Johannes Wrobel: Reaction to Singelenberg, in: Religion - Staat - Gesellschaft (RSG). Journal for the Study of Beliefs and Worldviews, published by Gerhard Besier / Hubert Seiwert, Duncker & Humblot Berlin, vol. 4, no. 1 (2003), pp. 157-159 (English abstract of arcticle; German-language article (with English quotes):

Reaction to Singelenberg

Drs. Singelenberg questions the intent and content of my article (in German), but my paper is much more than a response to his book review on a single publication. My comments enumerate specific points of historical accuracy (see below) missing in many writings about Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) as one of the NS-Opfergruppen, one of the distinct victim and target groups of the National Socialists. In the Hesse volume, over 20 writers offer abundant information on the largely unknown historiography of the group. Hence, Michael Berenbaum exclaims in its preface: "We must be grateful for this book, deeply grateful." Singelenberg’s review, however, focuses on a few singular items in the book and seems preoccupied in particular with the purported "antisemitism" and the familiar 1933 Berlin-Wilmersdorf "Declaration of Facts", written by the American JW Rutherford. Both issues, which can be traced back to propaganda by the antagonistic East German State Security of the Cold-War era and are based on distortions of JW sources, occupy 50 percent of Singelenberg’s book review.

According to Singelenberg, the Hesse volume lacks a pointed discussion on the question of how JWs regarded Jews and Judaism, although this writer touches the subject under the subheadings "Antisemitc Tendencies?" and "Use of the Words ‘Commercial Jews’ and ‘Business Jews’" (316-318). Contrary to Singelenberg’s assertions about the popularity of the topic, historians and theologians have not yet delved in much detail into the Jewish-JW relationship. The so-called "debates" can mainly be found in the pages of polemical essays by political and religious antagonists and disgruntled former members. After airing the vehement charges of polemicists, Singelenberg finally admits that the blunt accusation of antisemitism "is out of all proportion".

The historical facts point to the conclusion that JW, who believe in the equality of all "races" and who exhibited "love of neighbor" by extending help to Jews and others, are by no means "antisemites", not even "antijudaists", and certainly not supporters of National Socialism. Hence, I regret to see Singelenberg single out religious JW texts from before 1933 and after 1945, quoting them out of context, as do the polemicists. The context of the quote from Babylon the Great has Fallen (1963), "persecution, worse than that of the Jews", refers to 1933 and the pre-Shoa period. It is highly probable that the phrase is based on a Jewish eye-witness publication that this writer found in the files of the Writing Department of the Watch Tower Society in Brooklyn, N.Y., while working on the Stand Firm video documentary in 1996.

Admittedly, in times past some historians uncritically repeated accusations regarding the 1933 Berlin convention of JW, but presently most scholars consider the charges of JW "antisemitism" and "collaboration" as outdated. Additionally, the account contained in the 1974 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses, with its unjustifiably critical view of the 1933 Berlin "Declaration" and of Balzereit (at this point in time), has been revised as a result of newer research and JW sources. The goal of my German article, hence, is to encourage the exercise of greater historical precision:

– JW were persecuted, imprisoned, or murdered by Nazis and their collaborators from 1933 onward. They are Opfer des Nationalsozialismus, victims of National Socialism, not "Holocaust victims", if the term Holocaust is explicitly applied to the factory-like mass murder of European Jews that began in 1941/1942.

– The term "Nazi regime" should be used more precisely in connection with JW in the first half of 1933 when the states in Germany imposed local bans on their religious activities, and when JW from all over Germany gathered in Berlin-Wilmersdorf on June 25, 1933, to inform the Hitler cabinet and the still existing German state governments about their harmless religious, nonpolitical position and their determination to render primary obedience to God and Bible commands.

– It is crucial to sort out the various American (WBTS), British (IBSA), and German (WTG and IBV) legal JW corporations in Germany in order to grasp the legal impact and the timetable of governmental actions against JW between 1933 and 1935.

– Greater historical precision should be exercised when it comes to the dates that JW were sent to camps, namely to the early Nazi camps (1933-1935) and to the later main concentration camps and death camps (1936-1945).

– Contemporary non-JW sources (e.g. Buber-Neumann) should be more carefully interpreted, taking into account the writer’s ideology. JW oral-history reports should likewise be evaluated with greater insight into JW patterns of behavior and theology.

Finally, the historical overview of books published in English (and German) seeks to promote further systematic study and the publication of more factual material on the subject. We need such urgently! Detlef Garbe, Christoph Daxelmüller, and many other important analysts offer varying interpretations of the beliefs and responses of JW, but they find the study in human behavior among JW both enlightening and enriching. One can only hope that academic sources will continue to add to the work of education and remembrance in connection with the NS-Opfergruppe of JW, a religious minority group which had the strength to stand firm against totalitarian dictatorships.

>>> return to publication list - Jehovah's Witnesses in National Socialist concentration camps, 1933 - 45, RSS, no. 34, 2/2006, special RSS issue "Jehovah's Witnesses under two dictatorships" <<<