why I am bringing you here?’ the guard asked. ‘Because they could not get anything out of you. They think this type of treatment will break you. But I will let you have light and something warm to eat.’ Brother Winkler thanked Jehovah for the victory.
Days passed. Slowly Brother Winkler recovered, but he was exhausted. As he thought ahead to the next interrogation, on November 10, he wondered what would happen and he sought Jehovah’s guidance by means of prayer.
“At this point I felt a great need for spiritual food,” Brother Winkler later recalled. “A couple of days later this same friendly prison guard came up and asked if he could do something for me.” Evidently Brother Winkler trusted the guard to some extent, because he asked the man to procure a Bible for him from Sister Winkler.” “Yes,” the guard said, “write a note. I will bring you a pencil and some paper.”
“The day of November 10, 1941, I will never forget,” Brother Winkler continues. “The door of my cell flew open and someone threw a pocket Bible into the cell; and before I realized what was going on, the door slammed shut again. What a joyful occasion! The Gestapo did not permit me to have any reading material at all, and now, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, I had a Bible to read. What a joy it was daily to enjoy the pleasant words of truth from His Word! Although any reading had to be done secretly, I felt myself getting stronger spiritually.”
Finally, he was sent to the Vught concentration camp, and then to Sachsenhausen. There he was plagued with one illness after another. Normally he would have been gassed and cremated, as was done with others. But due to the kindly care of a Swedish doctor, Arthur Winkler stayed alive to see the march to freedom.
“THE JOY OF JEHOVAH IS YOUR STRONGHOLD”
Life in the concentration camps was a terrible experience. Still, there were times of joy that those undergoing the persecution would not have wanted to miss for anything. There was the joy of standing up under interrogation, proving faithful to Jehovah, and not divulging anything that could hurt the brothers. (Matt. 10:22; Luke 6:22, 23) There was the joy of seeing the wearer of a purple triangle (which identified Jehovah’s Witnesses in the camps) just smile or nod or wave. There were the precious moments when even a few thoughts from God’s Word were exchanged, in harmony with Hebrews 10:24, 25.
When the Dutch brothers arrived in the camps, they found a community of German brothers who had already spent up to eight years there. What a joy it was to be able to relate the contents of publications recently studied! The more a person had studied, the more he could give. The more he could give, the happier he was. The happier he was, the better he could stand up to camp life. As stated at Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of Jehovah is your stronghold.”
PREACHING IN SPITE OF CONFINEMENT
When confined to prison or in a concentration camp, Jehovah’s Witnesses did their preaching of God’s Kingdom there. Piet van der Molen, who is today associated with the Hengelo Congregation, is living evidence of that. When arrested and shipped off to the Amersfoort concentration camp, he was not a Witness. In the camp he noticed triangles of specific colors on the prisoners’ uniforms. Black designated the wearer as a black marketeer. Red indicated a political offense. Piet found himself next to someone who wore a purple triangle. Piet wanted to know who the man was and why he had been put into the camp. When he learned that the man was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and was being detained because he preached the Bible’s message from house to house, Piet was puzzled. He listened as the Witness explained his beliefs. Soon Piet was a Witness too.
Brother van de Eijkhoff was first questioned by the Gestapo, brutally mistreated, and then thrown into a cell with four other prisoners. He seized the opportunity to witness to them for a week. Then one day he heard a tirade of curses. It was Gestapo chief Engelsman. The cell door flew open, and Engelsman roared at the guards: “How could you be so stupid, to put this stubborn Jehovah’s Witness with ordinary people? He will make Witnesses of them too.” So the four were taken to another cell.
But the names of those four prisoners were still on the cell door. So at noontime four extra pans of food were pushed through the opening. There were four buns, four pieces of butter, four pieces of cheese, and four little bags of sugar. This continued for a couple of days. When Brother van de Eijkhoff was put on a train to be transported to one of the concentration camps, he had quite a supply of extra food to share with some surprised brothers. They got to see that Jehovah mercifully provides for those in dire need. Indeed, both in prison and outside, evidence could be seen that God’s spirit was at work.
The arrest of Arthur Winkler did not bring the Kingdom work in the Netherlands to a halt. Responsibility fell on the shoulders of Willem Reijntjes. He had come into the truth in 1939 and was now just 28 years old. But Jehovah’s spirit could fortify him. Although much of the Society’s paper supply had been confiscated, and hundreds of printeries were closed by the Nazis, the Lord directed matters so the Society always had the paper it needed, and there were always printers who were willing to do the Society’s work.
By the end of the 1942 service year, there was a 51-percent increase in number of publishers, and in that one year 763 were immersed in symbol of their dedication. Even Nazi henchman Engelsman once admitted: “The more you persecute the Witnesses the more they grow.” More were coming into Jehovah’s organization than the total number that the Nazis were succeeding in arresting and sending to the camps. Jehovah’s blessing was upon his people. The work they were doing was not of men but of God.—Compare Acts 5:38, 39.
