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Jehovah's Witnesses

  • Jehovah's Witness Karl-Heinz Kusserow


    Karl-Heinz Kusserow, a Jehovah's witness who was imprisoned by the Nazis because of his beliefs. He was a prisoner in the Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camps in Germany.

    Jehovah's Witness Karl-Heinz Kusserow
  • SS and the Camp System
  • Franz Wohlfahrt describes imprisonment in Graz

    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 imprisonment in Graz
  • Gregor Wohlfahrt

    ID Card

    Gregor was born in a village in the part of Austria known as Carinthia. During World War I, he served in the Austro-Hungarian army and was wounded. Raised a Catholic, Gregor and his wife became Jehovah's Witnesses during the late 1920s. Gregor supported his wife and six children by working as a farmer and quarryman.

    1933-39: The Austrian government banned Jehovah's Witness missionary work in 1936. Gregor was accused of peddling without a license and briefly jailed. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Gregor led his congregation in a boycott of the plebiscite ratifying Austria's union with Germany. Because of Gregor's anti-Nazi stand, the mayor of his town had Gregor arrested on September 1, 1939. Gregor was sent to Berlin to be tried by a military court for opposing military service. He was sentenced to death. On December 7, 1939, Gregor was executed by guillotine in Berlin's Ploetzensee Prison.

    1940-45: During the war, Gregor's entire family was arrested for refusing to cooperate with the Nazis. Two of Gregor's sons were killed: one son was beheaded in the Ploetzensee Prison, where Gregor had been beheaded in 1939; another son was shot. Gregor's oldest son, Franz, refused to participate in military training, would not salute the Nazi flag, and was sentenced to five years of hard labor in a camp in Germany.

    In addition to Gregor and two of his sons, other members of Gregor's Jehovah's Witness congregation were persecuted by the Nazis.

    Gregor Wohlfahrt
  • Adolphe Arnold

    ID Card

    Adolphe was born to Catholic parents in Alsace when it was under German rule. He was orphaned at age 12, and was raised by his uncle who sent him to an art school in Mulhouse, where he specialized in design. He married in the village of Husseren-Wesserling in the southern part of Alsace, and in 1930 the couple had a baby daughter. In 1933 the Arnolds moved to the nearby city of Mulhouse.

    1933-39: Adolphe worked in Mulhouse as an art consultant for one of France's biggest printing factories. When he wasn't working at home or at the factory, he was studying the Bible, and enjoying classical music. Disillusioned with the Catholic church, Adolphe and his wife decided to become Jehovah's Witnesses. Under the French, they were free to practice their new faith.

    1940-44: The Germans occupied Mulhouse in June 1940. While at the factory on September 4, 1941, Adolphe was arrested because he was a Jehovah's Witness and imprisoned in Mulhouse for two months. In January he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was beaten by the SS and subjected to medical experiments for malaria. Adolphe's sister-in-law was able to smuggle to him some Jehovah's Witness literature hidden inside cookies. In September 1944 he was transferred to the Mauthausen concentration camp.

    Adolphe was liberated in May 1945 in Ebensee, a subcamp of Mauthausen. After the war he returned to France and was reunited with his family.

    Adolphe Arnold
  • Simone Arnold

    ID Card

    Simone was born in the Alsatian village of Husseren-Wesserling. In 1933 when she was three, her parents moved to the nearby city of Mulhouse. There, her father worked in a printing factory. Her parents were Jehovah's Witnesses and instilled in her the teachings of the faith. Above all, she was taught the importance of placing obedience to God before allegiance to any earthly authority.

    1933-39: Simone grew up in a home full of love. Her parents would read the Bible to her. Their life included music, art, knitting and good food. She loved her dog and playing outdoors. Her family had a garden near the house and Simone enjoyed hiking and cycling in their beautiful countryside. In 1936 she began public school, studying in both French and German. During those years she learned a lot.

    1940-44: The Germans occupied our region in 1940. A year later, Simone was expelled from school for refusing to say "Heil Hitler" and was interrogated by the Gestapo. When she was 12, the courts ordered that she be taken away from her parents--the Nazis claimed she was being corrupted by Jehovah's Witness teachings. In June 1943 she was sent to a children's reeducation center in Constance, Germany. Her aunt was allowed to visit her nine times in two years: she smuggled illegal literature from Mulhouse. Simone's love for Jehovah sustained her.

