THE Alps of Austria are alive with the sound of music. Renowned for sublime musical compositions produced by Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, the Strausses, and others, Austria is also famous for its natural beauty. Thick forests, clear lakes, and broad valleys separate many of its snowcapped Alps, which majestically reach into the sky as high as 12,457 feet [3,797 m]. Eventually these peaks graduate into soft rolling hills and agriculturally rich low plains in the east. The loveliness of these grand surroundings has been enhanced by the spiritual beauty of Bible truth that emerged in Austria in the early 1900’s. And since then, Austria’s lofty peaks and green valleys have been echoing with “songs extolling God” Jehovah.—Ps. 149:6.
For centuries Austria was part of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation. Later it was linked with Hungary in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So it is not surprising that 98 percent of the population speak German and that ethnic groups include Magyars (Hungarians), Croatians, and Slovenes. When Vienna was the capital of a vast empire, as well as during the periods following the world wars, large numbers of people flocked to this colorful city on the Danube River to live. Thus, more than 20 percent of Austria’s population of some 7,555,000 are now found in Vienna.
For centuries the official religion in Austria was Roman Catholicism, as dictated by the Hapsburg rulers. Even today, 84 percent of the population profess to be Roman Catholic, and there is a concordat between Austria and the Vatican that assures government financial support for the Catholic Church. Another 6 percent are listed as Protestants. However, these figures do not show the people’s real attitude toward religion, since devotion to religious institutions has greatly declined. Many of them hold back from openly breaking their traditional religious ties because the average Austrian’s concern is, ‘What will people say?’
Much effort and the blessing of Jehovah’s spirit have been required to locate God-fearing individuals and to teach them Jehovah’s ways. As a result, there are today in Austria upwards of 17,700 persons who have demonstrated that their greater concern is, ‘What will God say?’ These make up the 246 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
First Attempts to Witness
At the beginning of the 20th century, religious life in Austria danced to the tempo set primarily by the Roman Catholic Church. Although Protestants possessed certain rights that had been granted under the so-called Edict of Toleration in 1781, most other people were allowed to practice their religion only in private. Nevertheless, Charles Taze Russell, the first president of the Watch Tower Society, decided to go to Vienna in 1911 to direct his attention first to the Jewish populace.
Traveling by train, he arrived in Vienna, where the large hall of the Continental Hotel had been hired for March 22. His talk, designed to appeal to sincere Jews, was to be “Zionism in Prophecy.” What would be the reaction of the Jewish population here to his explanations of Bible prophecy? From New York, a Jewish rabbi had cabled a long message of misrepresentation, warning the Jews against the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. As a result, although the hall was packed when Brother Russell stepped to the platform, he soon realized that about a third of those in the audience were determined to prevent him from speaking.
Russell later reported: “From the very beginning of our address, from all over the hall, they shouted and screamed and some of them appeared possessed of demons. . . . We endeavored to speak a word or two to allay their fears, but to no purpose. . . . Several seemed anxious to get their hands upon us, but a strong cordon of the more sensible ones formed a barricade around us. We had no fear, but those who knew our opponents better seemed quite fearful for us. Finding that we could accomplish nothing, we smilingly waved our hand, indicating that we would give up the attempt, and left the platform. The same Jews opened the way before us and kept off any opponents and guided us out of the hall . . . About fifteen came the next day and questioned further respecting the divine plan.”
For the benefit of sincere truth seekers, arrangements were also made to publish the full text of Russell’s discourse in the newspaper Neues Wiener Journal (New Viennese Journal).
This was not the first time that Brother Russell had seen Vienna. Twenty years earlier, in 1891, he had made a trip that took him from Dresden, Germany, via Vienna to Kishinev in Russia. Commenting on the situation as he understood it back at that time, Brother Russell stated in Zion’s Watch Tower of November 1891: “We saw no opening or readiness for the truth in Russia, . . . nothing to encourage us to hope for any harvest in Italy or Turkey or Austria or Germany.”
Nevertheless, a further attempt was made to help at least some of the people here. Early in 1914, Maxwell G. Friend (then known by the name Freschel, born to Jewish parents) was asked to go from the Bethel Home in Germany to Austria-Hungary in order to spread the good news of the Messianic Kingdom among the Jews. In Vienna he was able to start a regular home Bible study with two subscribers for Zion’s Watch Tower. He reported: “Jews hardly ever responded to the good news, because they confused us with missionaries of Christendom. They had no love for Christendom due to the many centuries that she had driven them from country to country and mercilessly killed them with fire and sword.”
Within a few months World War I broke out. Would this put an end to all efforts to share the good news with the Austrian people?
Beginning of the Postwar Harvest
Amid the horrors of the world war, there were persons who thought and talked about spiritual things. Johann Brotzge, though a young man, was one who was deeply religious. At his place of work in the city of Dornbirn, he delivered coal to a man named Degenhart, who was in charge of the furnace. During one of his deliveries in the early autumn of 1917, Degenhart initiated a conversation about God’s Kingdom. Soon afterward young Johann was drafted into military service. Would the seeds of truth that he heard take root?
After having experienced the horrors of war, Johann returned home. The words about God’s Kingdom had left a deep impression and they were still in his mind. He started to search for Degenhart. How sad though, Degenhart had died in the meantime. In the spring of 1919, however, Johann Brotzge did come into contact with Otto Mathis as well as Xaver Klien, who was by then a Bible Student. It was from Otto that he obtained his long-desired Bible literature. Those men were the first Bible Students in the west of Austria.
Roughly 425 miles [680 km] from there, at the eastern end of the country, the truth took hold in another receptive heart. Young Johannes Ehm was employed as a music teacher in the village of Deutsch Wagram on the Marchfeld plain, during the years of 1919 and 1920. A married couple who were his friends took in an engineer from Germany as a boarder. That couple told Johannes that the engineer, a Mr. Goller, spoke of completely new and strange things. He said that the end of the world was near, that there is no hellfire, and that the majority of believers would not go to heaven but, rather, would live on earth someday. Not only that, but he contended that he could prove it all from the Bible. “Would you like to attend such a discussion?” the couple asked the young music teacher.
At that discussion Johannes saw a Bible for the very first time in his life. He later said: “Goller radiated calmness and serenely answered all my questions—and there were not a few of them!” Johannes soon ordered the six volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, written by C. T. Russell, and eagerly started to study them.
Meanwhile, in Klagenfurt in the south of Austria, a young bookkeeper, Franz Ganster, made acquaintance by letter with a man in Switzerland named Egg. Their correspondence included something more than stamp collecting and exchanging picture postcards. Since Egg was already one of the Bible Students, it was from him that our young Austrian bookkeeper heard the Bible’s message. Ganster placed an order for all the Watch Tower literature then available in Switzerland, which was personally delivered by a cooper named Leopold König when he returned to Austria from Switzerland in 1921. What was set off by this we shall see later.
At about the same time, a Bible Student from Germany left a booklet with a married couple who lived at Linz, in the northern part of Austria. That booklet was entitled Millions Now Living Will Never Die. After reading it and passing it on to their friend, a farmer named Simon Riedler, they told him, “It is written in a sensational style.” So Simon Riedler glanced through it casually and in a somewhat prejudiced frame of mind. ‘Probably nothing but nonsense,’ he thought to himself.
Nevertheless, he read it a second time, then a third time. Would he finally appreciate the gems of truth in this booklet? Yes, even to the point of feeling ashamed of his original bias.
Desiring to investigate the message more thoroughly, Simon wrote to Vienna to the address given on the back of the booklet. How long he had wanted to possess a Bible! Thus he came into contact with Leopold König, the cooper who had returned from Switzerland and was now serving as a colporteur. When Brother König sent a pocket-size Luther Bible to that farmer, he probably never imagined the great joy it would cause. At last, Simon Riedler had his own Bible! Along with it, he read Zion’s Watch Tower and Food for Thinking Christians. His family, relatives, and neighbors heaped ridicule upon him. But Simon Riedler had found the truth; that was all that mattered. As he later said: “My heart was full, and my lips were brimming over.”
Listening Ears at a Memorable Discourse
In late autumn of 1921, a lecture on the striking theme “Millions Now Living Will Never Die” was given in the spacious Sofiensäle in the picturesque city of Vienna. The reaction to the message was very different from what Brother Russell had encountered ten years earlier.
A report concerning the meeting says: “The message had great impact. The announcement caused quite a stir and gave rise to much discussion in the streets before the meeting started. The hall was overcrowded and the doors were shut long before the beginning of the lecture, while hundreds were turned away. The crowd listened with breathless attention to the wonderful message of the establishment of the Kingdom of God and the comforting Biblical promise that millions now living will not have to die.” On that evening 2,100 copies of the Millions booklet were placed, and 1,200 addresses were submitted so that follow-up calls could be made.
Among those deeply affected by that talk was Hans Ronovsky. He was not present at the Sofiensäle. But a few weeks later when he was strolling down one of Vienna’s shopping streets, his attention was caught by a poster advertising the same lecture, to be delivered at the Konzerthaus. He went, not to enjoy a Strauss waltz or a Mozart concerto, but to listen to the lovely melody of Bible truths. What he heard proved to be a turning point in his life.
Activity in the Provinces
Now attention was directed to other population centers throughout the country. One day Franz Ganster received a postcard from Vienna. He was to rent the largest hall he could find in Klagenfurt for a lecture to be given by Brother Emil Wetzel, who had been sent from Dresden, Germany, to oversee the work in Austria. ‘Well, that might be the hall at the Sandwirt Hotel,’ Ganster thought to himself, promptly setting out to find the owner of the hotel.
“I would suggest,” the hotel manager said, “having tables and chairs put in the hall to make it look fuller, as surely only a few people will turn up.”
Ganster replied resolutely, “I have the order to rent the hall with seats only.”
Now, who was going to distribute the many invitations for the talk? Ganster, a workingman himself, had an idea. He hired a couple of men, and these distributed 3,000 handbills in the city. As the attendance showed later, they evidently did a good job. The hotel manager estimated that 2,000 people attended the talk. And not only was the main floor overcrowded but the balcony was as well.
Among those present was Richard Heide, a 20-year-old student. After he saw the poster advertising the talk “Millions Now Living Will Never Die,” he said to his father: “Dad, I am going to hear that talk whatever anyone might say. I want to know whether this is just bluff or if there is any truth in it!” So he did go, and his father and his sister Therese decided to accompany him.
After the talk many in attendance left their address, with a request for literature. To care for such requests, Franz Ganster ordered an ample supply of Studies in the Scriptures. He received so many that his landlady wondered where he would put all the parcels. His room was stacked with literature from floor to ceiling, leaving hardly any space for Franz himself.
Mr. Heide, thrilled with the lecture, also ordered the seven volumes of Studies in the Scriptures, which he eagerly read. Before long, meetings were being held in his apartment. Often, up to 30 people crowded together in his living room.
In Graz, too, meetings were held as early as the spring of 1922. Talks were given also in other provincial towns. So Jehovah’s work was increasing in intensity in the provinces.
What a zealous little group these publishers in Klagenfurt were! Why, they had not even been immersed yet. It was not until July 5, 1922, that an immersion took place in Vienna; then the following week a baptism was held in the province of Carinthia where the firstfruits of this territory were immersed in the waters of the beautiful Wörther See. These included Franz Ganster, Mr. and Mrs. Heide (the parents), their two children Richard and Therese, and a Mr. Kopatsch, who later became well known for his zeal and freeness of speech.
In the meantime something had happened in Vienna that gave rise to lively conversations not only among God’s people but also among others.