APOSTASY CREEPS IN
Now, on top of Nazi brutality, the pressures of apostasy were brought to bear against those in the Dutch field. In 1942 the congregation servant in The Hague had called together the study conductors and tried to persuade them to accept his apostate views.
The apostates in The Hague, called by the faithful brothers the “New Light” (because one of the apostates asserted that they received their light directly from heaven), were active in corrupting the faith of others. They compared the Society’s encouragement to preach—which could result in being sent to a concentration camp—to the offering of children to Molech. They referred to Isaiah 26:20, claiming that the time had come to stop preaching and stay put. Their big argument was that the witness work had ended.
Some fell victim to their influence. There were those who had not been able to stand up to the mistreatment in the concentration camps and who had obtained a release by renouncing their faith. (Contrast Hebrews 11:35.) So, too, those who had personal ambitions that they had not been able to realize within the organization were vulnerable to apostate thinking. At the beginning of the war the Gouda Congregation was the largest in the country. Many faithful ones there were arrested. But by 1943 the majority of those who were left had come under the influence of the apostates. Nevertheless, the number of true worshipers throughout the country continued to grow.
Despite arrests, imprisonments, deportations to concentration camps, and death at the hand of the enemy, the number of Kingdom publishers increased by 115 percent in two years, reaching a new high of 1,379 in 1943. Clearly, the work had not ended. Jehovah was blessing his servants with growth even under the most trying circumstances.
A SPECIAL GROUP IS HEAVILY TESTED
Publishers of the Kingdom who were of Jewish origin were severely tested both because of their faith and because they were Jews. By stressing that he was a Jew, and using discernment as to when to point out that he was a Witness, one of these publishers was repeatedly delivered from circumstances that could have led to imprisonment and possible death.
One evening when Rachel Sacksioni was on her way home, riding on the baggage rack on the back of a brother’s bike, the Dutch police stopped them because the taillight was not working. On realizing that Rachel was Jewish, they urged: “Hurry; keep on riding.” Some of the local police were quite willing to help in this way.
For Rachel, witnessing usually involved walking in the dark, sometimes for hours on end, to avoid detection. She could not travel on the trolley, because spies were constantly on the lookout for Jews. Finally, on May 10, 1944, she was arrested while in the field service. First she was consigned to the Dutch concentration camp in Westerbork. Two days later she was scheduled to go to Auschwitz, a Nazi extermination camp for Jews. She had already been loaded into one of the cattle cars for transport when her name was called out. Without explanation her destination was changed to Bergen-Belsen. From there she was shipped off to Beendorff, then to Malmö in Sweden, and in time she returned to the Netherlands—grateful to be alive.
When she resumed her public witnessing after the war, her trials were not all past. At times she found herself talking to members of the National Socialist movement, people who openly told her that they had supported Hitler. She acknowledges: “I had to make strenuous effort to remain friendly toward those people. It was people of their sort that had caused me and many others a great deal of grief. [Two of Rachel’s children had died while she was in the concentration camps.] Now I had to tell them about the Kingdom of God and the hope it held out even for them. I had to think often of what is stated at Deuteronomy 32:35 and to remind myself that Jehovah sees the heart. And Jehovah rewards a person for doing that; this I have experienced.” She started a home Bible study with a mother and three daughters, while the woman’s husband was in prison for being a Nazi. When she would go to their home, she could hear the neighbors say: “Look, that Jewess is paying those National Socialist folks a visit.” In time, the mother and all three daughters dedicated their lives to Jehovah.
COPING WITH FOOD SHORTAGES
Let us return to the winter of 1943-1944. It was bitterly cold, especially the month of January. The pinch of food shortage was really beginning to be felt. Many of the populace were endeavoring to supplement their meager rations by obtaining food from the rurals. Toward the end of the year people were even eating tulip bulbs and spinach seed.
Our brothers too felt the pangs of hunger. They needed food in order to keep going in the field service. Pioneers and circuit servants who worked underground faced special problems, because they were not able to obtain ration cards in the usual manner. Then there were the ill ones and sisters who had no income because their husbands were in concentration camps. Many brothers and sisters offered their valuables to be sold in order to supply food for needy brothers. When any rice could be obtained, it was reserved for those who had contracted dysentery. Also, special arrangements were made to bring food from the countryside to brothers in the cities.
However, a large portion of the food-producing country lay to the east and the north of the IJssel River, which was spanned by only three bridges. The northern provinces, Friesland and Groningen, could be reached by way of the Enclosing Dam. But all these crossing points were well guarded by SS troops. The Central Controlling Service (CCD) was active everywhere to halt the illegal flow of food into the cities. Nevertheless, the brothers lovingly came to the aid of one another.
