Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany

The history of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany is dominated by the conflict with the Nazi state organs, in part because of their refusal of military service and the Hitler salute . During the period of National Socialism were Jehovah’s Witnesses (formerly ” Serious Bible students “called) followed mainly because of it.

History from 1918 to 1933

In World War I contributed the majority of German Bible Students , as Jehovah’s Witnesses were called before 1931, the conscription for military service order. [1] But some refused to military service and thus had conflicts with society. During the Weimar Republic , which no conscription knew, they fell by their aggressive proselytizing , and charges against the official churches to whom they accused, among other things, have to support the war effort in World War II. The denomination grew rapidly: In 1918 3,900 people acquaintances as Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1919, there were already 5,500 and in 1926 22,500. The religious community also came to clear rejection.

The accusations of ethnic -national press focused on the core out of the Witnesses as Jews or Masons funded organization to represent, a Bolshevik revolution was preparing. These conspiracy theories were different from Alfred Rosenberg picked up, the editor in chief of the Nationalist Observer , the newspaper of the Nazi party. They came originally from the church agitation, with the Catholics and Protestants had responded to the accusations of violent pacifist Jehovah. Their origins in the United States was designed as a threat. The Bible Students proclaimed the imminent demise of all government organizations and churches, in its view, under the dominion of Satan stood. They have emphasized their political neutrality and stated explicitly that the destruction of nations and churches only by Jesus and Jehovah should be made. Yet prosecutors interpreted in the writings of the Bible Students evidence of the alleged Jewish , communist and revolutionary character of the movement inside. Conspiracy theories wrote the Bible Students to a central position in an alleged planned coup.

Church authorities fought with the Jehovah’s Witnesses a real slugfest, the Protestant churches were more applications than the Catholic. Material services and apologetic departments of both large churches engaged intensively with the teaching of the Bible Students to pastors to provide talking points. leafleting attacked each other at the position. While Bible Students churches and cemeteries were preaching or handing out leaflets and tracts, clergy tried during the presentations of the Bible Students to force discussions. Church authorities intervened in part on arguments and the ethnic-national press. As the churches significant departures from free-thinkers were told they brought the Bible Students in connection with these associations.

On the other hand, the attacks against the churches of the Bible Students were perceived as excessive criticism. As Paul Balzereit , chairman of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society , 1924 its directed against the Catholic Church, the largest font secret power in the world, published the echo outside the circles of the Bible Students had flatly negative. It was the Vatican blamed the difficult position of the German people, and given the Witnesses as a fighter Rome portrayed that turn in a great service to humanity. [2] The book was banned, condemned the religious community to a fine.

The legal means against the Jehovah’s Witnesses were very limited. Although every year hundreds of lawsuits for illegal peddling or violations of the Industrial Code took place, were only a few cases actually fines imposed. A first pioneered the state persecution is urged by church circles emergency decree “to combat political violence” of March 1931, which included a police intervention against insulting or slandering religious practices or objects allowed. Bavaria has led the way on this basis Event prohibitions against Witnesses speak and seizures carried out.

The Bible Students themselves saw all these actions against them as confirmation of their view that church and state were fighting the devil directed against them, and they as martyrs a similar prosecution would suffer as the first Christians . They understood the situation as confirmation of the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John , the disciples announced the hatred of the world ( Jn 15.19 Elf ). After their prophecy in 1925 would Armageddon , the Endkrieg God against the forces of Satan, with the subsequent arrival of a Tausendjährigens kingdom come, had not met initially stagnated growth and in 1928 the number of members actually fell. In the last three years prior to the seizure of power of Hitler , however, was again a significant increase in membership reported. Despite the relatively high growth, the Jehovah’s Witnesses made ​​the rise of the National Socialists in 1933, 25,000 to 30,000 members, [3] only about 0.038 percent of the population of the German Empire from.
1933 to 1939 Orientation

The Jehovah’s Witnesses were the Nazi regime from the beginning opposed. The Canadian historian Michael H. Kater sees the reason for this “mortal enemies” in a structural similarity of the respective ideologies: both Nazis and Jehovah’s Witnesses had a dictatorship sought (whether the theocratic rule of God or Hitler’s dictatorship), both had their of requires members in the respective rule hierarchy to integrate, both were asked to sacrifice themselves for their higher purpose, the interests of the individual personality, both had raised a claim to exclusivity. [4] Historians of Wewelsburg District Museum Dowelhurst recently the view that the opposition was more due to the contrast between the basic positions which faces the following table.

the persecution

The Reichstag Fire Decree of 28 February 1933 formed the legal basis for many prohibitions and persecutions, even against the Jehovah’s Witnesses who were pronounced from April to June 1933 in various countries of the empire.