A Tumultuous Meeting in Vienna
When on a tour of various branch offices in 1922, Brother Rutherford, the Watch Tower Society’s second president, included a visit to Vienna from May 30 to June 1. Plans were made for a lecture to be given in the spacious Katharinenhalle. Would the reception be more favorable than when Brother Russell had attempted to speak in Vienna 11 years earlier?
When Brother Rutherford and his interpreter, Brother Conrad Binkele (from Switzerland), ascended the platform, every available space in the hall, including the aisles, was packed with people. Some were even seated on the platform, right up against the speaker. Others were still trying to get in. However, among the thousands present, there were a few hundred who had come not to listen quietly to the talk but, rather, to disrupt it. Opposers of the Bible’s message had their henchmen stationed throughout the audience, particularly toward the rear of the hall.
All went well for about the first 40 minutes of the talk. Brother Rutherford had been warned, however, that there would be an attempt to stop the meeting. So he first covered the main points of his discourse, with the intention of elaborating afterward. But as soon as the main points had been dealt with, a tumult broke out. Some 200 to 300 troublemakers began to shout and stamp their feet like a wild herd of cattle. Young men and women jumped onto chairs and signaled in all directions. As with one sharp blow, these troublemakers brought the talk to an abrupt end.
Brother Rutherford tried to appeal to the audience to calm down and behave properly, but in vain. Again he tried to speak to the audience through his interpreter, saying: “I want to take a vote of this audience and see how many wish to hear this lecture through.” Most of the audience raised their hand affirmatively. But the riotous ones loudly voiced their disapproval. With a firm voice Brother Rutherford now said: “Those who do not wish to hear, please withdraw from the hall immediately and let the people hear who do wish to hear.”
At that, the full anger of the disturbers was unleashed. The leaders of the commotion pushed their way through the aisles. When they came to within 15 feet [5 m] of the platform, the troublemakers began to sing the “Internationale.” Their action was so frenzied that it appeared they were demon possessed.
The manager of the hall now arrived and demanded that the speaker leave the platform immediately. Brother Rutherford hoped that the storm would blow over and that the police would subdue the crowd so that he could continue with the lecture. But this was not the case. The manager switched off some of the lights, but the opposers turned them on again. Becoming still more alarmed, the manager and two or three of his assistants ran to the speaker’s stand, seized Brother Rutherford by his arm, and pulled him to the rear out of sight.
As the mob reached the front of the platform, they were still singing, and a few of them cried: “Where is he? Where is he? Our flag is red!” The mob, not able to find Brother Rutherford, posted guards at the exits. But they evidently overlooked a door at the rear of the platform. This door, usually locked and barred, was immediately opened. Brother Rutherford and Brother Arthur Goux, who had come with him from New York, rushed through it, and the door was promptly closed and bolted again.
The newspaper Neues Wiener Journal reported: “Scandalous scenes at a Bible lecture”—“Communists break up the gathering.”
Emil Wetzel, who was then overseer of the Society’s work in Austria, later wrote that during his first six months in this assignment almost all our public meetings were disrupted. On the other hand, there were many people in attendance who were hungry for the truth, and arrangements were made to care for them. To facilitate that care, in 1923 the Society opened its first office in Austria, at 12 Pouthongasse, Vienna.
“I Will by No Means Leave You”
In 1924, for the first time, a general meeting of the International Bible Students Association was held in Vienna. The following year, when a convention was again held in Vienna, Johannes Schindler from Dresden was among the delegates. This became a turning point in his life. How so? One of the talks culminated in the call: “Who would like to serve as an auxiliary missionary in Austria?” (Today we would refer to such a person as a pioneer.) Among the six brothers who responded on the spot was Johannes Schindler.
Brother Schindler first went back to Dresden to notify his employer that he would be leaving. At the time, he was working for the renowned Ernemann-Zeiss-Ikon-Works as a precision optician. But without that work, how was Brother Schindler going to care for his material needs? He would be permitted to keep for personal use a certain part of the money contributed for literature. However, in Austria no literature could be sold from house to house, and that law was construed as applying to our work. The only thing to do was to tell the householder kindly: “If you wish to contribute something toward the support of this missionary work, you are free to do so.” Complete confidence in Jehovah was required for a person to accept this assignment under these circumstances. But had not Jehovah promised his servants: “I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you”?—Heb. 13:5.
At the age of 24, Brother Schindler had already gained experience for two years as a proclaimer of the good news in his native Germany. Now, with 100 reichsmarks in his pocket, he came to Austria to start his work in and around the town of Wels on October 17, 1925.
He tried to live as economically as possible. However, even during the first month he had to fall back on his financial reserves. At the end of three months, his funds were exhausted. From then on, his faith and his trust in Jehovah were really put to the test. And Jehovah did care for his needs in His own way.
For example, one Saturday evening after Brother Schindler used his last money to pay the rent for the room where he and his pioneer partner would stay overnight, his thoughts traveled ahead to the next day. Prayerfully he and his partner approached their heavenly Father. First thing Sunday morning, Brother Schindler went to the post office, which was open for just an hour on Sunday, to see whether there was any mail. How surprised he was when a parcel was handed to him! The contents? There were 500 booklets and a covering letter saying that the booklets were free of charge.
The service at the local church had just finished, and the men, as they were accustomed to do, flocked to the inns to enjoy their Sunday drinks and to play cards. Brother Schindler approached the innkeeper, offered him a booklet, and asked whether he might also speak to the guests at the tables. The request was granted.
Brother Schindler approached a table and put one booklet in front of each man around the table, saying: “Millions now living will never die. This prophecy of the Holy Scriptures will soon be fulfilled. We do not sell these booklets, but if anyone wishes to contribute something for our missionary activity, he is free to do so.” As soon as one of the men had put some small change on the table, others got out their purses and followed suit. So Brother Schindler moved fearlessly from table to table distributing the booklets.
There were also other inns in that village. Within an hour and a half his literature bag was emptied. Once again Brother Schindler and his partner had the money needed to buy food and to pay for their lodging. With confidence in Jehovah, they looked forward to the next day.
Until his passing away on December 23, 1986, Johannes Schindler was still in the ranks of the pioneers, then in the Federal Republic of Germany.
Funerals Attract Attention
In the same year that Brother Schindler began to pioneer in Austria, Georg Gertz was sent from Germany to the Vienna branch office. He became well known throughout the larger cities in the country as an excellent speaker.
When Brother Heide of Klagenfurt died, Brother Gertz was assigned to give the funeral talk. Brother Heide had been well known because of his zealous share in the preaching activity. With the help of a directory, he had sent sample magazines and various tracts such as Ecclesiastics Indicted and The Fall of Babylon to all parts of Carinthia. After envelopes had been sorted according to destination, his children would help him take the shipments in a laundry basket to the post office. Time and again Brother Heide received letters from interested persons in various towns and villages of Carinthia, and if he could manage to visit them personally, he would.
So at Brother Heide’s death, it was not surprising that many showed interest in the funeral arrangements. Funerals mean a lot to the rural population of Austria. On the one hand, they may speak of them with much praise, but on the other hand, they may strongly disapprove of them. Well, this funeral service, the first one for any of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Austria, was attended by about 2,000 persons. And as the Austrian loves to talk about funerals, people were still talking about this one even after ten years.
Small Beginnings, Persistent Effort
Today there are 16 congregations in and around Linz, in Upper Austria. But it was only slowly that Bible truth took hold here. Religiously, this was a stronghold of the Catholic Church, and it was not easy to proclaim the message of the Kingdom in this territory.
Simon Riedler, that humble farmer, enthusiastically talked to others in this area about the precious Bible truths that he had learned. In about 1930, Brother Nasl from Munich, Germany, came to his assistance, and they did find a few interested persons. Brother Riedler gave talks for the group or read to them from the Society’s publications. Generally from 30 to 35 persons congregated for these meetings. Because of pressure, however, interest weakened, and reports even as late as 1940 show that there was only one loyal sister in Linz.
In the west, near the Liechtenstein border in the city of Feldkirch, a customs official named Wilhelm Coreth was witnessing to his colleagues as early as 1922. Agathe Thaler and her mother, who were living in the village of Lauterach at that time, heard the good news. A discussion was arranged at the house of Agathe’s parents, with the local priest present. Between 20 and 25 persons were on hand. The priest was not able to refute from the Bible any of the arguments presented. The result? The whole family embraced the truth. In 1925 the town of Dornbirn became the center for the meetings, and brothers from nearby Switzerland came over to give talks. Johann Brotzge, who had first heard the truth as early as 1917, had also progressed to the point of giving talks.
The progress being made throughout the country was reflected in the attendance at the Memorial. In 1926 Vienna reported 312, Graz 43, Klagenfurt 26, and other places a total of 52.
In this same year, the oversight of the Kingdom work in Austria was transferred to the Germany branch office. A capable brother was sent to Austria to provide the needed local supervision.
Pushing Ahead in the Face of Pressure
The preaching work was carried out under difficult circumstances in those days. Everyone who shared the good news of God’s Kingdom with others, especially in the rural areas, soon made the acquaintance of the constabulary.
One day a group of brothers had hired a bus to visit some villages of the Waldviertel, a rural area to the north of Vienna, to do some preaching there. They were already expected when they arrived. At the entrance to the village, they found themselves facing a hostile crowd of villagers agitated by the local priest. Among the crowd stood men with steel helmets and rifles; they belonged to the so-called Heimwehr, a civic militia supported by some rural policemen. As soon as the brothers stepped off the bus, they were assaulted and their entire literature supply was snatched away from them.
Needless to say, when working in rural areas after this incident, the brothers got off the bus outside the villages and took roundabout ways to enter them. However, the enemies of the truth promptly adapted their ways to the new methods of the brothers. Some areas were firmly in the hands of the clergy, and the constabulary was only too willing to cooperate with the clergy in taking action against the brothers.
The hostilities that the brothers had to face touched every facet of life and did not end even with death itself. Mr. and Mrs. Geisberger, who lived near the small town of Schärding, accepted the truth and withdrew from the Catholic Church in 1923. Because of this, not long afterward Sister Geisberger lost her job as a teacher of needlework. Then, when her husband died, the village priest tried to prevent any funeral for Brother Geisberger at the local cemetery. Legally, of course, nobody could be refused a burial. So the brothers took the matter to the district commissioner. What arrangements could be made to bury this man who believed and endeavored to live in harmony with the Bible? The burial would have to be in the part of the cemetery reserved for graves of people who had committed suicide. At least Brother Wetzel of Vienna was permitted to give the funeral discourse.
Persecuted for Being Christians
The Scriptures do not hide the fact that in this world hardship comes with being a Christian. Jesus Christ told his followers: “Bear in mind the word I said to you, A slave is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will persecute you also . . . But they will do all these things against you on account of my name, because they do not know him that sent me.” (John 15:20, 21) This proved to be the experience of those who endeavored to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in Austria during this period. Sometimes, as Jesus had warned, the opposition came from close family members. (Matt. 10:32-39) But it did not discourage the brothers in Austria from taking their stand on the side of God’s Kingdom.
Beatrice Lojda was spokeswoman of the Socialist movement and had run for election to the Nationalrat (National Council, Lower House of Parliament). One of her girlfriends—her name was Bretschneider—whom she knew from her political activities, had become a witness of Jehovah and naturally spoke to her about God’s Kingdom. Beatrice was invited to the Continental Hotel in Vienna to hear a lecture. This was the very hotel where Brother Russell had tried in vain to give a talk back in 1911. Beatrice did not believe in God and at first waved off the whole matter, remarking: “God would first have to introduce himself to me!” But she wanted to please her friend and so she attended the talk. In spite of her feelings, even during the discourse she could not help saying several times to Sister Bretschneider: “This is the truth! This is the truth!”