On one excursion to transport needed food supplies, Gerrit Böhmermann and some other brothers were working their way south toward Amsterdam. As they went through the city of Alkmaar on their transport bikes with loads covered by tarpaulins, suddenly a checkpoint loomed up before them in the marketplace. “There was no choice but to trust fully in Jehovah,” says Gerrit. Riding at the head of the fleet, he resolutely biked toward an officer and, without slowing down much, called out loudly: “Wo ist Amsterdam?” (Which way to Amsterdam?) The officer stepped aside and pointed ahead as he yelled: “Gerade aus!” (Straight ahead!) “Danke schön!” (Thank you!) was Gerrit’s response as he went through at full speed while an astonished crowd watched.
“How did you ever manage that?” one of the brothers asked as they sped along. “If Jehovah is with us, who can be against us?” exulted another. “Clam up!” the others exhorted, not wanting to put Jehovah needlessly to the test. Once home, the terrors of the journey were forgotten—forgotten because of the happy faces of the brothers, forgotten too because of the zeal of those brothers in Jehovah’s service.
On one occasion brothers, willing to risk their freedom to help others, succeeded in bringing into Amsterdam a whole boatload—26,120 pounds (11,850 kg)—of potatoes. Brother de Haan moored the boat opposite the St. Nicholas church. There the potatoes were sacked in lots of 33 pounds (15 kg) and then were transported on handcarts through one of the busiest sections of the city to a temporary storage place. Meanwhile, the city overseer rode his bike back and forth along the route to watch for danger. When stopped by the police, the brothers truthfully stated how they had got the potatoes. Impressed by their frankness, the officers did not interfere, but each simply asked for a bag for his family. From the storage place, supplies were taken to the homes of the brothers. In those difficult days, individuals continued to take their stand for the truth.
UNDER GREAT ADVERSITY, HE MADE THE TRUTH HIS OWN
Each day Marinus de Boer, a 17-year-old, was eager to get to his place of employment as a carpenter, not so much because of the work but because he enjoyed being with his friend Maarten Schroot. Maarten had interested Marinus in the truth and had arranged for him to have a Bible study, to attend meetings, and even to share in the field service. But there was so much more to learn, and they daily discussed how to apply Bible principles to the various situations that could confront a Christian in those difficult times.
Then one day in 1944 Maarten did not come to work. As soon as evening came, Marinus checked and learned that his friend had been arrested in a police raid the previous night. Going to his own home, he was surprised to find two strangers there—one a former brother who had turned traitor, the other a Gestapo agent. Marinus was arrested.
For a few days Marinus was confined with the brothers. Then for six weeks he was put in among hardened criminals of every sort. Under these circumstances he learned much about what it means to rely fully on Jehovah when one is alone. Following interrogation by the Gestapo, he was thrown back in with the brothers. He needed encouragement and support, but, instead, he was in for a surprise.
He recalls: “It was some letdown. As soon as I came in, they fired off a barrage of questions, wanting to know whether I had divulged names and the like. Some came to me and said that it was not necessary for me to maintain faithfulness as I was not a baptized Witness. Others, observing this, told me that whether I had been baptized or not, I definitely had to be faithful. After all of this, I had no idea as to what was right and what was wrong. Weary and dejected, I sat down in a corner to think. Soon a brother sat down next to me, laid his arm across my shoulder, and asked, ‘Shall we read the Bible?’ With a soft voice, he read a verse here and another there. It was a sermon right out of the Bible, and I felt happy. When he saw that I was encouraged, he left in the same friendly manner that he had come.” With such kind help and study of God’s Word—despite the harsh surroundings, the immaturity of some Witnesses, and the disloyalty of a few who once were brothers—Marinus finally made his dedication and was baptized right in a concentration camp. Today he is a traveling overseer. Appropriately, he served as convention overseer for the August 1985 “Integrity Keepers” Convention in Utrecht—with over 40,000 attending.
DESPERATE EFFORTS OF A BEATEN ENEMY
As the Nazi occupiers felt their defeat drawing near they became more desperate in their persecution. Thus, when Jan van der Berg, a 20-year-old pioneer, refused to work on a military project, the commander warned that Jan would be shot in five minutes if he did not change his mind. Jan was forced to dig his own grave and stand half naked in front of it. After more threats, accompanied with sounds of actual shooting, he was given a beating. However, Jan later said: “The blows I felt lightly, but did not experience any pain at all.” Next, he was made to perform all manner of calisthenics.
