Switzerland and Liechtenstein
WHEN you hear of Switzerland, what comes to your mind? Do you think of mountains, watches, cheese, or a delicious chocolate bar? Well, there is something much more valuable than these things in Switzerland. But first, let us tell you about the country itself.
During the century before Jesus Christ carried on his public ministry in Israel, Celtic people called the Helvetii had endeavored to move from central Europe into milder regions to the south. But the Roman army under Julius Caesar barred the way. In 58 B.C.E., after a battle that resulted in extensive slaughter, the surviving Helvetii were forced to return and settle again in the lowlands between the river Rhine and Lake Leman. In the course of many centuries, a confederacy developed here that came to be called Confederatio Helvetica, or simply Helvetia. Undoubtedly, this country is known to you by its modern name, Switzerland.
Switzerland is a small country in the heart of Europe—only 15,943 square miles (41,293 sq km). To the north lies Germany; to the west is France; to the south there is Italy; and Austria and Liechtenstein are to the east. Though the area is small, few lands offer so much variety in scenery within such a space. Lofty snowcapped mountains are part of the landscape; so are palm-lined avenues in the south. The nearly 6.5 million inhabitants belong to one of the four groups of culture and language: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Those speaking Romansh usually also know German or Italian. Additionally, there are many foreigners who have come for work or residence, and these speak a number of other languages.
Most residents of Switzerland belong to the Protestant or the Roman Catholic faith. Although today members of both these confessions live side by side in the cities, there are still areas where one religion or the other predominates. For example, Geneva and Zurich are historically known as cities of the Protestant reformers Calvin and Zwingli. Bern, Basel, and Lausanne are also predominantly Protestant, whereas St. Gallen, Lucerne, and Lugano are mainly Catholic, and the ancient city of Fribourg is a fortress of the Roman church due to its Catholic university and numerous seminaries.
Often the border of a canton (that is, a state or province) is also a religious border, since the population of a given canton is either mostly Catholic or mostly Protestant. For example, speaking of central Switzerland, the Valais, or the Ticino immediately brings Catholicism to the Swiss mind. But persons originating in the cantons of Bern, Neuchâtel, or Zurich—to name just a few—are usually of Protestant faith.
Of course, there also exist other denominations, such as the Christ Catholics, the Jews, the Methodists, and many others. And certain villages actually include dozens of different religious groups.
Would the Kingdom message be welcomed by such a religiously inclined population? We shall see.
BIBLE TRUTH REACHES SWITZERLAND
In 1891, the Watch Tower Society’s first president, Charles T. Russell, made a trip through various countries in Europe and the Middle East. He stopped at Bern, Switzerland, among other places. Explaining the purpose of this tour, he stated that he cared “nothing for curious and ancient ruins, castles, etc.,” but that he wanted “to see the people, to judge of their modes of living, habits of thought and tendencies.” Later, in his report published in Zion’s Watch Tower, November 1891, he mentioned that, as in other countries, he found the field in Switzerland “ready and waiting to be harvested.”
For this reason he suggested to Adolf Weber that he go “into the Lord’s vineyard” in Switzerland. Brother Weber was a Swiss citizen who had come to know the truth in the United States and worked part-time as gardener for Brother Russell. Unhesitatingly, Brother Weber accepted this mission. He was well qualified for it, since he spoke the three main Swiss languages. He settled in his birthplace, Les Convers, in the Jura mountains in January 1900.
Brother Weber earned his livelihood as a gardener and forester, but his prime interest was in sowing seeds of truth. Starting with the people with whom he worked, he enlarged his territory by walking to other villages and towns and by talking to people wherever he met them. During the winter, he used to go on foot into France and as far south as Italy in order to preach, returning to Les Convers in the springtime. Apart from the bare physical necessities of life, he loaded his knapsack with as much literature as he could possibly carry.
One day when he was crossing a bridge over the Hagneck Canal in the canton of Bern, Brother Weber met a man to whom he was able to witness. But as he lowered his knapsack, a book slipped out and fell into the shallow water at the edge of the canal lock, right before the rakes. Later on, when the lockkeeper came to clean the rakes, he found the book, dried it, and started to read. It was a copy of Brother Russell’s Studies in the Scriptures, Volume I. The lockkeeper and his wife marveled at what they were learning and they became convinced that they had found the truth.
INTEREST AROUSED BY ADVERTISEMENTS
Brother Weber left no stone unturned in order to get things started. In addition to his personal witnessing, he advertised Studies in the Scriptures by means of various newspapers, though this sort of publicity was usually rather costly. He arranged for some booksellers to include Studies in the Scriptures in their collections. Soon, people from various parts of the country wrote for the books. Those living in the same area were put in contact with one another, and it was suggested that they meet and study together. In those days there was not much in the way of entertainment, so acquaintances and friends readily attended such meetings when invited. Usually they arranged among themselves as to who should conduct the study, and often they took turns.
Tracts played an important role in those early beginnings. The few dedicated brothers mustered enough courage to distribute them in front of churches, or they mailed them by the thousands to householders in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Brothers in the United States also helped in getting the work started here by mailing German issues of Zion’s Watch Tower to friends and relatives in Switzerland. Some of these later accepted the truth.—Eccl. 11:1.
THE PRESIDENT AT THE DOORSTEP
Among the first persons to receive the truth through Brother Weber was Mrs. Anna Bachmann in Basel. Although she had regularly attended the Evangelical Reformed Church, her interest in Bible study was aroused when Brother Weber talked to her about God’s purpose for mankind and the fundamental truths of the Bible. She accepted the Divine Plan of the Ages and studied it all by herself, since there was no one around to help her. After a year Brother Weber returned, answered her questions in his calm way, and encouraged her to continue studying God’s Word.
Then, in May 1903 she was surprised to find two visitors at her doorstep. One was a Bible Student from nearby Mülhausen (then a German city but now belonging to France), and the other was the president of the Watch Tower Society himself, Brother Russell. The conversation translated by the Bible Student was very upbuilding and helped Mrs. Bachmann to progress. In the course of time she became a devoted servant of Jehovah, and both her husband and, at a later time, her son Fritz accepted the truth. Several other persons also manifested interest, so a study group was organized in Basel from 1909 onward. Fritz Bachmann, now advanced in age, is still a member of one of the Basel congregations.
NEED FOR FRENCH PUBLICATIONS
Zion’s Watch Tower had been printed in the United States in German since 1897. When it also started to appear in French in 1903, Brother Weber rejoiced, but he felt that the Studies in the Scriptures were also sorely needed in French to promote Bible understanding. So he personally translated these. Other publications followed, and a small office of the Society with a literature depot was established in Yverdon in 1903.
The number here who were serving Jehovah was not very large. Meetings, even conventions, were held in private homes. But the future looked bright and the brothers were zealous. Adolf Weber was appointed manager of the work in the French field. For the German part of Switzerland, a small office for literature and information was established in Zurich and was supervised by the branch office in Barmen-Elberfeld, Germany.
BROTHER RUSSELL’S UPBUILDING VISITS
“General conventions” played an important role right from the beginning of the work. One was held in Zurich in 1910 with about a hundred persons in attendance. From year to year the number of those attending increased. Brother Russell was frequently among them.
Looking back, one cannot but be impressed by his enterprising spirit. Travel in the early 20th century was not as comfortable and rapid as today, yet Brother Russell made the effort almost every year to cross the ocean in order to strengthen the brothers in Europe and give an impulse to the work. And what a busy schedule he had!
In 1912 he visited Geneva, Basel, Zurich, and St. Gallen. His public talk, “Beyond the Grave,” was advertised by means of big posters depicting a finger pointing toward a procession of clergymen, with the words: “Woe unto you . . . for ye have taken away the key of knowledge.” (Luke 11:52, KJ) The subject was a real eye-opener and caused a sensation. Throughout town, people would talk about the evidence that there is no hellfire, that the dead are unconscious, and that there is hope for them to live again. (Eccl. 9:10; Acts 2:22-31; 24:15) The news spread like wildfire. The halls rented never seemed to be big enough. Crowds often had to be turned away for lack of space. This proclaiming of the truth about the condition of the dead was pulling at the pillars of traditional religion.
EMBARRASSING QUESTIONS FOR THE CLERGY
Some people began to ask their pastors embarrassing questions. Among them was Clara Adler, who had received from a relative a booklet entitled Where Are the Dead? and had read it with great interest. This clear explanation of the condition of the dead and the hope for all mankind impelled her to run to her minister to let him share her enthusiasm.
‘Surely, he has never read anything so wonderful,’ she thought. But alas, his response was: “I know, I know, . . . but it would be much better for you not to read such things.” Sister Adler did not let herself be discouraged. She says: “Though I knew very little of the truth at that time, the words of the Bible meant more to me than what the pastor said. Now I realized that no theological study was necessary to understand the Word of God. Rather, God had given man the faculty of reasoning in order to make good use of it.” This is what she did, and she has helped many others to do the same.
Although the truths being taught by Brother Russell greatly disturbed many clergymen, there were some who sympathized with his efforts to bring accurate knowledge of the Bible to the fore. One of them was Ludwig Reinhardt. In 1877 he published in German a translation of “The New Testament” that is noteworthy for rendering Luke 23:43 as follows: “And Jesus said to [the evildoer]: Truly I say to you today: You will be with me in Paradise.” In correspondence with a Bible Student in 1908, this Protestant minister wrote: “So you see I know the ‘Millennial-Dawn-Movement’ very well and warmly appreciate the lively and self-sacrificing devotion of Bro. C. T. Russell and all of his associates . . . As I am very keen to eliminate as many inaccuracies as I can and to publish a translation as faithful and as exact as possible, I would be very grateful to you and to Bro. Russell if you would note all the points you object to in my translation.”
“PILGRIMS” STRENGTHEN THE FAITHFUL
“Pilgrims” were traveling representatives of the Society, as circuit overseers are today. Their efforts contributed to the unity of the brothers and brought them into closer contact with God’s organization. The Society would announce in Zion’s Watch Tower the proposed itinerary of the pilgrim brothers, and congregations and smaller groups along these routes would then write and express their desire to be visited. The pilgrims were excellent speakers, and their public lectures were usually well attended. In 1913, for example, their audiences in Switzerland totaled some 8,000 persons.
Brothers Herkendell and Buchholz from Germany, as well as other pilgrims, are still remembered by some for their loving assistance. They stayed only one or two days in each place, but they used their knowledge of the Bible to give spiritual insight to the brothers and to exhort newly interested ones not to let themselves be intimidated by opposers. The favorite subject of Brother Wellershaus was chronology. He used to give lengthy talks based on plans and charts, and whenever that work is mentioned, these still come to the minds of those present at that time.
IN EXPECTATION OF 1914
Since 1876, the attention of the Bible Students had been directed to the year 1914 as a turning point in history. The 2,520 years known as the Times of the Gentiles were then to end. (Luke 21:24) Sister Berta Obrist remembered how her family often scoffed at her when she told them about a war that was due to occur. “Now stop talking about this 1914!” her grandmother would say angrily. But how surprised and impressed her grandmother was when war really did break out in 1914!
The parents of little Hulda in Schaffhausen just could not believe that a big change in world events would take place in 1914 as an acquaintance repeatedly explained to them from the Bible. But Sister Hulda Peter remembers that her mother was really beside herself when the war did break out. Now she was full of questions, and she wanted, by all means, to get a Bible. As the truth unfolded before her eyes, she accepted it wholeheartedly, quit her former church, and dedicated herself to Jehovah God.
Others, too, were helped to sit up and take notice of the significance of the events enacted on the world’s stage beginning in 1914. To that end, a wonderful instrument was prepared under Jehovah’s direction. It was a series of four discourses with slides and motion pictures.
PHOTO-DRAMA OF CREATION
The presentation of the Photo-Drama of Creation was a big success. The first showing in Bern took place some weeks after the general mobilization of the Swiss Army had been proclaimed due to the outbreak of World War I, but total attendance over a period of two weeks amounted to more than 12,000. After that, it was shown to further appreciative crowds in towns and villages.
Among the 3,000 who submitted their names and addresses with a request for more information was Heinrich Heuberger, who saw the Photo-Drama in the village of Safenwil. The program lasted for four evenings, and he made sure not to miss any of it. He relates: “I was simply thrilled. I wanted to know more, so I filled in a card to this effect and mailed it the same evening. Soon after, I received a Bible Students’ tract. Sometime later, I accepted an invitation to a public lecture and there I acquired the first volume of Studies in the Scriptures.” His employer, the brother-in-law of a Protestant minister, made it very plain that he did not approve of the book. But Heinrich’s interest was keen and he spent his free hours in the forest where he could read the book undisturbed.
In the small town of Brugg, the showing of the Photo-Drama in 1915 was scheduled to be held in the local inn “Zum Rothen Haus.” The hall was filled to capacity long before the announced time, so the police closed the doors and turned away further arrivals. But a few intrepid young people, determined not to miss the presentation, put up ladders against the other side of the building and gained entrance through the open windows on the first floor.
DEVELOPMENTS IN THE FRENCH TERRITORY
During the years before 1914 there was good increase in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, but the work in the French-speaking territory lagged behind expectations. So special attention was given to this field by means of public lectures and showings of the Photo-Drama of Creation. All of this bore good fruit.
In 1912 the literature depot operating in Yverdon was transferred to Geneva and established as a branch office. From there, the work not only in French-speaking Switzerland but also in the French territory in all of Europe was supervised. The office was later relocated but on the same street. The branch now cared for 23 congregations, and the Memorial report of 1916 showed a total attendance of 256 for French-speaking Switzerland and 108 for France. In 1917, a total of 56,550 were present for showings of the Photo-Drama.
TESTS OF FAITHFULNESS RESULT IN A REFINING
The year 1918 brought tests of faithfulness and a refining so that the dross was cleaned out and those who truly loved Jehovah’s ways became manifest. (Mal. 3:1-3) There were restrictions due to the war, particularly with regard to fuel, and this resulted in the canceling of some meetings. Besides, developments at the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn adversely affected the activity of the brothers over here. Some grew fearful. Others believed the work was approaching its end, and Armageddon was expected at any time. There was not much encouragement from the brothers in charge. This was the situation when, on November 11, 1918, the war came to a stop.
More serious were the difficulties caused by L. A. Freytag, the one in charge of the office in Geneva. He had been authorized to publish a French translation of the English edition of The Watch Tower as well as Studies in the Scriptures. But he abused his position by publishing his own ideas. When Brother Rutherford, the Society’s president, learned of this, Freytag was immediately discharged and the office in Geneva was closed. However, Freytag wanted to keep control of the Society’s property in Geneva and refused to render an account over financial matters. Besides, he wanted to publish his own magazine under the name La Tour de Garde (The Watch Tower). Grossly distorting the facts, he claimed that the Society had asked from him what was his own. Legal action against Freytag became necessary. He lost all three cases and finally had to return to the Society furniture and literature, as well as the Photo-Drama of Creation, and was forced to render a financial account. After that, connections were severed, and Freytag headed a movement of his own.
