Account by Hans Levy, of his Father’s Experiences in Buchenwald Concentration Camp

The number of Jews murdered during the Holocaust is estimated at six million. I have often argued that this number is higher. I have no data to back this up, but if you read the testimony of Hans Levy, you can’t help but wonder. Did they include the number of suicides in that number of 6 million, and did they include the number of those who died somewhere else, as a result of the lingering effects of the maltreatment they got?

Below is the testimony of Hans Levy.

“In 1933, at the start of the Nazi régime, my father lost his job working for the Berlin city council. He was a qualified banker and was employed by the council in this capacity.

Apart from the loss of his post, my father encountered relatively few problems right up until 1938. This was mainly because he was married to an Aryan, and the children from this marriage had been baptised and brought up in the Christian faith.

But in 1938 he was suddenly arrested, despite not having committed any criminal offence. Ten days later, we learned that he had been imprisoned in Buchenwald.

I have no cause to doubt my father’s testimony, which he revealed to us under a pledge of secrecy. In Buchenwald, he had to sign a declaration stating that he would tell nobody of his experiences, not even his closest family members.

On arrival, his head was shaved. Then he was made to hand over his personal effects. These were stuffed into a sack and drenched in a chemical fluid which meant the resulting creases could never be removed.

  • 2 –

My father was given the hardest labour in the camp. He was assigned to work in the quarry. Shifts of 10-12 hours were not uncommon. The vast rocks had to be moved at a running pace. Any prisoner caught slacking, because he was simply too exhausted, was reported. This almost certainly led to him being put “over the block”. These punishments were inflicted by a young SS man known as Jonny. His brutality was feared throughout the camp.

The punishments were inflicted as follows: when the prisoners returned to the block after work, tired and near to collapse, a roll call would suddenly be announced. What scant food the men were given had to be left behind as they scrambled to get to the parade ground as quickly as they could. Once there, they were made to stand to attention for up to 18 hours until the camp leader Jonny appeared. The prisoner who was to be punished had to step forward as his name was called, and go and fetch the whipping block on which he was about to be beaten. Three burly SS men would then strap the victim to the block. Jonny never let anyone get away with fewer than 25 lashes.

While two of the SS men beat the victim on the bare backside with sticks, a third would keep count. It often happened that after 20 lashes, this guy would suddenly announce: “I’ve lost count!” and the whole procedure would have to be started again. By the time the prisoner was unstrapped from the block, he was completely broken, even unconscious. Very often the man’s kidneys had been struck so hard that the victim never ever recovered from the damage. This appalling roll call happened three times every week. The food, in short supply and of very poor quality, was dished out in the same bowls the prisoners washed in. Even those inmates with open tuberculosis were using the same bowls for eating and washing.

  • 3 –

Inside Buchenwald camp was an area known as the death zone, a strip of land about 20 metres wide that ran all the way around the electrified perimeter fence. Any prisoner entering the death zone was shot dead either by one of the watch tower guards or an SS man who happened to be nearby—there was no warning. Stepping onto this strip of land was treated as an escape attempt.

One of the guards on duty grabbed my father’s hat and tossed it into the death zone. If my father had gone after it, he would have been immediately shot while trying to escape.

Many desperate prisoners chose to commit suicide by running onto the high-voltage fence. In the morning you could see their charred corpses hanging from the wire.

One of the most repulsive and degrading jobs was that undertaken by the “4711” column. The people chosen for this work were mainly those who had held high office or been important figures in the political and cultural life of the Weimar Republic. It was the job of this column to clean the latrines. Without any equipment. Anyone caught being physically sick would be thrown into the latrine by the SS guard on duty. Many drowned in the excrement.

One of the blocks housed Jehovah’s Witnesses and prominent Communists and Social Democrats. Unfortunately, my father did not know any of their names. For a joke, the SS used to put these people on a chain and make them bark like dogs.

One of the cruellest punishments was what was known as the iron maiden, a torture implement modelled on that used in the Middle Ages. It consisted of an iron cage lined with long sharp nails. Prisoners subjected to this punishment rarely survived the ordeal.

We were only able to secure my father’s release because we (his family) managed to obtain a passage for him to Shanghai.

He was therefore freed earlier than others, but on the condition that he reported every day to his local police station.

