75 years ago, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany distributed an “Open Letter” (Offener Brief) detailing the atrocities committed by Hitler’s regime throughout the German Reich.
On December 12, 1936, just a few months after the Gestapo had arrested thousands of Jehovah's Witnesses and other interested persons in a nationwide effort to stop their work, the Witnesses themselves conducted a campaign. With lightning speed they put tens of thousands of copies of a printed resolution in mailboxes and under the doors of people throughout Germany. These protested the cruel treatment being meted out to their Christian brothers and sisters. Within an hour the police were racing around trying to catch the distributors, but they laid their hands on only about a dozen in the entire country.
Following the distribution of this letter, Nazi officials denied the charges but in response to the denial on June 20, 1937, seventy-five years ago the Witnesses who were still free distributed another message, an open letter that was unsparing in its detail about the persecution, a document that named officials and cited dates and places.
According to a press release from Jehovah's Witnesses, "In just 15 minutes, from 12:00 p.m. to 12:15 p.m., the Witnesses blanketed Germany with tens of thousands of copies of a printed leaflet, which cited specific dates and places where arrests, torture, and murder of the Witnesses were becoming routine. The Gestapo were appalled by this exposure and the ability of the Witnesses to carry it off."
Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses only intensified due to their adherence to Bible principles and their refusal to heil Hitler.
It was not the first letter read by the Nazi government from the Christian congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum a letter, dated October 7, 1934, was sent to the German government by every congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany. It reads,
To the officials of the Government:
The Word of Jehovah God, as set out in the Holy Bible, is the supreme law, and to us it is our sole guide for the reason that we have devoted ourselves to God and are true and sincere followers of Christ Jesus.
During the past year, and contrary to God's law and in violation of our rights, you have forbidden us as Jehovah's witnesses to meet together to study God's Word and worship and serve him. In his Word he commands us that we shall not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. (Hebrews 10:25) To us Jehovah commands: "Ye are my witnesses that I am God. Go and tell the people my message." (Isaiah 43:10,12; Isaiah 6:9; Matthew 24:14) There is direct conflict between your law and God's law, and, following the lead of the faithful apostles, "we ought to obey God rather than men," and this we will do. (Acts 5:29) Therefore this is to advise you that at any cost we will obey God's commandments, will meet together for the study of his Word, and will worship and serve him as he has commanded. If your government or officers do violence to us because we are obeying God, then our blood will be upon you and you will answer to Almighty God.
We have no interest in political affairs, but are wholly devoted to God's kingdom under Christ his King. We will do no injury or harm to anyone. We would delight to dwell in peace and do good to all men as we have opportunity, but, since your government and its officers continue in your attempt to force us to disobey the highest law of the universe, we are compelled to now give you notice that we will, by his grace, obey Jehovah God and fully trust Him to deliver us from all oppression and oppressors.According to Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, conflict between the Nazis and Jehovah's Witnesses increased in the mid 1930's as the Nazis became more and more suspicious of the Christian group. There were a number of reasons why:
1. Unlike the state and most of the religious institutions of the time, the Witnesses were relatively free of anti-semitism -- a key belief of the Nazis.
2. Witnesses stressed the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) perhaps more than other Christian denominations.
3. Witnesses had international connections with the Watchtower Society in the U.S.
4. The Witnesses refused to accept the authority of the state:
-They refused to give the Heil Hitler salute, to bear arms, or vote in elections.
-They refused to allow their children to join the Hitler Youth.
-They refused to follow a 1934 law which required all salaried employees to join the German Labor Front, an arm of the Nazi regime.
-They did not obey a 1935 law requiring compulsory military service.
-They refused to display Nazi flags at their homes.
Back in 1939, the year World War II began, Consolation quoted T. Bruppacher, a Protestant minister, as saying: “While men who call themselves Christians have failed in the decisive tests, these unknown witnesses of Jehovah, as Christian martyrs, are maintaining unshakable opposition against coercion of conscience and heathen idolatry. The future historian must some day acknowledge that not the great churches, but these slandered and scoffed-at people, were the ones who stood up first against the rage of the Nazi demon . . . They refuse the worship of Hitler and the Swastika.”