Though the congregations were emphatically warned and kindly exhorted, many persons followed Freytag. Sadly, of the 304 gathered for the French-language Memorial in 1919, only 75 remained with the Society, and even quite a few of these turned back to the world later on.
In spite of this development, Jehovah’s spirit continued to strengthen the faithful ones. More interested persons manifested themselves in all parts of the country, and these entered into the joys of the Kingdom work that lay ahead. Among these was Alice Berner. As a young girl, she had learned Psalm 103 by heart and was deeply moved by the words: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” (KJ) This young lady worried the pastors of her church. She recalls: “My withdrawal from the Protestant Church caused some uproar. Two ministers tried to talk me into staying with their fold. But these discussions only helped me to see more clearly how necessary it was to separate from a system that was not based completely on Bible truth.” Within a few years Sister Berner was devoting her full time to Jehovah’s service. The fact that at 85 she is still a joyous and active Bethel worker (now in Germany) proves that she never regretted her decision.
The spring of 1919, the same year that Alice Berner first came in touch with the truth, brought good news from overseas: the brothers from Brooklyn headquarters, including the president of the Society, J. F. Rutherford, had been released from their unjust imprisonment on March 25, 1919! Soon Jehovah’s people received needed instructions through the pages of The Watch Tower to help them appreciate the great work that was yet to be done. Rather than coming to an end, the witness work was to be pushed ahead as never before!
CENTRAL EUROPEAN OFFICE ESTABLISHED
The following year, Brother Rutherford visited Switzerland to get things moving. To reorganize the work in war-torn Europe, it seemed best to establish a Central European Office, and Switzerland was deemed to be a good location for it because the country had not been actively engaged in the war. Eventually both the branch office for Switzerland and the Central European Office came together at 19 Usteristrasse in Zurich. A staff of ten persons was working there in 1924. Conrad Binkele was in charge, and one of the coworkers was Max Freschel, who later served at the headquarters in Brooklyn where he became known as the beloved Maxwell Friend.
The Central European Office was to supervise the work in Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Austria, Italy, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Poland, and even Germany for a time. Some countries had their own local manager, but these were in close contact with the Central European Office, to which they sent their monthly reports. In turn, the office compiled the report and transmitted it to Brooklyn. It was also the task of this office to supply publications in various languages to the countries under its jurisdiction.
During these years, Brother E. Zaugg, who was in charge of the work in the French territories, had his office in Bern. In Bern also, some brothers had founded a printing company on their own initiative and had started to produce publications for the Society at favorable rates due to the fact that all the workers were dedicated persons. In time the Society took over those printing facilities, enlarged the printery, and installed a rotary press on which the magazine The Golden Age was printed in German as of October 1922. Booklets and tracts in more than a dozen languages were produced in great quantities.
During Brother Rutherford’s visit in 1924, however, it became obvious that larger facilities were needed to satisfy the enormous demand for literature in Europe after the war. Property across the street was acquired and work began on a new “Bible House,” which was completed by the spring of 1925. In the new pressroom, yet another rotary press was installed. Over the years, the efficiency of this printery continued to improve, producing finally 500,000 hardbound books and one million booklets a year, besides magazines and tracts in at least 16 languages.
CHANGES IN LOCATION AND DIRECTION
It was a big event when the Central European Office moved into this new building, 39 Allmendstrasse, on April 1, 1925.
Josef A. Bick remembered well the circumstances in connection with this relocation. “We looked forward to the new premises,” he said, “but there was one big question on the minds of all staff members: Who was going to be put in charge? Three brothers were in line: C. C. Binkele, until then responsible for the Zurich office; E. Zaugg, already in Bern and responsible for the work there and in the French section; and there was also Jakob Weber, who cared for the colporteur and preaching work.”
Were the brothers primarily interested in advancing the interests of true worship, or would personal pride and concern over position affect their ability to render humble service? “Those days were full of tension,” according to Brother Bick, “but the president recognized well the situation.” Since Brother Binkele’s health was failing, it was suggested that he go to the United States for treatment. In his stead, Brother Zaugg was appointed to take the oversight. In the course of time, however, both Binkele and Zaugg abandoned true worship.
SERIOUS TESTINGS DURING 1925
The year 1925 started very promisingly with the new Bethel home and factory in Bern. The brothers were happy and were encouraged to push ahead with the work. However, some had their own personal convictions with respect to the year 1925. Would they let themselves be admonished by The Watch Tower of January 1, 1925? It cautioned:
“The year 1925 is here. With great expectation Christians have looked forward to this year. Many have confidently expected that all members of the body of Christ will be changed to heavenly glory during the year. This may be accomplished. It may not be. In his own due time God will accomplish his purposes concerning his own people. Christians should not be so deeply concerned about what may transpire during this year that they would fail to joyfully do what the Lord would have them to do.”
Among others, Jakob Weber, who was responsible for the Service Desk at Bethel, was not impressed. He was so sure that all the anointed would be glorified in heaven by the end of the year that he pursued a “liquidation course.” He sent large quantities of literature to congregations without having received orders for it, instructing them to distribute the publications free of charge in their territory before the end of 1925.
All the efforts of the brothers at Bethel to reason with him were to no avail. Finally, he left not only Bethel but the truth and caused much grief among the brothers throughout the country, since he drew many with him. Some congregations were reduced to less than half their former size.
Another sad condition came to light within the Bethel family. Some had committed immoral acts. Quick action followed from the President’s Office. Then, in February 1926, Martin C. Harbeck arrived from Brooklyn to take over the management of the office in Bern.
SWISS PUBLISHERS CARE FOR LIECHTENSTEIN
At this point it seems appropriate to mention something about Liechtenstein, one of the smallest countries in the world, situated across the river Rhine, between Switzerland and Austria. The Liechtensteiners like to call it the Ländle (Little Land), a fitting diminutive in view of its length of only 17 miles (27 km) and an average width of less than 4 miles (6 km). Most of its 27,076 inhabitants enjoy living in rural settlements without the pressures of city life. The capital, Vaduz, has a population of just 4,927 amid beautiful alpine surroundings.
Letting the light of Bible truth shine in this Catholic stronghold has been the responsibility of the publishers in Switzerland. In the 1920’s, some brothers from Rorschach met with violent opposition when preaching in Liechtenstein. They were arrested and banished from the country. But in harmony with Jesus’ prophecy at Mark 13:10, Louis Meyer, a former Salvation Army officer who accepted the truth in 1923, felt an earnest responsibility to see that sheeplike ones in Liechtenstein had opportunity to hear the truth. “Once, we made an effort to reach every household by mailing a booklet,” he recalled. “The authorities reacted by bringing action against the ‘unknown sender,’ but they were unsuccessful because the Swiss Post Office refused to give the sender’s name.”
After consulting with the branch office, Brother Meyer organized a one-day assembly at the Hotel Rosengarten in Ragaz, not far from the border of Liechtenstein. The morning hours were reserved for house-to-house preaching. Responsible brothers from the Service Department and the Legal Desk from Bethel would be present, just in case. Service instructions were clear cut: Give a short witness, hand over some publication, note interest, and leave. Should the police show up, phone immediately to the hotel.
Brother Meyer reports: “First, everything seemed to go well. But at the noon meal the publishers preaching in Liechtenstein were missing! Then came the phone call: ‘All have been arrested and an important sum is demanded as bail.’ They were retained in their bus in front of the government building, singing songs from ‘Zion’s Songbook.’ This the authorities could not prohibit, but it made them quite nervous as it attracted the attention of the people round about.”
With intervention of the brother from the Society’s Legal Desk, the publishers were finally set free without bail. They felt that their singing had also contributed to their release.
DELIVERING UNFORGETTABLE MESSAGES
Over the years, longtime witnesses of Jehovah have had the privilege of delivering many unforgettable messages to the Swiss public. One of these was the lecture “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” Great crowds came to listen. Even today, elderly people to whom we witness remember the title of that talk! Some jokingly have slightly changed the title in the German language by dropping the letters st from the word sterben (“to die”), so that the title reads “Millions Now Living Will Never Inherit” (in German, erben). But the important thing is that people remember the message.
Also memorable was the message contained in the tract Ecclesiastics Indicted. Distribution of that tract back in the mid-1920’s was an exciting work. The congregation at Zurich was assigned to cover a section of the Catholic canton of Schwyz. One intrepid brother, Gottfried Honegger, decided to hand out the tracts in front of the church at the end of Mass, but other brothers reasoned with him, saying: “You’re out of your mind. They are going to do you serious harm if you provoke them so daringly.”
So Brother Honegger dropped that plan, but he still undertook a courageous action. When the church services were over and all the men had gone to the inns to get their Sunday drink, he went from inn to inn and from table to table, quickly handing a tract to every man. When they saw what it was all about, an uproar broke out, so he discreetly withdrew to the waiting room of the railway station till things quieted down.
Jules Feller recalls the effort that went into the distribution of that tract. He reminisces: “Five of us brothers of the Bethel family decided to cover a mountain valley, the Goms, with this tract. All being well-trained cyclists, we agreed to go by bicycle, but it would require two days to make the trip. So we started early one Saturday morning at the end of May. Everything went well until we reached a mountain pass still covered with a lot of snow. That was an obstacle we had never expected!”
So what did they do? Return? No. He says: “We courageously shouldered our loaded bicycles and started climbing in a zigzag course the steep hill in front of us. But it was much more troublesome than we had imagined, and dangerous at that. Besides, one of the brothers did not have good shoes, so he kept slipping on the frozen snow and went more backward than forward. He became so discouraged that he wanted to give up.”
The other four brothers offered to help him carry his load, and finally, after a three-hour climb and a thunderstorm that soaked them to the skin, they reached the first village on the other side of the pass. There they strengthened themselves with a meal and a few hours of sleep. Brother Feller continues:
“The next morning at three o’clock, we started to slip the tracts under the doors or put them in the mailboxes. Later, when the people were up, we handed them out personally. Some got very angry and tore the tracts to shreds. But we calmly went on to cover the 20 villages of this staunch Catholic territory.”
WITNESSING AT THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS BUILDING
The branch overseer, Martin C. Harbeck, was a dynamic person able to present the truth in a pleasing manner even to persons in high station. He procured a journalist’s identification card for admittance to certain sessions of the League of Nations in Geneva. Striving hard for an opportunity to speak to some of these men, he got a chance to hand literature to Anthony Eden of England, to the German statesman Gustav Stresemann, and to Maksim Litvinov of Russia—all of them representing their countries at the League of Nations. Their attention was thus directed to the real means of uniting people of the nations in peace and justice, God’s Kingdom by Christ.
Another effort to reach influential persons, as well as leaders of the nations, was made in 1932 during the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In accord with what was written long ago in Psalm 2:10-12, a copy of the booklet The Kingdom, the Hope of the World was mailed to them, as well as to leading clergymen, with a card enclosed urging them to pay the greatest attention to this message. In this way, a witness was given to 292 of these politically powerful ones of the earth.
A ROTARY PRESS FOR RUSSIA?
In Germany, Hitler had come to power in 1933, and the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses there was soon banned. Brother Harbeck went to see about the Society’s property in Magdeburg. However, he was arrested; he obtained release after ten days, only on condition that he leave the country immediately.
Then a brother from Brooklyn, New York, went to Germany to try to get the confiscated rotary press out of Germany and to ship it to Russia. The Society intended to further the preaching of the Kingdom good news in that country. But the Russian authorities were of the opinion that their people needed shoes rather than Bibles, so the Magdeburg rotary press was finally shipped to Bern, where it served well until it could be returned to Germany some years after the war.
WORKING WITH THE PHONOGRAPH
A new feature of the Kingdom-preaching work started in 1934 with the help of the phonograph. Publishers would tell householders that they had a five-minute Bible sermon that they would like to play. Usually the answer was: “Oh, but we have no phonograph!” When the publisher pointed to the one he had brought along, curiosity got the better of most householders, and they agreed to listen. Much interest was aroused in this way, and literature placements were numerous.
Working with the phonograph was relatively easy. Even schoolchildren could do it. Ruth Bosshard (now in Bethel) remembers that in her early teens she would go on her school-free afternoons to her assigned territory and play records to certain ladies who welcomed her calls. At least one of those ladies eventually dedicated her life to God, much to the joy of that youthful Witness.
Sometimes unusual situations developed. Heinrich Heuberger recalled: “Once a family of six allowed me to play a recorded Bible talk. They were all assembled in the living room, but during the record-playing, one by one they quietly disappeared, leaving me all by myself at the end of the five-minute sermon. What could I do? Well, I packed up my phonograph, shouted ‘Auf Wiedersehen!’ (‘Until we see each other again’) and went my way.”
Patience and repeated contacts were necessary to permit new thoughts to sink into the minds of those tradition-bound folks.
‘OUR GOD IS NOT A GOD OF DISORDER’
This is what Erwin Saner in Basel used to say, pointing to the clock, whenever a child would arrive late for the congregation’s Sunday school.—1 Cor. 14:33.
Sunday school? Yes, indeed. For a time we had a separate youth group for those from 13 to 25 years of age, and a Sunday school for younger ones, based on the publication The Way to Paradise (edited in 1924 and “Dedicated to Youth for the Study in the Holy Scriptures” by W. E. Van Amburgh). Adult members of the congregations took turns instructing the children on Sunday mornings. Ulrich Engler from Thalwil explained: “We parents went preaching on Sundays, and it was not the custom at that time to take the children along, neither would we take them to meetings in the evening. So when a youth group was formed in Zurich, we were glad that the children from the Thalwil Congregation were also invited.”
The association “Jehovah’s Youth” even had its own secretary’s office in Bern. A special magazine named Jehovah’s Youth was edited there and printed on the Society’s presses. The preface to the first issue was written by Brother Rutherford. These youths conducted meetings and took an active part in the witness work. They also performed Bible dramas at bigger gatherings organized for the young ones. However, this was really an organization within the organization. The Bible shows that in ancient Israel the provision that Jehovah made was for adults and children to assemble together for instruction. (Deut. 31:12) When we came to appreciate this more fully, these special arrangements for youths were dissolved. This was done in 1936 at the time of Brother Rutherford’s visit.
EFFORTS TO LET LIGHT SHINE IN ITALY
The Central European Office was concerned about Italy. The dictator Mussolini had come to power there, and the work of Jehovah’s servants was banned. There were very few brothers in Italy and they were closely watched by the Fascist police. However, 500,000 copies of the booklet The Kingdom, the Hope of the World had been privately printed in Milan, and they were awaiting distribution.
So it was planned that some Swiss brothers who were willing to take the risk would travel to northern Italy and, by a swift distribution of these booklets, let the light shine to people sitting in darkness. Alfred Gallmann from Basel was among those glad to share in this work. He reports:
“Together with a few other brothers and sisters I traveled to Milan, where we got instructions. The campaign was well organized. We worked in pairs; each pair had 50,000 booklets to distribute, and these had already been shipped to the respective cities. My partner and I were to cover the cities Verona, Vicenza, and Venice. The work was to be accomplished quickly in order to avoid clergy complaints and confiscation of the booklets by the police.