My father left Germany on 20 February 1939. He died in Shanghai as a result of the ill-treatment suffered while in prison.”

Hans doesn’t mention this in his testimony but it is clear to me that the reference to 4711 is an additional cruel joke by the Nazis. 4711 is the original Eau de Cologne.


May 29,1940- The ban on Bible study.

The Jehovah Witnesses are often forgotten as Holocaust victims.

An estimated 1,000 German Jehovah’s Witnesses died or were murdered in concentration camps and prisons during the Nazi era, as did 400 Witnesses from other countries, including about 90 Austrians and 130 Dutch Jehovah Witnesses.

On May 29, 1940, the Vereeniging of Bible researchers(The name used by the Jehovah Witnesses) was banned by the German occupier in the Netherlands. The office in Heemstede, the Bethel House, was closed on July 6, as well as the printing works in Haarlem and the printing presses confiscated. Services were also no longer allowed to be invested. However, the Jehovah’s continued to preach and evangelize leading to arrests. Until the end of April 1941, the Sicherheitsplizei (Sipo) together with Dutch agents arrested 113 people.

The Netherlands had only 500 Jehovah’s Witnesses in May 1940. Nevertheless, the occupying forces banned the organization, which was then still called the Vereeniging van Boekenvorschers, on May 29 and had the headquarters in Heemstede closed. Printing presses were confiscated and the Bible researchers were no longer allowed to engage in services. However, the Witnesses did not mind and continued to preach and evangelize. They put up placards saying, “Persecuting God’s witnesses is a crime” and “Jehovah will punish the persecutors with eternal destruction.”

As in Germany, this unaccommodating attitude led to arrests. Until the end of April 1941, the Sicherheitspolizei (Sipo), together with Dutch agents, arrested 113 people. Also W.H. Kuik, an itinerant preacher, helped. He was arrested and released after signing the abjuration statement. Kuik used the slogan: ‘I will comb all of Rotterdam and Schiedam, so that there are no more Jehovah’s Witnesses left’. The ex-Jehovah also assisted in the capture of Jews and illegal workers. After the war, he was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

By the end of 1941, 241 Jehovah’s Witnesses had already been arrested. They ended up in camp Amersfoort or in Vught. In Vught they secretly held Bible readings and worship services. From these camps they were transported to German camps. There they were often the target of teasing and abuse because they persisted in their faith. One of the victims was Betje Honders (picture above)from Utrecht. She , attended a baptismal service on September 6, 1941, which was betrayed to the SD. The SD arrested 29 Witnesses, including 31-year-old Betje.

She was imprisoned in the Oranjehotel in Scheveningen and deported to Ravensbrück in October. There, too, Betje remained true to her faith and refused to carry out certain activities, such as sewing clothes for German soldiers. Probably for this reason she was transferred to Auschwitz in the autumn of 1942, where she died in March 1943.

During the war, about 500 Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested in the Netherlands. More than 300 of them ended up in a concentration camp and 130 of them died from illness, deprivation or the bullet.

The survival of Robert Wagemann

A little known fact is that the Jehovah Witnesses were also persecuted by the Nazi regime.

It is estimated that 1,000 German Jehovah’s Witnesses died or were murdered in concentration camps and prisons between 1933 and 1945, as did 400 Witnesses from other countries, of which were about 90 Austrians and 120 Dutch Jehovah Witnesses . In addition, at least 273 Jehovah’s Witnesses were sentenced to death by military courts for refusing military service and were executed.

The imprisoned Jehovah’s Witnesses were given the document below. By putting a signature on that declaration they would be renouncing their faith and would be released. Of all the Jehovah Witnesses imprisoned, only fa handful of approximately two-thousand signed the declaration and were released.(The translation of the document is below too)

Lotte Wagemann was a practicing Jehovah Witness . In 1937 she was pregnant with Robert Wagemann. Despite being pregnant she was arrested and briefly imprisoned for her activities as a Jehovah’s Witness. She gave birth shortly after her release. Due to the stress of imprisonment and insufficient medical care, Robert’s hip was injured during delivery, resulting in a permanent disability.(His right leg is six inches shorter then the left)

Under the T4 Program, he was classified as “handicapped” , and two times he had been selected for ‘euthanasia’ but really it was for extermination. The first time they escaped to Berlin, and lived with relatives.