It did not take long until Beatrice withdrew from political life, in harmony with Jesus’ words to his disciples: “You are no part of the world.” (John 15:19) At once, difficulties set in. Her husband threatened to divorce her unless she would ‘come to her senses,’ as he put it. But she stood firm in the faith and continued to do so until her death.
Franz Monfreda of Salzburg had been a zealous Catholic, but the truth reached his heart. After leaving the Catholic Church on March 12, 1927, he dedicated his life to Jehovah God. His family was not at all pleased with this action and thus heaped reproaches and hostility upon him. It went so far that he lost his house as well as his business. His faith was put to hard tests, for it took quite some time for him to find another job. But he stayed faithful to Jehovah. What does he have to say about those days? “Today I am happy that I overcame that period and stuck with the truth. Jehovah’s arm never proved to be too short.”—Compare Isaiah 59:1.
There Was Only One Bicycle
The brothers in the area of Riedlingsdorf, province of Burgenland, showed extraordinary zeal in the Lord’s work. Their territory was widespread, and there was hardly any means of transportation. The possession of a motorbike, let alone a car, was out of the question for them. Many did not even own a bicycle. So some of the brothers used the following method for field service:
One brother would start out walking, calling at the houses to preach as he went along. A second brother would go ahead on his bicycle to a previously fixed point and leave the bicycle there. He then continued his activity on foot. The first brother, on arriving at the point where the bicycle had been put, would ride it to the next place previously agreed upon. If this bicycle had had an odometer, it would no doubt have had a tremendous record of Kingdom-preaching mileage on it!
Since the brothers had only Sundays free for their field service, they made full use of the time. Sometimes they left their homes at 3:00 a.m. and returned late in the evening. Wholehearted effort marked their ministry.
Fighting for Legal Rights
As the preaching work became more extensive, it was not unusual for the brothers to be summoned to appear before local authorities on account of their preaching activities. As far as they were capable of doing so, they defended themselves. In some cases they were given legal aid. But the legal steps did not always turn out in their favor.
However, it proved far more difficult to get the local branch of the Watch Tower Society registered than to avert sentences. Legal recognition as an organized religion was simply not possible yet. The brothers tried at least to get registered as an association, but the public authorities objected, arguing: ‘Your intention is to form a religious organization, and an organization of that type cannot be constituted under Austrian law.’
The brothers filed an appeal with the Constitutional Court, complaining that they were being denied their legal right to form an association. The immediate reaction of the members of the Austrian Constitutional Court was the dismissal of the appeal on December 7, 1929. Next, the brothers tried to register an association for distributing Bibles and Bible literature, without any involvement in religious functions. This application was not refused. So, on May 24, 1930, a local association was formed to serve as a legal instrument for the brothers.
Legal recognition of the Wachtturm-Gesellschaft by no means ended the difficulties with which the brothers had to contend. But Jehovah’s servants stuck to their Scriptural responsibility. They recognized that a witness must be given also to officials.—Mark 13:11.
New Congregations, Growing Attendance
So as not to trigger too many controversies, the brothers had decided to refrain from holding larger assemblies. Only the Photo-Drama of Creation, seen in Vienna for the first time in 1922, was to be shown in smaller provincial towns as well.
Nevertheless, in some areas attendance at the congregation meetings was considerable. That was true in the town of Leoben, where Eduard Payer was in full-time service. Before his arrival, nobody had heard of the Bible Students. But he preached with great zeal, and soon about 200 were attending the meetings. By 1932 he was serving in Graz, the provincial capital of Styria. Here again, several hundred attended the meetings. Among those in attendance was a former member of the French Foreign Legion, Leopold Pitteroff, who later was thrown into a concentration camp where he remained faithful. The number of organized Bible study groups (or classes, as they were called then) in Austria had already grown to 30.
The change on the political scene that next took place was very welcome to the clergy, who were our foremost opponents. Dr. Engelbert Dollfuss, a Christian-Socialist, assumed office as federal chancellor on May 20, 1932, and received a congratulatory telegram from Cardinal Pacelli, the papal secretary of state. Marked curtailments of civil liberties occurred during the term of office of Dr. Dollfuss. Cleverly taking advantage of an emergency situation in 1933, he dissolved the Parliament. Then, holding all the political strings in his hand, he established what he called “The First Catholic Model Government of Europe.” Clerical circles described Dollfuss as the ideal Catholic statesman.
Under these circumstances, would it be a surprise if attempts were made to prohibit our Christian meetings? Such a prohibition was soon put into effect in Graz, where hundreds of persons were attending our meetings. The brothers were not intimidated. They immediately filed an appeal, which had to be allowed because there was no infraction of law on the part of our brothers. However, the public authorities withdrew the permits of residence from some pioneers and thus forced them to leave town. Nearly every week there were false accusations against the brothers. A Catholic journal requested that the government put a stop to our Christian work, plainly revealing who was behind these actions.
Just at the right time Jehovah’s organization provided upbuilding help. Although Brother Rutherford was not able to come in 1933 as he had planned, he sent N. H. Knorr and M. C. Harbeck, who met with the brothers in Wimberger’s Etablissement in Vienna. That meeting did much to strengthen the brothers.
Censorship and Confiscation of Literature
In harmony with the Bible’s prophecy that human rule is to be replaced by God’s Kingdom of the heavens, our publications freely highlighted the sad results of rulership by men. (Dan. 2:44; 7:13, 14, 27) The ruling authorities took offense at such statements when they felt that these put them in a bad light. As a result, there was a series of confiscations of our literature in the early 1930’s.
During 1933 and 1934 the brothers were summoned before the public authorities almost weekly to listen to all sorts of objections. Often the authorities demanded that certain paragraphs in the publications be made illegible. To make absolutely sure that all paragraphs in question would really be obliterated, a policeman was stationed right at the Society’s office. Some days the work continued for a long time, even until midnight. And as the eye of the law also gets tired sometimes, certain passages in the publications remained legible after all.
Political Unrest Brings Restrictions
The differences between the various political parties escalated dramatically. The Social Democratic Schutzbund (armed forces of the Socialist Party) went into resistance. The opposition by the working class was brutally smashed in February 1934. The Social Democratic Party was prohibited. Further restrictions of personal freedom followed.
As if affirming that a new era had begun, Austria got a new constitution in May 1934. The introductory words of it sounded like a religious creed: “In the name of God, the Almighty, from whom all the law goes forth, the Austrian people herewith receives this constitution for their permanent Christian German Federal State.” But in neighboring Germany, Hitler, another Catholic but one who espoused a different political ideology, was already firmly in power. And in July a supporter of Hitler’s National Socialist Party assassinated Dr. Dollfuss, Austria’s chancellor.
The months that followed, under the government headed by Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg, brought no relief for those who truly sought to serve “God, the Almighty.” Bible literature was still seized from them, and they continued to be haled before the courts. In many cases public Bible meetings were also forbidden.
Local Association Dissolved by Authorities
Finally, by a decree issued on September 10, 1934, the federal security commissioner of Vienna dissolved the Wachtturm-Gesellschaft, the legal association used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, following an appeal by the brothers, that decree was canceled by the Federal Chancellor’s Office in its capacity as an executive board for public security.
But the authorities who were especially eager to stamp out our work did not rest. On June 17 and on July 17, 1935, it was again decreed, this time by the federal security administrator, that the “Wachtturm-Gesellschaft, Branch of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, Brooklyn, N.Y.,” was to be dissolved. The brothers tried again to appeal this decree but, this time, to no avail.
Putting the Kingdom First Despite Obstacles
The brothers continued to work from door to door, though cautiously now. In spite of their vigilance, they were often arrested and sentenced either to go to jail or to pay a fine. Even though jail could mean several weeks of detention, they preferred jail to paying a fine, for they had in mind opportunities to give a witness there.
In those days of unrest and economic uncertainty, Leopold Engleitner entered the full-time service. In January 1934 he moved to the territory assigned to him in Upper Styria, where hardly any witnessing had been done up to that time.
National socialism was already exercising a powerful influence there. As a result, in some places martial law had been declared. This was true at Schladming, which had been occupied by a civic militia as a result of Nazi disturbances. In view of the seriousness of the situation, Brother Engleitner kept only a small amount of literature in the pockets of his jacket so as not to attract attention. Working the very outskirts of a town first, he offered literature only to those whom he felt that he could trust.
One day he was arrested and because of the prevailing political situation was asked at the constabulary office whether he carried any weapons on him. Our brother replied that he did, reached into his pocket and pulled out a Bible and put it on the table in front of them. (Eph. 6:17) When the officers had recovered from their laughter, they dismissed him.
The clergy, however, were upset about this servant of Jehovah. Whenever he started his preaching work in one of the larger villages, the clergy saw to it that all the inhabitants were informed, including the constabulary. There was one arrest after another for Brother Engleitner. Jail sentences soon followed. At first it was for only 48 hours at a time, but the sentences became longer and longer. Finally, he had to transfer his activities to another place.
In his new territory, in a remote valley in a mountainous region, he was careful not to miss any of the houses. Even when nobody was at home, he left something for them to read.
In one case the farmhand was the first to come home. He noticed the tract, read it carefully, ordered more literature, and became a faithful brother. Not until 32 years later did he unexpectedly meet Brother Engleitner at a district convention.
Why Were They There?
An episode in the village of Riedlingsdorf paints a clear picture of the existing tension. A funeral was scheduled in that village, and Brother Ronovsky of Vienna was to give the talk. At that time funerals afforded the only opportunity to give a witness to a large group. However, when our brother stepped up to the grave, he was surprised at the unusual setting. Facing him were 50 men of the constabulary and of the civic militia who, with their steel helmets on their heads and rifles under their arms, looked very much ready for action. The total number present amounted to about 100, including the local priest. Our brother tried the best he could to give a witness about Jehovah God, his Son, and the resurrection hope. But why were the armed men there?
Not until later did Brother Ronovsky learn the reason for the nerve-racking encounter. The brothers from that village told him later that the men of the constabulary and of the civic militia had been surprised at his explanations from the Bible because the local priest had spread the rumor that the Witnesses were communists who intended to overthrow the government.
Restrictions on Meetings
From 1935 onward, the meetings could no longer be held in public. All Watchtower Studies had been forbidden, even in private homes. At times, the authorities argued that public security was endangered, and at other times, they said that the Catholic population took offense at such gatherings. But God’s Word commanded: ‘Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together.’—Heb. 10:25.
The brothers continued to meet, but only in private homes and in small groups of eight or ten persons. The place of meeting was constantly changed. Thus they did not attract undue attention. At their meetings they discussed the Scriptures with the help of The Watchtower and other publications, such as The Harp of God, Creation, Prophecy, Government, and Light. They also listened to Bible talks on records, when they had these at their disposal. Despite the government’s ban, God’s people increased steadily in number.
Even when earnest effort was required, the brothers made it a point to associate regularly with fellow believers. Since Vienna is not far from the Czechoslovakian city of Bratislava, or Pressburg, the brothers rented a bus every other weekend specifically to travel from Vienna to Bratislava to hold the Watchtower Study. On June 9, 1935, Austrian brothers attended the district convention in Maribor, Yugoslavia, and in 1936 they went to the convention in Lucerne, Switzerland. In Austria itself, however, tension continued to mount.