“Upon arrival, we looked for some young boys who would show us the way to the streets and alleys assigned to each of us. For a tip they were willing to help us by putting the booklets into the mailboxes. These boys thoroughly enjoyed this strange activity, ignoring totally what it was all about.”
Was the campaign accomplished without any incidents? Almost. Some of the brothers were stopped by the police, but after a little explanation in their broken Italian, they let them go. At the end of the week, they all met again in Milan, rejoicing over what had been accomplished. The attention of at least a small part of Italy’s vast population had been directed toward the only hope for freedom and righteousness, God’s Kingdom.
GETTING SPIRITUAL FOOD INTO NAZI GERMANY
One of the tasks of the Central European Office was to maintain contact with the brothers suffering persecution. Though Germany was not under the jurisdiction of this office, the brothers in Bern made great efforts to supply those in Germany with vitally needed spiritual food.
To that end, the office sent typewritten copies of Watchtower articles to Karl Kalt, overseer in Basel. He recalled: “It was my responsibility to have some trustworthy brother or sister type about 30 copies of these articles on thin paper and have them ready for a certain date. We used to work every evening until midnight.”
How did this material then reach the brothers in Germany? Because Basel was a frontier city, the distance was not great, and in those prewar years there was still much traffic across the border. Once in a while, though, travelers were searched thoroughly. Brother Kalt continued:
“Confidential persons from Germany would pick up the copies at my home and carry them across the border either in their shoes, between double soles, or under their clothing, delivering them safely to their destination. Often they did it at risk of life and limb.” Such spiritual food reached not only those Witnesses who were at liberty to move about but also those in the concentration camps.
SOLIDARITY WITH THE WITNESSES IN GERMANY
The brothers in Germany were under extreme pressure, and their fellow servants throughout the earth felt it with them. As the apostle Paul wrote: “If one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it.” (1 Cor. 12:26) This was highlighted by what took place at a special gathering of all congregations on Sunday, October 7, 1934, at 9:00 a.m. At that time a sealed envelope was to be opened. It was the text of a telegram to be sent to Hitler’s government. It read as follows:
“Hitler Government, Berlin, Germany. Your ill-treatment of Jehovah’s witnesses shocks all good people of earth and dishonors God’s name. Refrain from further persecuting Jehovah’s witnesses; otherwise God will destroy you and your national party.”
This telegram was dispatched on the very same day from congregations in 50 different countries, including those in Germany. Imagine the flood of telegrams converging on Berlin on that day! It was not only a warning to Hitler and his party; this was also a demonstration of unity and solidarity of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. As for the outcome, the fate of Hitler and of his political party is well known.
“CRUSADE AGAINST CHRISTIANITY”
To draw the attention of the general public to Jehovah’s Witnesses’ resistance to Nazi terror, the Society’s office in Brooklyn approved the publishing of the book Kreuzzug gegen das Christentum (Crusade Against Christianity). It described in detail the thorny path of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany. It contained the experiences of more than a hundred brothers and sisters and was, above all, a testimony to the fact that men and women fought, suffered, and died in Nazi Germany because of their faith. The book was published by the Europa-Verlag in Zurich, a secular publishing company, and it was exhibited in bookshops and newsstands. It was translated into French and Polish but not into English.
The well-known writer Dr. Thomas Mann stated in a letter to the Society: “ . . . you have done your duty by publishing this book openly, and it seems to me that there is no greater appeal to the World’s conscience than this publication.” A Protestant minister, Th. Bruppacher, remarked in a Swiss newspaper on August 19, 1938: “The future church historian must some day acknowledge that not the great churches, but several of the slandered and scoffed-at people of the sects, were the ones who stood up first of all against the rage of the Nazi-demon and who dared to make opposition according to the faith. They suffer and bleed because as ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses’ and candidates for the Kingdom of Christ they refuse the worship of Hitler, the swastika, the German greeting and the forced participation in the elections.”
A HAVEN FOR REFUGEE PIONEERS
In 1936 the Society acquired the farm “Bärenmoos,” near Steffisburg/Thun, to provide the Bethel family with healthful food at the lowest cost possible. Two years later, another farm, called Chanélaz, situated near Neuchâtel, was also purchased. Both farms provided refuge for pioneers obliged to leave their assignments abroad and not able to return to their homelands. This was particularly true of German pioneers who had been serving in the Balkans. Upwards of 30 brothers and sisters worked at these farms as farmhands, and this, by the way, was the only kind of work for which a residence permit was granted by the Swiss authorities.
One brother serving at Bärenmoos was Heinrich Dwenger. Born in Germany in 1887, he was baptized in Barmen in 1909 when he visited the branch office there. Right then and there he was invited into full-time service. The decision was not an easy one because his parents were not in the truth and they had high expectations regarding employment for their son. However, he entered full-time service in October 1910, serving first at the branch in Barmen and then in Magdeburg. Later, he fulfilled difficult assignments in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Tracked down by the German Gestapo, he finally made his way to Switzerland as instructed by the Society. As a farmhand at Bärenmoos, he gladly cared for the pigs. In later years he served in the Subscription Department at the branch office in Switzerland.
Reviewing his life in Jehovah’s service, Brother Dwenger said: “I am very happy that I accepted seriously the Scriptural responsibility to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom. I have spent many of my years serving in Bethel homes in various countries, where it has not been my place to choose the work that pleased me, but, rather, to fulfill the tasks assigned. How happy I am that I have always sought to follow the direction of Jehovah through his earthly organization by faithfully carrying out these assignments! For truly it is this obedience that has been a source of rich blessings.”
On January 30, 1983, at the age of 96, Brother Dwenger finished his earthly course. In the memory of numerous brothers and sisters both inside and outside of Switzerland, Heinrich Dwenger remains an example of modesty, humility, and obedience—an example to imitate.
While working temporarily at the farm Chanélaz, Oskar Hoffmann and his wife Anni especially enjoyed the companionship of Adolf Weber, who started the preaching of the good news in Switzerland back in 1900. He had seen many make a promising start in Jehovah’s service but then turn to the things behind. Though some had allowed feelings of self-importance to overreach them, Brother Weber had continued to serve Jehovah loyally and humbly. He had become advanced in years and was ailing, so he spent the winter months at the farm. His modesty, strong faith, and zealous service left a deep impression on all who knew him. Finally, at the age of 85, he finished his earthly course in February 1948.
TACKLING A CATHOLIC STRONGHOLD
In 1922, in connection with one of Brother Rutherford’s visits, it had been decided to try to arrange for a public talk in Lucerne, fortress of Catholicism. The brothers had managed to find a place seating 850 persons, and every seat had been filled. Attention had been rapt, and not a single person had left the hall before the end. The audience had shown their full accord by prolonged and repeated applause, which had obliged Brother Rutherford to return to the speaker’s stand. There he had taken leave of the public by calling out: “Auf Wiedersehen!”
He kept his promise. An international convention was arranged for Lucerne, to be held from September 4 to 7, 1936. Brothers attended from practically every European country, some even from Nazi Germany, although they risked their lives and freedom to do so. In fact, Nazi agents secretly photographed German conventioners, and these were arrested immediately on their return home.
The widely advertised lecture to be given by Brother Rutherford was “Armageddon—The Battle of Almighty God.” At the last moment, however, it was banned for the public by the cantonal authorities of Lucerne. The brothers were able to hear it, but a crowd of about 2,000 others were kept from getting into the hall because of police interference. Nevertheless, the brothers were determined that the public would receive the message. They had found a printery that was willing to print the material in six hours; so the text of the talk was available for distribution to all who were being prevented from entering the hall. Thus a more long-lasting witness was given to the city of Lucerne, much to the dismay of the clergy who were behind the prohibition.
When the suppression of freedom of assembly became public knowledge, much indignation was expressed through the Swiss press. The National-Zeitung of Basel asked at the end of a lengthy article: “Where is the freedom fading away to of which we were so proud?”
CLERGY EFFORTS BOOMERANG
Brother Rutherford, a courageous and straightforward man, presented a resolution to the conventioners on the following day. It read in part: “We now sound the warning to the rulers in Germany and to the Roman Catholic Hierarchy, and to all like organizations that cruelly persecute the true and faithful followers of Christ Jesus, that the fate of such God declares is complete destruction. (Psalm 145:20)” A copy of this resolution was sent by registered letter both to the pope and to Hitler.
But that was not all. On the last day of the convention, about a thousand Witnesses distributed in and around Lucerne more than 10,000 copies of the booklet Choosing, Riches or Ruin? Some publishers were arrested and their literature was confiscated. Several newspapers criticized the measures taken by the authorities, but in reality a much wider witness was given in this way. What is more, a special issue of The Golden Age was prepared containing all the facts about this convention.
Here you see the front cover of that magazine depicting a priest’s black hat on a pole before the skyline of Lucerne! The text below the picture reads “Der neue Gesslerhut” (“The New Gessler Hat”). Who was this Gessler? In Friedrich Schiller’s epic Wilhelm Tell, Gessler is portrayed as an oppressive bailiff who tried to subjugate the freedom-loving people around Lake of Lucerne in the 13th century. He is said to have pitched his hat on a pole and forced the people to bow to it in submission and allegiance. So the symbol of despotism—Gessler’s hat—figured on the front cover of this special issue of The Golden Age, thus alluding to the clergy-inspired suppression of freedom of speech on this occasion.
There were 100,000 copies of this issue printed, 20,000 of which were mailed free of charge to all households in Lucerne and its surroundings. A reprint of 18,000 copies became necessary, and these, too, were used up within a few days. Even today that 1936 convention in Lucerne lingers in the memory of many!
One person whose attention was aroused by that special issue of The Golden Age was Edouard Zysset, who was living in Bern. He contacted the Society’s office, and after a lively discussion with the responsible editor, Brother Zürcher, he left with a stack of publications under his arm. Four years later, in 1940, both he and his wife Yvonne were immersed. Especially since then, they both have been of great help to the Society by proofreading publications and contributing to the preparation of our French Bible concordance, as well as strengthening French congregations. On two different occasions they served as members of the Bethel family.
FIGHTING IN THE COURTS DURING THE THIRTIES
Switzerland is known the world over as one of the oldest democracies. Historians glorify the fight for freedom from foreign domination put up by the founders of the Confederation, and the Swiss take pride in their constitution, which guarantees, among other things, freedom of religion and conscience. All the more surprising, therefore, was the intensive battle in the courts that was necessary ‘to defend and legally establish’ our right to preach from house to house by word of mouth and printed page. (Phil. 1:7) This battle lasted for almost three decades. In 1935 alone, 111 legal difficulties had to be dealt with, about half of which were settled in our favor.
What were the reasons, and who was behind all that trouble caused to the proclaimers of God’s Kingdom? The leading representatives of “Babylon the Great,” who were displeased with the increasing activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The symbolic locust plague depicted in the prophecies of Joel and Revelation had reached them, and they felt tormented by the message of judgment.
For example, the booklet Escape to the Kingdom caused one Catholic priest to declare: “This publication contains a lot of Biblical distortions, absurdities, vulgar defamations, intended to mislead the people, and low appeal to the sensual inclinations of mankind. And should we as Catholics tolerate such manipulations? Surely there are legal provisions to render harmless these low-down fellows and demagogues. Should we not make use of our power? We urgently ask the competent authorities to deal rigorously with these malicious Bible students and to give them what they deserve.”
THEY DID MAKE USE OF THEIR POWER
The consequences of continual clerical pressure upon the authorities began to be felt. Instigated by local priests, the police frequently arrested publishers as they shared in field service. Accusations ranged from offending religious feelings by strong wording or illustrations in our publications, to disturbing confessional peace or breaking Sunday rest laws. Often we were also accused of peddling without a license.
In the canton of Lucerne, the publication Light, Book One, was forbidden because of certain pictures it contained. In another Catholic canton, Fribourg, some publishers were accused in court of outrageous criticism of the Catholic Church by their distribution of the book Deliverance, and we lost the case. The canton of Graubünden prohibited the distribution of any of our literature, and the Catholic canton of Zug banned the “peace-disturbing activity” of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Subsequently, the cantonal government of Lucerne followed suit.
In these and dozens of other cases we challenged the legality of the measures taken against us. This required fighting through the courts, sometimes all the way up to the Federal Supreme Court. We suffered defeats, but we also rejoiced in victories. Jehovah backed up his people, and it was faith-strengthening to observe how the publishers participated in this fight for freedom to preach the truth. They continued to engage in field service, although in certain territories an arrest was almost sure to take place.
THE AIM OF THE ENEMY: TOTAL PROHIBITION
“It is high time to put an end to the activity of the Bible Students alias Jehovah’s Witnesses” was an expression coming up frequently, particularly in the Catholic press. Seeing that Jehovah’s Witnesses had been banned in Nazi Germany, our enemies in Switzerland felt encouraged to pursue the same goal. Slander and misrepresentation were their weapons.
A powerful means was the Swiss Press Correspondence, a monthly information paper forwarded to all authorities and newspaper editors. It had close connections with the “Society for Church and Pope” founded in St. Gallen in 1931. This paper was very anxious to make Jehovah’s Witnesses appear to be a most suspicious organization, hostile to the State and supporting the idea of a Jewish world government. Working toward the suppression of our work and the distribution of our literature, it stated: “This muddy flood, going out from Bern and engulfing all the countries of Europe, puts us Catholics in Switzerland under obligation to see to it that the [Swiss] headquarters be dissolved. We may not tolerate that our wonderful country is misused as the starting point of an insidious Bolshevistic agitation.” Another absurd assertion!
The responsible director of this paper, Mr. Toedtli, instituted legal proceedings against Martin C. Harbeck and Franz Zürcher, representatives of the Society, on the grounds of “degradation of religion.” At the same proceedings it was to be clarified whether the Society’s publications constituted “trashy literature” or not. The accusations presented by Mr. Toedtli were based on a lengthy opinion of Mr. Fleischhauer, member of the National Front and director of the Anti-Jewish and National-Socialist Propaganda Center in Erfurt, Germany. This man pretended that the Bible Students were camouflaged communists “who strive together with Freemasons and Jews for the violent overthrow of all Christian governments in order to erect on the ruins of Christendom a Jewish empire.”
BROTHER RUTHERFORD PRESENT AT HEARINGS
When the case was heard before a tribunal in Bern on August 26, 1936, Brother Rutherford was in Switzerland. He appeared in court and bore testimony as author of the literature in question. “If the publications embraced in the charges are ‘trash literature,’ as charged, the Word of Almighty God is ‘trash literature,’” he argued, since both the comparisons and the illustrations objected to are based on texts in the Bible books of Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Revelation. “It is manifest that the lawmakers had no intention to forbid the distribution of the Holy Scriptures or a published explanation of the same. These publications contain the truth and nothing but the truth; and, said the Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Sanctify them with thy truth; thy Word is truth.’ (John 17:17)” With that Brother Rutherford concluded.
After five hours of arguments and counterarguments, the president of the court, Mr. Lehmann, arrived at the conclusion that the officials of the Watch Tower Society, Martin C. Harbeck and Franz Zürcher, could not be convicted of transgressing the law against “trashy literature” nor had religion been degraded in the publications turned out by the Society’s printery in Bern. The defendants were acquitted and the plaintiff was ordered to pay each defendant SFr. 150.- ($35, U.S.) as a contribution to defense expenses.
