A Group That Would Not Compromise
In light of humanity there is no doubt that the Holocaust was a bleak time in history. It was a time when the moral compass of the masses in Germany was ignored, and the minds of the majority were blinded, allowing atrocities to occur on an unprecedented scale. One group stood out as different, a candle in the dim fog of the period. While there were others of many religions and organizations that resisted, none of these can say that as an entire Christian denomination they fought against the regime. That group was Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination that held firm and remained unhypocritical to their professed suppositions.
The religious scene during the 1930’s and 40’s was less than desirable for all the churches involved. At first the Catholic Church strongly opposed Hitler’s rise to power. According to Richard, J Evans, as the main religion in Germany, they had strong influence, and preached forcefully from the pulpit against the Nazi regime. They discouraged their flocks from becoming party of the Nazi party. They supported the Centre party and its Bavarian counterpart, The Bavarian People’s Party, as an organization. The Nazi’s soon realized the need to smother the voice and the power of the mighty Catholic empire, says Evans (235).
In 1933 the Catholic Church agreed to leave the Centre party with the idea that other catholic organizations would be able to maintain their independence with the party. But later that year the government began shutting down Catholic organizations, and confiscating property for their relationship with the Centre party. On the 20th of July newspapers were prohibited from calling themselves Catholic. Ironically Hitler was baptized as an infant into the Catholic Church. At first there was some outcry from Catholic leaders but on a larger scale action was not taken by the Catholic Church.
The church soon concluded that it was better to affiliate themselves with the regime than to fight it if they wanted the anti-Catholic action to stop. In October of 1933 archbishop Grober publicly made this statement: “I am placing myself completely behind the new government and the new Reich” (qtd in Evans 237). The church was unable to work openly against the new regime since they had promised to be free of all political affiliations. Any in the church who were against the regime were silenced. Like Emperor Constantine of the fourth century, Hitler realized the need for a state religion to unite his domain. He began to build his organization around the German Evangelican church.
This church united both Calvinists and Protestants under a protestant title. This church did not have any real affiliation with a worldwide body or institution, and was without ties that would hold back the Reich. Soon Protestantism and nationalism were viewed hand in hand with one another (Evans 221). A really good German was a protestant and claimed affiliation with the German Evangelical Church. Hitler claimed to be Christian and believed that his purposes were in line with divine will.
“I believe today that my conduct is in accord with the will of the almighty creator” (Adolph Hitler- Mein Kampf, Volume 1, chapter 2). “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter…In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. – Adolf Hitler, in a speech on 12 April 1922. Jehovah’s witnesses completely disagreed. They refused to support the Nazi Regime in any way.
They would not sew uniforms, or make armaments any more than they would don a military uniform. Some 20,000 witnesses continued with this stance throughout the Nazi regime (US Holocaust Museum). As a whole they were a thorn in the flesh of the regime. In 1935 Jehovah’s Witnesses were banned in Germany. All activities and literature of the witnesses was prohibited. Still, witness literature continued to be printed in secret, and their meetings and preaching never stopped.
Witnesses did try to be discreet in their work, but they refused to back down on certain principles. Their stance and the behaviors that resulted caused them to be conspicuous. One of the major behaviors that caused them to be suspicious to Nazi authorities was there refusal to give the customary political greeting “Heil Hitler!” Witnesses believed that only Jesus Christ and his Father Jehovah were to be hailed. In her book Facing the Lion, Simone Arnold recounts the explanation she gave for her choice not to salute as a child “The Heil belongs to Jesus Christ” The New Testament says “there is no other name under heaven” (Arnold 180). This strong stance led Simone, and many other witnesses to be identified and persecuted. Witnesses did not join the Nazi Party and their children did not join any of the Nazi youth organizations.
Obviously this caused witness families to be seen as suspicious. Witness business owners did not fly the Nazi flag nor did they hang the customary picture of Hitler on the walls of their businesses (Arnold 130,131). In 1935 Germany introduced compulsory service for the military (Us Holocaust Museum). Witness men who were called up for military service were either executed or automatically sent to concentration camps. Children of those men were often sent to reform boarding schools (“Jehovah’s Witnesses” Florida Center for Instructional Technology). Any Witnesses who were found to have banned literature in their possession, or who were reported for preaching about their beliefs were interrogated, and sent to concentration camps.
While neither option was desirable, these witnesses viewed their loyalty to Jehovah and their relationship with him as the most important thing, even more important than their lives. Upon arriving at Auschwitz witnesses were given a beating of 25 lashings (Leibster 63). This was not the case for other prisoners. At first the camp officials separated the witnesses in order to try and break down their unity and faith. This ended up being a problem when witnesses began preaching within the camp.
Soon witness prisoners had a barrack specifically for them. This was kept clean and orderly, which helped to keep the witnesses free from disease. In Buchenwald concentration camp witnesses set up an underground printing press and distributed religious tracts. Witness literature found its way into most of the concentration camps. What many find astounding is that fact that witness prisoners were many times the only ones allowed out of the concentration camps for work, and they were left unsupervised much of the time (U.S Holocaust Museum).
Witnesses would did not run away from the camps, and did not commit suicide while there (Us Holocaust Museum, Unbroken Will.). The experience of two witness women is especially interesting. A large group of witness women were being transferred to another camp, two of the women was accidentally left on the transport and continued on the train to the next stop after the camp. Once they realized the mistake the witnesses asked for directions to get to the camp, and walked back to the astonishment of the guards.
(Wontor-Chichy ). Many times witness women were sent to work at soldier’s houses and in offices because they were trustworthy (US Holocaust Museum). The resolve of the witnesses is seen in their refusal to sign the declaration renouncing their faith. That was all they had to do, sign a piece of paper and they would be free from the concentration camps (US Holocaust Museum, Unbroken Will). Here is an excerpt from the declaration: “1.I have come to know that the International Bible Students Association is proclaiming erroneous teachings and under the cloak of religion follows hostile purposes against the State.
2. I therefore left the organization entirely and made myself absolutely free from the teachings of this sect.” (Wontor- Chichy) Very few witnesses were willing to sign this declaration (U.S Memorial Holocaust Museum). Every time a witness sent a letter to relative there was a stamp at the bottom explaining that the prisoner still held to the beliefs of the witnesses.
Little did the Nazi’s know that seeing that stamp on the letter of a relative was the most wonderful gift that they could give to grieving relatives. Knowing that their relative was alive and continuing in their beliefs was what kept many witnesses going during the holocaust (Arnold 355). Their faith in the resurrection of dead loved ones made it much easier to bear the death of family who died in the concentration camps, or were executed for their refusal to join in the military. This faith is what set them apart from other victims of the Holocaust, and helped them survive. What if every victim of the Reich had been Witnesses? How many more victims would have survived? What if everyone in the world were Witnesses? The holocaust would have never happened! Even though witnesses were not biologically related they all fought for each other.
What would have been the outcome if the Jews had shown that same spirit towards those of their own nationality? Jehovah’s Witnesses were truly different from other Holocaust victims. They were truly remarkable. What if more “Good Men” had done something? While many saw the wrongs that were committed during the Nazi regime, most chose not to say or do anything. This editorial shows religious leaders “good men” who turned their back on the suffering of that was caused by the Nazi regime, and chose to ignore it in fear of their own safety. Jehovah’s Witnesses were a group of people resisted the Nazi regime outright regardless of the consequences.