Preparing for Anticipated Persecution
Reports from Germany gave glimpses of what our brothers there were enduring, and this made the publishers in Austria shudder. They prayed to Jehovah for the strength needed to bear such pain and suffering, if necessary, and to stay faithful. But things had not gone quite that far yet.
In the summer of 1937, all who could do so were urged to attend a convention that was to be held in Prague, Czechoslovakia. To accommodate those who signed up for the trip from Vienna to Prague, three buses were needed. It was a full day’s trip. Not all, however, could afford to go by bus. Brother Engleitner and five others from Bad Ischl and surroundings made the journey of more than 220 miles [360 km] by bicycle.
All those attending the convention had the feeling that this would most likely be the last large gathering they would enjoy in freedom. The topics of the talks well suited the purpose of preparing the brothers for critical times ahead. During this convention it was pointed out repeatedly that the brothers were rapidly approaching a time of severe trial. They were strengthened by special instructions regarding conduct under persecution. To avoid endangering others in the event of house searches, they were also cautioned against keeping any lists with names of fellow Witnesses. (Matt. 10:16) The steadfast endurance of the brothers in Germany was stressed as a fine example to follow. The conventioners were urged to endure faithfully and obediently, with full trust in Jehovah, no matter what might happen.—Prov. 3:5, 6.
And so the assembly came to its end. With heavy hearts they sang, “God be with you till we meet again,” and then said good-bye to their brothers and to the hospitable city of Prague. Many tears were shed in parting as our brothers now realized why they had been urged to attend this convention.
German Troops Cross the Border
Everything indicated that German troops could be expected to march into Austria soon. Some people eagerly anticipated an economic boom as soon as Austria was annexed to Germany. But those who did not agree with Hitler’s ideology were apprehensive of reprisals. As for the brothers, they knew that inevitable tests of their loyalty to Jehovah would come. Just as it had been feared, Hitler’s troops were set in motion and crossed Austria’s border, doing so on March 12, 1938.
About a week before this, in anticipation of what was about to take place, the Society’s property in Vienna was sold, and the responsible brother, together with his wife, left Austria for Switzerland. When the brothers in Austria learned of this, they wondered: ‘What does all this mean?’ ‘How will the work go on?’ ‘From where will we get spiritual food?’
Brother August Kraft (also known as Kraftzig), who had worked in the Society’s office, was also given the option to leave Austria. But he declared: “I want to stay with the sheep.” Lovingly he encouraged, strengthened, and cared for them. How grateful they were for this God-fearing brother and shepherd who tenderly cared for them even though his name was already on the list of those being hunted down by the German Gestapo! He stayed on the move, visiting the brothers in Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, and other parts of the country. Most cautiously he visited the homes of the brothers late in the evening and left again early the next morning.
Demands of the New Ruling Powers
April 10 was a day filled with tension. The people of Austria were to vote on whether they would agree to Austria’s annexation to Germany. However, this had actually been decided upon long beforehand. Nobody could overlook the pressing appeal to the public that appeared on posters everywhere: “Your YES for Hitler.”
What did the brothers do? No matter how our brothers might have acted, they knew that the election committees had means of finding out what the decision of every single voter had been. On polling day Johann Viereckl of Vienna went into the woods early in the morning and did not return until late at night under the cover of darkness. Five times the officials of the voting committee had been at his door, according to what neighbors told Johann later. Without prior agreement, other brothers did exactly the same thing as Johann in order to keep their neutrality. One thing was now clear to the brothers: The eyes of the new rulers were upon them.
To express their solidarity with the new regime, people were required to decorate their windows with the flag bearing the swastika. In the small town of Knittelfeld, Sister Altenbuchner lived in an apartment that faced the street. Time and again, local representatives of the regime approached her, demanding that the swastika flag be displayed in her windows. They made it known that if she declined to do so, she would reap the animosity of all her neighbors. Apparently she faced a united hostile front. For reasons of conscience, she decided that she would not hang the flag. The consequences? She was given a court order to vacate her apartment facing the street and move into one assigned to her at the rear of the house, where no display of flags was required—a solution that she never had expected.
Provision of Needed Food
For a time after Hitler’s takeover of Austria, the brothers managed to have small meetings in Vienna—but discreetly. One brother was in charge of the spiritual care of study groups in each Vienna district.
At the start Brother Kraft went to Vorarlberg to fetch copies of The Watchtower that Swiss brothers smuggled across the border. En route to Vienna, he made an intermediate stop in Innsbruck to contact Brothers Defner and Setz, who took copies for the Tirol area. Brother Setz stored this precious material underneath the firewood that was piled up behind his house. All of that sounds very easy. But do not forget that the Gestapo and their informers were everywhere.
Courageous Sisters Fill a Vital Need
Without delay, Brother Kraft made arrangements so that the supplies of spiritual food for the brothers would continue after he was arrested. Courageous sisters gladly made themselves available for the spiritual feeding work. Therese Schreiber of Vienna was one of these. Brother Kraft taught her how to mimeograph The Watchtower copies by using a simple machine.
The underground activity consumed much of Therese’s time, but she found a part-time secular job that enabled her to provide financially for herself and her mother. She tried to be cautious. Quite a few brothers had already been arrested. And since her mother was suffering from serious heart troubles, how would the mother fare if her daughter was arrested? Therese comforted her, always reassuring the mother that Jehovah would surely not leave her in the lurch.
Other courageous sisters were also prepared to serve Jehovah’s interests in whatever way was needed. Sister Stadtegger from Wels volunteered to travel to the west to deliver study material to the brothers in Tirol. This she continued to do until she fell into the hands of the Gestapo. Without any legal proceedings, she was sent to the concentration camp at Ravensbrück. She never came back. Some time later her husband was also imprisoned.
Was Satan Proving Victorious?
After again visiting the brothers to strengthen them, in May 1939, Brother Kraft had only a short stay in his modest Vienna home before the Gestapo struck mercilessly. He was arrested on May 25. The doors of the extermination machinery of the Mauthausen concentration camp opened, and there his life was extinguished. Deep sorrow filled the hearts of the brothers when they heard of his death. He is remembered affectionately for his outstanding love for Jehovah and for his brothers.
Had Satan and his henchmen truly proved victorious by arresting and imprisoning these servants of God and putting some to death? On the contrary! As is shown in the case of Job, Satan’s contention is that a person will serve Jehovah only if everything seems to be going well for him. Thus every Witness that proved faithful under hardship added to the mountain of evidence that the Devil is a gross liar and that Jehovah is the true God, whom they loved with all their heart. Jehovah will richly reward all such loyal ones.—Job 1:6-12; 2:1-5; Jas. 5:11.
Two Kinds of Food Bags
The brother to whom responsibility for the preaching work was now entrusted was not working in the Society’s office but owned a small vegetable store in order to provide for himself and his wife. This was Peter Gölles. “Without any organizational instructions whatsoever,” as he put it, he was asked to keep the activity of God’s people going as far as it was possible under those oppressive circumstances.
Since Brother Kraft was no longer with them, Brother Gölles oversaw the duplication and distribution of Bible study material throughout the country. At night he worked secretly in cold cellars, and during the day he appeared in his food store. It was not safe to use the mails, so literature was carried by couriers. Incoming contributions were not sufficient to cover travel expenses, so Brother Gölles used what was in his own pocket. Since customers often got their vegetables and other foodstuffs packed in paper bags, when selected people left the store with paper bags that had somewhat different contents, this was not noticed. For some time, the couriers and the brothers in Vienna were able to obtain spiritual food from Brother Gölles’ store in this manner.
Help for the Brother in Charge
From 1938 on, it was increasingly difficult to maintain contact with Switzerland and the Netherlands, so as to get at least a few copies of The Watchtower into the country. Many contacts were interrupted because of arrests, and train journeys taking a week or more were sometimes necessary to get spiritual food from foreign countries. Brother Gölles tried to get spiritual supplies by way of Pressburg, Czechoslovakia, with Sister Kattner bringing study material from there. But this route, too, was soon cut off.
During those days Ernst Bojanowski appeared on the scene. He came from Germany, but he had already been in contact with brothers in Austria. Bojanowski offered his services to Brother Gölles and worked together with Sister Schreiber to mimeograph study material. Bojanowski gave the impression of being a courageous man with great initiative. He went on journeys to deliver literature as well. On three occasions he even baptized new brothers and sisters.
Another aid was the mimeograph machine that was installed in the cellar of a gardener’s house in Vienna. Using it required much work because it had to be dug out of its hiding place every time it was used. Nevertheless, nobody noticed what was being done, because the owner of the property had emigrated, and only the gardener, one of our brothers, was left to look after the house.
To the west near the Italian border, other Witnesses were helping. Sister Gelmi would enlarge slides of Watchtower articles that Narciso Riet brought across the border from Italy. She then typed stencils for mimeographing, and finished copies were taken to a place high up on a mountain. From there the distribution took place. Sister Tammerl from Innsbruck and Sisters Entacher (mother and daughter) from Schwaz shared in distributing study material to fellow believers. They realized what could happen to them if they were caught, and they were prepared to face it if necessary.
Into the Enemy’s Hand
Suddenly a new wave of arrests set in, particularly during September and October of 1939. Word circulated among the Witnesses that a brother had revealed names to the authorities. In Gestapo documents now available for examination, you can read for yourself these details in black and white. The Gestapo’s report for Vienna, dated November 2, 1939, says:
“Kuderna who was mentioned in the daily report of October 31, 1939, has stated that the illegal activity of the I.B.V. [International Bible Students Association] was engaged in until most recently. He further disclosed the names of the leading brothers of the I.B.V. of almost all of Vienna’s districts.”
Johann Kuderna had been a fellow believer since 1924. For reasons not known anymore, he had apparently unintentionally played into the enemy’s hands.
A further blow was that the secret code used by the sisters in distributing the magazines also got into the hands of the authorities. Now it was easy for them to understand what was meant by the wording “20 copies for ‘Resi’”; because Sister Schreiber’s first name was Therese, she was called Resi for short. Sister Schreiber was arrested and without any legal proceedings was put into the Ravensbrück concentration camp. And what about her mother? She had died two months previously.
Testifying Courageously in Court
After some time had elapsed, Sister Schreiber was taken from the concentration camp back to Vienna. What did they intend to do with her? She would soon find out. During the legal proceedings at the provincial court in Vienna, she saw on the desk a number of Watchtower magazines in which Hitler’s name appeared. These had been produced underground. Sister Schreiber concluded that they knew about her participation in both the reproduction and the distribution of the magazines.
“Did you make these duplicates?” the judge asked her emphatically. Already prior to her arrest Sister Schreiber had prayed to Jehovah that he would put words into her mouth, so she might give a good witness for him. With a firm “Yes, I did,” she accepted the responsibility.
Sister Schreiber was of pleasant appearance and behaved in a distinguished manner. The judge, obviously impressed, wanted to acquit her. But the Gestapo kept her in custody and sent her back to the concentration camp. Later a transfer to a labor camp saved her life, although she had to endure five and a half years of detention.
Those were difficult days for Brother Gölles as loyal fellow workers were seized one after another. He tried to do his best to continue the distribution of spiritual food. But who would help? He remembered that a sister had approached him some months earlier, saying: “Brother Gölles, I would like to do something for the work of the Lord.” It was Hansi Hron (now Buchner), who had been baptized in 1931. She had spent some years in foreign countries. Now, at a critical time, she returned to Austria. And from her heart she was prepared to take up the difficult service of a courier.
