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Jehovah's Witnesses and the Third Reich

Jehovah's Witnesses and the Third Reich: Sectarian Politics under Persecution

M. James Penton
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 420
  • Book Info
    Jehovah's Witnesses and the Third Reich
    Book Description:

    Drawing on his own Witness background and years of research on Witness history, Penton separates fact from fiction during this dark period.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7640-4
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    Carl Thornton

    James Penton and I have a number of things in common. We were both raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses. We both obtained PhDs, although our religion strongly discouraged education beyond high school. It considered advanced education bad for one’s spiritual health. Despite that fact, Dr Penton’s family had such a long tradition of respect for education that he was able to obtain a BA at the University of Arizona and an MA and PhD in history, with a minor in religious studies, at the University of Iowa. In my case, I was the son of a blue-collar worker and the first...

  5. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. A Note on Titles, Sources, and Terminology
    (pp. xxi-2)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 3-5)

    What follows is in part a case study of the history of Jehovah’s Witnesses at a time when they were under intense Nazi persecution. As such, it focuses on their relations with the Hitler regime. However, unlike most historians of the Witnesses under Nazi rule, I include a much more general analysis of their movement and history in other parts of the world, especially the United States. It is impossible to understand what took place in Nazi Germany, and how those events are viewed today, without that broader perspective. Thus, chapters 4 and 7 in particular deal with Witness history...

  8. 1 The Watch Tower Society’s Attempted Compromise with Hitler
    (pp. 6-28)

    Jehovah’s Witnesses loudly proclaim that among all the Christian movements in Germany during the dark days of the Third Reich, only their German brethren stood solidly against Nazism. Because of the courageous stands taken by thousands of ordinary German Witnesses, many non-Witnesses have showered praise on them.

    As pointed out earlier, many former concentration-camp prisoners, including Eugen Kogon, Bruno Bettelheim, and Geneviève de Gaulle (Charles de Gaulle’s niece), have noted their outstanding courage. So too have many historians, such as Friedrich Zipfel, Michael H. Kater, John S. Conway, Christine Elizabeth King, and Detlef Garbe.¹ But the bravery shown by those...

  9. 2 Watch Tower Holocaust Propaganda and Responses to Charges of Compromise and Anti-Semitism
    (pp. 29-62)

    Since the Second World War the Watch Tower Society has never wavered in its assertion that Jehovah’s Witnesses opposed Nazism consistently. In an attempt to prove this point the Society has taken four different tacks. First, it often has referred to the many anti-Nazi articles that appeared in its literature from at least 1934 to the end of the war and beyond. Second, it has often recounted the faithfulness of Jehovah’s Witnesses under terrible persecution in Germany and throughout the Nazis’ wartime empire. Third, it has argued that Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Nazi concentration camps were notably supportive of Jewish...

  10. 3 Evaluating the Arguments and the Evidence
    (pp. 63-99)

    What the information just surveyed indicates is that the Watch Tower Society wants to blunt any and all criticisms respecting the 1933 Berlin-Wilmersdorf convention. In particular, it is anxious to deny that Jehovah’s Witnesses were in any way anti-Semitic and that they made any attempt to ingratiate themselves with the Nazi government of Adolf Hitler. The Society has attempted to cloud the issue by emphasizing the later martyrdom of many Witnesses and by arguing that from the beginning they stood four-square and united in their stand against Hitler. In these claims they have been more than happy to use the...

  11. 4 Rutherford’s New Nation – ‘The Theocracy’ in America
    (pp. 100-135)

    To get a full understanding of the Bible Student-Jehovah’s Witnesses’ relationship to Nazi Germany, it is necessary to look at their history in the United States.

    Originally known simply as Bible Students, they were a direct outgrowth of the Millerite and Adventist movements of the early nineteenth century. As such, they continued in the tradition of setting specific dates for Christ’sparousiaor ‘presence,’¹ the rapture of the saints, and the establishment of Christ’s millennial reign over the earth. Originally, C.T. Russell adopted a schema which held that Christ Jesus had come invisibly to the earth in 1874, that he...

  12. 5 German Bible Student–Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1902–1933
    (pp. 136-159)

    The history of the Bible Student-Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany before 1933 tended to parallel that of their brethren in the United States. According to an official Watch Tower account, C.T. Russell spent more on the Society’s mission to that country than he did on any other, but with poor results.¹ Germany was prosperous before the First World War, and its social welfare programs were superior to those of almost all other nations. So ordinary Germans were not greatly interested in the millenarian message of the Bible Students. Russell’s 1911 lecture ‘Zionism and Prophecy’ did not set especially well with some...

  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  14. 6 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Crucible of Nazi Persecution
    (pp. 160-207)

    Because of his concerns about Martin Harbeck’s role, Paul Balzereit asked Rutherford if he could return to Germany. Rutherford’s harsh reply: ‘Return to Magdeburg and stay there and take charge of matters and do what you can but notify Brother Harbeck about everything ... In fact it should not be necessary for you to ask permission to return to Germany, since as far as I am concerned, and this you know, you could have stayed there right from the beginning. You tried to make me believe, however, that your personal safety was dependent on your taking refuge outside the country.’¹...

  15. 7 Riding the Holocaust Bandwagon
    (pp. 208-235)

    Why has the Watch Tower Society made so much of the role of Jehovah’s Witnesses under the Third Reich in recent years, when it did not do so to the same extent during the decades immediately following the Second World War? Why have certain scholars been so prepared to defend Watch Tower officials against charges of anti-Semitism and of having tried to ingratiate the Witness movement with the Nazis? The answers are somewhat complex and deserve to be placed in the context of broader historical, political, and sociological developments that have occurred over the last sixty years. Some of these...

  16. Conclusion
    (pp. 236-240)

    There can be no doubt that despite the understandable weakness of some, most German Jehovah’s Witnesses stood firm against Nazism during the years 1933 to 1945. That they suffered terribly and with great bravery is beyond question. However, while boasting about their faithfulness and making much of their martyrdom, neither the Watch Tower Society nor Witness apologists provide a complete picture of why they were persecuted or how they behaved under persecution. Jehovah’s Witnesses make much of their victimhood under the Third Reich, yet they conveniently ignore a number of facts.

    The Witnesses fail to recognize that they themselves were...

  17. APPENDIX A: Background Chronology
    (pp. 241-250)
  18. APPENDIX B: A Watch Tower Society 1929 Anti-Nazi Statement
    (pp. 251-255)
  19. APPENDIX C: Documents Relating to the Watch Tower Society’s Attempt to Compromise with Nazism
    (pp. 256-296)
  20. APPENDIX D: U.S. State Department Documents Relating to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany in 1933
    (pp. 297-311)
  21. APPENDIX E: Documents Relating to the Watch Tower’s Attacks on Nazism
    (pp. 312-323)
  22. APPENDIX F: German Watch Tower Attempts to Escape Nazi Persecution
    (pp. 324-334)
  23. APPENDIX G: Nazi Documents Relating to the Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses
    (pp. 335-362)
  24. APPENDIX H: Character Descriptions of J.F. Rutherford
    (pp. 363-373)
  25. APPENDIX I: An Analysis of the Numbers of Jehovah’s Witnesses Imprisoned and Killed in Nazi Germany
    (pp. 374-382)
    (pp. 383-394)
  27. INDEX
    (pp. 395-412)