In 1943 amidst the growing chaos in Mannheim caused bu allied bombing Robert’s mother was ordered to go with Robert to Schlierbach near Heidelberg to a hospital where he would be examined. The Nazi Doctors confirmed the status of his disability . During the examination, Lotte overheard a conversation where one of the Doctors said that Robert was to be given a lethal injection after lunch..

Lotte waited for the doctors to break for lunch, took Robert and picked up his his clothes, and escaped while the nurses weren’t looking . Because of the increased bombings of the allies I presume the escape by Lotte and Robert didn’t get the same priority as it would have done earlier durig the war or even before the war. Their house was bombed in Mannheim So they spent the remainder of the war hiding with Robert’s grandparents in Iggelheim.

Despite having escaped the clutches of the T4 physicians ,Robert did not stay out of trouble. On his 1st school day he refused to to do the Nazi salute nor did he sing the national anthem.

This drew the attention of the authorities and Robert and his family were forced to move once again. This time to to a town called Haardt by Neustadt and lived with Robert’s maternal grandparents (. There in a little cabin in the woods they spent the remainder of the war.

The family survived the war, Robert emigrated to the United States in 1963 where he married . Robert and his wife have three sons and five grandchildren.


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August Dickmann-executed without a trial.


Jehovah Witnesses were one of the groups of people hated by the Nazis and were killed by the hundreds, the numbers are unclear but are estimated to be between 1,000 and 2,500.

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. They linked Jehovah’s Witnesses to “international Jewry” by pointing to Witness reliance on certain Old Testament texts.

Jehovah’s Witnesses could, however, escape persecution and personal harm by renouncing their religious beliefs. From 1935 Gestapo officers offered members a document to sign indicating renunciation of their faith, submission to state authority, and support of the German military.


From 1935 the authorities began sending hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses to concentration camps, where they were imprisoned with Communists, Socialists, other political prisoners and union members. Most of the Jehovah witnesses were conscientious objectors

August Dickmann was interned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1937. Three days after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, he was ordered to sign his military induction slip. When he refused, the camp commander contacted Heinrich Himmler,

Dickmann had refused to sign his military service record on religious grounds. The camp commander had asked permission to Himmler to make Dickmann an example for other conscientious objectors and Jehovah Witnesses.


Himmler agreed and on September 15 1939 after evening roll-call all 8,500 inmates were told to stay put in the main square.The camp staff forced the around 360 Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned in Sachsenhausen to stand in the front rows – where Dickmann’s brother Heinrich was also made to witness the shooting.

The execution squad was under command of Rudolf Höss, the future commandant of Birkenau. From his pistol August Dickmann received the coup de grace(merciful shot). There was no trial, no judge, no jury just an execution.



In the last days of the war, Himmler advised Höss to disguise himself among German Navy personnel. He evaded arrest for nearly a year. When captured on 11 March 1946 in Gottrupel , he was disguised as a gardener and called himself Franz Lang.



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The German War


International Tracing Services

Gregor Wohlfahrt and his Family.


Not every Holocaust victim was Jewish, besides the Roma,Sinti, Homosexuals,Disabled, the Jehovah witnesses were also persecuted by the Nazi regime.

Unlike Jews and Romani who were persecuted on the basis of their ethnicity, Jehovah’s Witnesses could escape persecution and personal harm by renouncing their religious beliefs by signing a document indicating renouncement of their faith, submission to state authority, and support of the German military.


Gregor Wohlfahrt was born in Koestenberg-Velden in the part of Austria known as Carinthia on March 10 1896 . 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.

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.

He was sent to a military jail.,where he had to wait about three months, to be transferred from the Vienna army jail to Berlin. Where he was put before the war court, the Reichskriegsgericht, and there, he was sentenced with about 28 other Witnesses to death.

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.


Authorities in Berlin, Germany, sent this notice to  Barbara Wohlfahrt, informing her of her husband Gregor’s execution on the morning of December 7, 1939. Although he was physically unfit to serve in the armed forces, the Nazis tried Wohlfahrt for his religious opposition to military service. As a Jehovah’s Witness, Wohlfahrt believed that military service violated the biblical commandment not to kill. On November 8, 1939, a military court condemned Wohlfahrt to beheading, a sentence carried out one month later in Ploetzensee prison in Berlin.

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.

