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Jehovah's Witnesses in the Holocaust: Chronology of Events 1933-1945

1933 - About 25,000 Jehovah's Witnesses are active in Germany. March, first concentration camp, Dachau, established. April 1, all religious literature printed by Jehovah's Witnesses is banned from circulation in Germany. In June, Prussian State Police ban the work and organization of Jehovah's Witnesses. Some Witnesses sentenced to terms in labor and concentration camps. Watch Tower office in Magdeburg raided and closed. August 16, first mention of existence of concentration camps in the Golden Age magazine (now Awake!), published internationally by Jehovah's Witnesses.

1934 - October 7, telegrams of protest sent to Hitler by Jehovah's Witnesses in 50 countries, including Germany.

1935 - April 1, Jehovah's Witnesses banned from all civil service jobs and arrested throughout Germany. Pension and employment benefits confiscated. Marriage to one of Jehovah's Witnesses becomes legal grounds for divorce. Children of Jehovah's Witnesses banned from attending school. Some children taken from parents to be raised in Nazi homes and reform schools.

1936 - Mass arrests of Jehovah's Witnesses. Several thousand are sent to concentration camps and some remain there until 1945. December 12, Jehovah's Witnesses throughout Germany secretly distribute 200,000 copies of the Lucerne Resolution, a protest of Nazi atrocities, in one hour.

1937 - Buchenwald concentration camp established. Here is first known use of the purple triangle as a symbol for camp inmates who are Jehovah's Witnesses. April 22, Gestapo order directs that all of Jehovah's Witnesses released from prison be taken directly to concentration camps. June 20, Jehovah's Witnesses throughout Germany secretly distribute the "Open Letter," which supplies detailed accounts of Nazi atrocities.

1938 - October 2, Watch Tower Society President J. F. Rutherford, speaking over a network of 60 radio stations, denounces Nazi persecution of the Jews. November 9 and 10, Jews experience a nationwide attack in a pogrom called Krystallnacht (night of Broken Glass). About 25,000 Jewish men deported to concentration camps. On November 15, all Jewish children expelled from school.

1939 - September 15, August Dickman, one of Jehovah's Witnesses and the first conscientious objector of the war to be executed, dies by firing squad at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

1942 - January 20, Wannasee Conference of Nazi officials formalizes plans for the so-called Final Solution, the extermination of European Jewry.

1945 - May 7, Germany surrenders and the war in Europe ends. The Nuremberg war crimes trials begin in November. September 30, verdicts of the war crimes trials announced in Nuremberg on the same day that Jehovah's Witnesses hold public convention at the Zeppelinwiese, formerly used for Nazi Party rallies.

 

Adolphe Arnold

Born August 22, 1897, Kruth, France

Adolphe was born to Catholic parents in Alsace when it was under German rule. He was orphaned at age 12, and was raised by his uncle who sent him to an art school in Mulhouse, where he specialized in design. He married in the village of Husseren-Wesserling in the southern part of Alsace, and in 1930 the couple had a baby daughter. In 1933 the Arnolds moved to the nearby city of Mulhouse.

1933-39: I worked in Mulhouse as an art consultant for one of France's biggest printing factories. When I wasn't working at home or at the factory, I was studying the Bible, and enjoying classical music. Disillusioned with the Catholic church, my wife and I decided to become Jehovah's Witnesses. Under the French, we were free to practice our new faith.

1940-44: The Germans occupied Mulhouse in June 1940. While at the factory on September 4, 1941, I was arrested because I was a Jehovah's Witness and imprisoned in Mulhouse for two months. In January I was sent to the Dachau concentration camp, where I was beaten by the SS and subjected to medical experiments for malaria. My sister-in-law was able to smuggle to me some Jehovah's Witness literature hidden inside cookies. In September 1944 I was transferred to the Mauthausen concentration camp.

Adolphe was liberated in May 1945 in Ebensee, a subcamp of Mauthausen. After the war he returned to France and was reunited with his family.

 

April 17, 1898

Emma Arnold, born April 17, 1898, Strasbourg, France

Emma was born to Catholic parents in Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace-Lorraine. Her father died when she was 8 years old, and Emma grew up on her mother's mountain farm. At 14 she became a weaver. Later, she married and moved with her husband to the Alsatian town of Husseren-Wesserling. In 1930 she gave birth to a daughter. In 1933 the Arnolds moved to the nearby city of Mulhouse.

1933-39: We decided to become Jehovah's Witnesses. I was blessed with a loving husband and beautiful daughter. I kept house and taught my daughter music, painting, knitting, sewing, cooking and gardening. My husband and I studied the Bible and taught our daughter about Jehovah and the importance of obeying His commandments. Life in Mulhouse was peaceful and quiet under the French.

1940-44: After the Germans occupied our town in June 1940, we were no longer free to be Jehovah's Witnesses. The Gestapo arrested my husband in 1941 and took my daughter in 1943. I returned to my mother's farm but was arrested there in September 1943. I was sent to the Vorbruck-Schirmeck camp in Alsace and then to the Gaggenau branch camp in 1944. I was first assigned to sewing and mending, and then sent to be a housemaid for an SS family. Despite the pressure, nothing broke my faith.

Emma was liberated by the French army in 1945. She returned to France, where she was reunited with her husband and daughter.

Simone Arnold

Simone Arnold, born August 17, 1930, Husseren-Wesserling, France

Simone was born in the Alsatian village of Husseren-Wesserling. In 1933 when she was three, her parents moved to the nearby city of Mulhouse. There, her father worked in a printing factory. Her parents were Jehovah's Witnesses and instilled in her the teachings of the faith. Above all, she was taught the importance of placing obedience to God before allegiance to any earthly authority.

1933-39: I grew up in a home full of love. My parents would read the Bible to me. Our life included music, art, knitting and good food. I loved my dog and playing outdoors. We had a garden near the house and I enjoyed hiking and cycling in our beautiful countryside. In 1936 I began public school, studying in both French and German. During those years I learned a lot.