In the early years, in addition to the well-known allegations, denying Hitler salute , the choice of denial and the absence of governmental organizations ( Reichsluftschutzbund , German Labor Front , etc.,) are cause for dismissal and various forms of public humiliation. Their refusal to celebrate the first May participate, since 1933, the national holiday was had, for many members of the religious community, the summary dismissal resulted. Payments and pensions – or pension funds were withheld, as alleged anti-social elements to them were also the unemployment benefits denied. Since sufficed not support illegal payments from abroad, are operated many Witnesses to not starve, as rag pickers . [6] School-age children of Jehovah’s Witnesses from the beginning a strong peer pressure exposed. Ostracized by teachers and students and often physically attacked were Nazi rituals that they felt through their education as idolatry, the daily gauntlet.

In their effort to refute the arguments put forward by various charges that Jehovah’s Witnesses were trying since February 1933 to emphasize its non-political character. But since you also for the equality of all people (“German, French, Jew, Christian, or slave-free” [7] ) and the Messianic Kingdom einstand, contributed these comments do not contribute to reconciliation. In the German Jehovah’s Witness headquarters in Magdeburg in early April 1933 preparations were made ​​for the case of the ban.

At the same time an “adaptation to national conditions” was prepared. With a memorandum of 26 April 1933 informed the management of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the International Bible Students Association in the North German Bible Students Association and South German Bible Students Association on [8] . The rules according to which each of ten items were exclusively with so-called ” Aryans occupied “. [9] .

On 8 June 1933 sent the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in Magdeburg, a letter to the Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick (NSDAP). It states:

“The undersigned has the honor society to ask the honorable minister, its president Mr. Judge JF Rutherford , Brooklyn N. Y., then received previously explained in detail below will matter, if the matter is an offense against the resolution we intended. ” [10]

In the course of these designs are already in various countries of the German Reich (except to Prussia pronounced) prohibitions mentioned. This offer apparently remained unanswered. On 24 June 1933 the Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned in Germany.

For 25 June 1933 invited the Magdeburg Centre in to a major event in Berlin. In tennis halls in Berlin-Wilmersdorf gathered about 7000 participants. There was the so-called “Wilmersdorfer Declaration” was adopted, which sent the following day to Hitler and later in the in Switzerland was published published “Yearbook 1934, the Jehovah’s Witnesses”. [11] It was hoped to refute the allegations and distanced himself clearly from the accusation of being a Jew-funded organization. The line is held for this purpose necessary to refer to the anti-Semitic adjust usage of the regime, and declared that it was the “commercial Jews of the British-American empire that have built the Big Business as a means of exploiting and oppressing the many peoples . “From the ranks voices were heard, who felt this statement as too cautious on the Nazis.

During the year 1933 the German leadership of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society appeared under Paul Balzereit in an effort to at least get back the publishing into legality, increasingly to remove from the base and, ultimately, from which the world headquarters desired in America course. While some JWs distanced disappointed, others began – against the explicit instructions of the line – continue the mission work in the underground. In February 1934, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, the negotiations had failed and asked Chancellor Hitler ultimatum , after which they would begin, the human rights violations make his government international attention. Reichsleiter Balzereit sat continue to legalize the publishing activities of the Watch Tower Society and achieved initial success in late 1934. At the same time, however, has also been re-employed for the 7th October 1934 decision of illegality. It is estimated that more than 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses agreed to practice their religion in their meetings and missionary activity continues.

Upon the expiration of the ultimatum, the Jehovah’s Witnesses began an international campaign of protest against the oppression of their Christian brothers and sisters in Nazi Germany. Starting with the 8th October 1934 about 20,000 telegrams and letters from around the world to Adolf Hitler have been delivered.

“Your poor treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses shocked the good people and dishonors God’s name + Listen to Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to pursue otherwise God will destroy you and your national party.”

Hitler is said to have then said: “This breed is extinct in Germany.” This was the time of negotiations and concessions ultimately failed. There were more police reports on the activities of the now banned “International Bible Students”. The continued reluctance Balzereits was regarded by the other supporters of the religious community with increasing hostility. In May 1935, he was, despite his legalistic course arrested by the Nazis and accused. Because he and his co-defendants in the lawsuit had not known openly to the teaching of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he was officially in 1936 from the religious community excluded .