Franz Wohlfahrt:



The eldest of the six children Born: January 18, 1920, Koestenberg-Velden, Austria.

HE was apprenticed to be a house painter and decorator. After Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, like other Jehovah’s Witnesses HE refused to swear an oath to Hitler or to give the Hitler salute. Neighbors reported him to the police, but his boss protected him from arrest by saying that his work was needed.

Following his twentieth birthday, he refused to be inducted into the German army. In front of hundreds of recruits and officers he refused to salute the Nazi flag. He was arrested on March 14, 1940, and imprisoned. Later that year, he was sent to a penal camp in Germany. A new commander felt sorry for him; three times he saved him from execution between 1943 and 1945. He was impressed that Franz 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 Jr:


Gregor was the second of the six children: born July 24, 1921, Koestenberg-Velden, Austria.

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 was the youngest.born December 15, 1927, Koestenberg-Velden, Austria

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.

Regardless what you think of the Jehovah Witnesses’s doctrine you can’t but admire that they were willing to die for what they believed in. This to me makes these 4 men bonafide heroes of WWII. They refused to comply with the Nazi ideology and paid the ultimate price.


I am passionate about my site and I know you all like reading my blogs. I have been doing this at no cost and will continue to do so. All I ask is for a voluntary donation of $2, however if you are not in a position to do so I can fully understand, maybe next time then. Thank you. To donate click on the credit/debit card icon of the card you will use. If you want to donate more then $2 just add a higher number in the box left from the PayPal link. Many thanks.


Forgotten History-The Jehovah Witnesses Holocaust

I am not a Jehovah Witness myself and I don’t really agree with some of their doctrines but I do admire and respect their commitment to their religion.

Jehovah’s Witnesses suffered religious persecution in Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945 after refusing to perform military service, join Nazi organizations or give allegiance to the Hitler regime. An estimated 10,000 Witnesses—half of the number of members in Germany during that period—were imprisoned, including 2000 who were sent to Nazi concentration camps. An estimated 1200 died in custody, including 250 who were executed. They were the first Christian denomination banned by the Nazi government and the most extensively and intensively persecuted. Unlike Jews and Romani who were persecuted on the basis of their ethnicity, Jehovah’s Witnesses could escape persecution and personal harm by renouncing their religious beliefs by signing a document indicating renouncement of their faith, submission to state authority, and support of the German military.Historian Sybil Milton concludes that “their courage and defiance in the face of torture and death punctures the myth of a monolithic Nazi state ruling over docile and submissive subjects.

The group came under increasing public and governmental persecution from 1933, with many expelled from jobs and schools, deprived of income and suffering beatings and imprisonment, despite early attempts to demonstrate shared goals with the National Socialist regime. Historians are divided over whether the Nazis intended to exterminate them, but several authors have claimed the Witnesses’ outspoken condemnation of the Nazis contributed to their level of suffering.

Even before 1933, despite their small numbers, door-to-door preaching and the identification of Jehovah’s Witnesses as heretics by the mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches made them few friends. Individual German states and local authorities periodically sought to limit the group’s proselytizing activities with charges of illegal peddling. There were also outright bans on Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious literature, which included the booklets The Watch Tower and The Golden Age. The courts, by contrast, often ruled in favor of the religious minority. Meanwhile, in the early 1930s, Nazi brownshirted storm troopers, acting outside the law, broke up Bible study meetings and beat up, individual Witnesses.


Jehovah’s Witnesses were denounced for their international and American ties, the apparent revolutionary tone of their millennialism (belief in the peaceful 1,000 year heavenly rule over the earth by Christ, preceded by the battle of Armageddon), and their supposed connections to Judaism, including a reliance on parts of the Bible embodying Jewish scripture (the Christian “Old Testament”). Many of these charges were brought against more than 40 other banned religious groups, but none of these were persecuted to the same degree. The crucial difference was, the intensity Witnesses demonstrated in refusing to give ultimate loyalty or obedience to the state.

In April 1933, four months after Hitler became chancellor, Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned in Bavaria and by the summer in most of Germany. Twice during 1933, police occupied the Witnesses’ offices and their printing site in Magdeburg and confiscated religious literature. Witnesses defied Nazi prohibitions by continuing to meet and distribute their literature, often covertly. Copies were made from booklets smuggled in mainly from Switzerland.