1940-44: The Germans occupied our region in 1940. A year later, I was expelled from school for refusing to say "Heil Hitler" and was interrogated by the Gestapo. When I was 12, the courts ordered that I be taken away from my parents--the Nazis claimed I was being corrupted by Jehovah's Witness teachings. In June 1943 I was sent to a children's reeducation center in Constance, Germany. My aunt was allowed to visit me nine times in two years: she smuggled illegal literature from Mulhouse. My love for Jehovah sustained me.

Simone was liberated by the French army in April 1945. She was reunited with her parents and returned to school in France.

Johanna Niedermeier Buchner

Johanna Niedermeier Buchner, born April 15, 1904, Vienna, Austria

Johanna was born in Vienna when it was still the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her Christian family experienced the disruption resulting from the empire's collapse, as well as the instability of the Austrian republic. The depression of 1929 hit Vienna especially hard. In 1931 Johanna became a Jehovah's Witness.

1933-39: I traveled constantly in and out of Austria distributing our Jehovah's Witness literature. In March 1938 Germany annexed Austria and we were subjected to Nazi law; our religion was banned. In 1939 the Gestapo arrested me at home at 6 a.m.; the court sentenced me to six years imprisonment. I was sent to a women's penitentiary in Aichach, located in Upper Bavaria in Germany.

1940-44: I spent all six years of the war in Aichach, working every day from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. sewing and knitting civilian clothes. I refused to do any work for the army. I was denied the right to have a Bible, but the authorities changed their mind when I argued that if other Germans had the right to go to church then I, too, had the right to own a Bible so that I could worship as well. I trusted in Jehovah and he gave me the strength to withstand the hardships of the war.

Johanna was liberated in Aichach in May 1945 by U.S. forces and returned to her home in Austria. She subsequently settled in Braunau, a town in northern Austria.

Helene Gotthold

Helene Gotthold, born December 31, 1896, Dortmund, Germany

Helene lived in Herne and Bochum in western Germany, where she was married to a coal miner who was unemployed between 1927 and 1938. Following their disillusionment with the Lutheran Church during World War I, Helene, who was a nurse, and her husband became Jehovah's Witnesses in 1926. Together, they raised their two children according to the teachings of the Scripture.

1933-39: Under the Nazis, Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted for their missionary work and because they believed their sole allegiance was to God and His Commandments. Some of the Gotthold's neighbors refused to have anything to do with them. Helene's husband was arrested in 1936. After searching her house, the Gestapo arrested her in 1937; she was beaten with rods and lost her unborn baby. The court gave her an 18-month sentence.

1940-44: Helene and her husband were released and the Gotthold family was reunited. Helene and her husband were rearrested in February 1944. They were imprisoned in Essen, but when the prison was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid, they were transferred to a prison in Potsdam. On August 4, the People's Court sentenced Helene and five other Witnesses to death for illegally holding Bible meetings and undermining the nation's morale. Before her execution, Helene was allowed to write a letter to her husband and children.

Helene was executed by guillotine in Berlin's Ploetzensee Prison on December 8, 1944. Her family survived and resumed their Jehovah's Witness missionary work in Germany.

Walther Hamann

Walther Hamann, born March 9, 1904, Greiz, Germany

Walther was born in the state of Thuringia in east central Germany. Though his parents were Lutheran, Walther became a Jehovah's Witness in 1923. After becoming a master baker and confectioner in 1924, Walther worked in various coffeehouses in Plauen, Magdeburg and Duesseldorf. In 1928 he graduated from a professional school. He married and had two sons.

1933-39: In 1933 I became a pastry-making manager at the Cafe Weitz on Duesseldorf's Koenigsallee. The Gestapo arrested me at the cafe in 1937 because I was an active member of a banned organization, the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Special Court in Duesseldorf gave me a 27-month sentence because of my preaching. Imprisoned in Duesseldorf and Wuppertal-Elberfeld, I was then moved to penal camps in Walchum and Neusustrum in northwest Germany.

1940-44: When I completed my prison term in February 1940, I was given another chance to repudiate my faith. I refused, was beaten and then sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp where I was kicked and beaten upon arrival--I saved myself by hiding in a latrine. A month later, my brother-in-law Dietrich, who had been there four years, died at my side. With Jehovah's help I endured hard labor and repeated beatings; when I could, I smuggled food out of the SS kitchen and scraps from garbage cans.

During a forced march towards the Baltic Sea, Walther was liberated on May 3, 1945, after his SS guards fled. He remained in Germany after the war.

Hilda Kusserow

Hilda Kusserow, born July 9, 1888, Dembogora, Poland

Hilda was born in a territory ruled by Germany until 1919. A teacher and a painter, she married Franz Kusserow and moved to western Germany before World War I. There, she gave birth to 11 children and became a Jehovah's Witness. After 1931 the Kusserow home in the small town of Bad Lippspringe was the headquarters of a Jehovah's Witness congregation.

1933-39: The Nazis repeatedly searched our home because our family remained openly steadfast in our devotion to Jehovah. I continued doing missionary work even though it was banned. In 1936 I was arrested and imprisoned for six weeks. When I was released I continued hosting Bible study meetings in our home, even after my husband was imprisoned. In 1939 the police took away my three youngest children to be "reeducated" in foster homes.

1940-44: Two of my sons were executed for refusing induction into the German army. My husband returned home on August 16, 1940. Because we kept hosting Bible studies, I was arrested along with my husband and our daughters Hildegard and Magdalena in April 1941. I served a two-year term. When released I was told that I could go home if I signed a statement renouncing my faith. I refused and was deported to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp, where I was reunited with two of my daughters who'd already been there a year.

During a forced march from Ravensbrueck, Hilda and her two daughters were liberated by the Soviets in April 1945. When the war ended, they returned to Bad Lippspringe.

