Persecution – Only Us, No-One Else!

Jehovah’s Witnesses have been, at times, persecuted.  This is a fact, not up for debate.  However, the idea that they are somehow more persecuted than other people, being proof that they are God’s chosen people, is a dubious misappropriation of the facts.   Please note that I am not attempting to make light or minimise the damage caused to individual Jehovah’s Witnesses by persecution that they have undergone.  This was, and continues to be, abhorrent to any right thinking individual.

Here I will discuss the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the context of someone personally impacted by this to whom I am related.

During World War Two, Jehovah’s Witnesses were conscientious objectors.  Being such brought about a whole list of problems.  They were seen as “cowards” by the majority in the wider community, unpatriotic, and in some cases it was suspected that they were Nazi sympathisers.  This last part was particularly true of a relative of mine who was a conscientious objector in WW2.  For ease of reference and to protect privacy, I shall call him Johann.*

Volga-Germans-US
Volga Germans[12]
Johann’s family were German Russian and spoke German at home.  This was true of a lot of people who emigrated from Europe to the USA and Canada in the late 19th/early 20th century.  Famine and political unrest had caused mass migration from various regions.  Many migrant groups who arrived in North America were very often from the Mennonite[1] or other Anabaptist[2] communities.  At some point when they were in their new home, they became Bible Students/Jehovah’s Witnesses.  I’m not completely sure of the date of this, it would probably have been some time between 1920-25, maybe earlier.

By the time that WW2 started, Johann was 19 and a pioneer.  When he was called up for military service he requested to be recognised as a conscientious objector.  The majority of conscientious objectors were treated relatively fairly, given the historical context, however, in the area that Johann lived it was more common for the Judges to send some of them to prison instead of to the internment camps to appease the local community, and to prison is where Johann was sent.  It probably didn’t help that he was fluent in German and came from a German Russian family.  There was a lot of suspicion surrounding those who were ethnic Germans living in other countries at that time.

He experienced terrible treatment in prison, frequently being stripped naked and made to stand outside in sub-zero temperatures and then soaked with freezing water.  Receiving abuse from the guards, being treated as a traitor to his country and a Nazi sympathiser.  His immediate family always commented that he was never the same after he was released from prison.  I’m fairly certain that he suffered from PTSD.  Having looked at his behaviour after the war and until his death, I recognise the pattern.

Mennonite_Classroom_Pennsylvania_1942
Mennonite teacher holding class in a one-room, eight-grade school-house, Hinkletown, Pennsylvania, March 1942[13]
I want to make clear that what he suffered was inhuman and horrific. No person should be subjected to such treatment and, yes, he suffered because he was a Jehovah’s Witness.  However, if we look objectively as to what happened in this situation, the Jehovah’s Witnesses weren’t singled out for persecution.  In fact the majority of conscientious objectors that ended up in the harsh prison environment instead of the internment camp were not Jehovah’s Witnesses but came from other Christian groups such at the Mennonites.  Mennonite Churches suffered vandalism and even destruction from local communities as they were seen as traitorous because of their refusal to bear arms.

“The choice to opt for CO (conscientious objector) status resulted in strained relationships. In Alberta, two Mennonite churches were burned to the ground on the same day in 1940. In Ontario, a minister’s house was searched by police, and a church was ransacked. In Oklahoma, a house was egged and the church was used for target practice by a sniper. Like a ‘fugitive in society, all propaganda, radio, press, billboards pointed a finger at you – why are you not in the army doing your duty?'”[3]

CPS141ratpoison
Mennonite conscientious objector Harry Lantz distributes rat poison for typhus control in Gulfport, Mississippi (1946)[14]
In fact there is a whole group of churches who are collectively known as the Peace Churches:

Peace churches are Christian churches, groups or communities advocating Christian pacifism or Biblical nonresistance. “[4]

The main groups among the Peace Churches are:

I will never take away from the horror that is suffered when Jehovah’s Witnesses have been persecuted.  It is disgusting and inhuman.  However, I cannot take away from the other people who were persecuted and sometimes killed for their beliefs either.

Then there was the treatment of conscientious objectors in Germany:

“During World War II in Germany, many SDA,[5] conscientious objectors were sent to concentration camps or mental institutions; some were executed.”[6]

Also, there is a problem identifying many conscientious objectors historically in Nazi Germany because:

“Under the Nazis, conscientious objection was not recognized in the law. In theory, objectors would be drafted and then court-martialled for desertion. “[7]

Therefore, the vast majority of conscientious objectors would be listed as a deserter not as a “CO” and executed as such.

“Over 20,000 deserters and war resisters paid the ultimate price at the hands of Hitler’s brutal war judges and executioners; thousands of others died in prison camps and penal battalions. “[8]

We have no idea how many of these did it for religious, personal moral, or for unrelated reasons.  Surely it doesn’t matter.  Standing up for their principles cost them their lives.  This isn’t the oppression olympics, no one group has the monopoly on persecution.  It can affect anyone given the right circumstances.  Genocide has occurred at various points in history and numerous times in the 20th century alone.  Think of the six million Jews who were killed by Hitler, or more recently the atrocities carried out in Cambodia, Rwanda or Bosnia to name but a few. [9]

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are so very keen to wear the mantle of oppression that in the process they dismiss or even belittle the millions of others who have suffered a similar fate.

