A group that is often forgotten in the Holocaust narrative, is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In Germany and the countries they occupied, an estimated 1500 Jehovah’s Witnesses were murdered during the Holocaust. There were about 35,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the occupied countries and Germany.
They were persecuted because they adhered to the Bible’s teachings. When the Nazi state demanded that the Witnesses do what the Bible forbids, the Witnesses refused to comply. They chose to “obey God as ruler rather than men. On 24 April 1933, the Nazis began the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses by shutting down the Watch Tower Society office in Magdeburg.
Prussia, Germany’s biggest state, imposed a ban on 24 June, explaining that the Bible Students were attracting and harbouring subversive former members of the Communist and Marxist parties. Its decree added that the Bible Students:
“…are obviously involved in agitation against political and religious institutions in word and written form. By declaring both institutions as agencies of Satan, they undermine the very foundation of life in the people’s community. In their numerous publications … they deliberately and maliciously misrepresent Bible accounts for the purpose of ridiculing State and church institutions. One of the characteristics of their struggle is a fanatical manipulation of their followers … It is therefore obvious that the above-mentioned association tends to be in complete opposition to the present state and its cultural and moral structures.”
Actions against the religious group and its individual members spanned the Nazi years from 1933 to 1945. Unlike Jews, Sinti and Roma (Gypsies), and others persecuted and killed by virtue of their birth, Jehovah’s Witnesses had the opportunity to escape persecution and personal harm by renouncing their religious beliefs. The courage the vast majority displayed in refusing to do so, in the face of torture, maltreatment in concentration camps, and sometimes execution, won them the respect of many contemporaries.
About 400 were beheaded, another 1,000-1,100 were murdered in concentration camps.
I have written about their persecution before, but want to focus today on three individual members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Helene Gotthold, a wife and mother of two children, had been arrested several times. In 1937, she was mistreated so badly during one interrogation that she lost her unborn baby. On 8 December 1944, she was beheaded by a guillotine in Plötzensee Prison, Berlin.
Gerhard Liebold, was only 20 years old when he was beheaded on 6 May 1943, two years after his father had been beheaded in the same prison. He wrote in his farewell letter to his family and fiancée, “Without the power of the Lord, I would not have been able to walk this path.”
Rudolf Auschner, was just 17 years old when he was beheaded on 22 September 1944. In his farewell letter to his mother, he wrote, “Many brothers have walked this path, and so will I.”
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