Emma was born to Catholic parents in Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace-Lorraine. Her father died when she was 8 years old, and Emma grew up on her mother's mountain farm. At 14 she became a weaver. Later, she married and moved with her husband to the Alsatian town of Husseren-Wesserling. In 1930 she gave birth to a daughter. In 1933 the Arnolds moved to the nearby city of Mulhouse.
1933-39: Emma and her family decided to become Jehovah's Witnesses. Emma felt she was blessed with a loving husband and beautiful daughter. She kept house and taught her daughter music, painting, knitting, sewing, cooking and gardening. Emma and her husband studied the Bible and taught their daughter about Jehovah and the importance of obeying His commandments. Life in Mulhouse was peaceful and quiet under the French.
1940-44: After the Germans occupied their town in June 1940, Emma and her family were no longer free to be Jehovah's Witnesses. The Gestapo arrested her husband in 1941 and took her daughter in 1943. Emma returned to her mother's farm but was arrested there in September 1943. She was sent to the Vorbruck-Schirmeck camp in Alsace and then to the Gaggenau branch camp in 1944. She was first assigned to sewing and mending, and then sent to be a housemaid for an SS family. Despite the pressure, nothing broke her faith.
Emma was liberated by the French army in 1945. She returned to France, where she was reunited with her husband and daughter.
Ruth lived in Uzliekniai, a village in the Memelland, a region in southwestern Lithuania ruled by Germany until 1919. An avid reader, Ruth was distressed by news of postwar political turmoil. In 1923, when Uzliekniai became part of Lithuania, she joined the Jehovah's Witnesses. She married Eduard Warter, another Jehovah's Witness, in 1928. They had four children over the next five years.
1933-39: Ruth was busy raising her children and making sure they did their Bible studies. On March 22, 1939, the German army invaded and her family's land was annexed to Germany. The next day the Gestapo confiscated their religious literature and arrested some of their spiritual brothers. The village mayor and schoolteacher were Nazis. Their preaching was banned and their Bibles were publicly burned. When men started getting drafted, Ruth worried about her husband.
1940-44: Eduard was arrested because he refused to serve in the army, which would have violated God's fifth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." He was condemned to death, but the real intention of the authorities was to win him away from Jehovah. An officer asked Ruth to persuade Eduard to join the army, but she refused. The government even offered to help them resettle in Germany, but this offer reminded Ruth of the devil's temptation of Christ. With God's help, Ruth and Eduard remained strong. They refused to cooperate with the Nazis.
Ruth and her husband were reunited in 1946. The Soviets, suspicious of Jehovah's Witnesses, deported them to Siberia in 1950. In 1969 they returned to Germany.
Helene lived in Herne and Bochum in western Germany, where she was married to a coal miner who was unemployed between 1927 and 1938. Following their disillusionment with the Lutheran Church during World War I, Helene, who was a nurse, and her husband became Jehovah's Witnesses in 1926. Together, they raised their two children according to the teachings of the Scripture.
1933-39: Under the Nazis, Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted for their missionary work and because they believed their sole allegiance was to God and His Commandments. Some of the Gottholds' neighbors refused to have anything to do with them. Helene's husband was arrested in 1936. After searching her house, the Gestapo arrested her in 1937; she was beaten with rods and lost her unborn baby. The court gave her an 18-month sentence.
1940-44: Helene and her husband were released and the Gotthold family was reunited. Helene and her husband were rearrested in February 1944. They were imprisoned in Essen, but when the prison was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid, they were transferred to a prison in Potsdam. On August 4, the People's Court sentenced Helene and five other Witnesses to death for illegally holding Bible meetings and undermining the nation's morale. Before her execution, Helene was allowed to write a letter to her husband and children.
Helene was executed by guillotine in Berlin's Ploetzensee Prison on December 8, 1944. Her family survived and resumed their Jehovah's Witness missionary work in Germany.
Johann was born to Catholic parents in the part of Austria known as Carinthia, where he was raised on the family farm. Johann enjoyed acting and belonged to a theater group in nearby Sankt Martin, which also happened to have a Jehovah's Witness congregation. He became a Jehovah's Witness during the late 1920s, actively preaching in the district around Sankt Martin.
1933-39: Johann continued to do missionary work for the Jehovah's Witnesses even after this was banned by the Austrian government in 1936. The situation for Jehovah's Witnesses worsened after Germany annexed Austria in March 1938. Like other Witnesses, Johann refused to give the Hitler salute, to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler, or to enlist in the army.