THE CASE WAS APPEALED
The Catholic press all over the country cried shame upon the court and called it “an unbelievable misjudgment.” Toedtli appealed the case, and it was heard again on May 28, 1937, by the Bernese High Court. The verdict passed by the first tribunal was reversed and the Society’s representatives were now ordered to pay a fine of SFr. 100.- ($23, U.S.) for “degradation of religion.” Nevertheless, the court maintained the opinion that there was no transgression of the law against “trashy literature.”
Hardly a year later the instigators behind Toedtli were exposed when he was tried and found guilty of espionage in favor of Nazi Germany and condemned to a three-month imprisonment. However, he had already escaped and was condemned in absentia.
OFFICIAL BAN OF BOOKLET
In the year 1939 the situation in Europe was tense. Switzerland was almost encircled by totalitarian powers. Although their ideologies were generally rejected, the Swiss authorities were anxious to avoid provoking these dangerous neighbors. The situation became even more tense when the German Nazi troops were around Switzerland on every side. To the west they were in France, to the east in Austria, and to the south in Italy. Switzerland and Liechtenstein were completely isolated, like an island in a roaring sea. In this atmosphere, Jehovah’s people courageously distributed the booklet Fascism or Freedom, which presented this issue: “Shall the world be ruled in righteousness by Christ the enthroned King of Jehovah? or shall it be ruled by selfish, arbitrary dictators?” That booklet labeled Hitler ‘a representative of Satan’ and exposed the Roman Catholic Hierarchy for “working hand in glove with the Fascists”!
Millions of copies of this booklet were distributed in the countries under the Central European Office. But it came as no surprise when the booklet was banned by the Office of the Swiss State Attorney following a decision of the Federal Council. Nevertheless, there was much debate in the press about this measure. The Society reacted with a tract, 400,000 copies of which were distributed throughout Switzerland. An avalanche of opposition followed as we were often accused of making propaganda for communism. Many a meeting in Catholic territory was prevented or interrupted, but, according to Josef Dvorak of Lucerne, “it may be said that whenever the difficulties were greatest, then the best spirit was reigning within the congregation.” Without the backing of Jehovah’s spirit, the brothers might have tired and slackened in withstanding the continual attacks of the enemy. But instead they were willing to “put up a hard fight for the faith,” and their trusting in Jehovah was rewarded.—Jude 3.
An example of their willingness is reported by the congregation of Buchs, St. Gallen. This congregation had a sizable stock of the booklet Fascism or Freedom, which was banned in Switzerland. The brothers decided the best thing to do was to distribute these booklets abroad—in neighboring Liechtenstein. Because of the customs union with Switzerland, there is no checking when crossing the border. Karl Dangelmeier was one of the brothers who used his evenings to spread the booklet in Liechtenstein. “Imagine the stir among the people,” he relates, “especially because of the picture of the pope in company with Hitler and Mussolini! Newspapers carried indignant articles, and the Catholic youth movement was ready to tackle us, but we were cautious and never carried a bag with us. Thus we finished our campaign undetected, and the booklets reached the people.”
1939: WORLD WAR II ERUPTS!
It was no easy task for the Swiss government to navigate in the shadow of totalitarian powers that were overrunning country after country. The army was mobilized to guard the borders. Since military service is obligatory, this brought great tests for men dedicated exclusively to God. Following the dictates of their Christian consciences, most of Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to take up armed service. (Isa. 2:2-4; Rom. 6:12-14; 12:1, 2) For this a goodly number of Witnesses were brought before military courts. The sentences meted out varied from several months to five years in prison. Often, after having served one term, the brothers were again called to the army, and the procedure started all over. A second sentence was always longer than the first.
Of all the Witnesses who were sentenced as conscientious objectors, Fernand Rivarol of Geneva was in prison the longest. This cost him his secular employment, and understandably, it presented problems for his wife and small daughter. But Jehovah provided encouragement for him in the person of a prison warden who at that time was already interested in the truth. He seized every opportunity his duty allowed to comfort Brother Rivarol, as well as the two brothers incarcerated with him, both physically and spiritually. The firm stand of these servants of God contributed to the prison warden’s becoming our zealous brother, Emile Bolomey.
From the position taken by our brothers, the authorities wrongly concluded that the Society’s activities were directed against the interests of the State, that these deliberately incited to antimilitaristic action. They even accused the Society of subversive activity, most unjustly so!
CENTRAL EUROPEAN OFFICE CLOSES
With the start of World War II, the activity of the Central European Office was greatly hampered as one country after another came under totalitarian control. Contact with the brothers became very difficult or ceased altogether. The work of the Central European Office became obsolete, so in early summer of 1940 Brother Harbeck and his wife returned to the United States, where they were assigned to zone and circuit work.
Responsibility for the work in Switzerland was now placed in the hands of Franz Zürcher, who had entered Bethel service in 1923. He had shared in showing the Photo-Drama of Creation in Belgium, the Saarland, the valley of the Nahe River, the Rhineland, Alsace-Lorraine, and, of course, throughout Switzerland. Later on, he had been entrusted with editorial work for the German edition of The Golden Age. In connection with the Service Desk, he had also enjoyed caring for nearly 100 pioneers in countries under the Central European Office.
It was a very difficult period in which Brother Zürcher took over responsibility for the branch in Switzerland. He had to trust heavily in Jehovah’s direction. The aim of our enemies was nothing less than total prohibition of the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Catholic press carried articles charging that Jehovah’s Witnesses pursued political aims and that their activity was inimical to the State. These articles appeared under headings such as “The Earnest Bible Students—Pioneers of Bolshevism” and “Moscow’s Henchmen—The Bible Students.”
In this climate the military authorities felt called upon to take action. Early in the afternoon of July 5, 1940, a truckload of soldiers occupied the Society’s branch office and factory in Bern. The Bethel family was ordered to assemble in the dining room and was kept there until a thorough search had been made. Some rooms were sealed off, and great quantities of literature were confiscated and carried away. What they were looking for was some statement proving that the Society directly instigated refusal to do military service. An investigation got under way.
HOMES OF BROTHERS SEARCHED
Soon after, on a given day at a fixed hour, a number of homes of overseers and publishers throughout Switzerland were invaded and searched. Literature was confiscated and interrogations by officials were recorded.
Emile Walder relates: “At seven o’clock in the morning the doorbell rang in our apartment at 37 Marchwartstrasse in Zurich-Wollishofen. Two sturdy men, detectives of the cantonal police force, presented a search warrant and entered unhesitatingly. They looked into everything and found my bag with the documents and the contributions from last evening’s meeting, since I was account servant at that time. They checked into it and confiscated everything. I had to accompany them to police headquarters. There they tried a little brainwashing on me, hoping to get more names and addresses of brothers. But they did not succeed. Later another detective accompanied me to the bank where I worked in order to check my private bank safe to see whether anything incriminating the Society could be found there. But it was to no avail.”
IMPOSITION OF CENSORSHIP
Without waiting for the result of the investigation, the Swiss Army Staff placed The Watchtower under preliminary censorship. To this the Society could not assent. How could spiritual food from Jehovah be censored by army men of this system of things? So official publication of The Watchtower was discontinued. But the brothers—by now more than a thousand—did not suffer spiritual want because of this. They received typewritten and mimeographed articles for private study, and these were passed from one to another in the congregations. In this way they kept abreast of the continually advancing light.
In order to have literature for field distribution, however, permission was obtained from the censorship authorities to print the magazine Consolation (formerly The Golden Age) and booklets. The authorities’ constant request to choose cautious wording when dealing with the situation in the world mirrored their fear of their powerful neighbors.
Brother Jules Feller, in Bethel service for more than 60 years now, was the one appointed to bring the manuscripts to the censor’s office. “Usually they did not object to the texts,” he remembers. “Once in a while they found an expression too straightforward and asked to formulate it differently. Of course, things can be said in various ways without watering down the truth. But one day I was received in a very hostile way. The officials reproached Jehovah’s Witnesses as just profiting from the State but not wanting to do anything for it, such as military service. It was a real attack.
“A lengthy discussion ensued. For two hours a hail of questions battered down on me from the four men present on that day. I really experienced the truth of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:18, 19: ‘You will be haled before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them and the nations. However, . . . do not become anxious about how or what you are to speak; for what you are to speak will be given you in that hour.’ The conversation turned out a victory for the truth. After that we were treated obligingly until the end of the war.”
BROTHER ZÜRCHER CONVICTED
However, as a result of the investigation undertaken by the military authorities, action was taken against the branch overseer, Brother Zürcher. He was falsely accused of undermining the military discipline and of acting in contravention of the ban on propaganda dangerous to the State. Two years elapsed before the trial was finally held on November 23 and 24, 1942. The military prosecutor’s speech was like a hail of pounding ice. He called Brother Zürcher a demagogue of the worst kind that belonged behind lock and key. Quotations from the publication Light, Book Two, pages 171-4, were made, where it mentions that the remnant will watch from a secure place during the great slaughter of those composing Satan’s organization, including kings, captains, and mighty men. As one of the charges was undermining military discipline, it was evident why such a declaration roused the prosecutor’s anger. He roared: “This is draft-dodging, military cowardice in the highest degree. Here you have a picture of their attitude towards the Swiss Armed Service!”
The defense lawyer, Mr. Johannes Huber, a highly respected parliamentarian and a member of the National Council, mentioned that during his 40 years of practice he had never before handled a case in such an atmosphere of total prejudice. According to him, this trial was not really against the accused person but, rather, against Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole. It was an effort to silence them. Concluding his pleading, he said: “Hence it was not merely a matter of fulfilling a client’s mandate for me, but, despite our differences of opinion, I felt it was my duty to stand up for these people who are so misunderstood and on whom such bitter injustice is being inflicted. For this reason I beg the court to render an acquittal.” Notwithstanding, Brother Zürcher was condemned to two years of penal servitude in jail and the loss of certain civil rights.
Our lawyer filed an appeal with the Appeal Court of Record. The final decision was handed down on April 16, 1943. The verdict was changed to one year of penal servitude, suspended sentence, and a five-year loss of some civil rights. In view of the prevailing circumstances, this was an extremely mild sentence.
CONNECTIONS WITH BROOKLYN INTERRUPTED IN 1942
Right from the beginning of hostilities, all letters addressed to the Society were censored, but when the United States entered the war, all connections with the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn were severed. So the English edition of The Watchtower was received only until the issue of October 1, 1942, which contained the article “The Only Light.” When it was no longer possible to receive the English copies, how was the branch going to get spiritual food for the brothers under its supervision?
Jehovah saw to it that it was possible to get in touch with the branch in Sweden, another one of the few European countries not involved in the war. From there we obtained current issues of The Watchtower, but they were in Swedish! There was no one among the Swiss brothers who had mastered this language, but a certain similarity between Swedish and German was evident. Encouraged by this fact, Alice Berner, now at the branch in Germany but at that time a member of the Bethel family in Bern, undertook the study of Swedish. After a relatively short time, she was able to translate The Watchtower into German, and thus it was possible to supply the brothers with spiritual food during the next two years. In all, 42 articles and two booklets were provided in this way.
When the war was over, Brooklyn headquarters sent a complete collection of all the articles that had appeared in the English Watchtower during the time of the interruption. How many articles had the Swiss brothers missed during the war? Not a single one! The first edition received in Swedish had contained the articles of the English issue following the article “The Only Light.” The flow of the waters of truth had been uninterrupted during all those war years! Surely, you can appreciate how thankful we were to Jehovah, the great Provider!—Compare Genesis 22:14.
Not only spiritually but also materially Jehovah saw his people through. Nevertheless, there were financial problems. Why? The work was supported by voluntary contributions, and many of the brothers were financially hard pressed during the war years. Also, since we stopped printing The Watchtower and no literature could be sent to other European countries, less money was received from this source. Under these circumstances there was not enough work for all members of the Bethel family, so a number of brothers and sisters indicated their willingness to leave Bethel, although they were unanimous that their years at Bethel had been the happiest time in their life.
However, serious financial problems continued. This situation made it necessary, among other things, to reduce the allowance of the Bethel and farm workers to SFr. 10.- per month (about $2.33, U.S.), yet the brothers agreed to this measure of economy without complaint.
A BOOK IN THE COLOR OF YOUR CHOICE
In the midst of the war years, a thrilling convention was held in Zurich in 1942. On Sunday morning the front rows of the convention hall were full of glowing young faces! This was to be a special event for them. In a talk addressing them in particular, they were reminded to be diligent, obliging, helpful and kind, and above all, to obey their parents in accord with the Bible’s counsel. At the end of this lecture, the book Children was released, and every one of those young folks was to receive a free copy.
Brothers stepped to the platform, each one with a supply of books in nine different hues. Then all the children were invited to walk across the platform, and each one received a book in the color of his choice. What a joy that was for the children! More than 400 books were thus placed in the hands of prospective Witnesses. Quite a number of those children became zealous workers and are still active in Jehovah’s organization.
THEOCRATIC MINISTRY SCHOOL SUPERSEDES PHONOGRAPH
The year 1944 saw the introduction of a new arrangement, the Theocratic Ministry School, in the Swiss congregations. At the beginning of the year this training was adopted at the Bern Bethel. During the following months the course in public speaking, along with helpful counsel on how to present the Kingdom message to householders, was put into operation in the congregations throughout the country. As the brothers became more skillful in explaining the good news, phonograph recordings began to be replaced by the publishers’ own short sermons.
For many Witnesses this change in method of preaching was most welcome, as some had found a heavy phonograph and a bag containing literature to be quite a bit to carry in the field service. More than that, the change marked advancement in the quality of our ministry.
END OF WAR IN VIEW
On June 6, 1944, the invasion of the Allied troops began in Normandy, France, and on August 15 the Allied military forces set foot on the French Mediterranean Coast. With the increasing evidence of a coming breakdown of Nazism and victory of the Allied forces, the authorities in Switzerland began to relax the measures imposed on Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Society. It was as predicted in Revelation 12:16: “The earth [more stable democratic powers] came to the woman’s help, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the river [of totalitarian opposition] that the dragon disgorged from its mouth.”
The responsible brothers at the branch office sighed with relief! Brother Rutherford had urged them to avoid, if possible, the total prohibition of the work and the closing down of the branch in Switzerland. They had experienced many a precarious situation, but now the worst was behind them. The branch was still functioning and the work was alive! The brothers felt like David when he composed Psalm 34:19: “Many are the calamities of the righteous one, but out of them all Jehovah delivers him.”
Soon, the literature confiscated by the Swiss Army Staff in July 1940 was returned to the Society. It took the soldiers several days to accomplish an exact counting of the publications. All of these were later put to good use in the field.
How would you feel if, after four years of interruption, you again had a printed copy of The Watchtower in your hands? Well, the German- and French-speaking brothers were overjoyed when, from October 1, 1944, onward, the magazine was again published regularly, though only once a month. About a year later it once more was published semimonthly.