Magdalena Kusserow

Magdalena Kusserow, born January 23, 1924, Bochum, Germany

One of 11 children, Magdalena was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. When she was 7, her family moved to the small town of Bad Lippspringe. Her father was a retired postal official and her mother was a teacher. Their home was known as "The Golden Age" because it was the headquarters of the local Jehovah's Witness congregation. By age 8 Magdalena could recite many Bible verses by heart.

1933-39: Our loyalty was to Jehovah, so the Nazis marked us as enemies. At 12 I joined my parents and sister in missionary work. Catholic priests denounced us. Papa was arrested for hosting Bible study meetings in our home; even Mama was arrested. The Gestapo searched our house many times, but my sisters and I managed to hide the religious literature. In 1939 the police took my three youngest siblings to be "reeducated" in Nazi foster homes.

1940-44: I was arrested in April 1941 and detained in nearby juvenile prisons until I was 18. I was told that I could go home if I signed a statement repudiating my faith. But I refused and was deported to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp. After a harrowing trip with common criminals and prostitutes, I was assigned to do gardening work and look after the children of the SS women. Within a year, my mother and sister Hildegard were also in Ravensbrueck; with God's help, we Jehovah's Witnesses stuck together.

During a forced march from Ravensbrueck in April 1945, Magdalena, her sister and mother were liberated. When the war ended, they returned to Bad Lippspringe.

Wilhelm Kusserow

Wilhelm Kusserow, born September 4, 1914, Bochum, Germany

Born at the beginning of World War I, Wilhelm was patriotically named after Germany's emperor, Wilhelm II. The eldest son, Wilhelm was raised a Lutheran, but after the war his parents became Jehovah's Witnesses and raised their children according to their faith. After 1931, their home in the rustic town of Bad Lippspringe became known as a center of Jehovah's Witness activity.

1933-39: The Kusserows were under close scrutiny by the Nazi police because Witnesses believed that their highest loyalty was to God, not to Hitler. The Kusserows' home was repeatedly searched and some of their religious literature was confiscated. They offered refuge to fellow Witnesses and continued to host Bible study meetings in their home, illegally, even after Wilhelm's father had been arrested twice.

1940: Germany had been at war since September 1939 and Wilhelm had been arrested for refusing induction into the German army, adhering strictly to the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." For Wilhelm, God's law came before Hitler's laws. The judge and prosecutor tried to change his mind. They offered to rescind his execution order if he renounced his "evil and destructive" beliefs. Wilhelm refused. The court sentenced him to death.

According to his defense counsel, Wilhelm "died in accordance with his convictions." He was shot by a firing squad in Muenster Prison, on April 27, 1940.

Wolfgang Kusserow

Wolfgang Kusserow, born March 1, 1922, Bochum, Germany

When Wolfgang was an infant, his parents became Jehovah's Witnesses. His father moved the family to the small Westphalian town of Bad Lippspringe when Wolfgang was 9. Their home became the headquarters of a new Jehovah's Witness congregation. Wolfgang and his ten brothers and sisters grew up studying the Bible daily.

1933-39: The Kusserows were under close scrutiny by the Nazi secret police because of their religion. As a Jehovah's Witness, Wolfgang believed that his highest allegiance was to God and His laws, especially the commandment to "love God above all else and thy neighbor as thyself." Even after the Nazis arrested Wolfgang's father and oldest brother, Wilhelm, the Kusserows continued to host, illegally, Bible study meetings in their home.

1940-42: Believing that God, not Hitler, was his guide, and obeying God's fifth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," Wolfgang refused induction into the German army. He was arrested in December, 1941, and a bill of indictment was issued on January 12, 1942. After months in prison, Wolfgang was tried and sentenced to death. On the night before his execution, he wrote to his family, assuring them of his devotion to God.

Wolfgang was beheaded by guillotine in Brandenburg Prison on March 28, 1942. He was 20 years old.

Johannes M. Lublink

, born March 10, 1912, Amsterdam, Netherlands

Johannes was born to Christian parents and had three brothers and three sisters. His father sold coal for heating systems. By 1933 Johannes was also a coal distributor. Like many other Dutch citizens, Johannes did not approve of Hitler's policies. He especially objected to Hitler's persecution of Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses.

1933-39: Hitler's coming to power in Germany was a threat to all of us. In 1936 I became a Jehovah's Witness. My mother was also a Witness and by 1938, one brother and one sister became Witnesses as well. Even in the Netherlands we faced adversity. In 1937 the police protected us from Catholic priests who preached hatred against us during our Bible meetings in Tilburg.

1940-44: The Germans occupied the Netherlands in May 1940. I was arrested by the Dutch police on June 15, 1941. After being detained for several months, I was deported with 50 other Witnesses to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Required to do heavy labor, we Witnesses were the only prisoners trusted by the Germans because we never tried to escape. Each morning one of us read aloud a Bible passage, which we'd discuss while working during the day. Sometimes, I'd secretly read from my own Bible that I'd managed to smuggle in.

While being force-marched from Sachsenhausen, Johannes was liberated by U.S. troops near Schwerin, Germany, on May 5, 1945. He then returned to Amsterdam.

Berthold Mewes

Berthold Mewes, born August 19, 1930, Paderborn, Germany

Berthold was an only child. He was raised in Paderborn, a town in a largely Catholic region of western Germany. Paderborn was near Bad Lippspringe, where there was a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation engaged in missionary work. Beginning in 1933, the Nazis moved to outlaw Jehovah's Witness activities.

1933-39: When I was 4, my parents became Jehovah's Witnesses and I began to attend secret Bible meetings with them. I began public school in 1936. Mama was arrested in 1939 and sent to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp. When I was 9, Papa sent me to live with my uncle in Berlin; however, three months later Papa was forced to deliver me to the authorities. Afterwards, Papa was imprisoned for refusing to serve in the military.

1940-44: The Germans sent me to live with a childless couple who had a small farm. In the morning I'd attend school and afterwards I'd do farm work. I could write one letter every six months to either Mama or Papa. But in 1943 I was forbidden to write any more letters to my parents. I could only hope and pray that they were still alive. Although I had no contact with other Jehovah's Witnesses, my faith in Jehovah and the teachings of the Bible helped me overcome my loneliness and uncertainty.