During October and November of 1944 the Devil did his best to throw fear into the hearts of the brothers. On October 11, three Witnesses were arrested in the eastern part of the country. When they refused to do work that would violate a Christian conscience, their execution was promptly ordered. The three were led into the garden of the burgomaster’s home where the Gestapo had their headquarters, and they were cut down with machine-gun fire. They were buried right there in the garden.
On November 10, Bernard Polman was arrested in the town of Zelhem. When he refused to do work of a military nature, he was brutally beaten. His two fleshly sisters visited him in prison, were shocked by what they saw, and asked if there was anything they could do for him. He urged them to go home and start studying the Bible. After subjecting Bernard to further brutality, the SS riddled his body with bullets in a gruesome manner. Then, viewing his corpse as unfit for a cemetery, they buried it at the base of a dike near the town of Babberich.
HUNGER EXACTS A HEAVY TOLL
The winter of 1944-1945 was a time of famine. Tens of thousands died, sometimes right on the street. Black marketeers got control of a lot of the remaining food, and prices went up a hundredfold. Bread was 210 times the normal price; potatoes, 70 times. Thousands of people, already weak from hunger, set out to search for food. Much of this foraging was done by women, because the Nazis’ constant search for men to use in slave labor made it dangerous for them to be out. Some farmers reported as many as 250 visits a day from these desperate seekers for food.
Our brothers tried hard to keep on preaching and not to be sidetracked either by the fight to stay alive or by thoughts of liberation by the Allied armies. Though needing to care for themselves and their families, they knew that it was imperative to keep Kingdom interests first. The arrangements that our brothers had built up in order to get food to Witnesses living in the large cities did much to alleviate suffering among them at this time.
RELEASE FROM THE CAMPS
During the spring of 1945, the Allied armies from both east and west converged on Germany. On April 11, the gates of Buchenwald were thrown open. On April 19, along with thousands of other prisoners, 213 brothers and 17 sisters were evacuated from Sachsenhausen in an effort by the Nazis to keep them out of the hands of the Russians. Though large numbers of the other prisoners died or were killed along the way, Jehovah wonderfully preserved his servants from harm. Because of the honesty of the Witnesses, one SS guard entrusted to them a cart that he had loaded with booty. By means of it, the very ill ones, including Brother Winkler, were helped to come through safely. On April 28, Ravensbrück was evacuated—including some Dutch Witnesses. On April 29, the gates of Dachau, too, were opened.
Soon, by all means of travel, the brothers from the Netherlands began to come home, one by one. Some who were very ill were kept for a time in sanatoriums in Switzerland and Sweden. Others, because of the prevalence of contagious diseases, were detained in camps in the Netherlands near the German border. When it was learned that some Witnesses were among the former prisoners being housed temporarily in a building in Eindhoven, the local brothers gathered outside to welcome them by singing Kingdom songs!
As Marinus de Boer neared his home in Rotterdam, his heart beat faster and faster. He had heard nothing from his mother and his sisters since the day of his arrest. He wondered: ‘Are they still alive? How do they feel about my being in the camp for my faith? How will they react when I try to share the truth with them?’ As Marinus neared home, a neighbor saw him and ran as fast as he could to tell Marinus’ mother. Out of breath, he shouted: “He’s still alive!” When Marinus got closer, thin and weary, his mother finally grasped what the neighbor was excited about. And how overjoyed Marinus was to learn that his mother and his sisters had all embraced the truth shortly after he had gone to prison! Scenes such as this, filled with emotion, took place in many homes in those days.
RECONSTRUCTION DURING THE POSTWAR PERIOD
During the German occupation the brothers connected with the Society’s office had sent out 76 letters by couriers to help and encourage their fellow servants. Now, as soon as the war ended, a mimeographed copy of the Informant (now known as Our Kingdom Ministry) was sent to all congregations. The opening words were: “The text for the year 1945 is a command: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations.’” The brothers responded wonderfully to the instructions for coordinated activity. Baptism figures for that month equaled about 10 percent of all the publishers in the country.
One of the first tasks needing attention was the amalgamating of small study groups into congregations with meetings that larger groups could attend. Though the number of congregations had increased by only 3 during the war years, the total publishers had soared from about 500 in the summer of 1940 to a new peak of 3,125 in August of 1945.
Some had felt that Armageddon was just around the corner, but now they heard that there was much work to be done. They heard news of Gilead School for training missionaries and of large conventions that had been held in other lands. They were strengthened by numerous accounts of integrity keeping in the concentration camps. They learned about the outstanding increase in Kingdom proclaimers right in the Netherlands. In time they also received the thrilling news that the Society had arranged for a one-day national convention to be held in Amsterdam on August 5. What it would be like they could only dimly imagine. But the brothers from every part of the country were determined to be present.