Ludwig Cyranek also offered his help. He had already served a two-year prison term in Germany. As soon as he was released he took up underground work again and made his experience available to the brothers in Vienna. He shared in the dangerous work of reproducing The Watchtower.
But was the location of the mimeograph machine betrayed too? Unsure of the answer, the brothers moved the machine first to one location, then to another. While Brother Cyranek wrote the stencils, Brother Joseph Schön from Prague and Sister Anna Voll from Vienna dictated the text to him, and Ernst Bojanowski, together with another brother, did the mimeographing. From yet a different place, Hansi Hron picked them up for delivery to the brothers.
Again the mimeograph had to be transferred, and Brother Schön found a hiding place for it in a summerhouse. There, he and another brother did the mimeographing. When that theocratic chore was completed, Brother Schön would deliver the study material to the brothers. One day, at a delivery stop, he was asked to stay and visit. This was a mistake. Soon he was arrested.
Sister Hron learned from this sad experience. She made her deliveries quickly and then would be on her way again. After about six months, she also was arrested. But she had fulfilled her earnest desire “to do something for the Lord.”
With the passing of time, the brothers became more ingenious in hiding both the literature and the location of their study groups. Thus, during surprise house searches by the police no literature would be found. And for their meetings, in some areas the brothers would go to the mountains or the woods to study. When the corn had grown tall enough, small groups would meet between the rows of cornstalks in the middle of the field, where they could not be seen from the road. How fitting were the Watchtower study articles too! Included among them were such ones as “Faithful Nation” and “Endurance in the Truth.” It was truly “food at the proper time.”—Matt. 24:45.
Enemy Search for the Mimeograph
The public authorities prepared a new blow. They wanted to seize as many of Jehovah’s Witnesses as possible, but they also were trying desperately to find the duplicating equipment that was being used to reproduce The Watchtower.
Gestapo files that are available for examination contain a decree issued on June 8, 1940, that reads: “By order of the RSHA [main security office of the German State], Berlin, on June 12, 1940, all members of the I.B.V. as well as all persons working for this movement and all persons known as Bible Students are to be taken into custody. . . . Persons liable for detention include women also. . . . This action by the state police goes into effect in the whole territory of the German state and is to be executed all of a sudden on June 12, 1940. Houses are to be searched at the same time arrests are made, and any material of the movement of the Bible Students is to be seized.”
So quick was this enemy attack that it is impossible to reconstruct the details. But we do know that in one sweep 44 brothers and sisters were arrested, including our courier Hansi Hron.
However, the evidence shows that the enemy was intent on seizing more than people. This is revealed in a Vienna court sentence dated January 28, 1941. It reads: “Only after detailed investigations was it possible to find the place where the printed material was produced, the shaft discovered, and the duplicating machine together with the typewriter and other material found and seized.” The gloating of the enemies of Jehovah’s people is clearly reflected in those words.
Did He Compromise?
Later, when Sister Hron was being interrogated, the officer interrupted the questioning and left the room. While he was absent, Sister Hron’s eyes lighted on a protocol, or record, of interrogation with Ernst Bojanowski. What she read shocked her. It contained so many names of brothers and so many other details that she could not help suspecting that Bojanowski had cooperated with the authorities.
Had the officer deliberately put those papers there, seeking to break her spirit and get her to divulge more information? The protocol of Bojanowski’s interrogation was preserved during the war. Portions of it read like a history of the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Austria from 1938 until January 1940. No wonder the word spread among the brothers: “We were betrayed!”
To engage in certain spiritual, underground activities, Bojanowski had gone to Germany in December 1939. Both he and Anna Voll were arrested in Dresden. An article in the official organ of the Nazi regime, Völkischer Beobachter, of March 21, 1941, adds to the picture. There we read:
“Dresden, March 20. The Special Court at Dresden sentenced to death . . . Ludwig Cyranek . . . on grounds of demoralization of military power in coincidence with participation in an association opposed to military service and in violation of the ban of the International Association of Earnest Bible Students . . . Ernst Bojanowski of Berlin was further sentenced for the same offenses, to 12 years penitentiary and to loss of honor for ten years.”
Ludwig Cyranek, mentioned above, was that faithful brother who had fearlessly made himself available for further underground work after having already served a two-year prison term. And Bojanowski? Had he been brutally beaten? Had overconcern about his own safety caused him to divulge information about his brothers? Was the protocol partly falsified? We do not know, but according to the brothers in Germany, Bojanowski was in prison only a short time.
Young but Loyal
The official papers preserved from the Nazi era do not reveal everything. But they do tell of many who were unbreakable in their integrity to Jehovah. Auguste Hirschmann (now Bender), whose parents were also in the truth, was a girl of 17 years of age when interrogated by the Gestapo. Her steadfastness is reflected in this report of October 1941:
“She was educated in the doctrines of I.B.V. by her parents and professes to be a Witness of Jehovah even to this day. The named person studied the Bible repeatedly with her parents, so that she, as she admits herself, ‘would thus strengthen her faith and loyalty’ and get strong enough to stick to the doctrines represented by the I.B.V. . . . Hirschmann refuses to give any information on persons of the same conviction. She has to be described as unteachable.”
Elisabeth Holec, though a frail, sickly 18-year-old girl, was also firm and determined in her stand for the truth. In their protocol dated December 17, 1941, the officials could only say: “Elisabeth Holec is still sticking to the ideas of the I.B.V. and admits having congregated with like-minded persons. She refuses, however, to give any information on other Bible Students and declares that this would be betrayal, something not practiced in the ‘Organization.’” Together with her mother she was taken to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she died.
But now we return to 1939, the year after Hitler’s troops seized Austria.
Memorial Night Arrests
The Memorial on April 4, 1939, proved to be a day of severe testing for many brothers. They made their preparations, went over the main points of the talk once more, and got the emblems ready. But there were others who also made preparations.
In Bad Ischl five persons met at the apartment of Franz Rothauer to celebrate the Memorial. They had gathered to call to mind the significance of the death of Jesus Christ in the outworking of Jehovah’s purpose. They well knew that Jesus had undergone severe tests leading up to his death but that he had demonstrated unbreakable integrity.
Brother Engleitner was well prepared to give the talk to the small group but had no written notes on him. He had hardly started to speak, however, when there was a violent knocking on the window. The householder opened the door, and five men stormed into the room where the brothers were. Two of the intruders were members of the dread Gestapo, and three were from the SS (a fighting troop of the Nazi Party). The brothers were ordered to raise their hands and stay in that position until they were searched. The men turned everything in the apartment upside down and were furious because they did not find any Watch Tower literature.
Their suggestion was for the brothers to declare themselves to be members of a religious sect that would willingly surrender to the orders of the Führer (Adolf Hitler) and that wanted to have no connection with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of course, none of the brothers were willing to do that. Consequently, all of them were arrested. The only one who was allowed to return home was Brother Engleitner, and he was seized later. The other brothers were immediately taken to the jail at the provincial capital of Linz. There they joined many other Witnesses who had been arrested that night. Soon afterward the brothers were transported to the Dachau concentration camp, whereas the sisters were sent to Ravensbrück.
Alois Moser, Josef Buchner, and other brothers in Braunau and surroundings had similar experiences that night. They were also arrested during the Memorial celebration. Years later Brother Buchner still recalled the speech of the camp commander Grünewald when the brothers arrived at Dachau: “And now, you Bible Students, you will remain the ‘living inventory’ of Dachau. And right in this camp here you will rot. You will not get out of here; your way out will be through the chimney.” By that he meant that their remains would be burned at the crematory.
Yes, they were being called on to face death at the hands of enemies of true worship even as had the one whose death they had assembled to memorialize. They endured six years of suffering in the concentration camps before they were finally released.
A Stand for Christian Neutrality
Long ago it had been written by the prophet Isaiah: “It must occur in the final part of the days that . . . many peoples will certainly go and say: ‘Come, you people, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob.’ . . . And he will certainly render judgment among the nations and set matters straight respecting many peoples. And they will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore.” (Isa. 2:2-4) In contrast, the Nazi regime required that all able-bodied men be trained in the art of warfare. What did Jehovah’s Witnesses in Austria do?
A short time after the Nazis had taken over Austria, a government decree was issued, requiring all who had done military service during World War I to participate in three days of military field exercises. Consequently, Johann Rainer was notified to report to the military barracks in Innsbruck.
What a sight! Eight hundred men stood at attention to take a military oath. In front of all of them, Brother Rainer refused. Without any further ado, he was taken to a room for interrogation. On leaving the room, he saw the chaplain, whose name was Klotz, in his military uniform, a big cross draped around his neck and his chest decorated with many medals awarded to him during World War I. With a “Heil Hitler!” salute, the priest approached the officer to give his opinion about Brother Rainer.
Sometime later Brother Rainer was again brought before several officers for further questioning. One of the officers said that what the priest had told them did not agree with what Brother Rainer had said. Brother Rainer replied that they could read at Matthew chapter 23 what Jesus said about such religious leaders, namely, that they are hypocrites. Another officer spoke up: “This man is right!” Nevertheless, Brother Rainer was locked up, and his case was referred to the provincial court. At this point, the owner of the wholesale grocery business in which he had been employed contacted the police chief, claiming that she had nobody to do Brother Rainer’s work. So he was allowed to return to his family and to his employment.
In more than one case, influential non-Witness relatives or employers intervened in behalf of the brothers, often because they highly appreciated the brothers’ honesty and diligent work. But not all fared that well.
Futile Efforts of Nazi Officials
About a year after Hitler’s troops marched into Austria, Hubert Mattischek was still carrying on in the preaching work without letup. But in March 1939, a car pulled up near his house and two Gestapo officials got out. Brother Mattischek did not have to guess whom they wanted to visit. He was poised and calm.
“We have to search the house for illegal literature,” one of them said. As a precaution, Brother Mattischek had already distributed the major part of the literature, and the rest he had safely stored outside the house. So the search proved to be disappointing for the officials.
“What are you going to do when you will be called up soon to do your military service?” one of them asked.
Brother Mattischek’s unhesitating reply was: “I shall refuse to take an oath or do anything else that is in connection with the war.”
At that the second official asked: “Are you aware of the consequences?”
Our brother replied, “I have been fully aware of them for a long time,” and he was arrested on the spot.
Some weeks later Brother Mattischek found himself in a cattle car, together with other brothers, heading for the Dachau concentration camp. In all, Brother Mattischek endured stays in three different concentration camps before the gates of freedom swung open for him.
When brothers arrived at the Mauthausen concentration camp, the notorious command leader Spatzenegger welcomed them with the words: “No Gypsy and no Bible Student will come out of here alive.” Many did die there.
Numerous offers were made that would have allowed the brothers to evade this machinery of death. For example, early one morning while they were in the Mauthausen concentration camp, Hubert Mattischek and his brother Willi were told to report to the gate of the camp. There was, understandably, a feeling of nervous tension as they walked to the gate. They were taken to the camp commander, Ziereis, who was surrounded by a group of high-ranking party leaders and some SS men. The Gauleiter (title of a regional party leader) of Upper Austria, August Eigruber, was also present.
Ziereis made himself spokesman, and turning to the two brothers, he said: ‘The Gauleiter here would take you two brothers to your home at once. All you have to do is to sign a piece of paper, especially drawn up for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and this could spare you years of suffering.’
There was a brief silence and bewilderment among the officials when they heard the brothers answer firmly: “We do not wish to become unfaithful to Jehovah God and to our belief.”