WORLD WAR II ENDED, BUT OUR FIGHT CONTINUED
On May 8, 1945, the Western nations celebrated the end of World War II in Europe, but in Switzerland the battle for freedom of worship and the right to preach continued. In most parts of the country we enjoyed more liberty of action than during the war, but in Catholic areas there was still a lot of opposition.
For example, when the public lecture “Will Man Succeed as a World-Builder?” was being delivered in the city of Zug in January 1946, the police suddenly appeared in the hall and stopped the speaker. The Society took legal action, bringing the case before the Federal Supreme Court in Lausanne. As a result, the unconstitutional ban imposed by the authorities of Zug was struck down, and newspaper reports carried headlines such as “Jehovah’s Witnesses Have Obtained Their Right” and “Freedom of Worship Must Be Maintained.” You can be sure, however, that the Catholic press did not report on this verdict in such a positive way.
HELP FOR THE BROTHERS IN GERMANY
When news came of the distressing conditions in which our faithful brothers emerging from the concentration camps found themselves, the Swiss brothers did not ‘shut the door of their tender compassions.’ (1 John 3:17) They busied themselves with a relief campaign in the spirit of the early Christian communities. (Acts 11:29, 30; 2 Cor. 8:1-4) Large quantities of clothing and household goods were donated, and some sisters offered their time and services to see to it that all items were in good condition. Finally, 444 cases with a net weight of about 28 tons (25,000 kg) were shipped to Germany in 1946 and 1947. The value of this relief program totaled up to more than SFr. 262,000.- (at that time about $61,000, U.S.). “When we heard of the joy and gratitude of our German brothers and sisters, we were very happy and felt largely recompensed for the extra work this campaign had required of us,” recalled a sister who had lent a helping hand.
As much as material help was necessary, there was also a great need for spiritual food to strengthen the brothers and give them a good start for postwar activity. So Bible literature was also sent to Germany from the branch in Switzerland, and we considered it a great privilege to contribute thus in some small way toward the reconstruction of the work in Germany.
LONG-EXPECTED VISIT OF BROTHER KNORR
We could hardly wait for the first visit of the Society’s president after the war. Eight eventful years had elapsed, and Nathan H. Knorr had become president. His visit to Bern in 1945 was very brief, but he returned in May 1947. Wanting to make it a big event, we planned an assembly in the beautiful Convention Hall in Zurich.
“The Joy of All the People” was the theme of his public talk on Friday evening of the convention. Joyful indeed were the publishers as they distributed 100,000 handbills, put up posters, and marched as placard bearers through the city streets. The newspapers also carried advertisements of the public talk. We wanted everyone in Zurich to know what was going on!
Finally, 1,540 persons attended the lecture. At the end of the meeting, a booklet was handed out to all non-Witnesses. Since 800 booklets were distributed, we concluded that the majority of those present were interested persons who had responded to our invitation. This was satisfying indeed.
STRESSING PIONEER SERVICE
From the time of the early colporteurs, there had always been some faithful full-time preachers serving both in the German and in the French territories. But admittedly they were very few. For example, among the 1,462 publishers in 1945, there were only three pioneers! Brother Knorr found this figure out of proportion to the abundant opportunities in the country. He concluded that a factor contributing to this low number of pioneers was that much literature was placed free of charge to avoid clashing with the peddling regulations, thus making it necessary for the publishers themselves to carry all the costs and expenses for the preaching work.
His observation was correct. Some brothers did have to abandon full-time preaching because they could not meet their expenses. In order to assist those who might share in the pioneer work, the problem of asking for voluntary contributions had to be resolved.
HOW TO SOLVE IT
Traveling in the company of Brother Knorr was Hayden Covington, at that time the Society’s lawyer in Brooklyn. At the convention he explained that they had gone to court in the United States for the right to accept voluntary contributions, without the need of a peddler’s license, for literature distributed in connection with preaching the gospel. The Switzerland branch would have to fight for the rights and privileges of the Christian ministry all the way up through the law courts until this issue could be clarified. It was to be a united action of all publishers in Switzerland. Their willingness to cooperate was shown by enthusiastic applause. That assembly in Zurich proved to be a milestone in the history of the Kingdom work in Switzerland.
THE PEDDLING-WITHOUT-A-LICENSE ISSUE
Already in the 1930’s brothers had been arrested and fined for “peddling without a license.” Now, with the encouragement received at the Zurich convention, that issue was going to be settled. As the apostle Paul had done in ancient Philippi, the brothers were going to ‘defend and legally establish the good news.’—Phil. 1:7.
The publishers were again to accept voluntary contributions for literature placed in the field ministry. Immediately, an avalanche of police denunciations in all parts of the country ensued. But the Society was determined to force the issue. What was the outcome?
The High Court in the predominantly Protestant canton of Bern, for example, had long maintained that placing publications on a voluntary contribution basis was subject to peddling ordinances. For decades, this court had ruled against us. Now, in 1948, a brother was again fined SFr. 20.- ($5, U.S.) by a lower court and the case was appealed to the High Court. This time there was a breakthrough! In its opinion, the Bernese High Court stated:
“Setting aside the fact that no profit was realized, nothing in the conduct of the accused discloses a professional character in his activity. It cannot be established that there was an intention to obtain a profit—either for himself or for the account of Jehovah’s witnesses—by means of peddling. The circumstances allow the conclusion that the accused, putting aside any selfish instinct, acted exclusively in a noble and unselfish purpose. The offer of the booklets was not made with the expectation of a compensatory payment which would cover at least the cost of production. The best reward of the accused consisted evidently in the increase of the number of the adepts of the sect and in the favorable reception accorded the evangelization. If it is true that the regulations regarding peddling are intended to protect the public against those who want to molest them, it would, however, be an exaggeration to hinder religious propaganda from house to house under the cover of the law on the commerce of merchandise and to thus violate the freedom of opinion as guaranteed by the Constitution.”
With this acquittal, the Bernese High Court reversed its judicial policy held for 40 years with respect to this question. Though that decision was not binding on other cantons, it proved to be of keen interest to many courts in other cantons.
HARDEST FIGHT IN CANTON OF VAUD
The longest and most persistent conflict on the matter of peddling came up in the French-speaking canton of Vaud. In 1935 an amendment had been made to the law there on peddling. This amendment stated that the offering of merchandise, the price of which, rather than being fixed, was left to the buyer’s discretion, was equal to peddling. The state attorney in Lausanne welcomed this as a basis for proceeding against Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In 1948 the District Court of Payerne fined a pioneer brother, Jean Siegenthaler, for peddling without a license. The case was appealed to the High Court, which confirmed the decision of the lower court, namely, that the activity of the appellant was exactly what the law aimed at.
In the wake of this ruling, a fight for our rights and freedom ensued that was to last for more than five years. In most cases the lower District Courts protected our right by acquitting us. But the state attorney was very antagonistic and appealed the cases to the High Court, which would reverse the judgment of the lower court. The Society even brought a case before the highest judicial authority, the Federal Supreme Court. But shamefully, it rejected the appeal.
A COURAGEOUS JUDGE DARES TO DIFFER
Then, on September 3, 1951, a case came up before the District Court of Lausanne. It involved Gilberte Schneeberger. Hopes were low for that case, and the Society had decided to do without the services of a lawyer. Can you imagine how this young pioneer sister felt as she sat alone in the courtroom?
The judge, Mr. Zweifel, came in. After opening the session, he said in a fatherly tone: “Dear Mademoiselle, your case is identical to the one having been unfavorably decided by the Federal Supreme Court. I myself am bound to the law and am unable to change it.”
Then our young sister got up on her feet and asked if she might defend herself.
“Of course, Mademoiselle, of course. I am listening.” The judge leaned back in his chair and concentrated on the young lady’s exposé. She read a memorandum that had been prepared by the Society’s Legal Desk.
The arguments impressed Mr. Zweifel very much. He really started doubting (that’s what his German name, Zweifel, indicates), and he adjourned the pronouncing of judgment. Two days later it came through: Acquittal!
What a surprise! That required real courage on the part of Mr. Zweifel. What is more, he dared to qualify the judgment of both the High Court and the Federal Supreme Court as questionable and unsatisfactory. What would the future have in store?
A SINCERE CLERGYMAN TESTIFIES IN OUR FAVOR
Some time later, another case was dealt with by the District Court of Aigle. There a Protestant minister, among others, was called to the witness stand. He had accepted two books from the publisher and given SFr. 4.- ($1, U.S.) as a voluntary contribution. This clergyman clearly established in court that the witness of Jehovah had come to him, not for the purpose of selling books, but to discuss religious subjects. The minister definitely viewed this young man as an evangelist and not a peddler. The publisher was acquitted.
On the other hand, Karl Maurer, a faithful pioneer in Payerne, had to spend a day and a night in prison because he was not willing to pay the fine imposed on him.
TOUGH STATE ATTORNEY FINALLY LOSES THE BATTLE
This conflict finally came to a showdown in 1953. The state attorney, intent on winning out over Jehovah’s Witnesses and irritated over the fact that lower courts ignored the negative policy of the higher courts, repeatedly appealed a certain case in which the lower courts had acquitted the defendant. So, for the fourth time since 1948, the High Court of the canton of Vaud had to face the same issue.
And now the unexpected happened: The court, composed of a new set of judges, examined the matter from the very bottom and concluded unanimously on January 26, 1953, that the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be viewed as peddling. The state attorney’s appeal was rejected. Finally, the High Court of the canton of Vaud had found the way to a sound and liberal policy in harmony with the spirit and letter of the law on commerce!
This victory closed an exciting chapter of the history of the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Switzerland. It testified to the fearless attitude of the publishers and the love of freedom of many judges. Above all, it gave evidence of Jehovah’s blessing upon his servants who zealously fought for their God-given rights and for freedom of worship.
NEUTRALITY STILL A CHALLENGE
We have already related to you how the brothers who took a neutral stand during World War II fared. Although Switzerland was not actively engaged in the war and solemnly declared its own neutrality, the country quite inconsistently condemned and imprisoned citizens who claimed this same right for themselves and on religious grounds.
Sentences were milder after the war, but repeated convictions were still the order of the day. In the course of time, however, the public became increasingly interested in the problem of “conscientious objectors,” and the press dealt with the matter extensively. Interesting are the remarks of the former Chief of the Swiss Army Staff, Jörg Zumstein, concerning court cases involving persons refusing military service. In February 1984 he was quoted in a paper as saying:
“I have attended such hearings because I wanted to know what happens. The cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses distinguished themselves by a certain level, also on the part of the defendants. These people as well as their relatives appeared in court in their Sunday suits; they pleaded in a dignified manner for their cause. The judges knew their position and applied the measure of punishment that has become practice, five or six months. Jehovah’s Witnesses somehow accept that the State punishes persons not yielding to the demands of the State. But they are not treating the State as a ‘sow’ the way many others do who are appearing before military courts nowadays.”
The drive aimed at finding a solution to the problem of “conscientious objectors” has nevertheless had an effect on the military courts. At present, sentences vary from three to five months of imprisonment, and usually the brothers are dismissed from further military obligation at the time of their conviction. Often, the brothers serve their terms by working in hospitals or homes for elderly people during the day, returning to their prison cell only to spend the night. There continue to be, however, from 60 to 70 court cases before military courts every year, especially involving young brothers taking their neutral stand.
‘As fine soldiers of Christ Jesus,’ these young brothers ‘take their part in suffering evil’ for the sake of Christian neutrality. (2 Tim. 2:3) They offer themselves willingly to accomplish the service required by God. It is just as Sister Adele Reichenbach, one of the first anointed Witnesses in the alpine region of Gstaad, once stated. She was making a return visit on the wife of an army officer when the colonel himself answered the door, gave back the book his wife had obtained, and said slightingly: “Go away and take this trash with you, you refusers of military service!” Sister Reichenbach replied: “Sir, we are accomplishing the service that you refuse.”
EFFORTS TO REACH “UNASSIGNED TERRITORY”
From 1952 onward, special efforts were made to preach in “unassigned territory.” Much of this was made up of remote valleys and farm country, villages with big church buildings and with crucifixes prominently situated here and there along the way. The staunch Catholic population living here might have received some tract in the past, but no thorough witness had ever been given in some of these out-of-the-way places.
Some of these people had never heard about Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many had never seen a Bible, much less possessed one themselves. This was virgin territory! The publishers took part in this activity with courage and enthusiasm. In many places they were surprised at the success they had. Surprised, too, were the clergy, who did not expect this invasion of what they viewed as their pastures! They warned their flocks, as best they could, not to accept any publications or else to burn these and call the police. In one village about 50 young Catholics went from house to house to collect literature left by the Witnesses. There were threats and even bodily attacks.
In one instance, after a brother had witnessed to a villager, the man quickly phoned the police to file a complaint. However, the reply he got was not what he expected: “Just let these people quietly go on with their work; they know the law better than we do and they know exactly what they may and may not do.” Our fight for freedom of worship had not missed its purpose!
“CHURCH MESSENGERS” HELP AROUSE INTEREST
Sometimes clerical efforts to keep the truth from parishioners boomeranged. This proved true in the case of the following couple: When two young pioneers called on them, the wife listened attentively to their sermon and then invited them in. “This will interest my husband,” she said. For about an hour the couple followed with unusual interest the Scriptural explanations given by the pioneers about the establishment of a new system brought into existence by God. They accepted Bible publications, and arrangements were made for another visit. Soon they were deep in Bible study.
After the third visit, the husband disclosed the reason for his initial interest: “You know, I read a short article on Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Church Messenger. It said that if two young people come to your door, well dressed, tactful, and with the Bible interpretation of their religion, you should not listen to them; just tell them you have your own church, and your minister teaches you all these things, and then close the door. But you see, I am a free man and want to examine things myself. That’s why I listened to you.”
This young couple progressed well, began attending meetings, and soon were sharing in the field service. They also symbolized their dedication to Jehovah. It was the Church Messenger that had directed their attention toward the truth!
There were also exceptions among the clergy—those who admitted that their flock needed help and that the visits of Jehovah’s Witnesses could benefit them. For example, one minister published the following article in his church paper:
“My dear Jehovah’s Witnesses:
“I am really grateful to you, very grateful in fact, that you go so courageously from house to house in our community. Although you are not received everywhere, nevertheless you cause our people to remember once again perhaps—only perhaps—that:
“Besides bread and entertainment, besides joy and mourning, success and failure, besides the battle for existence and business, work and recreation, there are also such things as religion, faith, belief in Jesus Christ. The fact of your coming is a powerful sermon in itself! . . . Perhaps you have received the answer: ‘Thank you, we don’t need anything, we have our church.’ But may I ask you, when the people give you this answer about having their church, then please to ask them further: ‘But what do you really believe?’
“You see, that is why I am so grateful to you. Perhaps here and there you will succeed in waking our people up. But there, I will not be unjust, and I admit that I need this call to awaken myself just as much as they do. I admire your courage . . . All respect for such devoted activity; my compliments for your good will! I believe that we all have much to learn from it.”