Berthold was reunited with his parents in 1945 when he was 15, and together the family resumed their lives as Jehovah's Witnesses. Berthold later moved to the United States.

Ernst Reiter

Ernst Reiter, born April 11, 1915, Graz, Austria

Ernst was an only child born to atheist parents in southern Austria during the middle of World War I. Raised in Austria's second largest city, he loved the outdoors, especially skiing in the Alps. In the early 1930s Ernst became a Jehovah's Witness. Although Austria was then in a deep economic depression, he was fortunate to find a job as a sales clerk in a grocery store.

1933-39: Austria's Catholic government was hostile towards Jehovah's Witnesses. When the Germans annexed Austria in March 1938, our activities were banned. Following God's commandments, I refused to give the Hitler salute and to serve in the German army. I was arrested for this on September 6, 1938, and sentenced to six months imprisonment. When I again refused to serve, I was imprisoned in the Bayreuth penitentiary in Germany.

1940-44: When my second prison term ended in November 1939, I was transferred to the relatively new Flossenbürg concentration camp. My number was 1935; I was forced to be a stonemason, and subjected to brutal treatment, including attempts to break my faith in God. But God's power was far greater than anything the Nazis could do to me. The Jewish, Polish and Soviet prisoners had it far worse than me. The only way the Jewish prisoners got out of there was "through the chimney."

Ernst survived Flossenbürg and a forced march in April 1945. He was liberated by American troops and bicycled back to his home in Austria during the summer of 1945.

Josef Schoen

Josef Schoen, born October 12, 1910, Tesikov, Czechoslovakia

Josef was born to German Catholic parents. They lived in a Moravian village near the city of Sternberk in a German-inhabited region known as the Sudetenland. At that time Czechoslovakia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Upon graduation from a textile school, Josef supervised 600 employees at a silk factory in Moravska Trebova.

1933-39: After serving in the Czechoslovak army, I became a Jehovah's Witness in Prague, and refused to have anything more to do with the military, following the Witnesses' strict adherence to the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." In 1938 I was briefly arrested for refusing call-up in the Czechoslovak army. When the Germans took Prague in 1939, I managed to ship out the Witnesses office's printing machines and set them up again in Holland.

1940-44: I worked in Vienna for the Jehovah's Witness underground. My job was dangerous--supplying literature to our congregations in Austria. The Gestapo promptly arrested me. The court sentenced me to 10 years imprisonment, but first I was sent to do slave labor in a series of camps in the swamps of northwest Germany. Near the end of the war I again refused military service and was force-marched to various prisons and camps in southern Germany. Hundreds of prisoners died.

Josef was liberated by U.S. troops in May 1945 after surviving a forced march to the Dachau concentration camp. He subsequently emigrated to Canada.

Johann Stossier

Johann Stossier, May 29, 1909, Techelsberg, Austria

Johann was born to Catholic parents in the part of Austria known as Carinthia, where he was raised on the family farm. Johann enjoyed acting and belonged to a theater group in nearby Sankt Martin, which also happened to have a Jehovah's Witness congregation. He became a Jehovah's Witness during the late 1920s, actively preaching in the district around Sankt Martin.

1933-39: Johann continued to do missionary work for the Jehovah's Witnesses even after this was banned by the Austrian government in 1936. The situation for Jehovah's Witnesses worsened after Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. Like other Witnesses, Johann refused to give the Hitler salute, to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler, or to enlist in the army.

1940-44: In April 1940 Johann was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Klagenfurt. The Nazis deported him to the Neuengamme concentration camp, and then to the Sachsenhausen camp. In Sachsenhausen, the Germans tried to force Johann to repudiate his faith as a Jehovah's Witness, but Johann refused. Though it was forbidden, he had secretly hidden a tiny Bible, and reading Scripture enabled him to fortify his belief that the power of God was stronger than the power of the Nazi regime.

Johann was executed on May 7, 1944, in Sachsenhausen. He was 34 years old.

Ruth Warter

Ruth Warter, born June 13, 1905, Berlin, Germany

Ruth lived in Uzliekniai, a village in the Memelland, a region in southwestern Lithuania ruled by Germany until 1919. An avid reader, Ruth was distressed by news of postwar political turmoil. In 1923, when Uzliekniai became part of Lithuania, she joined the Jehovah's Witnesses. She married Eduard Warter, another Jehovah's Witness, in 1928. They had four children over the next five years.

1933-39: I was busy raising my children and making sure they did their Bible studies. On March 22, 1939, the German army invaded and our land was annexed to Germany. The next day the Gestapo confiscated our religious literature and arrested some of our spiritual brothers. The village mayor and schoolteacher were Nazis. Our preaching was banned and our Bibles were publicly burned. When men started getting drafted, I worried about my husband.

1940-44: Eduard was arrested because he refused to serve in the army, which would have violated God's fifth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." He was condemned to death, but the real intention of the authorities was to win him away from Jehovah. An officer asked me to persuade Eduard to join the army, but I refused. The government even offered to help us resettle in Germany, but this offer reminded me of the devil's temptation of Christ. With God's help, Eduard and I remained strong. We refused to cooperate with the Nazis.

Ruth and her husband were reunited in 1946. The Soviets, suspicious of Jehovah's Witnesses, deported them to Siberia in 1950. In 1969 they returned to Germany.

Franz Wohlfahrt

Franz Wohlfahrt, born January 18, 1920, Koestenberg-Velden, Austria

The eldest of six children born to Catholic parents, Franz was raised in a village in the part of Austria known as Carinthia. His father was a farmer and quarryman. Disillusioned with Catholicism, his parents became Jehovah's Witnesses during Franz's childhood and raised their children in their new faith. As a teenager, Franz was interested in painting and skiing.

1933-39: I was apprenticed to be a house painter and decorator. After Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, like other Jehovah's Witnesses I refused to swear an oath to Hitler or to give the Hitler salute. Neighbors reported me to the police, but my boss protected me from arrest by saying that my work was needed. When the war began in September 1939 my father was arrested for opposing military service. He was executed in December.

