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, their activities were banned. Following God's commandments, Ernst refused to give the Hitler salute and to serve in the German army. He was arrested for this on September 6, 1938, and sentenced to six months imprisonment. When he again refused to serve, he was imprisoned in the Bayreuth penitentiary in Germany.

1940-44: When Ernst's second prison term ended in November 1939, he was transferred to the relatively new Flossenbürg concentration camp. His number was 1935; he was forced to be a stonemason, and subjected to brutal treatment, including attempts to break his faith in God. But Ernst believed God's power was far greater than anything the Nazis could do to him. He felt the Jewish, Polish, and Soviet prisoners had it far worse than he did. 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.

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