THE FIRST POSTWAR CONVENTION
It became clear that some 2,000 would be in Amsterdam the night before the convention and would need lodging. Hotels were out of the question. All would have to be accommodated in the homes of the brothers. Throughout the city, Witnesses could be seen carrying bales of hay into their homes, to spread out on the floor. For a short stay, this would serve well.
But travel to Amsterdam was not so easily arranged. From many areas neither train nor bus service was available for them. Large numbers did not even possess a bicycle, and not a few were still too weak to ride that far even if they had one. From the northern province of Friesland the brothers came in a truck that had been used to collect milk cans from farmers for the creamery. From Apeldoorn, some started out on their bikes and then finished the trip by boat. The brothers in Zutphen found a man who was willing to fill his moving van with benches in order to transport them. The Witnesses in Harskamp traveled on a truck that normally was used to transport cattle. From faraway Limburg, many hitchhiked.
It is very hard to describe the feelings of those who attended this convention. They laughed and wept. They sang and thanked Jehovah for his goodness. Some found loved ones whom they thought were dead. Others who hoped to find loved ones sought in vain. It was a day never to be forgotten! That evening, 4,000 listened with rapt attention to the public talk.
By this time it was evident that many would not be returning alive from the concentration camps. A total of 426 had been arrested and imprisoned—not including those released in a week or less. Of these 426, there were 117 who died as a direct result of the maltreatment. Remember, there were only about 500 Witnesses in all of the Netherlands at the time of the Nazi invasion. So a large proportion had personally experienced such persecution.
SATAN’S AGENTS UNLEASH ANOTHER ATTACK
Satan’s attack by means of his Nazi gang had obviously backfired. Though it had been brutal, a large proportion of the brothers had remained loyal. Furthermore, there had been a sixfold increase in Witnesses, and a great segment of the populace now respected the Witnesses because of their courageous stand. But Satan had another set of troopers poised to assault.
Starting the very month of the convention, an almost unbelievable array of articles misrepresenting and slandering Jehovah’s Witnesses appeared in nearly all the religiously inclined papers in the country. As might be expected, even many well-meaning, sincere people were influenced by this smear campaign.
On November 10, “Father” Henri de Greeve was again in the forefront of the battle against the Witnesses. Irritated by the fact that government authorities had granted the Witnesses paper for printing, he said in a radio broadcast: “I can assure the ladies and gentlemen of the Watchtower that we are determined to offer resistance and that we will not tolerate this sanctimonious strife-stirring. And if this dirt-slinging goes on anyway, then we will try to move all our Catholic youth associations, Catholic students, Catholic Action members, Catholic Farmers’ bonds, middle class associations, workers’ associations . . . to pelt the government with petitions, motions and protest meetings until the mouths of these sanctimonious agitators have been stopped and the paper used for mudslinging has been withheld.” This sparked Catholic Action against the Witnesses on a large scale. But they were not the only ones.
The Protestant clergy eagerly added their voice. Besides using the religious press, Protestant ministers throughout the country launched a campaign of lectures about Jehovah’s Witnesses in churches and before clubs. At first the Witnesses attended such meetings and at the end would raise questions. This often led to a debate. But the methods employed by the clergy on these occasions made it evident that they were not interested in having people hear the truth. Realizing that the Devil was trying to get them sidetracked by senseless arguments with people who had no love for righteousness, the Witnesses soon appreciated that they should use their time in the field ministry, locating and helping people who really wanted to listen.
LOVING ATTENTION FROM HEADQUARTERS ACCELERATES THE WORK
In the late fall of 1945, N. H. Knorr, then president of the Watch Tower Society, and his secretary M. G. Henschel visited Europe to give attention to the task of reconstruction. Traveling from Brussels by train, they made a circuitous journey due to war damage in order to reach Amsterdam. On December 4 a meeting was held with brothers from the branch office, circuit overseers, and brothers from the Amsterdam congregations. Many problems were discussed, and answers were given.
As a result of this meeting, a new feature of congregation activity was introduced—public meetings. There were not then many brothers who could deliver public talks, but a start was made, and the brothers thereafter worked hard to equip themselves to share.
Also as a result of matters discussed at that meeting, relief supplies were received that winter and the following spring. From Denmark, 137 food parcels came, helping to fill the most urgent needs. Additionally, 34 tons of clothing were sent as a gift from brothers in more fortunate lands. These expressions of loving concern were deeply appreciated by the Dutch Witnesses. In distributing them, first attention was given to the needs of the pioneers, so they could continue to devote their principal efforts to the work of preaching.
During this period, the branch office was relocated twice, and suitable facilities were finally put to use at Koningslaan No. 1 in Amsterdam. Here it was at last possible for the small Bethel family to live and work in the same location.