1940-44: Following my twentieth birthday, I refused to be inducted into the German army. In front of hundreds of recruits and officers I refused to salute the Nazi flag. I was arrested on March 14, 1940, and imprisoned. Later that year, I was sent to a penal camp in Germany. A new commander felt sorry for me; three times he saved me from execution between 1943 and 1945. He was impressed that I was willing to die rather than to break God's command to love our neighbor and not kill.

Franz remained in Camp Rollwald Rodgau 2 until March 24, 1945. He was liberated by U.S. forces and returned to his home in Austria.

Gregor Wohlfahrt

Gregor Wohlfahrt, born March 10, 1896, Koestenberg-Velden, Austria

Gregor was born in a village in the part of Austria known as Carinthia. During World War I, he served in the Austro-Hungarian army and was wounded. Raised a Catholic, Gregor and his wife became Jehovah's Witnesses during the late 1920s. Gregor supported his wife and six children by working as a farmer and quarryman.

1933-39: The Austrian government banned Jehovah's Witness missionary work in 1936. Gregor was accused of peddling without a license and briefly jailed. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Gregor led his congregation in a boycott of the plebiscite ratifying Austria's union with Germany. Because of Gregor's anti-Nazi stand, the mayor of his town had Gregor arrested on September 1, 1939. Gregor was sent to Berlin to be tried by a military court for opposing military service. He was sentenced to death. On December 7, 1939, Gregor was executed by guillotine in Berlin's Ploetzensee Prison.

1940-45: During the war, Gregor's entire family was arrested for refusing to cooperate with the Nazis. Two of Gregor's sons were killed: one son was beheaded in the Ploetzensee Prison, where Gregor had been beheaded in 1939; another son was shot. Gregor's oldest son, Franz, refused to participate in military training, would not salute the Nazi flag, and was sentenced to five years of hard labor in a camp in Germany.

In addition to Gregor and two of his sons, other members of Gregor's Jehovah's Witness congregation were persecuted by the Nazis.

Gregor Wohlfahrt

Gregor Wohlfahrt, born July 24, 1921, Koestenberg-Velden, Austria

Gregor was the second of six children born to Catholic parents in a village in the part of Austria known as Carinthia. His father was a farmer and quarryman. Disillusioned with Catholicism, his parents became Jehovah's Witnesses and raised their children according to that religion. As a boy, Gregor loved mountain climbing and skiing.

1933-39: Gregor attended school and worked as a waiter. The situation for Jehovah's Witnesses worsened after Germany annexed Austria in March 1938; Witnesses refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler, believing that their sole allegiance was to God and His laws. On September 1, 1939, the day that Germany invaded Poland, Gregor's father was arrested for opposing military service and executed three months later.

1940-42: Like his older brother, Franz, Gregor refused to be inducted into the German armed forces, following the Witnesses' belief that military service violated God's fifth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." Gregor was arrested. He was brought in chains before a military court in Berlin and sentenced to death on December 18, 1941. For Gregor, his father's arrest and execution two years earlier on similar charges only strengthened his resolve to stand by his faith.

Gregor was executed by guillotine in Berlin's Ploetzensee Prison on March 14, 1942. He was 20 years old.

Willibald Wohlfahrt

Willibald Wohlfahrt, born December 15, 1927, Koestenberg-Velden, Austria

Willibald was the youngest of six children born to Catholic parents in a village in the part of Austria known as Carinthia. Disillusioned with Catholicism, his father and mother became Jehovah's Witnesses when Willibald was an infant, and they raised their children in their new faith. His father became the leader of the local Jehovah's Witness congregation.

1933-39: Willibald lived in a beautiful area near lakes and mountains. The Wohlfahrts were active in Jehovah's Witness missionary work, even though the Austrian government was opposed to the teachings of the faith. In 1938 the Nazis took over. Willibald's father was arrested on September 1, 1939, for opposing military service; three months later he was executed.

1940-45: Willibald's oldest brother was sent to a concentration camp and his brother Gregor was executed for refusing to join the German military. When Willibald was 14, he and his remaining sisters and brother were taken away by the Germans. Willibald was sent to a Catholic convent in Landau, where a Nazi instructor tried to indoctrinate him. He beat Willibald when he refused to salute Hitler. When Allied armies approached, Willibald was sent to the battle front to dig trenches for the German home defense.

Willibald was killed in 1945 while on the work detail digging trenches in western Germany. He was 17 years old.

 

Persecution

 

The Nazi regime targeted Jehovah's Witnesses for persecution because they refused, out of religious conviction, to swear loyalty to a worldly government or to serve in its armed forces. Jehovah's Witnesses also engaged in missionary activity to win adherents for the faith. The Nazis perceived the refusal to commit to the state and efforts to proselytize as overtly political and subversive acts. Unlike Jews and Roma (Gypsies), whom the Nazis targeted for perceived racial reasons, Jehovah's Witnesses had the option to avoid persecution and personal harm by submitting to state authority and serving in the armed forces. Since such submission would violate their religious beliefs, the vast majority of Jehovah's Witnesses refused to abandon their faith even in the face of persecution, torture in concentration camps, or death.

Karl-Heinz Kusserow, a Jehovah's witness who was imprisoned by the Nazis because of his beliefs. He was a prisoner in the Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camps in Germany.

Founded in the American city of Pittsburgh in 1872 by Charles Taze Russell as the International Bible Study Society, the group took the name "Jehovah's Witnesses" in 1931. The Society began missionary work in Europe in the 1890s. In 1902, the first branch office of the Watch Tower Society opened in Elberfeld, Germany. In Germany, Jehovah's Witnesses became known as the Society of International Bible Students. By the early 1930s, some 25,000 to 30,000 Germans (0.38 percent of a total population of 65 million) were members of the Jehovah's Witnesses or interested sympathizers.