At the same time, Jehovah’s Witnesses intensified in her writings the tone against the Government. Hitler became more and more as the Antichrist depicted his reign as “the Devil on earth called the Lord God will destroy after its birth as the first.” According to historian Michael H. Kater so the thesis of political neutrality was refuted on the religious community had relied until then always: The Jehovah’s Witnesses were the German state over into outright hostility. [12]

The relatively low success of legal action against the Jehovah’s Witnesses was at this early stage by legal form error and the insistence of lawyers at the Weimar constitution granted freedom of religion determined. Also, the fact that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society – unlike the Bible Students Associations – was an American branch, which by the Treaty of Berlin of 1921 was protected, could make the Jehovah’s Witnesses for their benefit to law enforcement authorities claim.
Distribution of leaflets

In large leaflet Verteilaktionen did Jehovah’s Witnesses 1936/37 draw attention to their oppression in Germany. In taking action, as up to 100,000 leaflets were distributed. [13] This is considered the greatest act of resistance during the Nazi rule. [14]

The reception of these actions is quite different: The Viennese historian Franz Graf Stuhlhofer says that the former criticism of Hitler’s government was mainly restricted to the list of atrocities against their own religious community and that Jehovah’s Witnesses, by incidental to the Nazi regime The churches made responsible for the persecution to spread conspiracy theories. As evidence cited Earl Stuhlhofer the brochure decision. Riches or ruin. What do you choose, in which they said?:

“In Germany, organized the Jesuits , the Communist Party and took her to swing to them in a diplomatic way exploit, to put people in terror, which created a foundation to organize the National Socialist Movement, which has taken control of the nation and it now with an iron fist. ” [15]

Given such controversy it was understandable that the Catholic Church is not in solidarity with the persecuted Jehovah’s Witnesses. [16]

Detlef Garbe also points out that “the leadership of the Watchtower Society, the Hitler government as a means to the end of a Roman Catholic conspiracy described and so entirely in character misunderstood”. [17]

Wolfgang Benz of the Center for Research on Antisemitism of the TU Berlin , in contrast, that the faith community through “examined the leaflet campaigns educate the public about the criminal nature of the Nazi state, and thereby the defense of their interests, committed against the unjust regime”. [18] And Sybil Milton, Senior Historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum , says that the leaflet campaign “the fate of the witnesses and that of the Jews in the concentration camps in the center of interest” advanced. [19] The historian Marion Detjen agrees that the resistance of Jehovah’s Witnesses was politically despite their political neutrality in the core and to the Nazi regime of injustice addressed as such: “In contrast to the Catholic and Protestant churches they called in their journals Hitler and Mussolini as ‘dictators’ and ‘men of violence’ quite at name “. [20]
Churches as a supporter of the state prosecution

The official churches met – with a few confessions of solidarity – the state prohibitions and persecutions against the Jehovah’s Witnesses with gratitude and they even actively supported by the Gestapo in sect known union debated questions.

On 9 June 1933 a meeting was held between representatives of the ministries, the Gestapo, and with representatives of the Catholic and Protestant Church in Berlin to discuss measures to ban the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Prussia. The Catholic canon Piontek asked for “strict government measures” against the religious community, the Protestant Oberkonsistorialrat Fischer wanted to bring about a ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses because of the threat to the “German national character”. Moreover, he argued that the church of Jehovah’s Witnesses also had to face “with their own means”. [21]

Officially Protestant side already in August 1933, proposals were made, similar approach could be with what sects. “The Protestant Germany,” published in Berlin authoritative body on the Protestant side commented on 10 September 1933, the ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses with gratitude and calls for further prohibitions:

“The Church is gratefully acknowledge that this ban one degeneracy phenomenon of faith has been eliminated [...]. But it does not complete cleanup of the sects is reached. Mentioned are only the Apostolic “. [22]

In 1937, by a representative of Bishop of Bremen Evangelical Church called for activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses to be reported to the Gestapo. [23] As on 22 October 1939 Jehovah’s Witnesses delivered a pamphlet at the door of an evangelical vicar from the Munster area, agreed that the police immediately and tell who might come to his opinion as the perpetrator in question. [24]
religion despite ban

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been considered because of their affiliation with the Bible Students Association or the denial of the Hitler salute or the elections as subversive or politically unreliable. Thus was started early so they jobs, business licenses , business licenses hiking, their civil servant status, land, houses, vehicles, farm permits or operating licenses withdraw or deny. Annuities, pensions, unemployment benefits or social assistance were denied or reduced. Jehovah’s Witnesses were considered non indirect anti-social elements, which consequently no state unemployment benefits.

The detention Balzereits in May 1935 marked the beginning of a number of key personnel replacement, the Bible Students Association. He was succeeded by Fritz Winkler. He was arrested in the first wave of arrests of August / September 1936. He was followed by Eric Frost for the management of the religious community, he was in the second wave of arrests on 21 Arrested in March 1937. In advance of certain successor, Henry Dietschi was detained with the third wave of arrests in August / September 1937. The human predicament was also made clear that – otherwise entirely uncommon – management positions filled with increasingly female Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses were suitable quickly the necessary skills to conspiratorial underground activities at. The links to sister organizations abroad were maintained, the Watchtower and other writings were in large numbers into the country smuggled or in Germany copied illegally. [25] The missionary work was because of frequent denunciations increasingly rare classic made ​​from house to house, but increasingly organized in small Flash actions to leave the place before the arrival of the Gestapo. In this way until 1937, reaching wide concerted action was taken. With increasing persecution, the organizational structure was affected. Messages were coded, people and publications of the Watchtower Society were given code names. Publications such as the magazine “The Watchtower “often had to be smuggled in from abroad and copied illegally. Recently, there were only cells up to a size of about six people. Jehovah’s Witnesses in senior positions, few knew other heads so they could not during interrogations give you too many identities.
Government measures