Initially, Jehovah’s Witnesses attempted to fend off Nazi attacks by issuing a letter to the government in October 1934, explaining their religious beliefs and political neutrality. This declaration failed to convince the Nazi regime of the group’s harmlessness. For defying the ban on their activities, many Witnesses were arrested and sent to prisons and concentration camps. They lost their jobs as civil servants or employees in private industry and their unemployment, social welfare, and pension benefits.

From 1935 onward, Jehovah’s Witnesses faced a Nazi campaign of nearly total persecution. On April 1, 1935, the group was banned nationally by law. The same year, Germany reintroduced compulsory military service. For refusing to be drafted or perform war–related work, and for continuing to meet, Jehovah’s Witnesses were arrested and incarcerated in prisons and concentration camps. In 1936 some 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

In 1936 a special unit of the Gestapo began compiling a registry of all persons believed to be Jehovah’s Witnesses, and agents infiltrated Bible study meetings. By 1939, an estimated 6,000 Witnesses (including those from incorporated Austria and Czechoslovakia) were detained in prisons or camps. Some Witnesses were tortured by police in attempts to make them sign a declaration renouncing their faith, but few capitulated.

In response to Nazi efforts to destroy them, the worldwide Jehovah’s Witness organization became a center of spiritual resistance against the Nazis. An international convention of Witnesses, held in Lucerne,Switzerland, in September 1936, issued a resolution condemning the entire Nazi regime. In this text and other literature brought into Germany, writers broadly indicted the Third Reich. Articles strongly denounced the persecution of German Jews, Nazi “savagery” toward Communists, the re-militarization of Germany, the Nazification of schools and universities, Nazi propaganda, and the regime’s assault on mainstream churches.

On June 25, 1933 about 7000 Witnesses assembled at the Wilmersdorfer Tennishallen in Berlin where a 3800-word “Declaration of Facts” was issued.


The document, written by Watch Tower Society president J.F. Rutherford, asserted the religion’s political neutrality, appealed for the right to publicly preach and claimed it was the victim of a misinformation campaign by other religions.


 Some 2.1 million copies of the declaration, reproduced as a four-page pamphlet, were distributed publicly throughout Germany, with a copy also sent to Hitler accompanied by a seven-page cover letter assuring the Chancellor that the IBSA(International Bible Study Association) “was not in opposition to the national government of the German Reich”, but that, to the contrary, “the entirely religious, nonpolitical objectives and efforts of the Bible Students” were “completely in agreement with the corresponding goals of the national government.

From 1933 Witnesses working in post offices, railway stations or other civil service jobs began to be dismissed for refusing to give the compulsory Hitler salute. From August 1934 they could also lose their jobs for refusing to take an official oath swearing loyalty and obedience to Hitler. Teachers were required to sign a statement confirming they were not members of the International Bible Students Association and were fired if they refused. Jehovah’s Witnesses were dismissed in the private sector as well, often at the insistence of the German Labor Front (DAF) or Nazi Party members. In 1936 the Nazi press urged that Bible Students be removed from all German companies, while self-employed members of the religion were denied professional or business licences to carry out their work on the basis that their refusal to join Nazi organizations marked them as “politically unreliable”.

The state confiscated motor vehicles and bicycles used by Witnesses for their business, withdrew driver’s licences, withdrew pensions and evicted Witnesses from their homes. Schoolchildren were required to sing the Horst Wessel song and Deutschlandlied at a flag salute roll call, give the Hitler salute and take part in ceremonies honoring Hitler; those who refused were beaten by teachers and sometimes by classmates, while many were also expelled. From March 1936 authorities began removing Witness children from their parents, forcing some of them to undergo “corrective training”.

The children of Jehovah’s Witnesses also suffered. In classrooms, teachers ridiculed children who refused to give the “Heil, Hitler!” salute or sing patriotic songs. Classmates shunned and beat up young Witnesses. Principals expelled them from schools. Families were broken up as authorities took children away from their parents and sent them to reform schools, orphanages, or private homes, to be brought up as Nazis.

From early 1935, Gestapo officers began widening their use of “protective detention”, usually when judges failed to convict Witnesses on charges of defying the Bible Student ban. Bible Students deemed to “present an imminent danger to the National Socialist state because of their activities” were from that point not handed to courts for punishment but sent directly to concentration camps for incarceration for several months, but even those who completed their prison terms were routinely arrested by the Gestapo upon release and taken into protective custody.