MISSIONARY HOMES ESTABLISHED
The first Gilead-trained missionaries arriving in Switzerland in 1947 were three brothers and a sister from our own branch office who had been invited to the eighth class and were assigned back to Switzerland. Their training was of great help in the expanding activity at the branch office and in the field. Today, after 40 years, three of that group are still Bethel family members—Fred Borys and Willi Diehl in Switzerland, and Alice Berner in Germany since 1956.
In 1948 other missionaries arrived. Charles Renye and Raymond Leistikow were assigned to circuit work, and they worked hard to learn German so they could care for their assignment. Two couples from the United States, Robert and Elaine Honey and William and Ione Strege, were directed to Geneva, where the first missionary home was opened in 1950. They made great efforts to master the French language in order to work with the local brothers. Franziska Trackova of the 15th class of Gilead is now faithfully serving as a missionary in Lausanne. The combined efforts of these missionaries had a beneficial effect on the congregation in Geneva as seen in the increase there.
Real animation came to the congregation in Lausanne in 1951 when a missionary home for four sisters of the 17th class was established there. These cheerful girls particularly helped the sisters to improve their presentations at the doors by using a theme.
NEW BRANCH OVERSEER
Over the years a number of faithful brothers provided valuable direction for the work in Switzerland as branch overseers. Up until 1953 Franz Zürcher cared for that assignment. Then it was decided that the time had come to put the load of responsibility on younger shoulders. Filip Hoffmann was sent from Germany. Replaced in 1957 by Jules Feller, Brother Hoffmann is now serving at the branch in Denmark. In 1963 Günter Kulschewski was entrusted with the oversight of the branch in Switzerland. And on November 1, 1965, Willi Diehl was assigned to be branch overseer.
Brother Diehl had begun his full-time service in 1931 at Bethel in Bern, running a job press. Fifteen years later he was invited to attend Gilead School. After he married, he and his wife pioneered together for two years. He also served as circuit and district overseer. In 1964 he was invited to attend Gilead again, along with his wife, to benefit from a more extensive course. All of this provided excellent background for his work as branch overseer.
As is true of all the other branches of the Society, Switzerland has had a Branch Committee since 1976. Willi Diehl is the coordinator, and the other members are Armin Beetschen, Jean-Jules Guilloud, Lars Johansson, and Hans Klenk.
THE CANTON OF TICINO RECEIVES ATTENTION
In the sunny south of Switzerland between the Alps and the border of Italy is the canton of Ticino. Here Italian is spoken, and the inhabitants are almost exclusively of the Catholic faith. It was not easy for the Kingdom message to get a foothold here, but the Society arranged to care for what little interest could be found. Little did any of the brothers realize what a rich harvest would be gathered!
Andreas Monstein, who was of German-Swiss origin but who spoke Italian, had been directed to Lugano in 1944. He worked the territory, took care of some small groups of interested persons, and held public lectures. It was a small beginning but not to be despised.—Zech. 4:10.
In the course of time, other pioneers also helped to sow the seed of truth in various parts of Ticino. It was hard work; the people were totally ignorant of the Bible and many were ensnared by superstition and fear of the clergy. But the little band of publishers showed endurance, and finally help arrived from an unexpected source.
MISSIONARIES FROM ITALY
When a number of Gilead-trained missionaries were suddenly compelled to leave Italy, they took up residence in Ticino. In time, most of these missionaries were able to return to Italy or left for other reasons, but in the meantime the groundwork was laid for the formation of several congregations. A missionary who will be long remembered is Angelo Fraese. He stayed at the missionary home in Lugano for about 20 years and was sometimes jokingly called “the angel of the congregation in Lugano”!
Many years have passed since the first witnessing was done in Ticino, and much more preaching has been done. With what results? Today there are 11 thriving congregations comprised of about 950 publishers. In Lugano alone there are four active congregations, and the end is not yet!
PREACHING TO “GUEST WORKERS”
A great economic boom developed in Switzerland after the war. The Swiss working force occupied what were viewed as the best positions, but who would do the lowly jobs? In war-torn countries there were plenty of willing hands, so a wave of immigration started. At the end of 1968, foreign residents numbered 933,000, making up 15 percent of the total population. The majority of these “guest workers” came from Italy. As our brothers carried on their ministry, they soon encountered Italians all over the country. Many among them showed interest in the truth.
Typical is this experience of Rudolf Wiederkehr. He met an Italian worker in an old house in Hunzenschwil. Neither of the two men knew much of the other’s language, so what could be done? Our brother just left a copy of the Italian Watchtower with him. In spite of the language problem, Brother Wiederkehr returned. When the Italian saw him, he quickly went and brought out that copy of La Torre di Guardia, exclaiming with beaming eyes: “Questo è la verità!” (“This is the truth!”) Encouraged by this reaction, the brother procured three “Let God Be True” books in Italian and started a study with the man, Signor Pelagatti, his wife, and their 12-year-old son Gianni. The family read in the Italian books, whereas Brother Wiederkehr followed in his German edition. When words were lacking, gestures were used profusely! Sometimes, the young boy, who was learning German in school, served as translator.
The study with the Pelagatti family was joined by the older daughter and her husband, Signor Trombi. All five progressed well. By the end of the book, the whole family spontaneously declared their withdrawal from the Catholic Church and symbolized their dedication to Jehovah. As zealous Witnesses they became instrumental in helping many more Italian families to learn the truth. At the present time, the elder Brother Pelagatti is sleeping in death, but Gianni and his family still continue as faithful Witnesses in the Italian congregation of Reinach, and the Trombi family is active in the vicinity of Parma, Italy. And how does Brother Wiederkehr feel? “You cannot imagine the joy I still have about this experience!” he exclaims.
INFORMAL WITNESSING WITH FAR-REACHING RESULTS
In Lucerne, Irène Frenzel (who pioneered for many years in this area) mentioned casually to her Italian hairdresser that she was going to the United States to attend the 1953 convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The hairdresser had never heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses and inquired what it was all about. A discussion after work hours was agreed upon, and with the help of an Italian-speaking sister, a study was started.
The hairdresser, Bruno Quilici, was very eager to learn, but at the same time he stood up for his Catholic beliefs. Heated discussions raged for and against hellfire. “We were taught there is a hell!” he repeatedly shouted, pounding his fist on the table. But finally the Bible won out over false doctrine, and Mr. Quilici became so engrossed in the Bible that he wanted to study twice a week. During all this time he still sang in church. In time, however, he became free of the shackles of false worship and dedicated himself to the God of truth, Jehovah. But listen as he himself relates the results of his endeavors:
“First, I was very happy that my wife, of German-Swiss origin, accepted the truth as well. Thus we were able to raise our two children according to Bible principles. When we moved into the canton of Aargau, I found myself among the very first Italian publishers in that region and felt called upon to preach far and wide among all the Italian workers. My efforts were blessed as numerous families accepted the truth, and when I think of the seven Italian-speaking congregations that resulted in the course of time, I really thank Jehovah for the joy this brings to my heart.”
Was Brother Quilici content with the results in his immediate neighborhood? No. He also thought of his relatives in Italy. He says: “As soon as I could, I went to Italy in order to stir up interest among my family. It was not in vain. Two of my fleshly sisters and their families became the first Witnesses in the vicinity of Lucca. And today, there are five thriving congregations established there.”
In the meantime, Brother Quilici has retired from secular work and has joined his daughter in regular pioneer service. His son and daughter-in-law are also serving Jehovah full-time.
INCREDIBLY RAPID GROWTH
To the Swiss publishers the quick response and rapid growth among the Italians came as a surprise. They were used to studies that dragged on for years with the Swiss—but not so with the Italians! When they understood a point of Bible teaching, they put it into practice right away. We did not need to invite them twice before they came to a meeting, and they rarely came alone. Relatives and friends were brought along, and there was no fear of what the neighbors might think. Though some have had to overcome opposition from family members, their being away from home and somewhat isolated among the Swiss population contributed much to the rapid growth of the Kingdom seeds sown in their receptive hearts.
According to Arturo Leveris, there were nine Italian congregations and a number of small groups to be visited when he started out in Italian circuit work in the early 1960’s. He explains: “Soon Italian congregations mushroomed all over the country. This means that even in German- or French-speaking regions Italian congregations were formed to care for the interest among their nationals.” In time, five Italian circuits were formed, and well-attended circuit assemblies gave even more impetus to the work among the Italians.
FINE QUALITIES OF ELDERS
Family ties are closely knit among the Italians. Exceeding love for their children is typical, but they also have great respect for their aging parents and usually take good care of them. These tender feelings apparently help them to become good elders in the congregation, the large Christian family. The kind and considerate, yet firm, attitude of the elders has contributed immeasurably to the expansion in the Italian field.
They set a good example by regularly bringing the entire family to the meetings, thus applying the counsel in Hebrews 10:25 and Deuteronomy 31:12. This good habit is being imitated by newcomers, who also bring their children. At times, there may be a bit of restlessness and crying from the little ones not yet able to grasp the things taught at the Kingdom Hall. But it is better to have them there than to leave them at home. In time they learn, and grow in wisdom.
Often the halls are filled to capacity and the air gets unpleasantly hot. But the brothers patiently endure until a solution to the problem is found. Many a French and German congregation has had to look for a bigger hall, not for their own sake, but for the sake of the Italian congregation using the same hall.
Typical of this situation is the case of the congregation in Neuchâtel. There used to be a French and a German congregation in this town. Later an Italian and a Spanish were added, and then the first Portuguese congregation in our country was established there. So the increase in the foreign-language field compelled the brothers to look for a more adequate meeting place. They bought a flat in a building and divided it into two Kingdom Halls; these are now shared by five congregations!
AFTER THE ITALIANS, THE SPANISH
Another group of “guest workers,” not nearly as numerous as the Italians, are the Spanish. Alert publishers have helped many of these to become acquainted with the Kingdom message, as illustrated by what Hans Bodenmann, Sr., from Basel relates:
“One day, returning from an unfruitful call, I noticed two young men at the roadside, one of them reading in a book that appeared to be a Bible. I greeted them and found they were Spanish. The book was indeed the Bible. With some difficulty, I made them understand that I would return the next evening to the same spot with a person speaking Spanish.
“When Brother Siegenthaler, who had lived in Spain for many years, accompanied me the next evening, we found four Spanish men waiting. Although they had never met Jehovah’s Witnesses before, they immediately agreed to meet once a week for Bible study in a private home.
“At the first meeting six persons were present, then eight. We showed them one of the Society’s films, which left an excellent impression. In the first year there were many ups and downs. Some students stopped attending, others returned to Spain, but new ones took their places. I was happy to see Juan Pérez, one of the men first spoken to by the roadside, as well as his wife become very active publishers.”
Finally, in December 1969 the Spanish study group was organized into a congregation, Basel-española, the second Spanish congregation in Switzerland. (The first had been founded in Lucerne in 1965.) Juan Pérez became the congregation overseer. Then in May 1970 he and his wife returned to Spain to engage in special pioneer work.
More Spanish congregations were organized, and from 1972 onward they formed their own circuit. Just 185 attended their first circuit assembly, but since then the circuit has grown to 16 congregations, with nearly 1,200 publishers.
In connection with the Italian and Spanish fields in our country, we appreciate having brothers who can speak those languages in addition to another tongue commonly used in Switzerland. For instance, Max Wörnhard, of German-Swiss descent and very gifted in languages, has a family to care for, but he also serves part-time at the branch office and as district overseer for the Italian and Spanish circuits.
SOCIETY’S FILMS APPRECIATED
It was not only the Spanish “guest workers” who were benefited by seeing projections of the Society’s motion pictures. We all were enthusiastic about them. Since many brothers were associated with small congregations in the rurals, they found it difficult to envision the scope of Jehovah’s work worldwide. Therefore the various films showing brothers of many races and nationalities impressed them, as well as the public, very much. What they saw was not a small, insignificant group but a world-embracing organization.
There were many favorable comments about the scenes showing our black brothers engaged in Kingdom service. One lady was concerned when she saw that African baptismal candidates were immersed fully dressed. She worried that they might catch a cold when walking around in their wet clothing afterward. Ah, but the temperature in Africa is not the same as in Switzerland!
These films have been an excellent means to get people to step into Kingdom Halls and become eyewitnesses of the accomplishment of Jesus’ words: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.”—Matt. 24:14.
PIONEERS PAVE THE WAY IN LIECHTENSTEIN
The last we told you about Liechtenstein was regarding the distribution of the booklet Fascism or Freedom. What happened in the following years there in pretty Liechtenstein?
A pioneer sister, Helen Knechtli, was assigned to work there in 1956. She stayed in Buchs, on the Swiss side of the river Rhine, and daily walked across the bridge into Liechtenstein. Preaching was done from house to house with the Bible only, but when interest was found, publications were left on return visits. Sister Knechtli was a very friendly and patient person, and these qualities won a favorable response from many. She was able to establish several home Bible studies. Finally, the truth was taking a foothold in the Ländle!
About two years later, Blanka Hertenstein, who had attended Gilead School, was transferred from Austria to Switzerland and assigned to work in Liechtenstein. She organized her activity so adroitly that it took the police a year and a half of searching—in a country of only 62 sq mi (160 sq km)—until they finally encountered her! Applying Christ’s counsel to “prove yourselves cautious as serpents and yet innocent as doves,” Sister Hertenstein visited a few persons in one territory and then left for another. (Matt. 10:16) Enjoying the advantages of a car put at her disposal by generous brothers, she started in the morning at one end of the country and preached in village after village until she finished her day at the other end. So each time the police were called and came looking for her, Blanka had disappeared as if swallowed up by the earth!
The policemen forbade her to go from door to door, but the sister had already found a number of persons sincerely interested in the truth, and she went on caring for them. The police could not prohibit such private visits.
THE LÄNDLE BEGINS TO YIELD FRUIT
In 1961 the first sister from Liechtenstein was baptized at a convention in Hamburg. A year later, there were seven Kingdom publishers, and a weekly Watchtower Study was being held in a private home.
Though the Catholic Church had a tight grip on the population in those years and knew how to use state power cleverly in proceeding against Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Kingdom work moved ahead. In 1965, 11 publishers were active. Some of them later moved away, and two brothers who had come from Germany to serve where the need was greater had to leave the country. Other publishers became inactive. But the light of truth kept shining in Liechtenstein.
AWAKE! ARTICLE BREAKS DOWN PREJUDICE
The August 8, 1966, issue of Awake! (May 22, 1966, in English), carried an appealing article on the subject “Liechtenstein—A Jewel in the Alps.” This issue was distributed throughout the country, and publishers from both Switzerland and Liechtenstein were thrilled to share in this special campaign.
The article was appreciated very much. People were approachable and gladly accepted a copy. They liked the idea that all over the world the report on their country would be read, by persons speaking 26 different languages (the number of languages in which Awake! was then printed). The Society received a letter from the press service of the government expressing thanks for the fine article.
After this campaign, the brothers felt that prejudice against the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses decreased. Consequently, since 1966 the preaching work has met with less difficulty than before.