“Why make a distinction between victims and martyrs?  Because all those who suffered as a result of the Holocaust were victims, but only a minority were truly martyrs in the strict sense of the word.  What is the different?

“A victim is ‘someone who is put to death or subjected to torture or suffering by another.’  Victims usually have no choice.

“A martyr is ‘one who refuses to suffer death rather than renounce religious principals’ or ‘one who sacrifices something very important to him in order to further a belief cause or principle.’ (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).  Thus, the victim is usually involuntary, whilst the martyr is voluntary.”[10]

prisonThe inference from the above article is that martyrs are somehow a better, more worthy type of victim.  I take objection to this most strongly.  Surely, the person for whom there is no choice is arguably in a worse position?  The Jewish person, the disabled person, the gay person?  Those who became martyrs did so of their own free will.  Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not now saying that “martyrs” are less of a victim either.  The whole episode in history of the Holocaust should never have happened and it is repugnant to me that other humans can cause such suffering and destruction to any other fellow human.  But for some reason Jehovah’s Witnesses are intent on make themselves to be more worthy victims than others:

“Informed persons know that in that same year Hitler became dictator of Nazi Germany, a horrible Nazi persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses, worse than that on the Jews, began” [11]

I’m sure this is of great comfort to all of those who lost loved ones in the holocaust that the six million Jews who perished weren’t persecuted as much as were the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Quaker_persecution_book.jpg
Title page of book on the persecution of Quakers in New England (1660-1661)[15]

I personally know of Jehovah’s Witnesses who died in Nazi Concentration Camps.  It was truly heartbreaking to hear of the appalling treatment that they received.  Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses died.  But millions of others died in concentration camps too, some of whom were conscientious objectors.  In addition, there have been numerous incidents of genocide around the world causing the death of millions more.  Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses insisting that they are the only group that is being persecuted?  By sticking to this narrative, the Watchtower organisation cements the belief within the ordinary Jehovah’s Witness that they are truly God’s chosen people.  But couldn’t any persecuted religious group claim that?  As I’ve shown in this blog post, Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t the only ones who abstain from war due to religious or moral belief and to be persecuted for it.

The subject of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany is a massive subject and not one that I could do justice to in a mere blog post.  It has been written about extensively and if you would like to find out more about Judge Rutherford’s stance on Hitler and his regime, I encourage you to have a read of more about it HERE.

Thank you for reading my blog.

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* please forgive the apparent vagueness of some of the information given here, I have to be circumspect to ensure that my identity is kept private at this time.

Rutherford & Hitler

References

 

[1] “The Mennonites are members of certain Christian groups belonging to the church communities of Anabaptist denominations named after Menno Simons (1496–1561) of Friesland (which today is a province of the Netherlands). Through his writings, Simons articulated and formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders. The early teachings of the Mennonites were founded on the belief in both the mission and ministry of Jesus, which the original Anabaptist followers held to with great conviction despite persecution by the various Roman Catholic and Protestant states. Rather than fight, the majority of these followers survived by fleeing to neighboring states where ruling families were tolerant of their belief in believer’s baptism. Over the years, Mennonites have become known as one of the historic peace churches because of their commitment to pacifism.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mennonite
[2] “Anabaptism (from Neo-Latin anabaptista, from the Greek ἀναβαπτισμός: ἀνά- βαπτισμός “baptism”, German: Täufer, earlier also Wiedertäufer) is a Christian movement which traces its origins to the Radical Reformation. The movement is generally seen as an offshoot of Protestantism, although this view has been challenged by some Anabaptists.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anabaptism
[3] Mennonite conscientious objectors (COs) during World War Two – Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission
[4] Peace Churches – Wikipedia
[5] SDA = Seventh-day Adventist
[6] “The Seventh-day Adventist Church: Controversies, books and other resources” – religioustolerance.org – Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
[7] Conscientious Objector – Germany – Wikipedia
[8] Hitler’s Deserters: When Law Merged with Terror – Lars G Petersson – Fonthill Media (1 Nov. 2013)
[9] Genocides in History – Wikipedia
[10] Awake! 8 April 1989 – The Holocaust – Victims or Martyrs?
[11] “Babylon The Great Has Fallen!” God’s Kingdom Rules! – Chapter 24, Pouring Out the Seven Last Plagues Begins, pp. 549-550
[12] Temporary quarters for Volga Germans in central Kansas, 1875 – March 20, 1875, issue of Leslie’s magazine (New York) depicts temporary quarters for Volga Germans in central Kansas. PD published in US before 1923
[13] Mennonite teacher holding class in a one-room, eight-grade school-house, Hinkletown, Pennsylvania, March 1942 –  John Collier, born 1913, photographer, for the U. S. government – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, [reproduction number, e.g., LC-USF35-1326].  Hinkletown, Pennsylvania (vicinity). Mennonite teacher holding class in one-room, eight grade school-house.
[14] Harry Lantz distributes rat poison for typhus control.  Civilian Public Service camp #141, Gulfport Mississippi. From the private collection of Leo Harder, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.5.
[15] Title page of book on the persecution of Quakers in New England (1660-1661) – Wikipedia Commons

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