    Simone was liberated by the French army in April 1945. She was reunited with her parents and returned to school in France.

    Simone Arnold
  • Magdalena Kusserow

    ID Card

    One of 11 children, Magdalena was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. When she was 7, her family moved to the small town of Bad Lippspringe. Her father was a retired postal official and her mother was a teacher. Their home was known as "The Golden Age" because it was the headquarters of the local Jehovah's Witness congregation. By age 8 Magdalena could recite many Bible verses by heart.

    1933-39: The Kusserow's loyalty was to Jehovah, so the Nazis marked them as enemies. At 12 Magdalena joined her parents and sister in missionary work. Catholic priests denounced them. Her father was arrested for hosting Bible study meetings in their home; even her mother was arrested. The Gestapo searched their house many times, but Magdalena and her sisters managed to hide the religious literature. In 1939 the police took her three youngest siblings to be "reeducated" in Nazi foster homes.

    1940-44: Magdalena was arrested in April 1941 and detained in nearby juvenile prisons until she was 18. She was told that she could go home if she signed a statement repudiating her faith. But Magdalena refused and was deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. After a harrowing trip with common criminals and prostitutes, she was assigned to do gardening work and look after the children of the SS women. Within a year, her mother and sister Hildegard were also in Ravensbrueck; with God's help, the Jehovah's Witnesses stuck together.

    During a forced march from Ravensbrück in April 1945, Magdalena, her sister and mother were liberated. When the war ended, they returned to Bad Lippspringe.

    Magdalena Kusserow
  • Ernst Reiter

    ID Card

    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.

    Ernst Reiter
  • Johannes M. Lublink

    ID Card

    Johannes was born to Christian parents and had three brothers and three sisters. His father sold coal for heating systems. By 1933 Johannes was also a coal distributor. Like many other Dutch citizens, Johannes did not approve of Hitler's policies. He especially objected to Hitler's persecution of Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses.

    1933-39: Hitler's coming to power in Germany was a threat to all of them. In 1936 Johannes became a Jehovah's Witness. His mother was also a Witness and by 1938, one brother and one sister became Witnesses as well. Even in the Netherlands his family faced adversity. In 1937 the police protected them from Catholic priests who preached hatred against them during our Bible meetings in Tilburg.

    1940-44: The Germans occupied the Netherlands in May 1940. He was arrested by the Dutch police on June 15, 1941. After being detained for several months, he was deported with 50 other Witnesses to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Required to do heavy labor, the Witnesses were the only prisoners trusted by the Germans because they never tried to escape. Each morning one of them read aloud a Bible passage, which they'd discuss while working during the day. Sometimes, he'd secretly read from his own Bible that he'd managed to smuggle in.

    While being force-marched from Sachsenhausen, Johannes was liberated by U.S. troops near Schwerin, Germany, on May 5, 1945. He then returned to Amsterdam.

    Johannes M. Lublink
  • Walther Hamann

    ID Card

    Walther was born in the state of Thuringia in east central Germany. Though his parents were Lutheran, Walther became a Jehovah's Witness in 1923. After becoming a master baker and confectioner in 1924, Walther worked in various coffeehouses in Plauen, Magdeburg and Duesseldorf. In 1928 he graduated from a professional school. He married and had two sons.

    1933-39: In 1933 Walther became a pastry-making manager at the Cafe Weitz on Duesseldorf's Koenigsallee. The Gestapo arrested him at the cafe in 1937 because he was an active member of a banned organization, the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Special Court in Duesseldorf gave him a 27-month sentence because of his preaching. Imprisoned in Duesseldorf and Wuppertal-Elberfeld, he was then moved to penal camps in Walchum and Neusustrum in northwest Germany.

    1940-44: When Walther completed his prison term in February 1940, he was given another chance to repudiate his faith. He refused, was beaten and then sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp where he was kicked and beaten upon arrival--he saved himself by hiding in a latrine. A month later, Walther's brother-in-law Dietrich, who had been there four years, died at his side. With Jehovah's help Walther endured hard labor and repeated beatings; when he could, he smuggled food out of the SS kitchen and scraps from garbage cans.

    During a forced march towards the Baltic Sea, Walther was liberated on May 3, 1945, after his SS guards fled. He remained in Germany after the war.

    Walther Hamann

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