A FRIEND WORKING IN THE CASTLE
When you approach Liechtenstein’s capital, you notice from afar the castle towering above the neat houses of Vaduz. No, it is not just a vestige of centuries gone by but the actual residence of the reigning prince. In fact, the Principality of Liechtenstein is a constitutional hereditary monarchy on a democratic and parliamentary basis.
Now it so happened that Amalija, a young woman from Yugoslavia who was interested in Bible truth, found employment in the household of the prince. She knew Jehovah’s Witnesses from her homeland and had acquired some knowledge of God’s Word. As is customary, she was expected to attend prayers in the castle chapel, but because of what she had learned from the Bible, she declined to do so. “Her Highness will be displeased if you do not join us in the chapel,” her superior said. “But God will be displeased with me if I do,” she replied. And so she was left in peace.
Yet Amalija had a problem that was made worse because of the language barrier: How could she get in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses? She took the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained and went to the nearby railway station in Buchs, Switzerland. Showing the book to passersby, she tried with the help of many gestures to find out where people distributing such literature could be found. But no one understood her. Disappointed, she wrote to her home country for help, and finally through the branch offices she was put in contact with the brothers.
Being a good and reliable worker, this young woman was greatly appreciated among the personnel in the princely household. On this account, in 1969 she was permitted to go to the “Peace on Earth” International Assembly in Nürnberg, where she attended the Yugoslavian sessions with great enthusiasm. She was one of the 5,095 persons baptized on that occasion.
A CONGREGATION ESTABLISHED
Since 1967, the small band of Kingdom proclaimers in Liechtenstein has been supported by a special pioneer couple, Oskar and Anni Hoffmann. They have faithfully and perseveringly plowed the field and sowed seeds of Kingdom truth; they have cultivated and cared for the young growing plants. True, the crop is not overwhelming, but a congregation of about 45 active Witnesses is now established in Schaan and meets in an attractive Kingdom Hall. Some publishers from Switzerland assist the congregation by filling the need for capable elders.
Summing up the report on the work in the Principality of Liechtenstein, Brother Hoffmann says: “We have put up with clergy resistance and police interference. Those days are gone. Now we have to put up with materialistic thinking and indifference toward spiritual matters, but our faithful brothers in Liechtenstein are determined to meet this challenge too.” They certainly will do it, with Jehovah’s help.
ON THE RADIO—A RARE OPPORTUNITY
Since the Protestant and Catholic Churches are the main religions in Switzerland, smaller denominations have rarely been heard over the radio. But we had an opportunity in 1956.
Several dissident religious movements had been invited for a radio discussion with representatives of the Evangelical Reformed Church, but we were the only ones who accepted the invitation. The church was represented by a professor of theology of the University of Bern, a high school master, and a female teacher; the Society delegated Alfred Rütimann and Fred Borys of the branch staff. The discussion was opened by their short report on Jehovah’s Witnesses, followed by a brief talk by the professor. Then an open debate of various subjects ensued.
This program was broadcast on a Saturday evening, hence at a very favorable time. It brought a spontaneous and unequivocal response in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country. Apparently it was not only our brothers who were attentive and enthusiastic listeners. Dozens of letters addressed to the branch office expressed commendation for the manner in which Jehovah’s Witnesses defended themselves. Many persons were disgusted with the mocking attitude of the church representatives. Most impressive was the fact that during the entire discussion our brothers continually cited the Bible in support, whereas the church representatives did not use it, not even once.
“Hats off to Jehovah’s Witnesses,” exclaimed a man phoning the branch office right after the broadcast. Another one sent a copy of his withdrawal from the church as a consequence of what he had heard. He wrote: “Finally I found what I have been looking for.”
The newspaper Oberländer Tagblatt summed it up this way: “Discussions on Bible interpretation require of the participants a great deal of their own genuine and practical Christianity and of their human ability to deal with dissidents. The representatives of the Evangelical Reformed Church have not shown themselves capable of navigating this reef. We regret to say that if we had to decide for one or the other party in the debate, we would rather have decided in favor of the representatives of the sect, Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
BROADCAST BY THE FRENCH RADIO STATION
Naturally, our French-speaking brothers were very anxious to have a good witness given over the radio in their language too. It came about on Sunday evening, December 20, 1970. A few weeks previously, the office of Radio Sottens, the French-speaking Swiss radio station, had contacted André Eiselé, overseer of the congregation of Prilly. In a series of broadcasts dealing with various social and religious groups in the country, Jehovah’s Witnesses were also to be interviewed.
Brother Eiselé, together with two other brothers and a sister, took part in the discussion. Questions by the moderator about our relationship with God, with our fellowman, and with human society in general were answered. Since the time was shortly before Christmas, the importance of pure worship untainted by pagan ideas and customs was stressed.
“Only two days after this discussion, I was contacted again,” relates Brother Eiselé. “The moderator proposed another broadcast dealing with personal impressions and inner conflicts resulting from a Christian’s neutral position due to his observance of Bible principles. I accepted, and the broadcast took place on Friday, January 8, 1971, from 10:00 to 10:35 p.m.” Many appreciative comments were made, especially by sisters whose husbands were against the truth. These men gained a better impression of Jehovah’s Witnesses and no longer resisted so categorically their wives’ attending meetings or engaging in the Christian ministry.
ON TELEVISION TOO
Would the Swiss Television Society ever muster enough liberality to present Jehovah’s Witnesses on the screen? At our international assembly in 1965 in Basel we saw the breakthrough. Included in the daily news were short but favorable reports on this convention. Since then, interviews or short reports about district conventions have been televised both on the German and the French channels. Though lasting for only a few minutes, these reports have aroused the interest of many persons.
The best and most detailed coverage of Jehovah’s Witnesses on television was on the Italian channel on January 26, 1979. It lasted for 40 minutes and presented many aspects of our Christian way of life. Spectators were introduced to the family Bible study of Brother Soldati in Bellinzona; they were taken to a convention in Milan, Italy, and were shown the activities of our organization on a visit to the Society’s branch office and printery in Thun. An interesting feature was the interview with Teresa Medici of Lugano, a sister then 98 years old who had been baptized at the age of 80 and was still speaking up courageously for her convictions. This dear sister has since died at the age of 102, firmly looking forward to the fulfillment of Christ’s resurrection promises.—John 5:28, 29.
BIGGEST GATHERING EVER
The biggest gathering ever held in Switzerland was the 1965 “Word of Truth” Assembly, an international one, in Basel, a city of about 200,000 inhabitants. The convention was to include thousands of brothers from southern Germany as well as from France and other European countries. Between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors were expected. According to Swiss standards, this was a giant assembly, and to prepare for it was a challenge.
“‘Where are we going to lodge so many delegates?’ was the first question popping up in my mind,” reminisces Hans Klenk, the Swiss district overseer who, together with Karl Hägele, a district overseer from Germany, was entrusted with the organization.
The program was to be held in five languages: German, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Yes, this was a big event for about 2,000 brothers from Spain and Portugal who, in spite of the fact that the work in their lands was still under ban, hoped to get permission to travel to Switzerland. Unfortunately, some of them did not make it because officials learned that they planned to attend a Christian assembly and so denied them passports.
At the kickoff meeting in Basel, well in advance of the convention date, about 800 publishers, including some from nearby Germany, received instructions on how to locate accommodations in hotels, school dormitories, camping areas, and private quarters in the city and in surrounding towns and villages. They devoted 18,000 hours to this activity. Their love for the brothers and their enthusiasm helped them to tackle the task, and by the time the delegates poured in, not a single one had to sleep under the starry heavens!
MARVELING AT OUR GOODWILL
A lot of construction work was required on the site, a large sports field. Five language sections necessitated five platforms as well as all the other installations. Seventy-seven brothers and sisters contributed their time, muscle, and know-how. For example, Frieda Hemmig was digging ditches for the installation of extra rest rooms on the day she was 65 years old. She still thinks of it as a privilege to have had a share in those labors of love for “the whole association of brothers.”—1 Pet. 2:17.
The most surprised man on the spot was the chief of the city fire department. He exclaimed: “How do you do that? Here you have an abundance of unpaid workers, and in town there is an acute shortage of labor in spite of high salary offers.”
One of the circuit overseers, Brother Rohleder of Germany, who was responsible for the Volunteer Desk, explained by citing the example of a brother from Australia who had traveled four weeks to reach the convention city. Upon arrival in Basel, he went straight to the Volunteer Desk to offer his services as a plumber. The fire chief shook his head: “It’s surely remarkable. I just can’t believe it! Nobody nowadays is doing anything without being paid for it.” Of course, he did not know from experience what Jehovah’s spirit can accomplish through those who let themselves be used by God.
On the final day of the assembly, July 18, 1965, a total of 36,785 persons attended the public lecture, “World Government on the Shoulder of the Prince of Peace,” delivered by Brother Knorr. The convention itself had been a demonstration of how Jehovah’s Witnesses have already realized unity and peace among themselves. The attendance was as follows: 29,827 in the German section; 3,385 in the French; 1,340 in the Italian; 1,886 in the Spanish, and 347 in the Portuguese section.
NEED FOR NEW BRANCH BUILDING
When Brother Knorr visited in 1968, an important decision was reached. The president himself broke the news at a special meeting in Bern on May 29: The branch is to get a new Bethel home and factory building! The need for better facilities was urgent, and the brothers were overjoyed at this news. It reflected the blessing Jehovah had bestowed upon their efforts. A suitable piece of land was found in Thun, about 20 miles (32 km) from the old Bethel building in Bern. This location was in a beautiful setting, not far from Lake of Thun and with a magnificent view of the Alps. The Bethel family was thrilled!
On February 11, 1969, excavation work began, and at the end of March they were pouring the concrete. After that, construction work moved ahead rapidly. The building was going to be about twice as large as the old one. It was to have five floors, 53 bedrooms for the family, and sufficient space for the factory, storage rooms, and offices. Much of the work in the interior, such as floor-covering and woodworking, was done by brothers. To reinforce the main floor, 80 tons of iron rods were used, 50 tons of which went into the concrete floor of the factory alone. Years later it proved to be providential that the factory floor was constructed so solidly.
NEW ROTARY PRESS AS WELL
In view of the increasing need for publications, a second printing press was to be installed in the new factory. It was a 35-ton M.A.N. rotary press, which Milan Miller from Brooklyn helped us to set up. Of course, there was also the old rotary press that the Society had purchased in 1924. For many years Reinhard Pletscher worked on it. He cared for it to the point of using some of his free time to clean and polish “his” machine. This attachment caused some of the Bethel family to call the black press “Reinhard’s black wife”! Sister Pletscher did not mind that; she laughed about it with the rest of the family. However, because of this good maintenance and a thorough overhauling, the machine lasted for many years after it was moved to Thun. It even survived Brother Pletscher, who finished his earthly course in 1973.
APPRECIATION FOR THE NEW FACILITIES
At the dedication of the building on May 16, 1970, Brother Knorr recalled the important role buildings had played in ancient times with respect to the worship of Jehovah: the tabernacle in ancient Israel and the magnificent temple built by Solomon. He said: “This new Bethel Home, though dedicated to true worship, would be of no value at all if the people making use of the building would not wholeheartedly labor in the interest of Jehovah’s work on earth.”
Not only was the Bethel family deeply thankful for their new home and working place, but more than 4,000 other brothers and interested persons availed themselves of the opportunity to visit the new Bethel on two open-house weekends in October of the same year. “We were very impressed with the beautiful building and spacious factory,” said a sister, “and to think that from this place not only we publishers in Switzerland but brothers in many foreign lands would get spiritual food made us very happy.”
Typical of the lively interest and the spirit of generosity when it came to meeting the financial responsibilities in connection with this new construction was the following letter from a young sister:
“I have just finished my apprenticeship. In recognition of my good accomplishment, I was awarded a prize in the form of a certain sum of money, which made me very glad. Since I can see no better use for this money than to put it at your disposal for the new Bethel building in Thun, please find enclosed the sum of SFr. 80.– [$20, U.S.].
“United with you in Jehovah’s service, I send heartfelt love and greetings.
In our country, usually people do not come into the truth immediately when they have a Bible study. We must show much patience and perseverance. Experiences prove that most Bible studies can be started only after people gain confidence in the publisher. They must be convinced that we are sincerely interested in their personal welfare. Illustrating this point, Grete Schmidt, a longtime special pioneer, relates this experience:
“Some years ago, my husband and I came in contact with a friendly Czech family living in Lucerne. The wife was a teacher and her husband a top-ranking sportsman in rowing. Both had been raised as atheists, but they nevertheless enjoyed discussions. But when the subject of God or the Bible was mentioned, they just smiled. . . . Finally we stopped visiting them.”
Two or three years passed. Then an article appeared in The Watchtower of October 15, 1976 (July 15, 1976, in English), about a brother who had won a gold medal as a runner at the Olympic games in Tokyo. “When I read this article,” Sister Schmidt continues, “I remembered the Czech couple, because the husband had won a silver medal at the same Olympic games. So I decided to visit the family again with this magazine. First they talked about sports and I merely listened. On further visits I spoke again and again about the Bible.”
How did the couple react? “Please excuse us, Mrs. Schmidt. You have forgotten that we are atheists.”
“Nevertheless, I continued visiting this nice family. Somehow I felt that something was not quite in order. Finally I noticed that they had family problems. They were already speaking of divorce.”
The sister showed them from the Bible how to overcome such problems. Astonished at the practical counsel contained in the Bible, the couple now agreed to a Bible study. More and more their marriage was strengthened. Eventually they accepted the truth and were immersed in the spring of 1979. How does Brother Jiri Lundák now feel?
“Previously I just could not tolerate hearing the words ‘holy,’ ‘angel,’ and similar terms; it hurt my ears. I did not want to hear anything about meetings either. But now everything is changed. My free time belongs to God and my family. Also, as regards friends, we have made changes. Now I know how important the meetings are. I learned to assume the responsibility of being a father, and we have a happy family life. Again I want to thank Jehovah that we were permitted to learn how to pray and that he offered us his hand before we searched for him.” Truly, perseverance does bring good results.
REMARKABLY, MANY BAPTISMAL CANDIDATES ARE YOUNG
In 1975 an all-time peak of 1,138 persons presented themselves for baptism at our circuit assemblies and district conventions held in four languages. In the following years the number declined, but among the yearly average of about 560 baptismal candidates, there are, remarkably, many young people. Some of them have a hard struggle to get free from family traditions, but it is faith strengthening to observe their earnestness. As an example, listen to the story of one young man:
“I was having a refreshment in a restaurant when a German tourist asked me if the seat next to mine was free. Upon my answer in the affirmative, the lady sat down, and soon we were engaged in conversation. She told me that she had a lot to do with young people, as she worked at the University of Constance, Germany. She pointed out to me how important it was to show young people the best way of life. I could only agree, as I could see for myself how many youths suffered from alcohol and drugs. Finally she told me of an interesting book for young people entitled Your Youth—Getting the Best out of It. She was sorry not to have it with her, but she promised to bring it to me. She really did, but as I was very busy, she just left the book and said she had to go back to Germany now, but someone else would come to discuss the book with me.