Ziereis, the commander, turned to the men present: “Didn’t I tell you beforehand?” Obviously they had talked earlier about the unyieldingness of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
National Labor Service Training
Franz Wohlfahrt was drafted into the National Labor Service of the (German) Reich. But when he reached the training camp, he realized that this institution also aimed at premilitary training. He refused to put on the uniform and to buckle on the waist belt. Then one day, 300 young men and about 100 leaders of lower as well as of higher grades lined up at the muster court, and Franz Wohlfahrt was ordered to march by with his hand raised in the Hitler salute, at the same time paying tribute to the swastika flag. Instead, he called to mind what the three young Hebrews had done when ordered to bow before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up in ancient Babylon. (Dan. 3:1-30) What strength that gave him! He followed their faithful example.
Not many days went by, and then Dr. Almendinger, a high official from Berlin, tried personally to make our young brother change his mind. “You are not aware at all of what you are in for,” Dr. Almendinger pointed out during the conversation.
“Oh, yes I am,” our 20-year-old brother replied. “My father was beheaded for the same reason only a few weeks ago!” Dr. Almendinger gave up. Finally, Franz was sentenced to five years of imprisonment at Rollwald Camp in Germany.
Executed for Christian Neutrality
One day in September 1939, a disquieting rumor spread through Salzburg, a city at the foot of the mountains. It made people feel uneasy—even those who expected great benefits from Hitler’s rule. What was it that they whispered into each other’s ears? Two men were said to have been shot dead at the military range of Glanegg near Salzburg.
What at first appeared to be a rumor was bitter truth. The men, Johann Pichler and Josef Wegscheider, two of our brothers, had been executed by a military detachment for refusing military service. But the execution did not proceed as smoothly as the commanders had expected. The two brothers had declared that it was unnecessary to blindfold them, although it was done anyway. Then when the command was given, the soldiers refused to shoot. Not until the soldiers had been warned emphatically that they would face disciplinary measures themselves if they failed to obey, and not until the order had been given a second time, did the soldiers shoot those innocent men. But there is more to it.
During the trial in Salzburg, the judge and his associates had attempted to make the accused change their minds. The judge had called the wives of the men to appear in the courtroom, hoping that their appearance would influence the men to yield. On the contrary, one of the women had spoken words of encouragement to them, saying: “Your lives are in the hand of God.” This had made such a deep impression on the judge that in great agitation he had hammered the table with his fist and shouted: “These people are not criminals or traitors but, rather, a company of believers whose number is not limited to two or three but goes into hundreds and even thousands!” Nevertheless, the law demanded the death sentence.
On the day preceding the execution, Brothers Pichler and Wegscheider had been visited in their cell, and a fresh attempt had been made to get them to change their minds. Asked if they had one last wish, they had expressed the desire to have a Bible. It was brought to them personally by the judge. He watched them in their cell until midnight and then went away remarking: “Both of those men in their last hour were united with their God; they are indeed holy men!”
When the execution was over, the two coffins were released for private burial. Approximately 300 attended the funeral, under strict police surveillance, of course. Singing was prohibited, and the prayer was eventually interrupted by the harsh words of a Gestapo official because he considered it to be too long. The Gestapo had also forbidden use of the name Jehovah. But this did not restrain one brother from calling out as the coffins were lowered: “Till we meet again in Jehovah’s Kingdom!”
After the events surrounding this execution had become known in Salzburg, all further cases of execution were transferred to Berlin-Plötzensee, Germany.
Words of Faith From a Death Cell
From the detention center Berlin-Plötzensee, 36-year-old Franz Reiter wrote to his mother on January 6, 1940: “I am strongly convinced in my belief that I am acting correctly. Being here, I could still change my mind, but with God this would be disloyalty. All of us here wish to be faithful to God, to his honor.”
He said “all of us” because there were five more brothers from near his hometown who, like him, faced death by the guillotine. His letter continued:
“With what I knew, if I had taken the [military] oath, I would have committed a sin deserving death. That would be evil to me. I would have no resurrection. But I stick to that which Christ said: ‘Whosoever will save his life will lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same will receive it.’ And now, my dear Mother and all my brothers and sisters, today I was told my sentence, and don’t be terrified, it is death, and I will be executed tomorrow morning. I have my strength from God, the same as it always was with all true Christians away back in the past. The apostles write, ‘Whosoever is born from God cannot sin.’ The same goes for me. This I proved to you, and you could recognize it. My dear one, don’t get heavyhearted. It would be good for all of you to know the Holy Scriptures better still. If you will stand firm until death, we shall meet again in the resurrection. . . .
“Until we meet again.”
Some who received like letters were marriage mates. Sister Endstrasser of Graz was still a young wife when the postman handed her a letter dated December 15, 1939. Just try to imagine her feelings as she read:
“It just happened the way I decided . . . Don’t cry, because we have become a theatrical spectacle to the world, and to angels, and to men. (1 Cor. 4:9) Greetings to you once again and kisses in spirit.
“See you again in the Kingdom.”
Such letters showing great faith were an encouragement to faithfulness for those who still enjoyed freedom. They, on the other hand, tried to encourage their imprisoned brothers, in spite of any danger that it might mean for themselves.
For example, a letter that Franz Zeiner received while incarcerated in Berlin included the exhortation: “Be strong in the faith because Jesus Christ will help us, so will our great heavenly Father . . .” As could be expected, this letter had been read by the censor. Franz Zeiner was executed on July 20, 1940. But what about Wilhelm Blaschek, who wrote this letter encouraging Franz to be strong in faith? He was found, arrested, and sentenced on August 11, 1941, to four years at hard labor in a penitentiary on the charge of ‘demoralization of the troops.’
Torn From Their Children
The tests faced by others involved their children. Because they were teaching their children the Bible-based beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Richard Heide and Johann Obweger were summoned to appear before the president of St. Veit/Glan District Court.
Thereafter, Brother Heide was sent a court decree ruling that his child was to be taken away from him. The decree argued: “It is dangerous to leave him [the son, Gerhard] in his father’s care, as he is a Bible Student and forbids his son to render the Hitler salute and to sing the national songs.”
Gerhard was given into somebody else’s care, and his father was allowed to see him only once in a while. Later, he and his entire school class were sent to a children’s camp at Lienz, East Tirol, where he stayed until the end of the war in 1945. But Gerhard did not forget what his parents had taught him. He has been a pioneer for over 38 years!
Young but Faithful
And what about the daughter of Johann Obweger? Hermine was barely 11 when she was taken from her parents and put into a reform school. But her parents had made good use of their opportunities to inculcate the truth in their daughter.
Opponents of the truth could not break Hermine’s loyalty to Jehovah. Strenuous efforts to make her sing a patriotic song or use the salute “Heil Hitler!” met with no success. Resolutely she refused to make any compromises. One day a teacher tried to force her to wear the uniform jacket of the League of German Girls. But no matter how hard the responsible persons tried to get this jacket on her, they never got it any farther than up to her elbows, and so they stopped trying.
In spite of the disapproval of school authorities, the parents were still allowed to visit their daughter. Naturally they would use these opportunities to encourage her to stand firm in faith. Hermine was also encouraged by the loyalty of her brother Hans. She knew that he was in prison and then in a concentration camp because he refused military service. She also knew that he was enduring faithfully. However, one of her brothers did join the army. And the school wardens cleverly used this as an argument in their endeavor to break her loyalty. But they had not reckoned with Hermine’s determination. Her unwavering reply was: “I am not a follower of my brother. I am a follower of Christ Jesus!”
Because of her unwillingness to compromise and because they wanted to put an end to the visits of her parents, the authorities sent the child to a convent in Munich, Germany. However, in May 1944 she was allowed to go home for a few days. This greatly surprised her parents. But the authorities never anticipated what happened now. Hermine was baptized while she was there, and Brother Ganster, who was still able to serve his brothers in freedom, gave the baptismal talk. This infused Hermine with increased strength to stay loyal to Jehovah during the remaining time until the final breakdown of the Nazi regime.
Beware! Spies and Informers
Because of the continual spying of informers in every town and village—above all, spying by the block wardens and others working for the Gestapo—the brothers’ spiritual activity became more and more difficult. One day Johann Viereckl wanted to visit Peter Gölles, who was then responsible for oversight of the preaching work in Austria. Instead of going directly to Brother Gölles’ store, Brother Viereckl stopped at a house next door to make inquiry of a businesswoman who had appeared to be interested in the truth and who knew Brother Gölles. He asked how Peter Gölles was and whether he had been arrested. However, she would give no information. Instead, she told him to go across the street to a florist. There, she said, he could get the information requested.
That roused Brother Viereckl’s suspicions, so he returned home instead. Soon afterward he learned that the Gestapo had been waiting at the florist to intercept and arrest anyone who wanted to see Brother Gölles. Before long, the store was closed, for Brother Gölles and his wife were taken into custody on June 12, 1940.
An Unusual Court Trial
Brother Gölles was charged with directing the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Austria. After months of confinement, he was brought before a judge who was notorious for handing down death sentences and who angrily called the Bible Students an abscess on the German people. The public prosecutor called for the death sentence. After Brother Gölles had answered the accusations Biblically and his defense counsel had delivered his speech, court was adjourned. Before the trial was resumed, things took an amazing turn.
Early in the morning Brother Gölles heard the key in his cell door turn. A prison warden motioned him to come along and took him to a barred room. Who was waiting there for him? The judge, alone.
“I want to point out to you,” the judge began, “that I violate gravely my oath of office by speaking to an accused privately, but I do this because I could not find any rest or sleep since the trial. I would regard myself a murderer if I would pronounce the death sentence for you.”
There was total silence in the room. It was Brother Gölles who eventually spoke. “Satan is the one who brings on such circumstances,” he said. “He is the actual murderer. And you, you are just the man who pronounces a sentence on the basis of the facts of the court case.” The atmosphere of tension eased.
“I will try to maneuver the proceedings in such a way that you will not lose your life,” the judge promised. He then added something that could have resulted in serious consequences for himself: “I really do not want to appear as plaintiff for the State, but, rather, I want to help you to escape from the jaws of death.” Then the judge put one hand on the shoulder of our brother, and with the other one he clasped the brother’s hand.
The trial took a more unbiased course following its resumption, the judge trembling all the time. The court did not accept the prosecution’s motion for a death sentence but, instead, sentenced Peter Gölles to ten years of penitentiary confinement, barring any mitigation. He spent the following three and a half years in solitary confinement in the penitentiary of Stein, Lower Austria.
A Humble Servant
The public authorities recognized what an important part in the underground work was played by Peter Gölles, this simple man who was fully devoted to Jehovah. Protocols preserved among Gestapo records make that clear. From their description one might imagine a strong, dynamic leader. But nothing of the kind! He was a modest man who never wanted to be in the limelight. After the end of the Nazi regime in 1945, he shared in rebuilding the organization in Austria and later went into the background again. For some years he helped to get parcels of literature ready for shipment at the Vienna Bethel. With his kind and friendly disposition, he and his untiring wife, Helene, who stood by his side all the time, were a source of encouragement to the brothers, not only under persecution but also later in postwar times.
He served faithfully until his death on September 2, 1975. He did not profess to belong to the remnant of Christ’s joint heirs, but he showed deep appreciation for “the faithful and discreet slave” and cooperated with it to care for the work in Austria during very difficult times.—Matt. 24:45.
Handling of Scarce “Food”
During the final years of the war, the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses was virtually paralyzed in most of Austria. The brothers in the various towns and villages were able to meet only occasionally. Great caution was required.
