Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Purple Triangle

As I have mentioned before, I am one of Jehovah's Witnesses.  I'm sure you've all heard the jokes, and it's okay...some of them are funny!  It's amazing the crazy stuff that gets said about us sometimes!   We're a Christian religion, most famous for our preaching work.   But one little known fact about us is that Jehovah's Witnesses were also persecuted during the Nazi regime in Germany.  While the vast majority of those in concentration camps were Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, Poles, Roma (gypsies), homosexuals, and others were also persecuted.   Here's a little history for you.  It's a little long, but I think you'll find it interesting if you're a history buff.  This is taken from a brochure printed by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: 

Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany:

Jehovah's Witnesses endured intense persecution under the Nazi regime. Actions against the religious group and its individual members spanned the Nazi years 1933 to 1945. Unlike Jews and Sinti and Roma ("Gypsies"), persecuted and killed by virtue of their birth, Jehovah's Witnesses had the opportunity to escape persecution and personal harm by renouncing their religious beliefs. (View the document here.) The courage the vast majority displayed in refusing to do so, in the face of torture, maltreatment in concentration camps, and sometimes execution, won them the respect of many contemporaries.

Jehovah's Witnesses, in Germany as in the United States, had refused to fight in World War I. This stance contributed to hostility against them in a Germany still wounded by defeat in that war and fervently nationalistic, . attempting to reclaim its previous world stature. In Nazi Germany, Jehovah's Witnesses refused to raise their arms in the "Heil, Hitler!" salute; they did not vote in elections; they would not join the army or the German Labor Front '(a Nazi affiliate).

Jehovah's Witnesses were denounced for their international and American ties, the apparent revolutionary tone of their beliefs, and their supposed connections to Judaism, including a reliance on parts of the Bible embodying Jewish scripture (the Christian "Old Testament"). Many of these charges were brought against more than 40 other banned religious groups, but none of these were persecuted to the same degree. The crucial difference was, the intensity Witnesses demonstrated in refusing to give ultimate loyalty or obedience to the state.

In 1936 a special unit of the Gestapo (Secret State Police) began compiling a registry of all persons believed to be Jehovah's Witnesses, and agents infiltrated Bible study meetings. By 1939, an estimated 6,000 Witnesses (including those from incorporated Austria and Czechoslovakia) were detained in prisons or camps. Some Witnesses were tortured by police in attempts to make them sign a declaration / renouncing their faith, but few capitulated.

After 1939 most active Jehovah's Witnesses were incarcerated in prisons or concentration camps. Some had fled Germany. In the camps, all prisoners wore markings of various shapes and colors so that guards and camp officers could identify them by category. Witnesses were marked by purple triangular patches. Even in the camps, they continued to meet, pray, and make converts. In Buchenwald concentration camp, they set up an underground printing press and distributed religious tracts.

Conditions in Nazi camps were generally harsh for all inmates, many of whom died from hunger, disease, exhaustion, exposure to the cold, and brutal treatment. But, as psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim and others have noted, Witnesses were uniquely sustained in the camps by the support they gave each other and by their belief that their suffering was part of their work for God. Individual Witnesses astounded their guards with their refusal to conform to military-type routines like roll call or to roll bandages for soldiers at the front. At the same time, Witnesses were considered unusually trustworthy because they refused to escape from camps or physically resist their guards. For this reason, Witnesses were often used as domestic servants by Nazi camp officers and guards.

According to Rudolf Höss, Commandant of Auschwitz, SS Chief Heinrich Himmler often used the "fanatical faith" of Jehovah's Witnesses as an example to his own SS troops. In his view, SS men had to have the same "unshakable faith" in the National Socialist ideal and in Adolf Hitler that the Witnesses had in Jehovah. Only when all SS men believed as fanatically in their own philosophy would Adolf Hitler's state be permanently secure.

In the Nazi years, about 10,000 Witnesses were imprisoned in concentration camps, most of them of German nationality. After 1939, small numbers of Witnesses from Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland (some of them refugees from Germany) were arrested and deported to Dachau, Bergqn-Belsen, Buchenwald, Sachsen-hausen, Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, Mauthausen, and other concentration camps. An estimated 2,500 to 5,000 Witnesses died in the camps or prisons. More than 200 men were tried by the German War Court and executed for refusing military service.

During the liberation of the camps, Jehovah's Witnesses continued their work, moving among the survivors, making converts.

Else Woieziek.   Executed in 1944 for in Dusseldorf, Germany 
for being one of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Heinrich Heine.  
Spent years in a concentration camp in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Helene Gotthold with her children Gerd and Gisela.
She was beheaded on December 8, 1944 in Berlin
for teaching others about the Bible.

French Witness Marcel Sutter, age 23, beheaded in Halle/Saale , wrote in November 1943 at Torgau prison:
My dearly beloved parents and sisters,
When you receive this letter, I will no longer be alive. Only a few hours separate me from my death. I ask you to be strong and courageous; do not cry, for I have conquered. I have finished the course and kept the faith. May Jehovah God help me until the end. Only a short period of time separates us from the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. Soon we will see each other again in a better world of peace and righteousness. I rejoice at the thought of that day, since then there will be no more sighing. How marvelous that will be! I am yearning for peace. During these last few hours I have been thinking of you and my heart is a little bitter at the thought of not being able to kiss you good-bye. But we must be patient. The time is near when Jehovah will vindicate his Name and prove to all creation that he is the only true God. I now wish to dedicate my last few hours to him, so I will close this letter and say good-bye until we meet again soon. Praise be to our God Jehovah! With my warm love and greetings,
Your beloved son and brother,

 I know it's a somber post, but I'm so proud of all of my spiritual brothers and sisters who endured, and stood firm in their faith, under Nazi persecution.   Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, Poles, Roma, Homosexuals, and others, all faced horrific treatment at the hand of the Nazis.   For all of those who had to endure it, what a wonderful example of human strength and integrity for us all to learn from!


  1. Wow. Such a different post than you usually write. Thank you for teaching me. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I respect you and your faith. This post was very interesting indeed.

  3. Perhaps you'd like to read Facing the Lion, it contains a real inspiring faith strengthening account of a little girl of just 12 years old endurance to remain faithful to her God. It's trully encouraging during these critical times and gives you alot to reflect on and whether as a Witness, we would be able to make the same stance. Jenny x

  4. My mom raised me as a jehovah's witness. She passed away a year ago after a three year cancer struggle. While I have not found it in myself to have the faith she had in her religion, every day I am inspired by the bravery she showed in the face of death and the well of strength her faith provided for her.
    I can not find that faith inside myself to believe something I can not prove true. But in my 10 years involved with the religion I have come away being able to say Jehovah's Witnesses are the most uniformly kind, moral and driven religious group I have ever encountered. I have done some delving myself into their place in Nazi Germany and the witnesses strength during that time is enough to make one wonder.
    Oh and yes, the jokes are endless. Make fun all you want but there is no other documented religious group that took such an active moral stand against the evil of Nazism. I honestly believe without a doubt my mother would have been right there with them. And that is powerful enough that I struggle to understand why I can't seem to believe in any religious organization the way she did.

  5. amen... sadly prophecy says there is more to come