RAPID SUCCESSION OF THEOCRATIC MILESTONES
When the branch family had just nicely settled into their new quarters, another chapter in theocratic history in the Netherlands was begun. The first Dutch student was sent to the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Since that time, Gilead graduates from the Netherlands have been sent to serve in Indonesia, Irian Barat (western New Guinea), Iran, Belgium, Luxembourg, Iceland, Turkey, Netherlands Antilles, Chile, Ecuador, Suriname, Kenya, and South Africa. Others, though not being trained at Gilead, have gone to Ireland.
The first full postwar service year showed a 64-percent increase in the average number of Kingdom publishers. And the pioneers more than doubled, from 50 to 101. That year, too, for the first time a building was set aside for regular use as a Kingdom Hall.
Then the 1947 service year got off to a good start with a fine two-day convention in The Hague, at which one of the highlights was the immersion of 525 new brothers and sisters. That year the Theocratic Ministry School was instituted in the congregations, and arrangements were made for circuit overseers to visit the congregations to encourage them and to provide further training in the field ministry.
MATERIALISM REARS ITS HEAD
Back at the first postwar convention, on August 5, 1945, Brother Winkler had sounded a serious warning. He had cautioned that, now that they had greater freedom, they faced a new danger. The snare of materialism and the temptation to give principal attention to the cares of everyday life could engross them. The result would be a slowing down in their service to God.
Only three years later the following comment was included in the annual report from the Netherlands: “It seems that some brethren have drawn false conclusions from the comments that the Watchtower article ‘Love of Man to Man’ made about the ‘widow’s mite’ (pars. 35-37). There are indications that some are deluding themselves into the belief that the few hours they are working every month are like the mite of the widow, and that this is perfectly alright, and that nobody has any right to draw to their attention their slackening their hands (beforehand they used to do more in the Lord’s service). They forget that the widow’s mite represented all that she was able to give.” Indeed, as postwar prosperity opened up material opportunities, some of our brothers lost sight of the fact that materialism too is a snare used by Satan to lure Jehovah’s servants away from Kingdom service.
PROBLEMS ON THE LEGAL FRONT
During 1949, a number of municipalities put legal obstacles before the feet of those bringing good news of something better. A procès-verbal was drawn up against a brother who wore a placard and distributed handbills, on the premise that doing so was a violation of municipal ordinances. Two months later a sister who was sharing in the house-to-house ministry was charged with selling literature on Sunday. What was the outcome?
The appeal court upheld the decision of the lower court prohibiting the distribution of advertising material in the streets as being against public order and safety of traffic. But, of course, there was no law against talking to people on the streets. The second case mentioned turned out in our favor. The court ruled that the accused had merely disseminated her religious beliefs.
When cases involving public preaching diminished, the legal desk at the branch office concentrated on seeking to gain legal recognition for Jehovah’s Witnesses as ministers. The law provided exemption from military service for ministers of religion and for persons studying for the ministry. But the catch was that the name of the religious organization had to be on a list maintained by the Ministry of Defense, and Jehovah’s Witnesses were not on that list. After repeated fruitless efforts by the brothers to prove that all publishers were ministers, Brother Knorr correctly pointed out to them that, in view of the existing law, they did not have a legal leg to stand on. They needed to keep in focus the real issue—Christian neutrality. Finally, after many years, the Ministers of Defense and Justice instituted an interim arrangement under which a baptized, active male witness of Jehovah could be granted a “postponement” of service if a properly attested letter from the local elders was filed.
NEW INSTRUMENTS FOR THE FIELD
Jehovah’s organization continued to make generous provisions for spiritual upbuilding. Publications in rich variety were progressively made available for congregational study and for use in the field ministry. Awake! magazine began to appear in Dutch with the issue of December 8, 1951. Use of it in the field proved a stimulus to placement of The Watchtower too. Up to that time there was a maximum printing of 19,200 for The Watchtower. Today the average printing of issues of The Watchtower in Dutch totals 186,450 copies, and for Awake! the average is 171,100.
In 1954 the Dutch field received the book “Let God Be True,” which for many years was the basis for home Bible studies. Later on, there were such fine publications as “Your Will Be Done on Earth,” which was an excellent study of the “meaty” prophecies in the book of Daniel. Other publications have provided thrilling studies of such Bible books as Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, Revelation, and much of Isaiah. Such publications have contributed greatly to increased spirituality among the brothers.
A TIME FOR GREAT JOY
Before the Amsterdam convention in 1961, the branch overseer and his assistant were invited to attend the convention in London and the meeting there for European branch overseers. One of the highlights of the discussion was work to be done in connection with the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, with a view to making it available in more languages than English. Dutch was to be included. How exciting that was! What a fine effect distribution of such an accurate, modern-language Bible translation would have on the Dutch field!