“I was contacted by a brother, and soon I was not only studying but also attending every meeting. My love for Jehovah deepened. My life had a purpose, and I suddenly had many new friends. I recognized the necessity of getting out of ‘Babylon the Great.’ In February 1979 I decided to leave the church. Since I was away from home, nobody hindered me from carrying out this decision.
“But alas, when I informed my parents, their reaction was fierce! They phoned and asked me if I had gone crazy. They tried everything to make me change my mind. I kindly explained that I had recognized the necessity of serving the one true God and that I would stick to my point of view. Next day my father arrived and said: ‘You are coming home with me, you rascal!’ Can you sense how I felt?”
How did things turn out for our young friend? He had to accompany his father to the priest, who tried to talk him out of his decision but was not willing to discuss any texts from the Bible. Then the parents decided to send him to a Catholic college. How did he feel about that?
“I was very depressed, but I placed my confidence in Jehovah according to Solomon’s words: ‘Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not lean upon your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he himself will make your paths straight.’ (Prov. 3:5, 6) In the beginning, it was very hard. Every Sunday I had to go to church, but I sat there and prayed to Jehovah while the others were participating in their worship. I had many opportunities to give a witness, and when it was meeting time, I engaged in personal study at the college. After about three months the priests admitted that it was useless to continue forcing me to attend church. Later, I was allowed to leave the college for the whole day on Sunday. Can you guess where I went?”
At one of several interviews with the abbot, the young man offered him the magazines. In turn, the abbot invited him to speak to three classes of pupils on the subject of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Thus he was able to witness to 90 pupils and place literature with them. Two classes had so many questions on the Bible that he was allowed two hours to answer them.
Our young brother concludes his story this way: “At the end of the year my superiors even thanked me and said they had never had such a diligent pupil. Today I have the joy of living a life that has a purpose, and this Jehovah gave me through his earthly organization. In the summer of 1980, I was baptized at the district convention in Zurich, and now I am experiencing many joys serving as a pioneer. I thank Jehovah for his mercy and loving-kindness!”
NEW BETHEL NEEDS ADDITION
After only a few years of activity in our new Bethel building, it became evident that we needed more space because of the increase in production. We now printed magazines in six languages, with a peak output of 31 million in 1975. Because the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses had been legally recognized in Spain in 1970, the publishers required great quantities of Spanish magazines as they engaged more and more in the regular features of field service. It was our privilege to keep them supplied. The same was true for Portugal when the work received official recognition in December 1974. Already we had been printing magazines in French, German, English, and Italian. From 1981 onward, Greek and Turkish were added to the list, bringing the total to 15 editions per month in eight languages. Later on, the quarterly edition of the Turkish Awake! was added.
“All of this required space,” explains Lars Johansson, presently factory overseer. “So we saw fit to use a section of the garden in order to add a building to our Bethel complex. It was to comprise a large storage room for paper and ample space for a better equipped Shipping Department. We also envisaged the need for more living quarters, so the new structure was to provide rooms for 12 more persons.” In February 1978 this addition was dedicated.
NEW PRINTING METHODS INTRODUCED
The apostle Paul’s statement that “the scene of this world is changing” is certainly true of the old system of things on this earth, but it might also be applied with respect to printing methods! (1 Cor. 7:31) We had heard of the modern methods introduced in the Society’s printeries in the United States and elsewhere in order to keep pace with worldwide developments, and we wondered when it would be our turn.
Well, preparations began in the winter of 1980-81. Step-by-step a new Graphics Department was set up in the additional Bethel structure. First, Our Kingdom Ministry was produced in four languages by phototypesetting, and in July we started printing the Greek editions of The Watchtower and Awake! on our newly acquired flatbed offset press.
This was followed by the arrival of the first converted rotary offset press from Brooklyn in June 1982. To make room for it, our “old battleship” rotary press bought in 1924 was dismantled and scrapped. It had printed untold millions of magazines during its 58 years in operation!
Then we got news from Brooklyn that a second converted rotary offset press was allotted to the branch in Switzerland. How glad we were that at the construction of our branch in Thun the floor of the factory had been so solidly made! This press arrived in December 1983. Our factory was now well equipped to produce magazines in eight languages for distribution or personal use by our brothers in nearly 100 different countries.
THEY OFFER THEMSELVES WILLINGLY
We are happy to see that the pioneer spirit sweeping through Jehovah’s visible organization has also reached a number of our brothers and sisters in Switzerland. For many years the number of pioneers in our country was one of our weak points, but since 1980 the number of regular pioneers has risen from 101 to a peak of 271, besides 64 special pioneers (including 2 in Liechtenstein and 3 missionaries in Switzerland). It is our hope that many more will be moved to take hold of this service during the reduced time that is left.—1 Cor. 7:29.
That many more would love to be in this full-time service but cannot is seen from the increasing numbers who avail themselves of the opportunity to serve as auxiliary pioneers. In May of 1986 a peak of 1,117 publishers shared in this service, to compare with 361 in 1980. This, we feel, is a remarkable step forward in our field.
The congregation of Dittingen provides an illustration of the extent to which the positive attitude of elders contributes to this fruitful development. Samuel Hurni presented 15 auxiliary pioneers on the stage at the 1985 fall circuit assembly in Basel. He explained: “Our congregation consists of 26 baptized publishers, and 57 percent of these, that is 15, enjoyed auxiliary pioneering either in May or in September, or both.” He explained that the elders agreed among themselves to take the lead in this activity. Then they approached other members of the congregation, saying: “The elders will be auxiliary pioneers in May. Would you like to try it along with us?” Some of the publishers were so pleased that the elders considered them capable of this service that they enthusiastically gave it a try. This effort shared in common has been a great success and a boon to the whole congregation. All were strengthened and elated by the joyous spirit of these pioneers.—Ps. 110:3.
PRESERVING UNITY IN SPITE OF DIVERSITY
An outstanding feature of the organization of Jehovah’s people in Switzerland is the diversity of language and background. Preserving unity and advancing together is therefore one of the main objectives pursued by the Branch Committee.
The formation of foreign-language congregations calls for much effort. Caring for them involves administrative work such as correspondence with congregations and circuit overseers, analyzing reports, coordinating and organizing assemblies, dispatching informative circular letters, providing field service instruction and publications, and much more, all in four languages—German, French, Italian, and Spanish. Since not all brothers at the branch office speak these languages, a great deal of translation work is required.
Out in the field the increasing foreign population became a challenge to the publishers. Would they bypass those doors with the excuse that communication with these people was impossible? Or would they at least find out their origin and procure a publication in their language? Some alert publishers did more than that. They learned a new language in order to help these people.—1 Tim. 2:4.
Thus, apart from the already-mentioned language groups, there are also Yugoslavian, Portuguese, Greek, and Turkish people, as well as Tamil and Vietnamese refugees, that are being witnessed to, and a number of these are showing genuine interest or have already taken their stand on Jehovah’s side. Yes, with people from many more lands living within the borders of Switzerland, we feel as though we have a missionary field at our doorstep!
THE BETHEL FAMILY, TOO, REFLECTS DIVERSITY
Our Bethel family includes about 65 members. Because the branch in Switzerland is one of the oldest, we have staff members from early times who have been like pillars on our team. Visitors are often impressed by the relatively large number of longtime workers. We would like to present to you the 12 brothers and sisters above 65 years of age. (See page 215.) They have a combined Bethel service record of 552 years, or an average of 46 years each.
All of these are still working zealously. As a few examples, there are Lydia Wiedenmann, 87, who sets the tables every day; Jules Feller, 86, who works at the reception desk; Arnold Rohrer, 86, who cares for our many bicycles; Paul Obrist, 81, who works in the office; Willi Diehl, 75, who serves as coordinator of the Branch Committee.
Missing from the picture are two dear brothers who have recently finished their earthly course: David Wiedenmann, at age 82, having worked as a member of the Branch Committee up to his last breath, leaving us an example of simplicity and contentment; and Gottfried Feuz, at age 88, who spent 63 years in full-time service. In his later years, he was a conscientious coworker in the Subscription Department and will long be remembered for his kindness.
Surely it may be said of these brothers and sisters: “Gray-headedness is a crown of beauty when it is found in the way of righteousness.” (Prov. 16:31) Their extensive experience makes them precious to the younger members of the family. Diversity of age is certainly no obstacle to unity; neither is diversity of language. Right in Bethel we have representatives of three of the official languages. This is strikingly apparent during the daily text discussion and the family Watchtower Study when comments in three languages are heard.
DEVELOPMENTS AT BETHEL
As most of Jehovah’s Witnesses living in this 20th century realize, technical progress in recent years has been overwhelming. Without a doubt, Jehovah has seen to it that such modern equipment would be made available for use in carrying out the preaching of “this good news of the kingdom . . . in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations,” and this within the lifetime of just one generation.—Matt. 24:14, 34.
With this in mind, it is clear why the Society is making the best possible use of computerization. The branch in Switzerland became equipped with MEPS (Multilanguage Electronic Phototypesetting System) in July 1983, and we keep learning how to streamline our work with the help of this versatile system. In particular, the great amount of work in connection with our Subscription Department has been reduced to a relatively simple activity on a few Personal Computers. In the Shipping Department, too, the computer has simplified the work.
On the other hand, much of the printing we used to do for other branches has been taken over by these as they themselves became equipped with new buildings and rotary offset presses. Savings of time and shipping costs are some of the advantages of this decentralization. Presently, the quantity of each edition that we print is considerably reduced, but we still regularly print 12 different magazines in six languages.
Because of these developments, several members of our branch staff became available for full-time preaching activity in the field, and we enjoy receiving reports of their excellent work. It is obvious that Jehovah blesses those who let themselves be used in any capacity, and that he cares for them with fatherly love.
DISTRICT CONVENTIONS WITH INTERNATIONAL FLAVOR
When the Society made the announcement that there would be special arrangements for the 1985 conventions, we were excited to learn what was planned. In time we were informed and got busy organizing our German and French “Integrity Keepers” District Conventions with visitors from abroad in mind.
Since the English-speaking group was to be especially large, we planned for an English program on all four days, concurrent with the German convention in Zurich, August 1-4. Some brothers from the United States, Canada, and Britain, as well as various English-speaking brothers living in Switzerland, were willing to accept speaking assignments. This allowed us to present all the subjects except the dramas, for which our visitors were welcome to attend the German section. At the French convention in Geneva, the English program was not as extensive. But at both conventions our local brothers enjoyed listening to enthusiastic reports from delegates from various lands.
Before and after the program, especially in the cafeteria, there was opportunity for Swiss and foreign brothers to mingle and engage in conversation. It was heartwarming to observe how many endeavored to bridge the language barrier by brushing up on the English or German they had learned in school. They understood one another, if not by words, at least by gestures, by a hug, or by the expression in their eyes. It was a demonstration of real brotherhood as only the fruit of God’s spirit, love, can produce, “for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Col. 3:14.
Many of the nearly 1,800 foreign delegates accompanied Swiss publishers in the witness work and thus showed their interest in the field activities of their brothers over here. Most of them also included in their tour a visit to our Bethel home and factory, which was encouraging to us.
From brothers attending the convention in Geneva we received a touching farewell message that read in part: “We do not want to leave you without mentioning that the things we will remember most are not the height of your mountains or the depth of your lakes, but forever we will remember your great love for our grand Creator and your faithfulness in endeavoring to observe the righteous principles of our Father. We have been stimulated by your determination to remain integrity keepers.
“Your efforts to converse with us in spite of the language barrier have been appreciated very much.
“Never will we forget your friendly and smiling faces which made us feel at home and welcome. Yes, ‘how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!’ And how thankful we are to belong to this our universal family of brothers!”—Ps. 133:1.
Thus the 1985 district conventions, attended by a total of 20,601 persons, have left us with many happy memories. We all felt encouraged to go on, shoulder to shoulder with our brothers worldwide, keeping our integrity to Jehovah and Christ Jesus, and looking forward to other wonderful opportunities for Christian fellowship.
DETERMINED TO KEEP ON
We have surveyed together about 95 years of theocratic development in Switzerland, from Brother Russell’s first visit in 1891 up to the present time. From a little trickle, the increasing waters of truth have reached into every valley and high up to isolated chalets in the mountains. When we call at homes in the cities, people often recognize us as Jehovah’s Witnesses before we ever have a chance to start speaking. So the Kingdom message has been sounded forth and the people have heard. However, the majority feel secure and satisfied with their own situation in life and care little for what they consider impossible: lasting peace on earth under the Kingdom of God.
Still, the efforts of Jehovah’s servants have not been in vain. Although many who served Jehovah for a time have turned back to the world, we are happy that we reached a peak of 13,659 loyal publishers of the Kingdom in May 1986 (including 42 in Liechtenstein). Attendance at the Memorial in 1986 was 25,698 (including 82 in Liechtenstein), promising further increase as long as Jehovah’s patience continues. Interestingly, a great many—maybe half—of the publishers are persons from abroad who came to Switzerland to improve their material situation and unexpectedly found spiritual riches. Many publishers have returned to their home country and helped to advance the Kingdom work in their places of origin. Thus the spreading of the Kingdom good news has been stepped up in those countries, and the Swiss Witnesses feel privileged to have had a share in it.
Those of the “great crowd” are themselves referred to at Isaiah 56:6 as “foreigners that have joined themselves to Jehovah to minister to him and to love the name of Jehovah, in order to become servants to him.” The determination of the thousands of these in Switzerland is to persevere in Jehovah’s service, along with the 73 members of the anointed remnant still present here and in Liechtenstein, unitedly proclaiming the Kingdom hope to all those who are willing to hear.
[Map on page 114]
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SWITZERLAND AND LIECHTENSTEIN
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY
[Picture on page 119]
Adolf Weber, who brought the Kingdom message back to his homeland in 1900
[Picture on page 130]
Brothers using “peace bell” on horse-drawn carriage in Zurich to stir up interest in the magazine “The Golden Age”
[Picture on page 135]
Switzerland branch and printery from 1925 to 1970
[Picture on page 136]
Martin C. Harbeck (standing with his wife) and J. F. Rutherford
[Picture on page 145]
Heinrich Dwenger, in Bethel service from 1910 to 1983, in Subscription Department at Thun
[Picture on page 149]
Title page of the special issue of “The Golden Age” giving the facts about the memorable convention in Lucerne
[Picture on page 159]
Franz Zürcher, branch overseer from 1940 to 1953
[Picture on page 161]
Jules Feller began his Bethel service in 1924; still active at 86 years of age
[Picture on page 183]
Willi Diehl, coordinator of the Branch Committee, with his wife Marthe
[Picture on page 193]
The castle, landmark of Liechtenstein
[Picture on page 208]
Bethel home, office, and printery at Thun
[Picture on page 215]
A dozen veterans of the Bethel family, averaging 46 years of full-time service each (Left to right: Lydia Wiedenmann, Marthe Diehl, Jules Feller, Willi Diehl, Paul Bigler, Martha Bigler, Paul Obrist, Ernst Zedi, Hans Russenberger, Arnold Rohrer, Johannes Förster, Josefine Förster)