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Jehovah's Witnesses

  • Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany: From the 1890s to the 1930s
  • Nazi Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses
  • "Enemies of the State"
  • A group of Jehovah's Witnesses after their liberation

    Photo

    A group of Jehovah's Witnesses in their camp uniforms after liberation. These men were imprisoned in the Niederhagen bei Wewelsburg concentration camp. Niederhagen bei Wewelsbug, Germany, 1945.

    A group of Jehovah's Witnesses after their liberation
  • Berthold Mewes

    ID Card

    Berthold was an only child. He was raised in Paderborn, a town in a largely Catholic region of western Germany. Paderborn was near Bad Lippspringe, where there was a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation engaged in missionary work. Beginning in 1933, the Nazis moved to outlaw Jehovah's Witness activities.

    1933-39: When Berthold was 4, his parents became Jehovah's Witnesses and he began to attend secret Bible meetings with them. Berthold began public school in 1936. His mother was arrested in 1939 and sent to the Ravensbrueck concentration camp. When he was 9, his father sent him to live with his uncle in Berlin; however, three months later his father was forced to deliver him to the authorities. Afterwards, his father was imprisoned for refusing to serve in the military.

    1940-44: The Germans sent Berthold to live with a childless couple who had a small farm. In the morning he would attend school and afterwards he would do farm work. Berthold could write one letter every six months to either his mother or father. But in 1943 he was forbidden to write any more letters to his parents. He could only hope and pray that they were still alive. Although he had no contact with other Jehovah's Witnesses, his faith in Jehovah and the teachings of the Bible helped him overcome his loneliness and uncertainty.

    Berthold was reunited with his parents in 1945 when he was 15, and together the family resumed their lives as Jehovah's Witnesses. Berthold later moved to the United States.

    Berthold Mewes
  • The Kusserow family

    Photo

    The Kusserow family was active in their region distributing religious literature and teaching Bible study classes in their home. They were Jehovah's Witnesses. Their house was conveniently situated for fellow Jehovah's 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, ca. 1935.

    The Kusserow family
  • Classification System in Nazi Concentration Camps
  • 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
  • Emma Arnold

    ID Card

    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.

    Emma Arnold
  • Ruth Warter

    ID Card

    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.

    Ruth Warter
  • Helene Gotthold

    ID Card

    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.

    Helene Gotthold
  • Johann Stossier

    ID Card

    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.

    Johann Stossier
  • Karl-Heinz Kusserow

    ID Card

    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.

    Karl-Heinz Kusserow

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