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Jehovah's Witnesses

  • Gregor Wohlfahrt

    ID Card

    Gregor was the second of six children born to Catholic parents in a village in the part of Austria known as Carinthia. His father was a farmer and quarryman. Disillusioned with Catholicism, his parents became Jehovah's Witnesses and raised their children according to that religion. As a boy, Gregor loved mountain climbing and skiing.

    1933-39: Gregor attended school and worked as a waiter. The situation for Jehovah's Witnesses worsened after Germany annexed Austria in March 1938; Witnesses refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler, believing that their sole allegiance was to God and His laws. On September 1, 1939, the day that Germany invaded Poland, Gregor's father was arrested for opposing military service and executed three months later.

    1940-42: 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.

    Gregor Wohlfahrt
  • German Military Oaths

    Article

    Until recently, many militaries swore their allegiance to their monarchs or rulers. Traditionally, the German military had sworn an oath of allegiance to the Kaiser. This changed during the Weimar Republic, when the oath became one of allegiance to the Constitution and its institutions. In Nazi Germany, German military personnel swore an oath directly to Adolf Hitler. This change had important repercussions during World War II.

    German Military Oaths
  • Prisoners of the Camps
  • The Kusserow family home in Bad Lippspringe

    Photo

    The Kusserow family home in Bad Lippspringe. The family, Jehovah's Witnesses, kept religious materials in the trunk of the car and distributed them from it as well. The Kusserow family was active in their region distributing religious literature and teaching Bible study classes in their home. Their house was conveniently situated for fellow Witnesses along the tram route connecting the cities of Paderborn and Detmold. For the first three years after the Nazis came to power, the Kusserows endured moderate persecution by local Gestapo agents, who often came to search their home for religious materials. In 1936, Nazi police pressure increased dramatically, eventually resulting in the arrest of the family and its members' internment in various concentration camps. Most of the family remained incarcerated until the end of the war. Bad Lippspringe, Germany, 1933-1937.

    The Kusserow family home in Bad Lippspringe
  • The Kusserow family home in Bad Lippspringe, Germany

    Photo

    This photograph shows the Kusserow family home in Bad Lippspringe and the tram tracks in front of it. The Kusserow family members were active Jehovah's Witnesses in their region. They distributed religious literature and taught Bible study classes in their home. Their house was conveniently situated for fellow Witnesses along the tram route connecting the cities of Paderborn and Detmold. For the first three years after the Nazis came to power, the Kusserows endured moderate persecution by local Gestapo agents, who often came to search their home for religious materials. In 1936, Nazi police pressure increased dramatically, eventually resulting in the arrest of the family and its members' internment in various concentration camps. Most of the family remained incarcerated until the end of the war. Bad Lippspringe, Germany, 1933-1937.

    The Kusserow family home in Bad Lippspringe, Germany
  • Elisabeth, Hans Werner, and Paul Gerhard Kusserow

    Photo

    Elisabeth, Hans Werner, and Paul Gerhard Kusserow. Because they were the children of Jehovah's Witnesses, all three were forcibly removed from school on March 7, 1939, and kept separated from their family, which was accused of spiritual and moral neglect, until their liberation in April 1945. This photograph was taken at the Kusserow home in Bad Lippspringe, 1936-1939.

    Elisabeth, Hans Werner, and Paul Gerhard Kusserow
  • Magdalena Kusserow's letter to her sister

    Document

    Magdalena Kusserow, incarcerated in a special barracks for Jehovah's Witnesses in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, used stationery provided to prisoners to write a letter to her sister Annemarie in April 1942. The handwritten numbers in the block in the upper right identify Magdalena as prisoner 9591, assigned to block 17a. Magdalena wrote to her sister in part (translated from German): "Dear Annemarie. Received your letter of March 15, did you get mine? I'm fine. How did it go with Wolfgang's 2nd appointment on March 24? [words blotted out by German censor] .... How are you and why did you quit your job? Are you still not well? Greetings to Lanchen." In 1945, Magdalena and her mother were sent on a death march and were eventually liberated by Soviet forces.

    Magdalena Kusserow's letter to her sister
  • Franz Wohlfahrt describes the trial and sentencing of his father

    Oral History

    Franz and his family were Jehovah's Witnesses. Germany annexed Austria in 1938. After World War II began, Franz's father was executed because, as a Witness, he opposed war. In 1940, Franz refused to participate in military training and would not salute the Nazi flag. He was imprisoned, interrogated by the Gestapo (German Secret State Police) in Graz, and sentenced to five years of hard labor in a camp in Germany. Franz was liberated by US forces in 1945.

    Franz Wohlfahrt describes the trial and sentencing of his father
  • Robert Wagemann describes secret Jehovah's Witness prayer meetings in Nazi Germany

    Oral History

    Robert and his family were Jehovah's Witnesses. The Nazis regarded Jehovah's Witnesses as enemies of the state for their refusal to take an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler, or to serve in the German army. Robert's family continued its religious activities despite Nazi persecution. Shortly before Robert's birth, his mother was imprisoned briefly for distributing religious materials. Robert's hip was injured during delivery, leaving him with a disability. When Robert was five years, he was ordered to report for a physical in Schlierheim. His mother overheard staff comments about putting Robert "to sleep." Fearing they intended to kill him, Robert's mother grabbed him and ran from the clinic. Nazi physicians had begun systematic killing of those they deemed physically and mentally disabled in the fall of 1939.

    Robert Wagemann describes secret Jehovah's Witness prayer meetings in Nazi Germany
  • Franz Wohlfahrt

    ID Card

    The eldest of six children born to Catholic parents, Franz was raised in a village in the part of Austria known as Carinthia. His father was a farmer and quarryman. Disillusioned with Catholicism, his parents became Jehovah's Witnesses during Franz's childhood and raised their children in their new faith. As a teenager, Franz was interested in painting and skiing.

    1933-39: Franz 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. When the war began in September 1939 Franz's father was arrested for opposing military service. He was executed in December.

    1940-44: Following his twentieth birthday, Franz 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, Franz was sent to a penal camp in Germany. A new commander felt sorry for him; three times he saved Franz from execution between 1943 and 1945. He was impressed that Franz was willing to die rather than to break God's command to love his 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.

    Franz Wohlfahrt

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