endured intense persecution under the Nazi
regime. Actions against the religious group
and its individual members spanned the Nazi
years 1933 to 1945. Unlike Jews and Sinti
and Roma "Gypsies", 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.
the United States in the 1870s, the Jehovah's
Witnesses organization sent missionaries
to Germany to seek converts in the 1890s.
By the early 1930s, only 20,000 (of a total
population of 65 million) Germans were Jehovah's
Witnesses, usually known at the time as
"International Bible Students."
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 brown shirted storm
troopers, acting outside the law, broke
up Bible study meetings and beat up, individual
After the Nazis
came to power, persecution of Jehovah's
Witnesses intensified. Small as the movement
was, it offered, in scholar Christine King's
words, a "rival ideology" and "rival center
of loyalty" to the Nazi movement. Although
honest and as law-abiding as their religious
beliefs allowed, Jehovah's Witnesses saw
themselves as citizens of Jehovah's Kingdom;
they refused to swear allegiance to any
worldly government. They were not pacifists,
but as soldiers in Jehovah's army, they
would not bear arms for any nation.
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.
onward, Jehovah's Witnesses faced a Nazi
campaign of nearly total persecution. In
1935 some 400 Jehovah's Witnesses were imprisoned
at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In
1936 a special unit of the Gestapo (Secret
State Police) 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.
to Nazi efforts to destroy them, the worldwide
Jehovah's Witness organization became a
center of spiritual resistance against the
Nazis. 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
According to Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of
Auschwitz, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler 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
were imprisoned in concentration camps,
most of them of German nationality. 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,
Ravensbrueck, 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.
In my thesis I intend to analyze the changing
and unchanging patterns which occurred and
adjusted during the Nazi regime and after
among the Jehova's Witnesses organization.
In further researching, I will emphasis
the power of a strong belief over the will
to stay alive without the pride of your
faith, and according to the choice the believers
had made, I will analyze the consequences.