The Nazis also began to suppress several Christian minorities whom they felt were subversive to their goals. Even before the war, Jehovah's Witnesses had been considered heretics by other Christian denominations and individual German states sought to limit their activities. In the early 1930's, Nazi storm troopers broke up their meetings and beat up individual Witnesses. After the Nazis came to power, the persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses intensified.
On July 27, 1933, the Gestapo--the Nazi street police--closed the printing operation of the Watchtower Society, an organization of the Witnesses. The Gestapo ordered all state-police precincts to search regional Witness groups and organizations. The Witnesses, however, defied Nazi prohibitions by continuing to meet and distribute literature smuggled in from Switzerland.
For defying the ban on their activities, many Witnesses were arrested and sent to prisons and concentration camps. They lost their jobs in both private industry and public service and were denied their unemployment, social welfare, and pension benefits.
On April 1, 1935, Jehovah's Witnesses were banned by law. However, they refused to be drafted into the military services or perform war-related work and continued to meet. In 1935, some 400 Witnesses were imprisoned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. By 1939, an estimated 6,000 Witnesses were detained in prisons and camps. Some were tortured by police to force them to renounce their faith. Few did so.
The children of Witnesses also suffered. They were ridiculed by their teachers because they refused to give the "Heil Hitler" salute or sing patriotic songs. They were beaten up by their classmates and expelled from schools. The authorities took children away from their parents and sent them to reform schools and orphanages, or to private homes to be brought up as Nazis.
In the concentration camps, Jehovah's Witnesses were required to wear a purple triangle to distinguish them from other inmates. Many of them died from disease, hunger, exhaustion, brutal treatment, and exposure to the cold. About 10,000 Witnesses were imprisoned in concentration camps during the Nazi period. An estimated 2,500 to 5,000 died.
Source: Dr. William L. Shulman, A State of Terror: Germany 1933-1939. Bayside, New York: Holocaust Resource Center and Archives.
Jehovah's Witnesses: Victims of the Nazi Era is a booklet published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Read the story of Simone Liebster, a Jehovah's Witness who at the age of twelve was sent to a penitentiary school for Nazi reeducation.
Timeline of the Jehovah's Witnesses during the Nazi Era.
This is an excerpt from a book by Ina Friedman called, The Other Victims: First Person Stories of Non-Jews Persecuted by the Nazis.
Franz Wohlfahrt tells of being sentenced to five years hard labor for refusing to take an oath for religious reasons.
This page from the official Jehovah's Witnesses Web site describes the history of the Jehovah's Witnesses during the Third Reich.
Berthold Mewes was taken from his Jehovah's Witness parents when he was nine years old and did not see them again until he was 15.
Friedman, Ina R. The Other Victims: First-Person Stories of Non-Jews Persecuted by the Nazis (Boston, 1990), pp. 47-59.
King, Christine E. "Jehovah's Witnesses under Nazism," in Michael Berenbaum. ed., A Mosaic of Victims: Non-Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis (New York, 1990), 188-193.
King, Christine E. The Nazi State and the New Religions: Five Case Studies in Non-Conformity (New York, 1982).
Liebster, Simone Arnold. Facing the Lion: Memoirs of a Young Girl in Nazi Europe (New Orleans: Grammaton Press, 2000).
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York. Jehovah's Witnesses: Proclaimers of God's Kingdom (Pennsylvania, 1993).
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York. 1974 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses (Pennsylvania, 1973).
On Video with Study Guide: Jehovah's Witnesses Stand Firm Against Nazi Assault (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1997)
On Video: Purple Triangles, the story of the Kusserow family. A Starlock Pictures Production for TVS, 1991. English version distribution by Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, NY 11201
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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
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