In Klagenfurt, however, theocratic activity was continuing, apparently better than anywhere else. Brother Ganster gave the literature he received to Peter Vajvoda, who would copy each issue of The Watchtower. Once, Brother Ganster took some issues of The Watchtower, well concealed on his body, and walked from Klagenfurt to Krumpendorf (about 4 miles [7 km]) to visit the Platzer family and Sister Wanderer. And who happened to be walking in the same direction? A Gestapo officer, the one who usually questioned him. But the officer suspected nothing, and they walked together. Make no mistake about it, though, that was not easy for Brother Ganster to do.
In Vienna local duplication of The Watchtower had come to a standstill when Brother Gölles was arrested. But the brothers received spiritual food now and then by means of a brother from Switzerland who had a secular job that required him to travel to Vienna. Using appropriate vigilance, he brought copies of The Watchtower along with him. When a brother received one of those magazines, he was not allowed to keep it for himself. Since there were no other copies for the other brothers, he would read it immediately and then pass it on to the next trustworthy brother, not personally, but tucked away in a shopping basket or something else. Thus, those precious pieces of literature kept moving from hand to hand. That spiritual food was of great importance to the brothers under their trialsome circumstances.
A Few Shrink Back
In order to break the brothers’ resistance and to influence them to sign a declaration renouncing all connection with Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Gestapo claimed that many brothers had already signed and had been released. That was a gross exaggeration.
The Gestapo promised that each one who signed would be set free and would thus spare himself years of suffering. What it really meant was that he would exchange physical suffering for years of torment of conscience. The issue was clearly one of loyalty to Jehovah and his organization. By far the majority of the brothers were unwavering in their integrity. However, there were some who signed. But not all of those who signed were really set free; usually they remained under constant surveillance.
One day Agnes Hötzl met a couple in Vienna who had been in a concentration camp because of the truth. However, she was not aware of the circumstances of their release. Filled with joy, she greeted them. Without uttering a word, they passed her as if she were a complete stranger. Now she discerned what had happened. On another occasion she was near the entrance of a factory located close to her home. She could not believe her eyes: On the chest of one she thought was a brother, there was a swastika! He, too, passed her, fearfully acting as if he did not know her. Those were hard blows for the faithful, but that did not dampen their loyal love for Jehovah and for the rest of their loyal brothers.
Enduring Concentration Camp Torments
In 1939 Alois Moser of Braunau and Josef Buchner of Ranshofen, together with 142 other brothers, were transferred from the Dachau concentration camp to the Mauthausen camp in Upper Austria. When they arrived at Mauthausen around midnight and stepped out of the railway cattle cars, they were told: “Mauthausen is not a sanatorium like Dachau. We will finish all of you.” According to estimates, from August 1938 to May 1945, a total of 206,000 persons were imprisoned there, and according to the record, 35,270 died.
For the first three years, all of our brothers, without exception, were made to do hard physical labor in the stone quarry. In the winter the weather was extremely cold. Hundreds of prisoners actually froze to death in the quarry. When the prisoners returned to the camp at night, each of them had to carry a big stone up the 186 steps of “the death-stairs” into the camp. The command leader Spatzenegger decreed that stones of less than 20 pounds [10 kg] were too light. He had stones of 80 or more pounds [40 or more kg] put on the prisoners, many of whom collapsed from complete exhaustion. Frequently, those who collapsed were killed on the spot.
Eventually Brothers Moser and Buchner were assigned to draw the sledge on which the naked dead bodies from various parts of the camp were put. Each corpse was identified by a tag bearing the name and prisoner number attached to the big toe. This assignment brought them to the barracks in which mostly prisoners suffering from diarrhea were housed. To their great dismay, it was here that they found August Kraft. All this misery and the wretched situation in which they found themselves made the two brothers break out in tears. But Brother Kraft was thinking, rather, of the blessings that he had enjoyed at Jehovah’s hand, and he said: “I thank Jehovah for everything!” The following day, Brother Kraft, too, lay on the sledge, having persisted in pursuing to the end the goal of “the prize of the upward call.”—Phil. 3:14.
The brothers lovingly watched out for one another’s welfare. When certain ones were especially weak, others would give them a few additional spoonfuls from their meager meals to help them regain needed strength.
Theocratic Activity Inside the Camps
Right inside the camps, theocratic activity continued, but with extreme prudence. Witnessing was done, Bible studies were held, some meetings were conducted, and a few persons were baptized.
Franz Desch was transferred not far away from Mauthausen to the Gusen concentration camp. There he was able to study the Bible with an SS officer. How much progress was made? Well, imagine the great joy of both of them when, years later, they met as brothers at a convention!
New prisoners were brought in from many different countries. In order to share the Kingdom truth with them, the brothers used testimony cards written in those languages. Since prisoners were allowed to receive mail, the SS guards who entered the barracks unsuspectingly did not realize that it was not mail the men were reading.
In the camp at Gusen, a locksmith’s workshop was managed by Brother Karl Krause. And what a unique workshop at that! Not only were locks made and repaired on the premises but also five Poles were secretly baptized there in a wooden trough specially made for that purpose.
To keep spiritually strong, the brothers would meet in small groups at night to discuss Bible texts. On occasion they even came into possession of a Bible. It would then be divided into parts, which were passed from one to the other. Lying under their beds, they would read during what little free time they had.
The brothers even succeeded in celebrating the Lord’s Evening Meal. Managing to obtain the emblems, they assembled while everyone else was asleep. The washrooms and toilets at Gusen were located between the barracks, at a distance of approximately 20 feet [6 meters]. In such a washroom, with light from a candle, they celebrated the Memorial. Under Jehovah’s loving protection, everything went well.
A Record of Faithfulness
Many more experiences could be related as examples of the faithfulness of our brothers during Nazi rule over Austria. The ones related here are set out only as examples of the hardship endured and the unbreakable loyalty that was shown.
Before Hitler’s troops entered Austria, there were 549 publishers in this country. Altogether, 445 were thereafter incarcerated for various periods. Between 1938 and 1945, 48 of these, including some of our sisters, were executed. Thirteen were beaten to death, gassed, or made the victims of perverse medical experiments. At least 81 others died in prisons and concentration camps because of disease or exhaustion.
Of necessity, statistics are used when telling of the victims of that sad epoch. But they are much more than cold numbers. Each one was a Christian brother or sister, as well as a husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter. To the record compiled over thousands of years by faithful witnesses of Jehovah, these have added their testimony that love for Jehovah moves his faithful servants to lay down even their lives, if necessary, to prove their loyalty to him as their God and Sovereign.
What Shall We Do First?
The war and Nazi domination of Austria came to an end in the spring of 1945. Soon our brothers and sisters began to return from the concentration camps. The first thing on their minds was to fellowship with the other brothers. Although it took great effort to arrange for the meetings again, on July 21, 1945, there were 27 present for the first organized postwar meeting in Klagenfurt. By autumn, meetings were also being held in Vienna.
Faithful brothers proceeded to reorganize the work. In Vorarlberg, Austria’s westernmost province, several brothers met with Franz Zürcher, Georg Gertz, and David Wiedenmann, all from the office in Bern, Switzerland, and discussed the measures that needed to be taken to get the congregation meetings and the preaching work started again. From Austria, Peter Gölles, Felix Defner, Leopold Pitteroff, and Franz Ganster were present. Despite the hard experiences of the war years, Kingdom fruitage began to manifest itself. The 549 publishers active in 1937 increased in number to 730 Kingdom proclaimers by the end of the 1946 service year.
After his return from prison, Peter Gölles was the first postwar branch overseer for Austria. His apartment in Vienna, at Florianigasse 58, was the branch office. Then, from April 1947 onward, the office work was done in a school building, one that had been heavily damaged by bombs. There the brothers mimeographed The Watchtower and also some 4,000 booklets. Therese Schreiber, who had been imprisoned for her part in mimeographing Bible literature, was back on the job again, sharing in the duplicating work. In Klagenfurt the brothers even mimeographed the entire Children book and put it into a hardcover binding. Paper and ink were scarce and difficult to obtain, but, with Jehovah’s help, the brothers managed to get what was needed.
The year 1947 provided an opportunity for the brothers to enjoy their first postwar convention. It lasted for four days. The attendance of 1,700 may seem small when compared with conventions being held now, but it was a big crowd for the Austrian brothers then, and it gave evidence that there was potential for much growth.
Later that month, on Saturday, June 21, another important step was taken in connection with reorganization. Seven brothers met in a school to reorganize the local association of the “Wachtturm-Gesellschaft, Zweigstelle der Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, Brooklyn, N.Y.” Thus, a legal instrument for the publication of literature was again available.
Until May 1955, Austria was occupied by the troops of the Allies (U.S.A., France, Britain, and U.S.S.R.) and was divided into four occupation zones. The village of Deutsch Wagram was in the Soviet zone. Brother Franz Malina lived there. He knew how to speak Russian, and he witnessed in a very straightforward manner to the occupation troops, even conducting Bible studies with some of the men. He also obtained Bible literature in Russian and distributed it among the soldiers.
His activities did not go unnoticed. Early in 1948 two men favorably disposed toward him warned: “Franz, get out of here; they want to arrest you. There was literature of yours found with the Russians.” But Brother Malina did not flee. He decided to stay with his sick wife and the children. It was not long, however, before he was arrested. He was detained in the local Soviet commander’s office for eight days and eventually was transferred to the center of the Soviet army staff. During the six weeks he was forced to spend there, he preached frankly to soldiers and officers alike, telling them about Jehovah’s Kingdom. Finally he was sentenced to ten years at forced labor on the now familiar-sounding charge of ‘demoralization of the troops’ and was taken to far-off Siberia.
At last he arrived in the vast area behind the Ural Mountains. There he went from one camp to another, mostly on foot. Escape was impossible. In almost all the camps he met brothers from various parts of the Soviet Union. When he would arrive at a new camp, he naturally had to search for them. And when he found brothers, they tested him to determine whether he was really one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They did this by asking questions such as: “How is Jonadab’s family?” and “Who is the president of the Watch Tower Society?”
Convinced that he truly was a brother, they lovingly helped him to endure the harsh, unaccustomed life in the camps. Because of his age he was called Dad. In the course of five years, he got to know 30 camps. Then in 1953, he was granted a pardon and returned home. His wife had died in the meantime, and his eldest daughter had assumed the role of mother. Was Brother Malina now discouraged or broken? On the contrary, within the next few days he was already on his way again preaching the good news from house to house. This he continued to do until his death in 1964.
Pioneers Share in the Harvest
During the years since World War II, much expansion in the work of Jehovah’s people has taken place in Austria. A great contribution to this growth has been made by ardent pioneers, special pioneers, and missionaries.
Among those zealous workers are Hans Rothensteiner and his wife. Within a year’s time from when they were first contacted with the truth, they started to pioneer. In 1955 they were appointed to be special pioneers. One of their assignments was the territory around Kaprun in an alpine region. Hans relates the following experience they had there:
“With appreciative hearts, we set about the work of looking for the Lord’s sheep. And so, we found a family at Walchen who had already received some literature. A study was started immediately with the whole family; they also invited some friends to join us. Sometimes up to 12 persons were present. The study progressed very well—so well that the families soon decided to leave the church. However, to do this, they needed their certificates of baptism. So Lois, one of those goodhearted people, went to the parsonage to get the certificates for all of them. Since there were many children in these families, they needed 17 certificates altogether.” The conversation Lois had with the local clergyman went something like this:
Lois: Morning. I need a few certificates of baptism.
Priest: Whatever do you mean by “a few,” and what do you need them for?