Even the Nazis presented themselves to the situation. Were repeated official bodies, both judge and police and Gestapo, pointed out the danger posed by the alleged biblical scholars. Especially the lawyers was stated by instructions and publications in scientific journals, which were desired judgments against Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Nazis used the loss of custody of Jehovah as a way to influence the witnesses. Especially since the reintroduction of conscription in March 1935 male Jehovah’s Witnesses were increasingly due to military service prosecuted. Criminal proceedings against Jehovah’s Witnesses have preceded the 1933 established special courts held that judgments precipitated sharper than the rest of Justice, inter alia, on the insidiousness law . [26]
Gestapo decree orders Schutzinhaftierung of Jehovah’s Witnesses, if the Court does not create a warrant

The Gestapo extended penalties regularly imposed by the so-called protective custody . In June 1936, it formed its own special command against the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The practice of judging corrective protective custody was from the 5th August 1937 given by the Secret State Police Office in Berlin (Gestapo) as adoption by departments.

The sentence extension was not the only target of the Gestapo. The “undertakings” (“Reverse”), with which a Jehovah’s Witness could save yourself the “protective custody” was a first test to check the loyalty to the state. People who contributed the signature, were – at least for minor offenses – spared from protective custody and released under surveillance. Apparently, many Jehovah’s Witnesses signed for tactical reasons, to protect themselves or their families, but are not internally to separate from faith. This was many possible because the undertaking beginning of the “International Bible Students Association,” said she considered herself but as “Jehovah’s Witnesses”. The Gestapo changed the wording of statements several times, so that the members of the religious community was increasingly difficult to sign these.

Judges saw through this subsequent judgment fixes the Gestapo attacked the dignity of the court. Employees of the prison felt hindered by the corrections in their re-education, the Bible Students should make them valuable members of the national community. In particular, the removal of just acquitted biblical scholars from the courtroom or the serving of a downstream protective custody in the same jail cell led to complaints.

The Assistant Secretary of the Reich Ministry of Justice responsible Wilhelm Crohne forwarded the complaints to the Attorney Generals to the Gestapo. At the meeting, he informed President Chief the result: An instruction to general protective custody should be approved by the justice system. The Gestapo agreed that the future always in the protective custody camp and an arrest for protective custody will no longer take place in the courtroom. Crohne dismissed the judges in relation to the fact dimension the penalties against Jehovah correspondingly high, this “necessary corrections” to be avoided in future.

Not only the judiciary, the public should be educated about the nature of the alleged “Jewish pacifist sect”. The Nazis committed, therefore the experts folkish-national press, the “secret machinations” uncover. Sun reports were drawn up, which not only show the contacts with the Freemasons, but also should prove that Jehovah’s Witnesses Joseph Stalin regarded as the representative of Jehovah.
Concentration Camp
Memorial plaque in the Mauthausen concentration camp
General prohibition on writing for Bible Students

Concentration camps were under the direction of SS . Jehovah’s Witnesses were detained under preventive detention measures and since 1935/1936 as a separate group on the clothes, mostly by blue dots or circles marked. In 1938, the color codes standardized and the Bible Students were given a purple triangle (“purple triangle”) . Until the outbreak of war they put in many KZ a significant proportion of inmates while in the women’s concentration camp in 1939, they formed the largest group. The number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Auschwitz were imprisoned is, in contrast to all other denominations known quite precisely: It was at least the 387th [27] The number of victims is unknown.

The warehouse lines of KZ intended Although no systematic destruction of Jehovah’s Witnesses, such as with Jews, Roma and Sinti , yet was the concentration camp life of hard labor, abuse, disease, malnutrition and death dominated. Many harassment of SS also provoked the premature death even healthy prisoners.

The persistent refusal to accept the “improvement measures” of the SS line, brought Jehovah’s Witnesses often a lot of additional attacks by the camp administration. Thus, the usual sanctions such as isolation from other prisoners groups, particularly long periods of service in penal companies, reduction of food rations, purchase locks and refusal of medical treatment for Jehovah’s Witnesses in some camps to normal. They also brought their overtly Beliefs problems. Any denial of Hitler or flag salute , any refusal of military service and each answer the question of faith attracted beatings – often by several SS men – after himself. Were already healthy witnesses badly shaken by these abuses, they meant fast for older witnesses Jehovah’s death.

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