On Oct. 5, the United States Holocaust Museum has set aside a day to honor the Jehovah’s Witnesses under Nazi Germany. This is in stark contrast to the recent buzz on the web accusing Jehovah’s Witnesses of being a cult or even a murderous cult. On the contrary, Jehovah’s Witnesses showed great courage during the Nazi’s reign in Germany, standing up not only for themselves but for other groups as well. I am not a Jehovah’s Witness; I am a Jew.
According to historian Brian Dunn, Jehovah’s Witnesses were persecuted by the Nazis for three main reasons. 1. They were an international organization, 2. They opposed racism and 3. They maintained a position of neutrality to the state. The Jehovah’s witnesses refused to give the Nazi salute; they refused to join party organizations, they refused to let their children join the Hitler Youth; they refused to participate in sham elections; they refused to have Nazi flags in their homes.
Within months of the Nazi takeover, regional governments began attacks against the Jehovah’s Witnesses by breaking up meetings and beating people up and by ransacking offices and then taking them over. The Gestapo compiled a list of all people they believed to be Jehovah’s Witnesses and infiltrated Bible Study meetings. The Nazis tried to prevent the distribution of printed materials, both locally produced and that smuggled in from Switzerland because they believed these materials to be subversive. In March of 1935 the Nazis instituted a military draft and Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to join the military or do military related work.
On April 1, 1935, the Nazis outlawed the Jehovah’s Witnesses but the latter continued to meet illegally. The Nazis began to arrest them and put them in prisons or concentration camps. The children of Jehovah’s witnesses were beaten up by classmates and ultimately barred from school. They were then taken from their parents and placed in reform school, orphanages, and private homes to be raised as Nazis.
In 1936 there was an International Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They issued a resolution condemning Nazi Germany. The resolution strongly denounced the persecution of German Jews. It also condemned “savagery” toward Communists, the remilitarization of Germany, the Nazification of schools, and attacks on mainstream churches.
By 1939 6,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses had been in Nazi prisons or concentration camps. Some were tortured to try to make them recant their faith but few did. They wore purple triangles. Even in concentration camps they continued to meet and in Buchenwald they even managed to set up a secret printing press and published religious tracts.
By the end of the war about 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses from Germany and other countries had been in Nazi concentration camps and an estimated 2,500 to 5,000 died in the camps. Unlike Jews or Gypsies, who had no way out, the Jehovah’s Witnesses could have escaped the concentration camps by recanting their religion but few did.Ã?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½