Lois: Because we want to leave the church.
Priest: Oh, do you? And how many certificates do you want?
Lois: I made a note of it. Oh, yes, here it is; I need just 17.
Priest: What? What on earth has happened that so many of you want to leave the church?
Lois: Well, we’ve studied the Bible. That’s all there is to it. You see, you were teaching us a lot that isn’t true at all, things that neither Jesus nor the Bible ever said!
This conversation continued for a while, and Lois left without the certificates. At a later date, however, a discussion took place with the clergyman when Hans was present, too. At the end of it, Lois said to the priest: “Now, there was absolutely nothing that you could prove, and now out with the certificates of baptism, but a bit quick, please.” The clergyman had no option and obliged.
There is now a congregation of 90 publishers in this alpine village.
In 1978, throughout the country there were 626 enjoying the blessings of pioneer service including 278 auxiliary pioneers. But in April of 1988, the number reporting such service had risen to 1,925, including 1,102 auxiliary pioneers.
On August 1, 1965, Lowell L. Turner, who had recently graduated from Gilead School’s special ten-month organizational training course, was assigned the responsibilities of branch overseer. After nearly ten years in his assignment of oversight, Brother Turner left Austria in July 1975 for a new assignment in Luxembourg. Since January 1976 a committee of several brothers has been caring for the branch in Austria.
Extensions of Branch Facilities
The Society’s branch offices all over the world have been enlarging their facilities to care for the needs of the constantly growing number of praisers of Jehovah. Has it been any different in Austria? Certainly not.
In time the building purchased in 1957, located in one of the garden districts of Vienna, became too small for a branch office. So during the years of 1970 and 1971, it was enlarged to provide more room for the Shipping Department and for a Kingdom Hall. But in a few years, the need for further expansion became evident. Jehovah’s hand in the matter was felt when one of the neighbors offered his piece of land for sale. While construction of new buildings was getting under way in 1983, another plot of adjoining land was also offered for sale to the branch. With the dedication of the new facilities in the summer of 1987, an additional 53,820 square feet [5,000 sq m] of space became available, which more than quadrupled what was there before. Was all of this really necessary? The number of Witnesses being served by this office had already tripled since the former building was purchased, and the brothers in the office were working in very cramped quarters.
Before the project was completed, many modifications in layout of the facilities were required in order to meet the objections of neighbors. This required a lot of additional work. However, the branch office acknowledges: “At the end, almost all necessary changes proved to have been to our benefit. In many cases, the brothers had to admit: ‘Now it is better than we intended it before.’”
Not everyone who lives in Austria is truly an Austrian. And not everyone who lives here can fluently speak German, which is the principal language of Austria. There are many guest workers here from Yugoslavia and from Turkey. Since the early 1970’s, the branch has made arrangements to reach these guest workers with the message of the Bible. The seed fell on fertile soil, and soon it was possible to form study groups.
Nine congregations now hold their meetings exclusively in Serbo-Croatian (one of the main languages spoken in Yugoslavia). There are also study groups in Turkish, Spanish, Polish, Japanese, English, and Arabic. Brother Letonja, who serves in the Vienna Bethel with his wife and whose theocratic career dates back over 50 years, tells us something about the work among the guest workers:
“In 1971, I was assigned to join those five brothers who were preaching the good news to Yugoslav guest workers. For this purpose I learned to speak the Serbo-Croatian language. Today, in 1988, there are more than 320 publishers in Vienna and its surroundings who belong to the Serbo-Croatian language group. It is most enjoyable to work with these brothers. They are very family-minded. Their zeal for the truth is catching, and they encourage one another. Not a few of them remain in the service throughout the day until the late hours of the evening. In spite of the difficult working conditions for guest workers, several of them engage regularly in the auxiliary pioneer service. Their enthusiastic conversations revolve mainly around the truth.
“There is also a goodly number of Gypsies among them, to whom the congregation is a place like home. From one Gypsy family at least 25 members have already been immersed and more than 19 other relatives are interested in the truth. It is really a blessing to work together with these brothers.”
Being Hosts at Conventions
During difficult times in the past, those of us in Austria frequently crossed the border to attend congregation meetings and larger assemblies. We well remember the loving hospitality extended to us by brothers in the areas to which we went. Now those in Austria have the opportunity to take their turn at being hosts.
Actually it started in 1965, when 1,200 friends from Greece came to the district convention in Vienna. Arrangements were made for them to have the entire program in Greek in a separate wing of the building used for the assembly.
Then in 1967 there were 889 brothers from Yugoslavia who attended a district assembly in Klagenfurt, in the south of Austria. They, too, were able to enjoy the program in their own language. The number who came from Yugoslavia increased. In 1968 the attendance at the sessions arranged for them in Villach was 2,319.
At our district conventions in 1978, it was our privilege to arrange to present the program also in Hungarian. Since a few elders whose native tongue is Hungarian live in Austria, it was not too difficult to arrange for the parts. However, weeks before the convention, the brothers responsible for organizational matters wondered: ‘Will brothers from Hungary be able to cross the border to attend the convention?’ What a thrill it was when the attendance at the Hungarian program passed the 400 mark! Since then, our district conventions in the Vienna area have almost always included a program in Hungarian. In 1986, to the great joy of everybody, the number in attendance at those sessions rose to 1,781. Were there yet others to whom we could extend hospitality?
What About Brothers From Poland?
The 1980 convention theme was “Divine Love.” What could underscore this better than the presence of 1,883 brothers and sisters from Poland, hearing the program in their own language in Vienna? A large tent housed the Polish group, whereas one hall each was reserved for the sessions in Hungarian and Croatian. For the program in German, a stadium was hired on the same site.
The assistant convention chairman made a suggestion: “What would it be like if, on Sunday, the brothers of the other language groups would also come to the stadium for the final song?” The convention office enthusiastically agreed.
Just picture in your mind this sight at the end of the convention: On one side of the stadium were the 5,000 Austrian delegates—in front of them the bright green lawn of the playing field. An announcement was made, and then the opposite terraces in the stadium started to fill up. Arranged according to language groups, the brothers came in and stood—Yugoslavs, Hungarians, Poles. And then, after the cue had been given in four languages, almost 8,000 voices united in one song of praise: “We Thank You, Jehovah.”
The brother who delivered the concluding remarks then addressed the brothers from Poland: “If, the next time, you will be more than we are at the German program, then we will leave the stadium to you!” After the program was finished, the brothers would not part from one another for a long time. It was a convention that moved hearts, and it furnished the brothers on both sides of the border with much to talk about for a long time. Filled with deep happiness, the branch office afterward wrote to the Governing Body:
“It was something you had to experience. What a powerful demonstration of the uniting force of Jehovah’s spirit and his ‘Divine Love.’ Even long after the conclusion of the song, the brothers waved to one another. Nobody wanted to leave. One brother expressed the feeling of many of the brothers when he said: ‘This has been my tenth district assembly; however, I have never experienced anything like this, such warmth, sincerity, and tender affection in such bonds of unity. I would have liked to stretch out my arms and embrace them all. In a spiritual sense I have done it.’”
The very next year, in 1981, as preparations for the “Kingdom Loyalty” District Convention reached their final stage, one thing was clear—this time, we would be leaving the stadium for the more than 5,000 brothers from Poland. And once again the brothers in Vienna and the surrounding area proved to be openhearted hosts.
In addition, there was another enrichment to the assembly; Brothers Theodore Jaracz and Daniel Sydlik of the Governing Body had come to Vienna. What a fine opportunity for them to associate with brothers from Hungary and Poland! Their encouraging talks and friendly, warm personal contact with the brothers of all the language groups were very much appreciated. In his part of the program, Brother Sydlik spoke about the Christian disciple Barnabas. The brothers paid rapt attention. After a few words, speaker and audience were “one heart and one soul,” as the saying goes in Austria.
Since 1982 our brothers in Poland have been able to have their own conventions, but the brothers in Austria continue to enjoy being hosts for their brothers from Hungary.
Marching on Into the Future
In Austria things generally take their course “cozily,” as it is said. But this is not true of the proclamation of the good news of God’s Kingdom. There has been no sensational growth, but the number of praisers of Jehovah has increased steadily. Back in the 1950’s, a district overseer encouraged the brothers, saying: “It should not be surprising to us if there would be 10,000 publishers in Austria one day.” That sounded nice. But Austria is a small nation, with only 7.5 million inhabitants. And at that time there were not more than 5,000 publishers in the whole country. However, in 1971 we passed the 10,000 figure, and at present the crowd of praisers of Jehovah in this land has risen to over 17,000.
Austria is well known as a land of mountains and music. However, in the lives of an ever-growing crowd, it is “the mountain of the house of Jehovah,” the exalted position of true worship, that has the greatest significance to them. And the sweetest melody that can be heard in this land comes from the 17,705 publishers who share in singing the “new song,” a song exalting Jehovah’s Kingdom.—Isa. 2:2; Ps. 98:1, 4-6.
[Box/Map on page 72, 73]
Profile of Austria
Official Language: German
Major Religion: Roman Catholic
Memorial Attendance: 30,216
Branch Office: Vienna
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Lake Constance (Bodensee)
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY
[Full-page picture on page 66]
[Pictures on page 69]
Continental Hotel, Vienna, where C. T. Russell attempted to speak, March 22, 1911
From the Pictorial Archive of the Austrian National Library
[Pictures on page 74]
Simon Riedler, left, and Franz Ganster first heard of the truth in 1921
[Pictures on page 79]
J. F. Rutherford spoke in the Katharinenhalle, Vienna, 1922
From the Pictorial Archive of the Austrian National Library
[Pictures on page 81]
Program for the first convention of the Bible Students in Vienna, 1924. The next convention was a turning point for Johannes Schindler
[Picture on page 83]
Heide family, 1924, early Austrian Witnesses
[Picture on page 87]
Emil Wetzel had oversight of the work in Austria from 1922 to 1926
[Picture on page 95]
Leopold Engleitner, jailed for preaching in 1934
[Picture on page 99]
August Kraft, arrested by Nazis, May 25, 1939. Concluding comment of Gestapo document on Kraft
DÖW, Vienna, Austria
[Pictures on page 108]
Therese Schreiber, left, mimeographed literature, and Hansi Hron (Buchner) was a courier. Both were arrested
[Picture on page 109]
Gestapo documents reveal extensive knowledge of underground mimeograph network
DÖW, Vienna, Austria
[Pictures on page 115]
Alois Moser, left, was in seven prisons and concentration camps; Johann Rainer refused to take a military oath; Franz Wohlfahrt maintained integrity even though his father and his brother were executed
[Pictures on page 117]
Entrance to the concentration camp at Gusen. Witness survivors of Mauthausen/Gusen, 1945
DÖW, Vienna, Austria
[Pictures on page 120]
Josef Wegscheider, left, and Johann Pichler were shot dead, September 26, 1939, near Salzburg
[Pictures on page 124]
Hermine Obweger, left, was taken from her parents at age 11. Auguste Hirschmann (now Bender) took a stand before the Gestapo at age 17
[Pictures on page 126]
Peter Gölles was arrested on June 12, 1940. He was sentenced in this courthouse and imprisoned in this cellblock
[Picture on page 137]
Franz Malina, imprisoned for five years in labor camps in Siberia
[Picture on page 140]
Lowell L. Turner, branch overseer from 1965 to 1975, and his wife, Margot
[Picture on page 141]
Branch office and Bethel Home, 1957
[Picture on page 142]
Enlarged branch, 1987