Johannes Wrobel: "Die Verfolgung der Zeugen Jehovas im Nationalsozialismus – Rezeption, Renzension, Interpretation", in: Religion - Staat - Gesellschaft. Journal for the Study of Beliefs and Worldviews, published by Gerhard Besier / Hubert Seiwert, Duncker & Humblot Berlin, vol. 4, no. 1 (2003) (ISSN 1438-955X).

Inhalt (Contents of article)


From the beginning of the Hitler era in 1933, Jehovah’s Witnesses (International Bible Students Association, hereafter JW) were banned and experienced an ever-escalating program of Nazi persecution through State and societal mechanisms, including concentration camp imprisonment. Why target such a minority? Because JW refused to cease their religious activity, stayed politically neutral, rejected National Socialism and its ideology, and because they were a living example of the equality-of-races doctrine. Within the concentration camp system the Bible Students constituted a separate prisoner category, which the SS stigmatized by a "purple triangle". Those prisoners could have bought their freedom with a signature, but evidently very few would sign a renunciation of their faith. The book Persecution and Resistance of Jehovah’s Witnesses During the Nazi-Regime 1933-1945 (Hans Hesse [ed.]) furnishes much relevant detail about the subject. This article takes a closer look at Richard Singelenberg’s review of the Hesse anthology, focusing on issues he raises in particular, e.g. the position of JW toward the Jews. Only in recent decades has the notion been promoted – mostly by the former East German State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, MfS, "Stasi") and religious polemicists focusing on a June 25, 1933, document known as the Berlin-Wilmersdorf assembly resolution – that older Watchtower publications supposedly contain "anti-Semitic" and "anti-Jewish" statements. Two articles in the Hesse book, written by Gabriele Yonan and Johannes S. Wrobel, refute that criticism.

When isolated comments about Jews are taken from JW publications, the result is an interpretation that distorts the intent of the excerpt or ignores its context. Eyewitness reports testify to the consideration JW showed toward Jews in distress and to their readiness to help them. Gestapo and Nazi courts, however, accused JW of non-conformity in the Rassenfrage ("race issue"). The benevolent behavior of JW toward the Jews during 1933 to 1945 is not overshadowed by supposedly "anti-Jewish" remarks in their religious writings after 1932 – such statements must be contextualized by a careful examination of JW publications, especially German editions, whereby historical conditions and biblical intention are taken into account. The JW’ biblically based conviction of the equality of all "races" before God protected these peaceable citizens from supporting any anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism. The application of definitions from the anti-Semitic discourse of modernism can only lead to an anachronistic misinterpretation of the significance of the quotations in question. Since the historical facts speak for the integrity of the persecuted JW, governmental, academic, and other non-religious institutions meet their stand during the Nazi era with respect and recognition.

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