Soon a Dutch translator was on her way to Brooklyn, New York, where she and other translators—German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian—worked and studied in association with the New World Bible Translation Committee. At the international convention in 1963, the Christian Greek Scriptures were released in Dutch. And six years later, at Nürnberg, the happifying announcement was made that completion of the entire New World Translation in Dutch was only weeks away. It arrived in the Netherlands in September 1969. What a time for rejoicing!
ADJUSTMENTS IN BRANCH OVERSIGHT
Because of the grueling experiences that Brother Winkler underwent at the hands of the Gestapo and in the concentration camps, it would have been very difficult for him to continue to shoulder responsibility for oversight of the Kingdom work in the Netherlands. Brother Knorr realized this, and so arrangements were made for Henri F. Zinser, who graduated from Gilead School in 1946, to be branch overseer. He served for a relatively short time and then, in August 1947, was replaced by the first Dutch graduate from Gilead. Sad to say, however, he did not continue to walk with Jehovah’s organization.
The appointment of Paul Kushnir to branch oversight in September 1950 led to better organization and closer contact between the office and those working hard in the field. For 15 years he continued to care well for this assignment, until domestic responsibilities that he could better care for outside of Bethel made an adjustment necessary. Thereafter, Robert Engelkamp was branch overseer down till 1976. At that time, as was true in branches around the world, arrangements were made for the responsibilities of oversight to be shared by a committee of mature brothers. Now there are six of such brothers in the Netherlands, with Paul Kushnir serving as Branch Committee coordinator.
STRENGTHENING THE ORGANIZATION
In numerous ways Jehovah was strengthening his visible organization. To unify the work, arrangements were made for branch overseers to meet together in New York at the time of the international convention there in 1953. Special attention was given to the field ministry, to the preaching of the Kingdom message in all the earth for a witness before the end comes. Changes in the schedule of circuit overseers were instituted so that greater attention would be given to work in the field, instead of spending a lot of time trying to settle difficulties between individuals who were not really interested in putting the interests of the Kingdom first. On many occasions since then, as circumstances have required, there have been other such meetings of branch overseers from around the globe, and specialized training has been provided for them in Gilead School. Always the emphasis has been on preaching the good news and looking well to the spiritual welfare of the brothers.
Starting in 1954, the Society’s films became available for use in the Dutch field. These helped the brothers to get a clearer view of the organization and the extent to which its activity was bearing fruitage in all parts of the earth. Excellent books dealing with organizational matters, from “Your Word Is a Lamp to My Foot” to Organized to Accomplish Our Ministry, have made it possible for each one to cooperate more fully with the organization, understanding how the work is done and what opportunities there are for individuals to share.
There have also been new publications for use in connection with the Theocratic Ministry School in the congregations. “Equipped for Every Good Work,” Qualified to Be Ministers, “All Scripture Is Inspired of God and Beneficial,” and the Theocratic Ministry School Guidebook have been among these. How valuable they have been in helping each Kingdom publisher to become better acquainted with the Bible itself and to be able to explain its teachings to others, whether on a personal basis when sharing in the field ministry or from the public platform in the case of brothers!
Special attention has also been given to the training of elders, both those who serve regularly with a certain congregation and those whose assignments require that they travel. Repeatedly they have gathered for refresher courses and for instruction in the Kingdom Ministry School, analyzing counsel from the Scriptures that pertains to their special assignments and receiving practical counsel from the Governing Body as to their work.
COUNSEL TO MAKE OUR WORK MORE FRUITFUL
When Wilfred Gooch from the London office visited the Netherlands as zone overseer in 1965, he discussed frankly some areas of work that needed attention. Some 2,000 baptized persons had dropped out of the ranks of Kingdom proclaimers during the previous five years. He urged the brothers in the office not to be vague when discussing this matter with the brothers in the field but to be sure that they understood what the problem was and what to do to help these individuals. He also stressed the value of “vacation pioneer service” (now known as auxiliary pioneer service), and there was an excellent response from the brothers. The following April showed a 66-percent increase, with a new high of 1,130 sharing the joys of this increased activity.
At the district conventions in 1968, a new instrument was introduced for use in the field—the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life. The brothers were excited about it. But it seemed to some that the study procedure was radical. They found it hard to get used to the idea of breaking off a study after six months if it was not truly fruitful. Yet, following the Society’s instructions brought heart-cheering results.
Year by year there was increase in the number of praisers of Jehovah. When the publishers reached the 15,000 mark for the first time, Brother Winkler started to cry and said: “How thankful I am to Jehovah that I am still alive to witness 15,000 publishers in this country! It was more than 30 years ago that we as German pioneers sat alongside the road and wept out of discouragement, because nobody wanted to listen to our preaching. But Jehovah gave us the strength to push forward. And now I can weep for joy.” By 1976, the number of publishers reached a peak of 29,723. In the following years, some grew weary and withdrew from Jehovah’s service, but by far the majority have continued to hold on to the precious privilege of being active witnesses of Jehovah, the rightful Sovereign of the universe.