More brutal methods of punishment began to be applied from 1936, including horsewhipping, prolonged daily beatings, the torture of family members and the threat of shooting. Some Witnesses were placed in mental institutions and subjected to psychiatric treatment; sterilization was ordered for some deemed to be “stubborn” in their refusal to denounce their religion.

Following an assembly in Lucerne, Switzerland in early September 1936 up to 3000 copies of a resolution of protest were sent to government, public and clerical leaders, stepping up the Watch Tower Society’s anti-Catholic polemic. Several German Witnesses who attended the convention were arrested by waiting police as they returned to their homes and between August and September the Gestapo arrested more than 1000 members. The society responded with a pamphlet campaign on December 12, dropping up to 200,000 copies of the Lucerne resolution in mailboxes and also leaving them at phone booths, park benches and parked cars. Those arrested in subsequent police raids were sentenced to up to two years in prison. The number of arrests increased; in Dresden alone as many as 1500 Witnesses had been arrested by mid-1937. Another letterbox campaign was carried out in June 1937, a year in which the Watch Tower Society announced German Witnesses had distributed more than 450,000 books and booklets in 12 months.

Compulsory military service for all men aged between 18 and 45 was introduced by Hitler in March 1935. No exemptions were provided for religious or conscientious reasons and Witnesses who refused to serve or take the oath of allegiance to Hitler were sent to prison or concentration camp, generally for terms of one or two years. At the outbreak of war in August 1939, more serious punishments were applied. A decree was enacted that greatly increased penal regulations during periods of war and states of emergency and included in the decree was an offense of “demoralization of the armed forces”; any refusal to perform military service or public inducement to this effect would be punishable by death. Between August 1939 and September 1940, 152 Bible Students appeared before the highest military court of the Wehrmacht charged with demoralization of the armed forces and 112 were executed, usually by beheading. Garbe estimates about 250 German and Austrian Jehovah’s Witnesses were executed during World War II as a result of military court decisions. In November 1939 another regulation was issued providing for the jailing of anyone who supported or belonged to an “anti-military association” or displayed an “anti-military attitude”, which allowed authorities to impose prison sentences on the charge of IBSA membership. Death penalties were applied frequently after 1943.

After 1939 most active Jehovah’s Witnesses were incarcerated in prisons or concentration camps. Some had fled Germany. In the camps, all prisoners wore markings of various shapes and colors so that guards and camp officers could identify them by category. Witnesses were marked by purple triangular patches.


Even in the camps, they continued to meet, pray, and make converts. In Buchenwald concentration camp, they set up an underground printing press and distributed religious tracts.


Conditions in Nazi camps were generally harsh for all inmates, many of whom died from hunger, disease, exhaustion, exposure to the cold, and brutal treatment. But, as psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim and others have noted, Witnesses were uniquely sustained in the camps by the support they gave each other and by their belief that their suffering was part of their work for God. Individual Witnesses astounded their guards with their refusal to conform to military-type routines like roll call or to roll bandages for soldiers at the front. At the same time, Witnesses were considered unusually trustworthy because they refused to escape from camps or physically resist their guards. For this reason, Witnesses were often used as domestic servants by Nazi camp officers and guards.

According to Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz, SS Chief Heinrich Himmer often used the “fanatical faith” of Jehovah’s Witnesses as an example to his own SS troops.

In his view, SS men had to have the same “unshakable faith” in the National Socialist ideal and in Adolf Hitler that the Witnesses had in Jehovah. Only when all SS men believed as fanatically in their own philosophy would Adolf Hitler’s state be permanently secure.

In the Nazi years, about 10,000 Witnesses, most of them of German nationality, were imprisoned in concentration camps. After 1939, small numbers of Witnesses from Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland (some of them refugees from Germany) were arrested and deported to Dachau, Bergen-Belsen,Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, and other concentration camps. An estimated 2,500 to 5,000 Witnesses died in the camps or prisons. More than 200 men were tried by the German War Court and executed for refusing military service.

(below Mug shots of Else Woieziek, a Jehovah’s Witness sentenced to death and executed in 1944. Düsseldorf)


During the liberation of the camps, Jehovah’s Witnesses continued their work, moving among the survivors, making converts.