Even before 1933, Jehovah's Witnesses were targets of prejudice. Mainstream Lutheran and Catholic churches deemed them heretics. Moreover, citizens often found the Witnesses' missionary work--knocking on doors and preaching--to be invasive. Individual German states had long sought to curb the missionary work through strict enforcement of statutes on illegal solicitation. At various times, individual jurisdictions actually banned Witness religious literature, including the booklets The Watchtower and The Golden Age. During the Weimar period, however, the German courts often ruled in favor of the religious minority.

Before the Nazis came to power, individual groups of local Nazis (party functionaries or SA men), acting outside the law, broke up Bible study meetings and assaulted individual Witnesses.

After the Nazis came to power, persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses intensified. Witnesses believed themselves to belong to Jehovah's Kingdom and considered all worldly powers unwitting allies of Satan. They refused to swear loyalty to the Nazi regime. Moreover, their international theological and organizational contacts were anathema to the Nazi police state. Initially, Witness indifference to the Nazi state manifested itself in the refusal to raise their arms in the Heil Hitler salute, join the German Labor Front (which all salaried and wage workers were forced to join after the Nazis outlawed trade unions), participate in Nazi welfare collections, and vote in elections. Likewise they would not participate in Nazi rallies and parades.

Nazi authorities denounced Jehovah's Witnesses for their ties to the United States and derided the apparent revolutionary millennialism of their preaching that a battle of Armageddon would precede the rule of Christ on earth as part of God's plan. They linked Jehovah's Witnesses to the Nazi idea of "international Jewry" by pointing to Witness reliance on certain Old Testament texts. The Nazis had grievances with many of the smaller Protestant groups on these issues, but only the Jehovah's Witnesses refused to bear arms or swear loyalty to the state.

When Germany reintroduced universal military service in 1935, Jehovah's Witnesses generally refused to enroll. In Germany, as in the United States, they had refused to serve in the armed forces during World War I. Although they were not pacifists, they refused to bear arms for any temporal power. The Nazis prosecuted Jehovah's Witnesses for failing to report for conscription and arrested those who did missionary work for undermining the morale of the nation.

The children of Jehovah's Witnesses also suffered under the Nazi regime. In classrooms, teachers ridiculed children who refused to give the Heil Hitler salute or sing patriotic songs. Principals found reasons to expel them from school. Following the lead of adults, classmates shunned or beat the children of Witnesses. On occasion, authorities sought to remove children from their Witness parents and send them to other schools, orphanages, or private homes to be brought up as "good Germans."

Soon after Hitler became chancellor, Bavarian authorities issued a ban on the International Bible Students' Society. During the spring and summer of 1933, many other German jurisdictions followed suit. Twice during 1933, police occupied Witness offices to confiscate religious literature. Despite official pressure and harassment, Witnesses continued to meet and distribute their literature covertly. Literature was often smuggled in from abroad.

Initially, leaders of the Jehovah's Witnesses sought to find a way to work with the Nazi government. In October 1934, the leadership sent a letter to the Reich government, explaining the Witnesses' core beliefs and their commitment to political neutrality. The letter stated that Jehovah's Witnesses "have no interest in political affairs, but are wholly devoted to God's Kingdom under Christ His King." German authorities responded with economic and political harassment. Witnesses who continued to missionize or who refused to participate in Nazi organizations lost their jobs and their unemployment and social welfare benefits, or were arrested.

In response to Nazi efforts to destroy the group, Jehovah's Witnesses became an island of spiritual resistance to the Nazi demand for absolute German commitment to the state. The International Society of Jehovah's Witnesses fully and publicly supported the efforts of its brethren in Germany. At an international convention in Lucerne, Switzerland, in September 1936, Witness delegates from all over the world passed a resolution severely condemning the Nazi regime. The international organization also produced literature denouncing Nazi persecution of Jews, Communists, and Social Democrats, criticizing the remilitarization of Germany and the Nazification of its schools and universities, and attacking the Nazi assault on organized religion.

Waltraud Kusserow, a Jehovah's Witness, was arrested several times for refusing to make the "Heil Hitler" salute. She spent two and a half years in prison. Germany, after 1945.

 

 

Helene Gotthold, a Jehovah's Witness, was beheaded for her religious beliefs on December 8, 1944, in Berlin. She is pictured with her children. Germany, June 25, 1936.

Helene Gotthold was born in Dortmund, Germany in December 31, 1896.

Helene and her husband were Jehovah's Witnesses. When the Nazis came to power some of her neighbours refused to have anything to do with their family.

Helene's husband was arrested in 1936. Then, in 1937 the Gestapo arrested Helene. She was beaten and lost her unborn baby. Helen was tried by a court and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment.

On their release from prison Helene and her husband were reunited with their family. However, in February 1944 Helene and her husband were arrested and imprisoned once more.

Helene and five other Jehovah’s Witnesses were sentenced to death for illegally holding Bible meetings and undermining the nation's morale.

Before her execution, on 8 December 1944, Helene was allowed to write a letter to her husband and children. Her family survived and carried on their missionary work.

The Kusserow family was active in their region distributing religious literature and teaching Bible study classes in their home. Their house was conveniently situated for fellow Witnesses along the tram route connecting the cities of Paderborn and Detmold. For the first three years after the Nazis came to power, the Kusserows endured moderate persecution by local Gestapo agents, who often came to search their home for religious materials. In 1936, Nazi police pressure increased dramatically, eventually resulting in the arrest of the family and its members' internment in various concentration camps. Most of the family remained incarcerated until the end of the war. Bad Lippspringe, Germany, ca. 1935.