1940-44: In April 1940 Johann was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in Klagenfurt. The Nazis deported him to the Neuengamme concentration camp, and then to the Sachsenhausen camp. In Sachsenhausen, the Germans tried to force Johann to repudiate his faith as a Jehovah's Witness, but Johann refused. Though it was forbidden, he had secretly hidden a tiny Bible, and reading Scripture enabled him to fortify his belief that the power of God was stronger than the power of the Nazi regime.
Johann was executed on May 7, 1944, in Sachsenhausen. He was 34 years old.
Karl-Heinz was born during World War I, while his father was in the German army. After the war, his Lutheran parents became Jehovah's Witnesses and gave their children daily Bible lessons. When Karl-Heinz was 13, the family moved to the rustic Westphalian town of Bad Lippspringe. Their home became the headquarters of a new Jehovah's Witness congregation.
1933-39: Because of the Jehovah's Witnesses' missionary work, and because their sole allegiance was to God and His commandments, their activities were banned by the Nazis. After 1936 the Kusserow's home was repeatedly searched and religious literature seized, and Karl-Heinz's parents were arrested more than once. The family continued to offer refuge to fellow Witnesses, and also continued to host Bible studies, illegally, in their home.
1940-44: Karl-Heinz's brother was executed in April 1940 for refusing to serve in the German army, contending that such service violated God's commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." The Gestapo attended the funeral; seven weeks later they arrested Karl-Heinz because of a prayer he had said during the funeral. When he refused to give the Hitler salute, he was knocked down and beaten. He spent two months in prison, where he was tortured, and then was transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. After two years, he was sent to Dachau.
Karl-Heinz was released from the Dachau camp in June 1945. Gravely ill with tuberculosis, he died in Bad Lippspringe the following year. He was 28 years old.
Willibald was the youngest of six children born to Catholic parents in a village in the part of Austria known as Carinthia. Disillusioned with Catholicism, his father and mother became Jehovah's Witnesses when Willibald was an infant, and they raised their children in their new faith. His father became the leader of the local Jehovah's Witness congregation.
1933-39: Willibald lived in a beautiful area near lakes and mountains. The Wohlfahrts were active in Jehovah's Witness missionary work, even though the Austrian government was opposed to the teachings of the faith. In 1938 the Nazis took over. Willibald's father was arrested on September 1, 1939, for opposing military service; three months later he was executed.
1940-45: Willibald's oldest brother was sent to a concentration camp and his brother Gregor was executed for refusing to join the German military. 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.
Born at the beginning of World War I, Wilhelm was patriotically named after Germany's emperor, Wilhelm II. The eldest son, Wilhelm was raised a Lutheran, but after the war his parents became Jehovah's Witnesses and raised their children according to their faith. After 1931, their home in the rustic town of Bad Lippspringe became known as a center of Jehovah's Witness activity.
1933-39: The Kusserows were under close scrutiny by the Nazi police because Witnesses believed that their highest loyalty was to God, not to Hitler. The Kusserows' home was repeatedly searched and some of their religious literature was confiscated. They offered refuge to fellow Witnesses and continued to host Bible study meetings in their home, illegally, even after Wilhelm's father had been arrested twice.
1940: Germany had been at war since September 1939 and Wilhelm had been arrested for refusing induction into the German army, adhering strictly to the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill." For Wilhelm, God's law came before Hitler's laws. The judge and prosecutor tried to change his mind. They offered to rescind his execution order if he renounced his "evil and destructive" beliefs. Wilhelm refused. The court sentenced him to death.
According to his defense counsel, Wilhelm "died in accordance with his convictions." He was shot by a firing squad in Muenster Prison, on April 27, 1940.
When Wolfgang was an infant, his parents became Jehovah's Witnesses. His father moved the family to the small Westphalian town of Bad Lippspringe when Wolfgang was 9. Their home became the headquarters of a new Jehovah's Witness congregation. Wolfgang and his ten brothers and sisters grew up studying the Bible daily.
1933-39: The Kusserows were under close scrutiny by the Nazi secret police because of their religion. As a Jehovah's Witness, Wolfgang believed that his highest allegiance was to God and His laws, especially the commandment to "love God above all else and thy neighbor as thyself." Even after the Nazis arrested Wolfgang's father and oldest brother, Wilhelm, the Kusserows continued to host, illegally, Bible study meetings in their home.
1940-42: Believing that God, not Hitler, was his guide, and obeying God's fifth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," Wolfgang refused induction into the German army. He was arrested in December, 1941, and a bill of indictment was issued on January 12, 1942. After months in prison, Wolfgang was tried and sentenced to death. On the night before his execution, he wrote to his family, assuring them of his devotion to God.
Wolfgang was beheaded by guillotine in Brandenburg Prison on March 28, 1942. He was 20 years old.
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.
We would like to thank Crown Family Philanthropies and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. View the list of all donors.