FAITHFUL SERVANTS RECEIVE THEIR REWARD
Back in 1931 Fritz Hartstang had come to the Netherlands as a pioneer. Later, as a member of the Bethel family, he was put in charge of the service desk at the branch office. But then in 1962 he had a serious stomach operation. Cancer developed and slowly drained his vitality until he died on April 5, 1964. Those final months were very trying ones for him as he found it necessary to give up the responsibilities one after another that had been a source of great joy to him. But he certainly had experienced Jehovah’s blessing, and the Scriptures assure those who have the heavenly hope and who die faithful at this time that “the things they did go right with them.” (Rev. 14:13) His wife, Helen, in her 82nd year of life, still serves at Bethel—a fine example of endurance.
The older ones in the Bethel family also well remember Mathilde Stuhlmiller. She suffered for many years because of serious health problems, but she kept an optimistic outlook, cherishing the prospect of eternally serving Jehovah in perfect health on a paradise earth. Almost up till her death in 1969, she kept on working, helping, even on her sickbed, with jobs for the translation department.
Arthur Winkler will always be remembered as a brother who did not spare himself in the work of the Lord. (1 Cor. 15:58) Despite the severity of his experiences in the concentration camps, he continued to serve for many more years. But then came serious illness accompanied by great pain. Brother Knorr visited him during that time and comforted him with the reminder that his heavenly reward was likely close and that this would mean the realization of something that Arthur had worked toward for many years. He finally closed his eyes on June 22, 1972. And his faithful wife Käthe, who had been outstanding in her spirituality and her zeal for the field ministry, received her heavenly reward in April 1982.
Encouraged by those fine examples, it is now the privilege of younger ones, many of them of the Lord’s “other sheep,” to carry on the Kingdom work, right down to the end of this old system.—John 10:16.
ENLARGED BRANCH FACILITIES TO FILL GROWING NEEDS
From 1946 on, the branch facilities in Amsterdam had been located at Koningslaan No. 1. But by 1960 those were no longer adequate, despite modifications that had been made. So, a fine new structure was erected in Amsterdam to allow for further growth. By 1964, the Bethel home was in use, and a small printery went into operation in the building in 1967. Further additions were made in 1972 and 1977.
When that last addition was dedicated by Lloyd Barry, a member of the Governing Body, he mentioned that plans were already far advanced for enlarging the printing operations in the Netherlands. A large rotary press was to be installed so that the Watchtower and Awake! magazines could be printed locally, thus relieving the overloaded printery in England. But that would require larger branch facilities.
In 1978 an extensive search for suitable property was begun. Nothing had been found by 1980, so application was made directly to the office of Town and Country Planning. At an interview, an official listened intently to what the Witnesses had in mind and then said: “Jehovah’s Witnesses did a unique work in our country during the second world war, and that is unfortunately all too often forgotten. I shall see to it that your center comes in one of the three northern provinces of the Netherlands.” Within two days a fine piece of property had been pinpointed in Emmen.
The completed facilities were dedicated in October 1983. In the factory is a converted M.A.N. rotary offset press that turns out 17,000 magazines per hour. Above the pressroom is a modern electronic phototypesetting operation that was developed by dedicated Witnesses at the world headquarters. With this equipment we are better able to provide literature for all the Witnesses in the Netherlands, as well as those in the Flemish part of Belgium and in Suriname. How thankful we are to Jehovah and to his organization that all of this has become a reality!
A CLEAR DISTINCTION
It has been a long road to this point. Eighty years ago the first ones in the Netherlands embraced the truth. They courageously applied themselves to the Lord’s work in the face of indifference, opposition, and seemingly insurmountable odds. There have been times of fiery testing, fierce persecution, betrayal by false brothers, and apathy due to materialism. Many have come into Jehovah’s organization during these years. Some have been removed because they did not conform to Christian standards. Many have left because of not being able to endure in the Christian race, and because of being drawn away by enticements of the world—yes, even some who earlier had endured harsh Nazi persecution. It has been a long time, those 80 years, but the distinction has become clear “between one serving God and one who has not served him.”—Mal. 3:18.
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[Picture on page 123]
Zealous group in front of the pioneer home in Leersum
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Fritz and Helen Hartstang had come from Germany to serve as pioneers
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The boat “Lichtdrager” provided mobile housing for pioneers
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Arthur and Käthe Winkler did not spare themselves in Jehovah’s service
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Branch facilities recently constructed in Emmen