 

Joseph Kemple

 

Polish Jew, a Jehovah's Witness for almost 50 years. Lives in Reno, Nevada. As the survivor of six concentration camps between the ages of 14 and 17, Joseph lost his faith and cursed God for allowing the Holocaust. But he marveled at how the Jehovah's Witnesses had so much faith; that as the only voluntary prisoners of the camps, they were free to leave as long as they renounced their religion. Yet they refused the offer. After Joseph immigrated to the United States as a young man, a pair of Jehovah's Witnesses knocked on his door. Always curious about this group, he invited them in. He found a renewed purpose for God in their teachings and eventually converted. Some Jews consider him a traitor. Others are moved by his renewal of faith. Joseph still embraces his Jewish heritage, as part of his family remains religiously Jewish while the rest follow the tenets of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Both sides of Joseph's family accompany him to Austria and Poland in search of emotional healing — to visit the concentration camps where Joseph was imprisoned as a teenager.

Erich Frost (1900-1987)

Erich Frost, July 1931

Erich Frost (1900-1987), a musician and devout Jehovah’s Witness, was active in the religious resistance to Hitler’s authority. Caught smuggling pamphlets from Switzerland to Germany, he was imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin where he composed this song in 1942. Later deported to a labor camp at Alderney, Channel Islands, Frost survived the war and returned to Germany to serve the Watchtower Society.Fest steht, reworked in English as Forward, You Witnesses, is among the most popular of Jehovah’s Witness hymns. This performance, evoking some of the song’s original spirit, took place under Frost’s direction at an event held in Wiesbaden, Germany, during the 1960s.

Simone Arnold Liebster,

Simone Arnold Liebster, was born in 1930 in Mulhouse, French Alsace. After the incorporation of Alsace into the German Reich during World War II, Liebster’s family suffered increasing harrassment from the Nazis for following the Jehovah’s Witness faith. Eventually both her father (Adolphe Arnold) and mother were arrested and sent to concentration and detention camps while she was placed in a correctional institution for “nonconformist” youth. Liebster has published an autobiography, Facing the Lion: Memoirs of a Young Girl in Nazi Europe.

Portrait of Simone Arnold Liebster at the age of 17, Mulhouse, France, 1947

Oldest living Holocaust Survivor Speaks at Harvard

Aided by a wheel chair, his slight frame bent in part by a curvature of the spine since birth, in part by the passage of time, a man who endured unspeakable cruelty 70 years ago told his story of survival to a Harvard audience.

Austrian Leopold Engleitner, purportedly the world’s oldest concentration camp survivor, spoke at the Science Center May 4 to a diverse crowd: young and old, men, women, and children.

Interned in three concentration camps during the Second World War for refusing to renounce his faith as a Jehovah’s Witness, pledge his allegiance to Adolf Hitler, or join the German army, Engleitner survived torture and incarceration by the Nazis from 1939 to 1943.

Approximately 12,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses were sent to concentration camps during Hitler’s ascendancy. It is estimated that between 2,000 and 5,000 perished. Unlike the millions of persecuted Jews who were imprisoned and died at the hands of the Nazis with no chance of escape, Jehovah’s Witnesses were offered their freedom in return for signing a declaration stating they renounced their religion and fully supported the German regime. Engleitner repeatedly refused to sign the document.

A chance encounter with Engleitner in 1994 by filmmaker Bernhard Rammerstorfer led to a book and a DVD about the former’s life as well as a lasting friendship. Introducing the diminutive and spirited 103-year-old, the biographer described their first meeting, noting that Engleitner “talked and talked and talked.”

Amazingly, in the years following the war, his Upper Austrian neighbors turned on him, branding him a coward. Some even claimed the concentration camps never existed, said Rammerstorfer, who realized “it did [Engleitner] good to have someone at long last to finally listen to him.”

In addition, the chance to be able to tell Engleitner’s story, Rammerstorfer said, “could provide valuable lessons for the peaceful coexistence of mankind.”

Though his voice was shaky and frail, the elderly Austrian’s determination was visibly resolute. He responded to questions in German, tapping his hand firmly on the table in front of him with each answer to emphasize his points.

With the aid of an interpreter, Engleitner recounted some of his harrowing moments while imprisoned at the concentration camps Buchenwald, Niederhagen, and Ravensbrück.

“Every morning when you woke up, you would not know whether you would live to see the evening,” he said, describing how he narrowly escaped being put to death by forcing himself back to work after collapsing from hunger. Later, on a march from one of the camps, he was kicked so fiercely by a guard he was left sterile.

When told by a Nazi officer he must either sign a declaration renouncing his faith or he would “leave through the chimney,” Engleitner said he replied, “I will neither sign, nor will I leave through the chimney. I will go home.”

He was so certain that we would make it home, he bought a suitcase at the Niederhagen concentration camp, one that once belonged to a deceased prisoner, as a symbol of hope. The very same black, weathered suitcase was perched behind him against the hall’s blackboard as he spoke.

In 1943, Engleitner was finally released from Ravensbrück concentration camp, under the condition that he submit to forced labor. He weighed only 62 pounds. But his suffering wasn’t over. Close to the end of the war, the Nazis ordered him again to join the Germany army. Instead of complying, Engleitner fled to the mountains, where he hid for several weeks, continually hunted by Nazi officers, until the war finally came to an end.

Engleitner’s visit to campus was sponsored by Harvard’s Center for European Studies. The event was the beginning of a nationwide tour to promote the most recent version of the book “Unbroken Will: The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man.” The tour is the third in the United States for Engleitner and Rammerstorfer. Throughout the past 10 years, the pair has traveled close to 60,000 miles in Europe and the United States, speaking at schools, universities, and Holocaust memorial sites.

In response to the question, “How did you manage to get this old?” Engleitner replied, “I am a happy boy, I find joy in everything, [and] I don’t really have time to die,” adding, “I’ll be back.”

Rammerstorfer called his friend “the most contented man he had ever met,” and said that even at his age, he is “still determined to teach us the lessons of peace and tolerance.”

For Barbara Deforge, who traveled from Marion, Mass., to hear Engleitner speak, the trip was well worth it.

“When you a see a person who has actually been [through the Holocaust] it makes it more real. … I am glad I came. It was really very encouraging,” she said of Engleitner’s message and unbroken spirit, “and very hopeful.”

