Chu, Jolene: God's things and Caesar's: Jehovah's Witnesses and political neutrality. Journal of Genocide Research (2004), 6 (3), September, pp. 319-42.


[page 331]

"[…] Active in Germany since the mid-1890’s, Jehovah’s Witnesses there numbered about 25,000 in 1933. They enjoyed considerable constitutional freedom and growth under the Weimar administration, maintaining a printery in Magdeburg that produced millions of religious pamphlets. Despite, or because of, the popularity of Witness literature with local residents, the Witnesses experienced continuing tension with Catholic and Lutheran clergy. Making use of peddling regulations and Sabbath (Sunday) laws, especially in Bavaria, local clergymen succeeded in bringing thousands of cases to court, the majority of which ended in acquittal for the Witnesses.[61]

The Witnesses also became targets of Nazi harassment. In some regions, Storm Troopers (SA) broke up their meetings. Antisemitic writers charged the group with having ties to conspiratorial Bolshevik and Jewish groups and accused them of operating with American, Jewish, or Masonic money.[62] In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, the Witnesses tended to dismiss such occasional harassment and unfounded assertions as part of the clergy-induced opposition that had come to be part and parcel of their religious life.

In the early days of Adolf Hitler’s chancellorship, the Witnesses, like every social group and institution, struggled to understand the rapidly changing scene of German politics and society. An escalation of attacks on the Witnesses convinced leading members in the Magdeburg office that the opportunistic clergy had gone to the new administration and sown false allegations about the Witnesses. On April 24, 1933, the SA seized the Magdeburg printery and [page 332] confiscated 2.5 million Marks’ worth of property. Since the American corporation of the Watch Tower Society owned the Magdeburg property, it took pressure from the American consulate to win in the release of the Magdeburg property.[63] Simultaneously, German states began imposing bans on the Witnesses and mob violence against them increased.[64]

Charges of Bolshevist-Jewish conspiracies that had once seemed so ludicrous to the Witnesses suddenly became a matter of genuine concern, since these accusations were now being used as a pretext to impose official restrictions. Approving remarks from German clergy only served to confirm the Witnesses’ suspicions. Hitler had carefully cultivated his image as a champion of freedom of worship and of something he called ‘positive Christianity.’[65] So the Witnesses could conceive of no reason why the new government would want to shut them down. After all, the Witnesses hoped that a candid explanation of their intentions and activities would help the government see that they posed no threat. They distributed thousands of copies of an explanatory public statement, which read in part: ‘We are wrongfully charged before the ruling powers of this government and before the people of this nation; . . .we do respectfully ask the rulers of the nation and the people to give a fair and impartial consideration to the statement of facts here made.’[66]

To refuse accusations of co-conspiracy with Jewish political movements, the resolution declared:

It is falsely charged by our enemies that we have received financial support for our work from the Jews. Nothing is farther from the truth. Up to this hour there never has been the slightest bit of money contributed to our work by Jews. We are the faithful followers of Christ Jesus and believe upon Him as the Savior of the world, whereas the Jews entirely reject Jesus Christ and emphatically deny that he is the Savior of the world sent of God for man’s good.[67]

It stated regarding the intentions of Witnesses: ‘Our organization is not political in any sense. We only insist on teaching the Word of Jehovah God to the people, and that without hindrance.’[68]

Later analysis of the text has led some to criticize the Witnesses for unequivocally distancing themselves from the Jews as a move of political expediency. Clearly, the resolution aimed at stemming the tide of persecution against the Witnesses, not the Jews. Moreover, the resolution did not clearly denounce as contrived the notion of ‘the Jewish conspiracy,’ but merely stated that the Witnesses received no financial backing from Jews.[69] Nevertheless it is clear from the context of the declaration that references to the Jews in the resolution had to do with religious disagreements and were aimed at clarifying the Witnesses’ position of neutrality, and it thus fell far afield from the main issue of the Jewish Question. Beginning in the late 1930’s, when the physical assault on the Jewish population began in earnest and the deadly outworking of the Nazis’ peculiar racial notions became clearer, the Witnesses frequently and firmly registered their objections in their publications to the persecution and murder of Jews.[70]

[page 333]

An analysis of Gregory Stanton’s ‘Eight Stages of Genocide’[71] in light of Witness precepts shows why the Witnesses summarily rejected every phase of the Nazi genocidal program: Even before 1933 the Witnesses had condemned the traditional Catholic classification and symbolization of Jews as being perpetually cursed. Their acceptance of biblical tenets about the equality of all humans nullified Nazi propaganda aimed at dehumanization of Jews. Having resisted incorporation into the Volksgemeinschaft, the Witnesses kept separate from the organization, polarization, and preparation of the population for the impending genocide. Rather, individual Witnesses were known to hide and assist Jews and others fugitives trying to escape Nazi terror.[72] The nonnegotiable ethic of nonviolence moved Witnesses to refuse to participate in the extermination, even on pain of death. Finally, as an antidote for denial, Witnesses were eyewitnesses of Nazi genocide and serve to corroborate the record of history. […]"


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