By Colleen Walsh

A Family Persecuted

Magdalena Kusserow-Reuter's entire family - 11 siblings and both parents - endured Nazi persecution. Her two brothers were executed for refusing to fight for Hitler. The youngest children were placed in Nazi schools; the rest were put in prisons or camps.

At 17, Mrs. Kusserow-Reuter was offered the declaration card that would set her free if she renounced her beliefs. She had just completed six months of solitary confinement in a juvenile prison, but refused to sign.

"I said, 'Never, never!' There was no question about signing. How could I? I was thinking of my brothers," says Kusserow-Reuter, now living with her husband at the Witness branch in Spain.

Miniature Jehovah Witness Book Smuggled into Concentration Camp

Aart Bouter

Aart Bouter, a Jehovah's Witness, was arrested by the Dutch police and deported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp. The Netherlands, date uncertain.

 

Helene Gotthold

Helene Gotthold, a Jehovah's Witness, was beheaded for her religious beliefs on December 8, 1944, in Berlin. She is pictured with her children. Germany, June 25, 1936.

Wilhelm Kusserow

Wilhelm Kusserow, a German Jehovah's Witness who was shot by the Nazis. Germany, ca. 1940.

Franz Kusserow

Franz Kusserow, a Jehovah's Witness, was imprisoned for nine years for his religious beliefs. Bad Lippspringe, Germany, ca. 1950.

Hilda Kusserow

Hilda Kusserow, a Jehovah's Witness, was imprisoned for nine years for her religious beliefs. Eschborn, Germany, ca. 1979.

Karl-Heinz Kusserow

Karl-Heinz Kusserow, a Jehovah's witness who was imprisoned by the Nazis because of his beliefs. He was a prisoner in the Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camps in Germany

Hildegard Kusserow

Hildegard Kusserow, a Jehovah's Witness, was imprisoned for four years in several concentration camps including Ravensbrueck. Germany, date uncertain.

Klaas de Vries

Klaas de Vries, a Dutch Jehovah's Witness who was deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Germany. The Netherlands, date uncertain.

 

August Dickmann

(* August Dickmann 

(* January 7 1910 in Dinslaken , † September 15 1939 in Sachsenhausen )

was the first conscientious objectors who, under the Nazi dictatorship in Germany in the Second World War was executed.in Dinslaken , † September 15 1939 in Sachsenhausen ) was the first conscientious objectors who, under the Nazi dictatorship in Germany in the Second World War was executed.

August Dickmann worked after attending the elementary school in a sawmill . Around the year 1932 he started together with his brothers Henry and Fritz a Bible study with Jehovah's Witnesses . All three remained in missionary work, as well as the activities of the religious community after the seizure of power by Adolf Hitler had been banned in Germany 1933rd After his brother Fritz in 1935 in the Esterwegenhad admitted, August Dickmann was in October 1936 by the Gestapo arrested and sentenced to prison. After the prison he was in October 1937 in the concentration camp Sachsenhausen admitted. Since March 1939, his brother Henry was imprisoned there.

Dick's refusal

The political prisoner Willi Michalski years later quoted in a newspaper report of a speech by the camp commander Baranowski about what four days after the outbreak of World War 1 September 1939 was in the camp after Dick's wife, the Wehrpass her husband, who had first been delivered to his home address was forwarded to the camp: "On the fifth September this year, the inmate Bible Students August Dickmann, the political division of the camp has been appointed to sign his record book. In disregard of the political situation of the empire and the existing state of war Dickmann has not taken place despite the emphatic reference signature. He passed on the record that he can never be a soldier in the war and not kill people, is because the LORD had commanded and sanctified the war. He also stated that he did not recognize Adolf Hitler as the leader of the German people, because Adolf Hitler was the personification of evil and a tool of Satan . On the consequences of this behavior alerted Dickmann said that he was willing to bear the consequences ... "First Dickmann was beaten for his refusal, he was arrested in a single cell in the storage bunker.

The rigid about the attitude of Dick's angry commandant Baranowski reported the case to Berlin and requested by Heinrich Himmler , theReichsführer SS , approval, Dickmann attended by all the other inmates - including at that time were approximately 380 Jehovah's Witnesses - before the eyes of his brother Henry to be shot. Baranowski promised to being able to divert a significant number of Dick's co-religionists of their attitude. Himmler responded immediately and ordered the execution of Dick's, the first public execution in Sachsenhausen.

The execution

On 15 September had to remain standing after the evening roll call in the camp all 8,500 prisoners. Witnesses were then all the purple triangleinvited all up front, where they had erected a wooden wall, which should serve as a backstop. August Dickmann was demonstrated by some SS officers. The camp commandant Baranowski announced over the loudspeakers of the camp. According to William Roeger, an eyewitness of the execution, he said: "The evangelical August Dickmann has refused to sign the record book. The reason: He no longer feels as a German, but as citizens of the new kingdom . Therefore it of the SS Reichsführer Himmler has sentenced to death, which sentence is now complete. The sentence was submitted to him an hour ago. "

The firing squad was led by Rudolf Hoess , the commandant of the later concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau , which then acted as adjutant to the camp commandant Baranowski and as a camp leader. Dick got his gun from man, whose body was slumped after the execution, a " finishing shot "in the left temple of his head.

The German radio announced the execution of Dick's on 16th September 1939 is known. The message was repeated several times over the following days. In the German newspapers published a "Notice of the Reichsführer SS" over the shooting of " people pest "August Dickmann.The text reads: "Shot on 15.09.1939 was ... because of refusal to fulfill his duty as a soldier, August Dickman, born 07.01.1910, from Dinslaken. Dickmann explained his refusal by explaining that he was, Jehovah's Witness ', he was a fanatical follower of the sect of the international, serious Bible students.' "

On 17 September 1939 reported the New York Times : "August Dickmann, 29 years old, ... was here by a firing squad shot . "As stated in the newspaper, he was the first German military service conscientious objectors in the war at that time.

Sixty years later, on 18 September 1999, on the part of the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation thought of death August Dickmanns. A plaque in the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen now reminds visitors of his courage.

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